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.
We’ve gone over all the various aspects that make up a winning project management CV over the past few years but I thought it was a good opportunity to have a refresh at the core elements:
- Profile – your profile needs to be a good description of what it is you do, this makes sense but you’d be surprised how many feel the need to tell us they are organised and cheerful blah blah blah…! Think about the reviewer, give them a snapshot of your core skills and what it is you deliver/support/manage etc. If you cannot summarise what you do in a paragraph then there is a big problem, and this will be picked up on.
- Key Achievements – Tell us something about how you work, don’t repeat detail about delivering xyz on time and to budget, talk to us about the bits that make you a success. Think about what it is that you do best, whether it’s turning around teams, working with suppliers etc we want to know about it and how you bring out the best in what you do.
- Employment History – Balance the detail of the projects versus the core competencies; think about what job descriptions ask for, whether it be risk management, change control etc these are the things you need to address in your bullet points.
- Education & Training – List most recent first, pop on all those courses relevant to PM and don’t forget to list your practitioner candidate numbers.
- References – “references are available on request” is perfectly sufficient; we don’t want your referees to be harassed by recruiters looking to generate leads.
There’s always a lot of pushback when it comes to singing your own praises on your CV, how very British of us not to celebrate our success. Often you will consider simply stating “completed on time and to budget” as good enough, but in reality this statement is met with a shrug of the shoulders, as a successful PM is supposed to deliver this a minimum right!? It is all too easy to become very egotistical too which doesn’t paint you in a good picture either as no one likes a show off. So how can you really add in detail to your CV which sings your praises but doesn’t have the hiring manager wondering how they will get your head through the door at interview?
Here are some tips:
- Tell us about the complexity and size of the project, often an area overlooked by throwing in internal acronyms which mean little outside the business or generic terms which could mean anything.
- Talk through some key challenges faced on the project – don’t assume the hiring manager will know that you have had to herd chickens and completely rebuild the hen house. I have lost count of PMs who have said “well it’s all part of the job”, not for every project it isn’t and if you don’t tell us on the CV how will we know just how good you really are?
- Facts and figures are important on a CV; there is a huge difference from delivering £300k of business benefits to 100 users than £3m benefit covering 1000 employees.
- You say you are good with people, but have you demonstrated this with some good examples in the CV. Just what is it you do to create a results driven team?
- Dealing with multiple sites? Matrix management? Offshore and nearshore? There’s a great deal of work goes into working with disparate teams, cultural issues, language barriers and even time differences which can become huge blockers.
- Picking up failing pieces of work? Have you told us this or merely stated you delivered it on time and to budget? It takes real skill to parachute in and fire fight with teams who may have had several PMs trying to deliver the work prior to you.
These are just a few ideas which will assist you in thinking through your assignments, it is important when you perform a skills audit that you list your core issues and how you overcome them, you will soon have a strong piece of information which can be tailored to your CV and really blow your trumpet without coming across as a self obsessed.
Always an interesting topic of conversation, when people tell me their employers will do almost anything to keep them. A compliment yes, obviously you are doing something right but how healthy is it to keep going at the same place beyond a few years? The problem with most organisations is that the projects can tend to become a little BAU (business as usual) and as much as a success you are at delivering, is this actually assisting you in moving forward in your career – probably not! Yes you may well be nicely compensated on your annual salary review and bonuses are always great but is the work actually stretching you?
As a progressive PPM professional you should always be looking for the next challenge and for pieces of work which will expand your skill set and portfolio of success, additional training when offered should always be embraced and taking on new teams, especially those which need strong leadership. Contractors are a great example of those who relish taking on difficult or failing pieces of work; the challenges make for an interesting work life and also enhance their capabilities moving forward. Contracting isn’t for the feint hearted though and those who prefer the security of a salary rather than day rates should really look at new internal challenges but also at moving on after a while to new businesses which offer something fresh and exciting to add to your experience portfolio. It can be daunting when you have worked within the same environment for a number of years to move on into the unknown. This is a common concern but as the PPM job market has been up and down, the roles are always there and sometimes it is about taking a leap of faith – in reality, just how stable is your current business? I was talking with a Project Director last week who works for a large blue chip, she told me that the headcount across the business was being rapidly reduced and that she has advised her project teams to update their CVs despite no actual decision to make cuts within the team as of yet. She told me she was met with resistance as there was a distinct “head burying” culture which she is trying to break through.
It is also common for counter offers to be made by employers to keep talent on board when external job offers are made – however is this not too little, too late? If you were truly valued then why does it take a threat of leaving to receive a salary you feel is more commensurate to your skill set. Take positive steps forward to ensure you keep on enjoying your work, be happy and learn to let go. Resistant to change? Come on, we’re all project people and projects are change.