How to Kick Start Your Career in Change Management

Mark Astbury 09.08.2016

As a change recruiter I’m often asked how best to break into the change management market... and why wouldn’t you?

Change is, I find, one of the most peculiar elements of the banking world (and this is coming from a change recruiter). It does not generate revenue, or process transactions, and yet it’s delivery has become integral to all of the major banking organisations. It pays better than most roles, it gives enormous variety as you work across a range of different projects throughout your career and many get a real sense of achievement when they deliver positive results in an environment which is often very averse to changing at all.

As a change recruiter I’m often asked how best to break into the market... and why wouldn’t you? What’s not to love? 

So how can you get into change management?

To answer this you need to know what’s needed to do well in change because it is not what we would describe as a traditional line role, namely accounting, operations, IT, trading, sales etc, where responsibilities and activities can be heavily prescribed and structured, change management comes with its own unique skill set.

The skills change professionals are defined by are hard to quantify. Mostly it is around stakeholder management, analysis and how you deal with ambiguity. These are all incredibly open terms and can mean different things to different people depending on the organisation, type of project and stakeholders. 

Projects these days are often vague. Regulatory demands are rarely set in stone and it takes a hefty amount of analysis and quite a strong personality to make a decision about exactly what the regulations mean and what impact that it will have upon the business. Dealing with uncertainty and being able to make decisions quickly without an obvious path ahead of you is a hard skill to learn and is one of the defining features of many of the strongest change candidates. Dealing with uncertainty and being able to make decisions quickly without an obvious path ahead of you is a hard skill to learn

Stakeholder management, however, is probably the most important skill set, especially in project management and is the hardest to define. Some programmes need a soft touch to gently bring people on board with the new order, while others will need an iron fist to drive and deliver, to secure buy in and at times resources from what can often be difficult stakeholders. When searching for change professionals this is the hardest element to look for in a CV. There is no key word we can look for as recruiters to gauge how good candidates are at dealing with stakeholders, and this brings me to my last point. 

Project and change management is not something that can be learnt by reading a book. Anyone can learn the process, just look at Prince II or PMP and you can see the methodology, the stages of delivery and controls framework that need to be adhered to. However, all of the qualifications in the world won’t help to secure much needed buy in or resources.  They won’t mean that stakeholders have to give you the time that you need. They won’t help you work out what people actually want when gathering requirements as it’s rare that people really know what they want. So change is more of a mentality. It’s not necessarily about what you know although these days being able to fully understand and have meaningful  conversations with the people in the line has become of paramount importance but rather about how you deal with people and solve problems. Project and change management is not something that can be learnt by reading a book.

Some of this can be learnt and large consultancies pride themselves on training people to be dropped into any situation and are able to work out the best course of action to get the project right. If you are at a graduate level and wanting to get into change, then this is probably the quickest way. You will learn about effective questioning, how to fire fight when things go wrong alongside the various methodologies. However there is still that base level of aptitude and they will want to see your people skills and how you handle objections and difficult situations.

If you are currently working in “the line” however, there are alternatives. The best way is through networking. Talk to the project people that you know, ask to get involved in their projects in some capacity or offer to act as an SME or to develop requirements. This will give you an excellent opportunity to learn the change processes and the way programmes are structured, a great base on which to build when exploring other opportunities. From there you can springboard into a change role via internal moves, perhaps through Programme and Project Managers in your network. This is significantly easier when in permanent roles as companies are happy to invest in your development and training, whereas in contracting they would expect you to hit the ground running. The best advice I can give anyone looking to get into change is to be proactive. 

The best advice I can give anyone looking to get into change is to be proactive. If you are looking at an entry level position through a graduate scheme for example, bear in mind the aptitudes that they will look for will be around people skills. If you are working in the line, make sure you are networking with change people internally. Seek out project work wherever possible and look for internal opportunities within your specific area as this is where you will be able to add the most value. 

If you have any questions regarding this content or you are looking for new opportunities within this area, please get in touch. Alternatively, please visit our jobs site.

Mark Astbury's picture
Associate Director
mastbury@morganmckinley.co.uk

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