Dear Nicola, I have been in the same role for 5 years (a Project Coordinator) within Central Government with a lot of experience in supporting hardware and software roll outs. I am due to be made redundant next month and so I have updated my CV and applied for 10 positions but not heard anything back. Can you tell me where I am going wrong please? John, Project Coordinator, London.
Hi John, many thanks for getting in touch. Firstly let me start by asking if the roles you have applied for are similar to the one you are currently doing? As it is common for PM professionals to apply for anything with PM job titles without reading the job description/advert properly. As you’ll probably be aware, job titles can be very misleading so it is important to read through each role before applying for it. Ensure you can meet at least 90% of what they are asking for, employers are very cautious on the skill set they will want on board the team and in a time where training has been cut they will want a close match to their requirements so you can slip into the role with minimal handholding. Once you start to look at all the roles out there, and there are quite a lot, you will start to recognise the ones you should be applying for and avoiding ones which aren’t going to gain a response.
The next step is to look at your CV, as I have reviewed your CV I can see you have gone into a great deal of detail around the core competencies used throughout the project lifecycle, however these do look a little bland in that there is no context so we have no clear idea of the size of projects you support or indeed the number of PMs you support. There is also a vague overview of the technologies you have been supporting the delivery of – something which can be very transferable into your next role. Your CV comes across very process driven, which is fine but there is little detail about engaging with stakeholders, PMs etc. which gives the impression that you may prefer to be hidden in project documentation. Not ideal when a Coordinator is usually the central point of contact on projects for the business.
The other issue may be that you are applying for private sector roles, and there is a prejudice with some employers that public sector staff will not transition well into a commercial environment. I believe that support roles are fully transferable; however you need to convince employers of this. By talking through the projects/technologies themselves and any exposure to dealing with 3rd party suppliers/stakeholders external to the council, you will assist the hiring manager in matching up your knowledge and abilities in supporting the delivery in such projects. By taking all the above advice and revising your CV you will have a stronger chance of securing interviews moving forward.
There are many reasons you may be looking to swap into another industry and sector, such as growth areas in other industries like Financial Services, limited growth in your current field or you may just fancy a change. The job market is constantly evolving and competition is high with a great deal of project professionals looking to take on new assignments. Most advice tends to be that it is incredibly difficult to make the shift over but it isn’t an impossible task, just because there’s reported competition and hiring managers are deemed keen to employ what they know doesn’t mean you cannot do it. Establishing some diversity in your career achievements can really assist you in your career goals moving forward, demonstrating your ability to manage or support projects in a variety of industries and programmes / projects will really boost your perceived flexibility and validates you project management skills.
It is important to make sure you pull away from industry specific terminology in your CV and take a look at the bigger picture, in the first instance if you have a great deal of experience in one area such as engineering or public sector – look at the projects which may be transferable into other sectors such as IT/technology or business change pieces of work. Talk about the actual change and how you were instrumental in implementing; put yourself in the hiring managers’ shoes – what would they like to see? If they have a project which needs delivering, what areas are relevant to them? Think about the project lifecycle – how you deliver, and the type of projects, complexity, team sizes, budgets, technologies, tools used etc. By writing a more generic CV which addresses the users, impact and cultural changes you are starting to build a good picture of what your experience is, set aside from the industry itself. By coming from a different background you can add so much more to a business – asking questions which might be overlooked and bringing a fresh approach to “how we normally do things” whilst offering assurance with your stellar delivery track record.
Working to regulatory compliance is also a great skill that can be transferred into other industries, a great deal of industries have these types of projects and by demonstrating an ability to decipher conformity needs and work to them is valuable. Such as FSA regulations which are applied to new systems in industries across the board – fantastic if you are keen to get into Financial Services.
