Whether you’re a seasoned project manager or a new PM, the jump into contract work can feel Grand Canyon-sized.

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An average of 214,000 new project management jobs will be open each year in project-oriented industries through 2027, according to a 2017 Anderson Economic Group analysis commissioned by the Project Management Institute. That’s a lot of work — and not all of it will be done by full-time employees.

Whether you’re a seasoned project manager or a new PM, the jump into contract work can feel Grand Canyon-sized. How to shrink that crevasse to a mere crack in the sidewalk? Here are some strategies.

Personal contacts are always important, so start by hanging out at the watering holes where project managers gather. Seattle-based project manager Eileen Lambert cites PMI Puget Sound, Product Management Consortium and women-in-tech events as ways to get connected, as well as staying active in local Facebook groups for job seekers.

For the past six years, Andy Silber has landed project-management roles around Seattle on an annual basis. He maintains that the key to networking is to always say yes. “I got a great job once because I met someone at an event who suggested we meet for coffee,” Silber says. “During our (coffee) conversation, he said, ‘You need to meet Joe.’ So I got together with Joe.” It turned out Silber fit a need at Joe’s company, and a position was created for him.

Tracy Stine is delivery manager at Seattle employment agency TEKsystems. (Courtesy of Tracy Stine)
Tracy Stine is delivery manager at Seattle employment agency TEKsystems. (Courtesy of Tracy Stine)

From a recruiting standpoint, Tracy Stine, delivery manager at Seattle employment agency TEKsystems, says that networking and referrals are the most effective means of finding work. “As a job seeker, it’s imperative to stay close to your peers, managers and friends in the industry,” Stine says.

Don’t be afraid to blanket relevant internet sites with your professional presence. Lambert, who has contracted with F5 Networks, T-Mobile and Amazon, among others, says that the majority of the time, she’s contacted by recruiters who find her profile on Indeed, CareerBuilder or another job site. She uses Indeed and ZipRecruiter to set up job alerts, which can also be done at jobs.seattletimes.com.

Silber and Lambert both point to LinkedIn as a go-to tool, so make sure your profile is polished and up-to-date. “[LinkedIn] provides great insight to companies where your former colleagues and friends are engaged, and suggests positions from an application perspective,” says Stine.

Working with an agency

To make the most of working with employment agencies, go with a focused approach. Identify a handful and get to know what they’re about. The opposite should also happen: High-touch agencies require an in-person meeting before they’ll submit your résumé to a client. According to Stine, questions to bring to a recruiter include: asking whether the agency specializes in placing project managers; what they can tell you about the Seattle market; if they can submit you to multiple openings; how they prepare candidates for interviews; what they have in place for retention and redeployment; and how they differentiate themselves among their competitors.

Once you’ve found a good agency or three, hang on to them. “I have established wonderful relationships with the recruiters at agencies who I felt were at the top of the class in terms of quality of service to candidates, with great follow up, effort and transparency,” says Lambert. “I guard those relationships closely and like to forward vetted candidates their way whenever possible.”

Getting ready

Just as with full-time job seekers, contract hunters need to prepare before they attend a client interview or start an assignment.

“I read everything on their web site and [search online] for news articles,” Silber says. “I also look for first- and second-degree connections on LinkedIn.”

Lambert does the same, and checks the interviewer’s LinkedIn profile, too, when possible.

Being transparent

As for missteps, Stine cautions that the laundry list of requirements clients often look for may lead you down a road of exaggerating skills and experience.

“You are far better off being transparent around your background as opposed to adding experience that doesn’t exist,” she says.

Last but not least, once you’ve landed that project manager gig, don’t forget about karma.

“If someone asks to meet you and pick your brain, be generous with your time and advice,” says Silber.

“It’s said there is a special place in heaven for those who make a match, and I think it applies to helping someone find a job.”