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Project Management Careers – Embracing Change

As a project professional you are used to getting others to embrace change, however, have you ever analysed your own viewpoint of change? We have all been guilty of digging our heels in when someone wants us to change something, whether it is your favourite bag or the colour of your lounge. Naturally we start to feel threatened by being told that things look tired or aren’t right. The same happens when you are looking to apply for a new job, there’s the whole change of company, environment, culture and how we do things which come into play but before we even reach that point we need to address actually securing interviews and the job. This can be terrifying for some who have perhaps been working in a business for years and have been made redundant but also for those who recognise they need to make a move for whatever reason. Applying for jobs has changed over the years and suddenly what was always an effective way of securing a new role is now dated and requires some work.

Your CV is the most important starting point for job applications – employers have become fussy and as the shift in lower salaries through perception of a buyers’ market has moved on, the salaries are certainly reaching a more commensurate level but employers expect to see excellence for the price. I know you will be sat there thinking, my CV is fine, it has always secured me interviews in the past so what next. But have you tested it in the market? Had many calls or much interest? If not, then maybe you need to address why!

Change is good

Resistance to change is common as you well know and some of the reasons are below:

  • Comfort zone – it is scary to move out of your comfort zone but it is also healthy to do so as much as possible and addressing your career goals / approach to securing a new role is important. Explore new avenues.
  • It worked before – yes but times change, as do expectations.
  • Uncertainty – research, there’s plenty of help out there which is free to access. Talk to people; find out how they do it.
  • Am I really good enough – easy to lose confidence when you have been struggling to secure interviews for a while or been made redundant, work at understanding your skill-set by performing a skills audit.
  • Loss of control – by embracing the change you will soon gain control, careers coaching can be a great way to understand how to make a positive move forward.

Do not assume because your CV reads fine to you, that it is good enough to whet the appetites of employers – ask for feedback from peers, recruiters, and specialists in the field. All feedback is good feedback; don’t be disheartened if you hear something you don’t want to. Be thankful it has been highlighted and address it constructively; ask for advice or for more clarity.

Project Management Interviews – keeping it on track

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?”

Candidate:

“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.

Ten ways to motivate your project team

Having worked in a diverse range of businesses from a large blue chip automotive organisation, mid size telematics company to an incredibly small recruitment business I have come across a number of management styles and found some really work and others which truly do need locking away. Most of my motivational work has come through managing globally dispersed teams which is a little harder to execute the below suggestions however I have been fortunate enough to be involved in some fantastic projects in the UK and these tips really do work.

1. Inclusion – this seems more than obvious but how often have you overlooked a team member as “this part isn’t relevant to them”? I agree that it is both wasteful and unproductive to invite members of the team to meetings which aren’t deemed relevant, however an invite should be extended none the less but more importantly ALL team members should be put on copy of the meetings outcome minutes.

2. Meetings with a twist – try to think of ways which will jazz up meetings, keeping them fresh and productive. Set your goals to be met at the start and try taking turns each meeting with different members of the team facilitating – ask each facilitator to use a different method of presentation, keeping the format fresh.

3. Offer up tasks for grabs – there is always a huge list of tasks requiring attention in projects; why not offer some out for other members of the team to take a fresh approach on. The more junior members of the team will appreciate the opportunity to gain insight into different areas and taking this collaborative approach works to pull teams together; ideally the team members picking up the tasks will be choosing them rather than being lumbered with them.

4. Socialise – we may not choose to spend our weekends with our work colleagues, but an evening set aside once a month to go for a bar snack and drink on a Thursday afternoon is a good idea to get the team together in a more relaxed environment. Don’t talk shop – just let people talk and get to know each other outside the pressures of the office. Don’t force the gatherings but ensure all are very welcome to come along.

5. Rewards – some may argue that the reward is your salary, this is the kind of attitude managers with no responsiveness to people management come up with. Rewards can be little things such as food treats and a “thank you” every now and then. But if you have a team working through lunch times over a week to ensure a project is brought to close on time – you could buy the team lunch – either something delivered in or when the project is delivered, take them all out for lunch.

6. Team building events – steer clear of fusty outsourced “motivation” workshops and think about what will really engage the team, an activity which involves some stellar team work such as orienteering for an afternoon.

Leading on to….

7. Team lead activities – ask the team to get involved with designing activities rather than imposing what you think is needed on them.

8. Action based learning – give the team a challenge where they request support but have to define what they need. This type of activity is very beneficial as it promotes reflection on your own actions and doing the activities rather than being instructed.

9. Charity work – give something back to the local community such as getting the team to build a playground, decorate a deserving persons house or clear a wasteland into a nature reserve. Not only will you draw the team together, you will be helping others and what a fantastic piece of PR for the business.

10. Value your team – quite possibly one of the biggest ways to generate team spirit is for management to value the team. Rather than talking about “how much this is costing” but focussing on the benefits to be generated. Be patient, not all results are yielded immediately so accept that real change takes time.

Project Management Job applications – making it happen

Applying for a job can be both exciting and daunting – if you have not been in the market for a new job for a while; you are likely to be unaware of the changes in how recruitment works. For a start you are meeting heavy competition; no longer can you expect to receive a response from employers about your application. Although some employers do endeavour to respond, HR teams have been streamlined and are inundated with applications making it increasingly hard for them to respond to everyone. The competition may not be as daunting as you think though as a large proportion of applications are unsuitable for the roles, however there will always be a few which meet the selection criteria for HR staff. By writing a strong cover letter (note earlier blog) and ensuring your CV is up to date with relevant information to the role and business you are applying to you can ensure you are ticking the boxes and should be placed in the interview shortlist.

Do not assume that applying for a role less senior to your current status is going to put you ahead of the selection process. I have seen a number of instances where a project manager has applied for a project coordinator role and this has brought into question why the individual wants to take a step backwards. In some cases it has been clear that the line manager felt intimidated by the seniority of an applicant as they had more experience than them. If there is a particular reason you are applying for something deemed more junior to you, explain. But in reality, a lot of candidates applying for roles which are more junior do it because they cannot get a role in the current market at their own level. Not a good reason to apply, employers fear that as the market picks up the candidate will move on.

Try to get the balance right – apply for roles which are at a level with your skills and experience or slightly above, demonstrating your appetite for career progression. Carefully pick roles which are well suited to your abilities and ensure you place the job description next to your CV – then tick off the competencies listed on the JD against your CV. If they are asking for something which you haven’t covered in your CV but have done – add a bullet point addressing it. Take out bullets which are not asked for which will allow room for the additions.

Take time applying for roles – do not just send your CV in the excitement of seeing something you would love to do, if you are really that excited then it is clear you need to make the application right.

The CV Righter offers careers guidance as part of the professional CV writing service – for a free CV review and the opportunity to discuss your applications, get in touch today: www.thecvrighter.co.uk