Over the years in recruiting project professionals I have found one of the key pieces of feedback from clients is that candidates have been unclear answering questions at interview. Often starting off with an example of when they did XYZ and going off on a tangent so not covering the response effectively. This is easy enough to do when the pressure is on and you are trying to convey a great deal of information.
The key to answering the question rather than missing the point is to think about what you have been asked and think about an example which clearly demonstrates the skill being questioned. Preparation before an interview is required, by taking the job description and looking at the list of requirements you can gauge the types of questions which will be asked and from there you can think about your examples.
- Set the scene – give enough information for the interviewer to understand what it is you were delivering / supporting or the task in hand
- Talk about your actions – I know we work in teams on projects but the interviewer wants to know what you did, so avoid talking about what we did and talk about what you did!
- The outcome – what actually happened, talk about the result so the interviewer can understand how effective your actions were.
Here is an interview question and response to demonstrate how to structure your responses:
Interviewer:“Give me an example of when you have dealt with widely dispersed stakeholders?”
“When I was managing the new IT desktop roll out of Windows 7 at XXXX I was responsible for a number of technical teams based at head office and out at various divisions across the UK. The stakeholders were internal people such as a board member (the sponsor), head of IT (head of programmes), senior project managers and teams based at 4 different locations and external stakeholders such as the software development company project managers and technical teams.
I created a stakeholder map which clearly identified all the stakeholders in order of importance and a plan which covered communications. It became apparent that I would need to meet the key stakeholders on a regular basis to ensure project milestones were clear and everyone involved could gain a clear perspective of where we were in the plan and highlight any bottle necks which couldn’t be addressed at my clearance level.
The result meant that I had bi-weekly meetings with key stakeholders and regular “on the ground” reporting from workstream leads to ensure the work was being completed in a timely fashion whilst checking against the benefits to keep the senior management team on board with operations.”
The above example is rather generic but you get the idea – setting the scene to give the interviewer enough insight into what was being delivered and then talking through who the stakeholders are to demonstrate your understanding of who stakeholders are and how to harness a communications plan followed by the end result is giving the interviewer the right kind of information without going into chapter and verse and detracting away from the question and more importantly the answer.
Adopting this approach to your examples is good practice and also can help you when talking through achievements on your CV.
Time to strip back your CV to the bone, and build muscles back – rid that fat! Christmas is a time for celebration and usually means eating and drinking more than the usual quota, as New Year kicks in we take a resolution to fight back at the added pounds and detox our vital organs. This is also true for your CV, not just over Christmas but throughout the year we add more pieces of information to the ever growing CV as we achieve more and use more skills. So whilst you are trying to abstain from all the bad things and need a distraction from bad habits – now is a good time to give your CV that much needed detox.
Here are some tips on doing just that:
- Back to basics – hopefully you already have a structured CV which provides the main skeleton to your work history; this is an excellent starting point. Strip it back to bare essentials and take all the “fat” out to one side.
- Work that fat – now you have a list of all the bulk, separate from the CV take a good look at what is relevant to you as a professional and tone it up. Reduce the text down to clear and concise statements. Look to integrate similar pieces of information in that role into one bullet point.
- Tone up the muscle – once you have strong statements make sure they are looking as good as possible, refrain from repeating terminology and buff up the content you have to ensure each statement looks as good as it can.
- Exercise – yes, you can apply a regime to your workout by practising – don’t be tempted to take the lazy route and just write a statement leaving it at that. Write and rewrite until you have a well written piece of work.
- Repetition – make sure you work through the entire CV applying the same structure (but not repeating action words such as managing, reporting, and delivering over and over).
- Detox – remove all the parts the employer does not want to see, put yourself in their shoes – we expect you to be organised, motivated and energetic. Think about core competencies which are vital to achieving your goals such as planning, team management, applying structure and how you do this.
Employ key structure to each bullet point – the employer wants to know what you do/did, how you do/did it and some context in terms of size/locations of teams, budgets, type of assignment, timescales and challenges met along the way.