Don’t go too generic with the CV so the reviewer cannot understand what you have done but take back the terminology and focus on key deliverables combined with your competencies – produce a balanced CV which demonstrates your management style, highlights key achievements and sells you as a PM professional not necessarily an “Engineering PM” or “Public Sector PM”. Be defined by your delivery not the environment.
Having reviewed thousands of CVs in both my recruitment and CV writing capacity I have seen all sorts of techniques used by candidates hoping to gain interviews. Some work and some really don’t, formatting although it is important is not going to get you on the shortlist – bright and creative CVs only tend to work in the creative industries but not necessarily for the management roles. Focus tends to be placed on aesthetics and not content, at the end of the day it is the content which will get you the ticks in the box of the requirements list. Therefore it is important that you concentrate on making the information you provide interesting, put yourself in the shoes of the recruiter/hiring manager – if they haven’t worked at your business in your exact role then they cannot read between the lines and guess at how you work or what the projects actually entailed. Simply stating you delivered XYZ project to time and budget doesn’t cut it, think about what the project involved and what the benefits are for starters. Address “how” you got from A to B and core competencies involved, who were your stakeholders, what were your major challenges and how did you overcome them. A seemingly bland project will come to life as you add context and paint a clear picture of what it is you can do, jazzing up your CV in the right way!
Look at the information you provide objectively, does it make sense to others? It is easy to become embroiled in internal terminology and confuse reviewers who will simply discard the CV for one which is clear and interesting. Most of you will be passionate and proud of what you achieve in your professional capacity, this needs to come across as it can be the difference between being shortlisted or put in the recycle bin.
Statements such as “Delivered new project capability where others had previously failed, the teams were de-motivated and sceptical about another attempt at change…” are great with some further context – suddenly what can seem a fairly generic skill set for PM professionals is sounding gritty and makes you want to read on, now I want to know what you did and what the outcome was. This is the start of clearly demonstrating how you add value and problem solve coupled with your PM capability/understanding, and management style.
So what are you waiting for? Do you have a Life Less Ordinary or are you another Lifeless Ordinary? Put the work in and harvest the results from your job applications.
A lot of people come to me for advice and help about their CVs, not because they cannot write their own CV but because they want to understand how others view it and if they are being clear. It is common for those who create a document to assume others will know what it is they are trying to say. As you are doing the job it makes sense to you but it may be baffling to others – striking a balance between clearly defining your role and projects whilst engaging a number of levels of understanding can be tricky. The reviewer of the CV could be a non-specialist recruiter, HR administrator and equally a line manager who hasn’t got the PM experience (hence wanting to bring a subject matter expert into the team). Therefore it is important to ensure you have others look over the CV for you to gauge how clear the information is and if it is hitting the mark in regards to including the relevant detail. Those who assist others with writing CVs will know only too well how easy it is to reshape the document to say the right things even if not entirely au fait with what recruiters need to see in an evolving market place.
I would recommend having a number of people review your CV – from those who have no understanding of PM to those who are seasoned PM professionals, remember you are asking for feedback so take all comments and criticism on the chin. All feedback is good feedback, take on board what is being said and see how you can address the CV to ensure it makes sense to a wide audience.
Remember project management is all about communication, often we need to address a variety of technical and non-technical stakeholders. As your job application is being judged from the moment of contact you need to ensure you are displaying all the right qualities, engagement being very important you should be treating every step of the application process with this in mind. Instead of stating you are a clear communicator – demonstrate it with your CV and the all important email. Don’t tell us you understand PM methods, tools and strategy – demonstrate it, it is very obvious who truly understands their role (and trust me, a lot don’t) by how they communicate the what, how, when, who and where’s of an assignment. Employers want to know what the benefits are to the work you have delivered, do you know what they are… I would hope so, have you communicated this in your CV?? Probably not!
Put yourself in the shoes of those recruiting; don’t assume they will know you have had exposure to a structured approach to PM just because you have the PM badges. Demonstrate your knowledge and use of structures as these are the core criteria being assessed on your CV when you apply for a role.