Settling back at work after the holidays is always a difficult one; especially if you have been using your time away from the office to reflect on how different life could be, you might well feel like packing up your desk and leaving. You wouldn’t be the first and will not be the last to feel like this but you could use this negative energy in a positive way to give yourself something to look forward to.
Here’s a list of things you can make a start at addressing to put you in a better place to moving on in your career:
- Perform a personal stock take on your skills and abilities – learn about yourself and how your skill-set sits with the job market today, you may well find you are selling yourself short in your current role or you may identify a gap which needs addressing. Either way, it is a rarity for individuals to just sit down and take a long hard look at what you can actually do (mainly because we just get on with it).
- Clean up your online profile – pay some attention to that LinkedIn profile you have left suspended in a half finished state online (says a lot about a professional, especially those looking for a new opportunity), how is your twitter feed looking these days? What no post since 01/06/14? Have you been in touch with your peers online? Sung about your projects? Joined in chat groups… clearly not!
- Dust down your CV – having spent some time on point 1, you should have a good idea of what employers and recruiters are after seeing and you should also be in a good position to update your CV with some fresh information.
- Be really lazy at the job hunting – load your CV on the job websites and let the recruiters come to you. If your CV is good, they will be calling you, if it’s not so great you will be checking your phone for non-existent messages and maybe it is time to get a professional opinion!
Having reviewed literally thousands of CVs over the years, one thing which quickly became apparent was that prospective job candidates really struggled to articulate themselves. It’s true and not just restricted to those deemed “junior” or fairly new to project management, those managing multi-million pound programmes and heading up incredibly complex and technical pieces of work (often high profile) are also guilty, if not more so. You may ask how hard it can be to clearly talk about the key deliverables, important facts and “how” you work – when spelled out, it isn’t or is it?
How many times have you made a statement which has been misinterpreted? From a flippant status update on Facebook to a quickly scribed tweet, responses contrary to what you meant often crop up so how common is it to make the same mistakes on your CV – very!
When we write something down, to you as the author it makes sense but often you write as you speak and don’t think about the fact that others do not know what context you are talking in when it’s a flat piece of paper. A short, to the point (or not) document which should be presenting you in a professional manner and selling your abilities to potential employers and recruiters.
Don’t leave it to chance, think long and hard about your target audience and what they expect to see, work through your skills, experiences and knowledge and ensure this comes across clearly on the CV. Don’t make the mistake of writing thousands of words or going polar opposite by barely supplying any info. Remember it doesn’t matter what level you work at, the employer still needs to see what it is you have done and how you have done it. Senior management often believe less is more but this will seriously hinder you from securing that next position.
So you’ve worked hard to get noticed by the employers or been through the battle of getting recruiters to represent you and the hard work has paid off as you have an interview pending, or if you are fortunate then you may have a few lined up. This is the point where you don’t sit back and wait for the day; you need to apply yourself to really impress the interviewers. Often those who have reworked their CVs find it an important refresher for what they have done over the years and it really brings home the fact that we easily forget important (and relevant to interviews) pieces of work. Also those who have sat comfortably in a role for a long time or have secured assignments without interviews will not be as prepared as those who regularly go for interview. Here’s a guide to getting yourself ready and creating a good impression at interview:
- Go through your CV and refresh yourself on what you have been doing over the past few years, pay particular attention to areas relevant to the role you are interviewing for and dig deep into your memories by walking through assignments step by step to draw out any additional detail which may not be addressed on the CV.
- Read the job description and draw out key areas of requirement, those listed core competencies are a good starting point. For example if they are asking for Change Management then you will need to supply a good example of when you have managed change, think about the bereavement curve, what the key challenges were and how you overcame them.
- Start to pull out some strong examples which you feel will be good to talk about and apply the STAR technique (Situation, Task, Actions, Results), be clear on the message you want to deliver and keep to the facts, being theoretical is not useful to the interviewer especially when you’ve actually done it so tell them how it was.
- Examples of work, some interviewers may ask you to take an example of a stakeholder communication plan or project plan – in this case take a portfolio with some strong examples and be prepared to answer questions about it.
- Research the company, so many people barely do this so take time to really understand what the business does and what key challenges they may be facing, who are their competitors, what’s new on their news pages. Also take a look about what others are saying about them, know all there is to know – really demonstrate your buy-in to them and the role.
- Do a dummy run to the offices – don’t leave the journey to chance. It is always good practice to time how long it takes and which trains/buses you need to take (or where to park the car) and going at the same time of day as the interview will take place a day or two before will give you a good idea of traffic etc. Do remember to take enough change for the meter if you are driving, I have known one candidate turn up to interview stating they can only stay for half an hour as they only had enough change for that on the meter – yes really!
- Organise what you are going to wear a day or two before; ideally all should wear a suit or smart office clothes, even those who are fashion conscious need to tone it down for an interview. Nothing too outlandish or uncomfortable either.
- Put together some good questions to ask the interviewer, it is good practice to think through the role and business – this will naturally bring up some questions about how you will fit into the team, what you’ll be doing and what is expected from you within the first few weeks/months. Write a list, better to include more than you’ll ask as some will inevitably be covered by the interviewer during discussion.
With the UK job market seesaw it is important to make sure you are making a good impression with your job applications – often with the lift in roles we are lulled into a false sense of security that the market will stay buoyant for a while and that the volume of roles means we are in with a good chance of securing interviews. Unfortunately this isn’t the case, the volume of applicants remains high and as such the competition is still strong. With recruitment companies endorsing the need for a good CV to yield results from your job applications and a small emergence of courses aimed at assisting project professionals gain the tools and knowhow to create a winning CV it is now widely being acknowledged that job hunters need to step up.
I have been pleased to see such interest in my field and completely agree that more needs to be done, time is of the essence and those who are fortunate enough to have the ability and/or time to put together a winning CV should take heed. For those who recognise they either cannot put together a strong CV or haven’t got the time/inclination are best suited to invest in their careers with a professional CV writer who actually understands the industry and doesn’t just play about with formatting and rewording documents at a high cost.
I am presenting a PM CV writing workshop later in the year with APM as I feel it is important to give something back to the PM community and fully endorse those who can write a CV but need a little guidance should be doing so. For the rest of you, I have put together a series of blog articles with lots of examples and tips on how to create a winning CV and continue to offer a competitively priced CV writing service bespoke to your needs. A great deal of contractors come to me already bought-in to the investment opportunity of having a CV created which time after time secures them interviews moving forward, likewise a great deal of senior PM professionals who are just too busy to work on their CV step forward to take the service. I have also noticed a number of clients wanting to break into project management but not knowing where to start or indeed what the roles actually are – these clients receive coaching in a variety of areas and walk away with a strong CV and knowledge on how to approach a career change.
There are many reasons clients come to us but one which made me smile the other day was a project manager who when asked his reasoning for coming to us was that he is in a position where he can pay others to do the tasks he hates. Just like having a breakdown membership, why change the wheel yourself when there is someone much better qualified to do this whilst you get on with your life. Embrace the help that is out there and identify what is most relevant for you, treat your career needs as an investment, just as you would take PM training or invest in better tools (software) – make a difference to your life.