How to Advance in Your Career

In 2020, Project Management Institute (PMI) created the Virtual Experience Series to help inspire project management professionals to deliver value, create change, and advance the world, even amid the global COVID-19 pandemic.

One of the sessions from the October event was presented by Adam Fahrenkopf, a Technical Program Manager at Google, working on the Google Assistant, and a PMI Future50 honoree. Adam’s experience as a young project manager has taught him some valuable lessons for building a successful career. If you’re feeling stuck in your job, this post is for you.

Build Domain Knowledge

No one starts their career as an expert. Bask in the phase of being a beginner and learn as much as you can. Adam recommends working with a mentor, although it doesn’t need to be a highly formal relationship. Mentors can be anyone with more experience to help you learn and build your skillset. Turning to others when you find a gap in your understanding help you create a network of knowledge.

How do you know where to start? “Start with getting fundamental knowledge. This will build up not only your skills, but also trust with the teams with whom you work,” said Adam. Ask the basic questions, “What do we do? Why do we do it? How do we do it?” You’ll be surprised by how much people are willing to share.

Tackle New and Challenging Projects

Starting in a new job or tackling a new project can be daunting. Luckily, Adam honed some keys to success.

  • First, break the problem down. “Make large projects more manageable by breaking them down into smaller work packets. This makes deadlines more realistic, accurate, and achievable.”
  • Second, verify your assumptions. In a large-scale project, it’s easy for details to get lost in the shuffle. Make sure to focus on the small parts and double-check what you’ve assumed or understood. Adam advises, “Dig through ambiguity and mitigate risk to make your project more successful.”
  • Finally, lead without authority. Seems counter intuitive, right? Leading without authority simply means managing with ideas. You may not be the boss of everyone on the team or in the room, but think of ways to get everyone on board. “Communicate the value of the project to key stakeholders,” said Adam. “Remember, ideas are greater than HiPPOs, meaning the idea or data means more than the highest paid person’s opinion.” Keep everyone motivated and engaged by going back to the idea and value of the current undertaking.

Although stepping into the unknown with a new project can be overwhelming, these are also great opportunities for growth into new areas and mastery of various concepts and skills. Which brings us to our third point…

Further Your Learning

Adam reached a certain point in his career and realized that if he wanted to progress, he needed to go back to school. Since graduating with his MBA, he’s been approached by other young professionals. They almost always ask, “Should I go back to school too?”

Adam takes a three-pronged approach to this question. “We go back to school for three reasons: To learn, to advance in our careers, and to gain new opportunities. Learning is a given with formal education, but formal education isn’t always needed for the other two areas. Are there courses online you can take that would teach you something new? Going back to school isn’t always the answer.”

Education has changed substantially because of the COVID-19 pandemic, with most classes being held virtually. With jobs unstable, many adults are looking at ways to bolster their resumes for future growth. Remember, as Adam mentioned, learning doesn’t have to be in the classroom. Professional development can take place through virtual conferences, networking, and even certifications. Furthering your learning doesn’t always mean earning a new degree.

Think Big and Do Something

Adam’s last piece of advice: Think big and do something. Like many young professionals, Adam suffered from imposter syndrome. “When I first started my career, I never thought I could work for a company like Google. I thought that was only for genius programmers.” Luckily, Adam pushed past his inhibitions and took steps into unknown territory, and that’s led him to the success he has today. As the old saying goes, “Nothing of note happens in your comfort zone.” Write down your goals, passions, interests, and make plans to turn them into reality.

Looking for ways you can build skills that transfer into all industries? Project management is a great place to start! Learn more about PMI’s Project Management Ready™ certification here. You can also watch Adam's presentation here