A new year means a new start for everyone – the employment market is still struggling but there are still roles out there so it is imperative that your CV is at its peak fitness; toned, free of fat and looking good. You will be surprised just how quickly your CV is picked up for interviews if you put the work in; don’t be disillusioned by the fact that there aren’t so many in your field applying for roles, employers are being every bit as stringent in their filtering process with job applications which means you have to really work at it!
I have been working with a contractor who came to me with a 7 page CV – when I reviewed it I found that he had over 60 short assignments on there and although he had listed a number of projects by name he hadn’t really gone into any detail about how he delivers or what the projects were. When I talked through his feedback I asked why this is the case and bearing in mind he has a significant number of practitioner qualifications there is no evidence of using these. It quickly became clear that the nature of the projects meant he could not administer recognised formal structure and that he struggled to articulate how to note down his key skills in his remits through fear of lengthening the CV further and not knowing what to actually state.
Having had a lengthy discussion about the projects and his approach to managing the projects we soon started to draw out key areas of interest such as dealing with very tight deadlines and cultural differences in project management. We discussed that it is important to list all assignments but to focus on the most recent and differing projects to add in some valuable information.
It is the intention for this contractor to apply to some regulatory bodies with his CV and as such, we discussed the need to take a more traditional format whilst ensuring we highlight how he sets himself apart from other project managers in his field. With a great deal of interaction and collaborative working we managed to reduce his CV down to 3 pages and ensure that we are covering key elements expected by hiring managers.
Here are a few tips for writing a CV to include a lot of jobs:
- Place emphasis on most recent roles, talk about the project, any problems (remember a contractor is often a fire fighter and required to hit the ground running) and how you delivered it.
- Reduce the detail of the remits as you work down the CV but ensure all roles with a difference have sufficient detail which will demonstrate your ability to work on varied assignments.
- Do list all the roles but for those over 10 years old and certainly when you are listing over 20 jobs, you need to reduce the detail to a line stating job title, dates and company. In this case a table was required due to the sheer volume of assignments.
- If you, like my client, have not been working to formal structures; think about how you deliver and add the detail in. Just because it’s different doesn’t mean it is wrong, in fact it demonstrates other skills and abilities to work in fast paced, often demanding environments.
- To save space, you may look to add in achievements entwined in the project detail rather than separating out at the top of the CV.
- Learn to articulate detail in a clear and very concise manner – not like a job description but reducing the paragraph down so we get enough information to know what it is you were tasked with and difficulties faced, just avoid waffling.
First of all I would like to say a great big thank you to all our readers and clients, what a wonderful year it has been. Despite uncertainty with brexit there has been a great deal of exciting opportunities and I am very pleased with how my clients have progressed in their careers since having updated their CVs and providing coaching.
Lots to look forward to next year and as you all wind down for the Christmas break I am sure you will take time to reflect on last year and how you can achieve great success next year. I know from personal experience that I have often spent the latter part of the holidays wishing I had won the Christmas lottery jackpot so I could retire to an island far away.
The reality of it is that we can get a step closer to realising our dreams by improving our career prospects – this can be by working on a promotion, gaining additional training or looking outside your current company for new opportunities.
Having a background in recruitment I am acutely aware of the raise in job applications and new candidates registering their interest in new roles over the Christmas holidays and as such my word of advice is to make sure your CV is top notch. If you are serious about moving on, spend some time updating and refreshing your CV to make sure it is current and says all the right things.
I am also practising what I preach this year by going back to uni (Cambridge this time) to ensure my CPD (Continuing Professional Development) is up to date as I look to study Executive Coaching formally. It is important to make sure you are investing in yourself whilst further forging your career.
I would like to take this opportunity to wish you all a very Happy Christmas and Seasons Greetings to all your families! Thanks again for your continued support and I look forward to the year ahead providing advice and guidance.
Thank you all for your continued support.