I was at an event recently when I met a hiring manager from a large employer in London, he talked to me about a project controls position which had become available and it really struck a chord with my experience. I asked a few questions and explained my background then asked if he would be interested in my application, to my delight he said yes and gave me contact details asking me to send my CV and cover letter to him. I am fairly sure my CV reflects the detail required for the role but I have little experience in writing a cover letter can you advise where to start? Sarah – Project Consultant, London.
Many thanks for your question Sarah let me start by saying well done for asking questions about the requirements for the role – this is a key starting point for the bulk of the letter. Ideally you should highlight specific examples of your experience which closely matches the role – avoid being theoretical, keep to facts. As this is a project controls role I would keep focus on where you have “policed” governance or put structures in place, talk though background briefly then what you were actually doing and the results achieved from this.
I know you mentioned your CV you feel is up to scratch, however, the CV needs to back up your cover letter – therefore you should read through the letter once complete then read through your CV to ensue it matches up. This is where many fall down, spending a long time creating a great cover letter then the CV doesn’t reflect this experience clearly. As cover letters often get discarded, it is important to make sure you really work on that CV or all that time will have gone to waste and you’ll be left wondering why you’ve not had a call.
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.
Hi Nicola, I am a PPM professional with a mix of both managing projects and implementing/managing PMOs – I am looking to secure my next contract position and want to know whether I should have two CVs, one pitched at each audience? Nadia, PMO/Project Manager; London.
Hi Nadia, many thanks for your question – one of my favourites and aimed at all those out there who have more than one string to their bow. I believe the skill-set you have is perfect for the market today as organisations are always looking to save money so having more knowledge and experience about supporting and managing projects provides exceptional value for money to employers. I also believe it is very important for project professionals to have had exposure to these two elements of PPM; it certainly makes for a more effective environment when you have sat on both sides of the fence. Keeping this in mind I suggest you ideally would have one main CV, a “master copy” which lists all of your experience and an equal number of PMO and PM achievements. This makes the CV rather long but you can strip out the PM achievements or PMO achievements for each application as relevant. That way you are still keeping in the core experience within each remit but highlighting the achievements which would be deemed most appropriate for the role you are applying for and requires a little work for each application. Some roles may be hybrid PM/PMO positions so a combination of the two elements in achievements would be useful here. That said I always believe a little tweaking is required for every job application, ensuring the relevant information for each position is demonstrated. There is generally more emphasis placed on specific competencies within a job description / job advert so bringing out more detail in these areas, re-jigging the order and stripping back detail on the competencies not asked for will always assist you in gaining more attention from the reviewer. In regard to the detail in the role remits, always ensure you place an introductory statement before you bullet the competencies, context is very important so talking through what it was you have been tasked to achieve and some detail about the complexity, team sizes etc is important. The bullets need to talk through how you delivered, do not fall into the trap of just listing a few keywords like a job description, remember every project/organisation/department works differently so do not assume the reviewer will know what you are talking about without adding in some context.
Hi Nicola, I have over 15 years experience delivering system integration projects as an interim. I had my CV professionally written a while back by a generalist, however I have not received any contact from my applications over the last 3 months and I am beginning to worry now. I feel my CV is clear but there is something wrong otherwise I would surely be getting calls and interviews?
The reason I originally went to a CV writer was because I struggle to put my experience in a format which meets the terminology and expectations of employers. Can you advise? Rebekah, Project Manager; London
Hi Rebekah, many thanks for getting in touch – I know it can be hard to articulate a great deal of information into a clear and concise document. Having reviewed your CV I can see that there are a few reasons why you are not generating any interest from employers and recruiters, first of all the document is written in the first person which is often frowned upon in a professional environment. The profile doesn’t give the reviewer a clear view of what it is you actually do, this is the introduction into your CV so it is important to make sure it draws the reviewer in to want to read on. The detail about what you were set out to achieve with the projects is quite good, although it is a little long winded so needs reducing. The main issue is with the “responsibilities” bullet points, stating a list such as:
- Business Analysis
- Change Management
- Budget Management
- Risk & Issue Management
Although you will be hitting the mark with some keyword searching, the reviewer has little information to go on in regards to context, it does make for a good starting point, but you should look to add in further information such as with budget management – how much? Do you hold full budgetary responsibility / P&L? How is it managed? By pulling together a short statement, you are telling the reviewer a lot more about how you work and the complexity of the piece of work.
You state a few key achievements which, again, do not tell the reviewer a great deal about the involvement, having since discussed the project you have told me the challenges you have overcome in order to achieve success – now this detail is what makes for a great achievement. Taking these achievements out of the body of the CV and moving them to underneath the profile will highlight to the reviewer how you add value and will certainly set you apart from your peers. I agree that project management is almost a different language and that you need to grasp the lingo in order to gain interest from hiring managers – look back to your formal PM certification/training and start to match the language up to your experiences and you will soon generate some interesting bullets. It is hard not to get too embroiled in the PM language and I know from talking to you that you prefer a more direct approach to communication but striking a balance between the two is key to success.