Archive For July 31, 2012

Project Management qualifications – Questions answered

This week we have a fantastic question about PM qualifications from one of our clients’:

I have been working in the project management domain for a number of years and been working to a fair few methods due to the variety of projects delivered, all my methods have been learnt on the job and I feel I have a good grounding which will be attractive to employers. Do you think I should gain formal accreditation in these methods, will it enhance my career moving forward or will employers be happy with my hands on experience?

David, Project Manager; Leeds

Hi David, many thanks for your question – glad to hear you are going about the big qualification issue the right way. First of all having the structured approach experience is always paramount to the majority of employers out there and also for your own professional development. I all too often see a lot of project professionals who have gained accreditations before putting the method to practice; this is often deemed the wrong way to go about things. I agree that more junior PM staff and those starting out in project management would benefit from taking introductory courses which will allow them a good understanding of why / what the stages of structured PM are in place, but don’t recognise the benefit of taking qualifications for methods which are not currently being used unless there is a requirement to bring such structure to the project with no other champions in the field available to oversee the implementation.

As a seasoned professional you would be adding to your current repertoire by taking qualifications relevant to your experience as this adds reassurance to the hiring manager that you are committed in the field of PM and also willing to enhance your own professional development. As such I would evaluate where you see your career heading and take an informed decision as to which qualifications to run with. If you have a particular specialism and can see this as a growth area in PM then it would be wise to follow this route, there’s little point in going for the qualifications which you don’t deem personally useful moving forward. As PM courses can prove to be expensive, you might also look to your current employer and see if they are willing to invest in your professional development. By providing a good business case for the need; such as training others / implementing companywide structures etc you should be able to strike a deal which will be mutually beneficial.

Tackling mental health issues in the workplace

The Word’s Maddest Job Interview aired on 25th July on Channel 4 which saw 8 candidates tested in a number of scenarios by 3 employers from varying backgrounds, a psychoanalyst and psychiatrist were also observing the testing and behaviours to try and determine who out of the candidates had been previously been diagnosed with mental health issues. According to the program 1 in 5 employees who disclose a mental health issue to their bosses lose their job. The aim of the programme was to determine if having a mental health issue could a. be detected and b. determine if this would be detrimental to their employability.

The experiment was a really interesting insight into behaviours displayed by the candidates when placed into a number of tests – the first test being an interview setting where the 3 employers sat behind a desk and welcomed each candidate with one question. “What do you think about the Olympics?” The reasoning for one question to be asked was because common theories on interviewing candidates tends to indicate that interviewers make a decision within the first few minutes of an interview whether or not they like a candidate or not. This is an interesting theory as I believe this is not always the case – I have conducted a large volume of interviews and can honestly say that on occasions I have made a decision about the candidate in the initial first question or two but often once a candidate has relaxed a little and settled into an interview my perception of them has changed. But in the interest of the experiment I recognise that to give a fair and controlled decision; this format worked. I was also intrigued by the employers’ versus candidates’ perception of how the interview went. One candidate felt he came across confident and strong where as the general feedback from the 3 interviewers was that he came across nervous and dishevelled – clearly promoting that feedback from interviews, whether positive or negative is instrumental for candidates to understand how they appear to others in this type of setting to be able to hone their technique for future interviews.

As the candidates moved through various circumstances such as a lateral thinking task, memory and recall, group task, risk taking, socialising and a real life work challenge; the employers’ changed their views on employability for each candidate. The aim was to place 3 candidates in their “top 3” shortlist through observation and discussion but they were also issued with anonymous statements about each of the candidates who had been diagnosed with mental health issues. Some of the statements were describing the effects the illness had on individuals such as suicide attempts, being sectioned and being unable to leave the house for months at a time. When discussing the statements one of the employers said he would have to think long and hard about employing someone with a mental health issue and having it stated on their CV would make him likely to not employ that candidate.

The interesting part about the experiment came when the final top 3 candidates were informed of their short-listing and all of them had been diagnosed with varying degrees of mental health issues – a surprise to the employers’ who agreed that their perceptions had been changed and that due to spending time with each candidate over a 5 day period had really assisted with changing their initial choices and also opened their eyes to the fact that the candidates ability to demonstrate the right traits for a work environment such as leadership, demonstrating independent thinking and team work was very strong hence being chosen.

The tasks set were nothing new to testing I have come across for interviews and also internal management candidature testing – the only difference being that they were all set on a 5 day period which leads to the next question; are the interviews being held currently enough? Should there be more than a couple of one hour staged meetings? Some organisations stipulate an assessment day which is gruelling to say the least having been on a few in my past but maybe spreading the testing out over a number of days may be a more successful route to identifying the best person for the job, not just on first impressions.

The program provided an interesting insight into interviews and perceptions generally, not just for those diagnosed with mental health issues and as such I recommend watching it to hiring managers and candidates alike to gain an understanding of how behaviours are observed by employers for interviews.

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Let the games begin

Marking the start of the Olympics – I felt it only right to mention some of the fantastic projects I have had the luxury of being involved in over the years running up to this fantastic event. When I say involved, I mean placing delivery managers in the projects teams for a number of initiatives such as broadcasting the events and infrastructure for the Olympic village. The build up over the years has seen a huge volume of multi-disciplined project management professionals take the helm of complex programmes of work and with great interest I have followed the build up. Project teams have been against the clock and proven that, yet again our ability to deliver is a strength and not something to be taken lightly. Hopefully gaining a great wealth of knowledge along the way and placing them in a fantastic position moving forward to their next assignment.

Despite the negative press for all the areas we have or are expected to fall short of in this huge historic event, we also have a great deal to be proud of and I am particularly looking forward to attending an event – in fact since the tickets arrived I’ve been checking and double checking the dates. UK media does tend to focus on all the negatives when we should be celebrating our successes – the Olympic village looks brilliant and for once, our athletes having a fighting chance of great success through the good old British weather.

Good luck team GB!!

Interview Basics

Having worked so hard to reach interview point it is important to make sure you do not slow down now – your interview has been arranged and (hopefully) you have plenty of time to prepare. Here are some key basic considerations:

  1. Check the location of the interview – seems obvious but I have known candidates to print a map and head off on the day not really knowing where they are going. You do not need to be adding stress to your day, if possible – make a trip to the offices a few days prior, ideally at the same time of the interview so you can gauge public transport, traffic etc. and know exactly where you are going.
  2. Research the business and the role thoroughly – do not walk into your interview blind of what it is they do. The most common welcoming question from an interviewer is; “what do you know about us?” You need to demonstrate your interest in the business by knowing at least who they are, what they do and who their main competitors are. Ideally you should also know a little more about their recent activities. All this information can be gained from their website and also perform a search about them, see what others have to say.
  3. Dress to impress – at the very least, ensure you are wearing smart office wear. Preferably a suit should be worn even if the organisation has a dress down policy, first impressions last and for a formal meeting you should be smartly attired. Leave the fashion statements at home – I have known candidates to wear eccentric accessories which were frowned upon by the employer. Put yourself in their shoes – if they were to place you in front of a valued customer, they need to know you can brush up well to make a good, professional impression.
  4. Make sure you compile a good list of questions to ask them (look at this previous blog re interview questions) – there is nothing worse than a candidate who states that they have nothing to ask. It not only displays a lack of interest – it doesn’t say a lot about you as a project person.
  5. Practice what you want to say – having researched the organisation and job you will be aware of what is attractive to the employer, make sure you consider examples of work you can discuss which will gain interest from the interviewer. Make sure you take a structured approach to talking through the examples. Don’t be afraid to let your personality come through; do not fall into the trap of being wooden.
  6. Remember the interview is two sided; do not feel intimidated, you are effectively meeting the prospective employer to gauge if you wish to work there as much as them determining whether you are right for them.

Most importantly – enjoy, too much emphasis is put on pressure to perform. Once you can embrace the fact that this is a meeting you will be able to approach the situation in a calm way. Nerves are the biggest interview killer so harnessing the nerves and looking at the circumstances rationally is key to ensuring you have a positive and enjoyable (yes, enjoyable) interview.