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.
This is an interesting topic in that a great deal of PM professionals I’ve spoken to, say that it can be an impossible feat trying to even get to speak with the recruiter direct. Skipping past all the usual excuses of gazillions of applications/calls/pressure blah blah blah, it is possible to strike up a relationship with these people as long as you make the right moves. Now, building a relationship doesn’t mean stalking… No one likes to be bombarded with calls and emails! Think about how you are approached by others and what techniques they might use which actually work and get your attention. Don’t bother if you haven’t made a good effort to sort out your CV and make it sell your abilities or haven’t done your research in regards to what type of job including which field etc you want to apply for moving forward – and for goodness sake, be realistic, you are not jumping into a programme manager role from support position. No matter how good you are and how great your sales patter – recruiters cannot seek you into their clients when you have unrealistic aspirations.
- Do your research – find the agencies and individuals who handle your type of roles
- Make contact with the identified individuals by dropping them a line and asking if it would be possible to have a chat.
- Make sure you send a well written CV ahead of your call so the recruiter can see your background.
- Don’t be pushy, no one likes to be bullied.
- Do what you say you’ll do, if you’ve arranged to call at a certain time, then do so.
- Make sure you are clear about what you want to discuss and stick to the point – recruiters are busy and don’t appreciate disorganised candidates bumbling on.
- Treat others how you wish to be treated in return, this means everyone, receptionists etc all count!
I remember a candidate working hard to build up a relationship with me, back in my PM recruitment days, we would have a chat on a bi-weekly basis and even though I wasn’t 100% I could place him, I continued to humour him when one day a role came in which was a good match for his skills. I thought about him immediately as I knew I was due a call, we discussed and I agreed to present his CV to my client. Now he wasn’t an exact match but knowing the client well, I knew I could sell him in. Having done so I was pleased to announce that an interview had been arranged for my candidate. He was very happy and so the interview coaching began, I spent quite a lot of time making sure the candidate knew all the was to know about the role and business, and ran through typical interview questions – ensuring the preparation was top notch. After all I knew he would have to shine at interview to beat off his competitors who had a closer match to the role. All was running swimmingly until a day before the interview I received an email…. Yes an email, not a call, from my candidate saying he was pulling out of the interview. Obviously I wasn’t best happy, but c’est la vie, I informed my client and made up for the disappointment with a new candidate (who was offered an interview and eventually got offered the role). So on my part I wasn’t too bothered, however I vowed I would not work with the candidate again as I had stuck my neck out for him and he had been so rude.
A few weeks later I received a call from said candidate who had the front to ask me to put him forward to other roles, I explained as politely as possible that I wouldn’t be doing that and he persisted to ring me regularly to the point I got all my calls screened and told all staff under no circumstances to put his call through. I thought he had got the message but a few months after leaving the PM recruitment business I received a text from a colleague telling me he had been in touch again…. Thankfully my former colleague did not pass on my contact details! And that is how not to make and break relationships!
The PM job market has been up and down over the past few years but there have always been good roles available throughout, and although it has become more competitive offers have continued to be made to good project people. One of the key issues tends to be securing interviews with a application list of hundreds, it isn’t difficult to see why employers and recruiters will naturally pick out the best CVs over anything else. It’s not ideal as the best candidates may be left on the shelf because their CV isn’t telling us what it needs to. I was speaking to a seasoned project manager the other week who has exceptional experience but his CV was really letting him down – it just didn’t attract attention for the more senior roles he had the experience in. He told me he has no issue with delivering strategic pieces of work, improving corporate wide project capability however he really struggles to spend time on recording this detail in a CV. He can talk about it very coherently but putting it on paper to the in point the relevant parts over too much detail isn’t his strong point. When I pointed out that we all have skills in different fields he agreed and said that is why he decided to make contact with me. Having spent years working with clients from all industries in a recruitment capacity – I know what piques the interest of hiring managers and recruiters alike. There’s no shame in being unable to produce an effective CV, if it was that easy then there wouldn’t be so many professional CV writing services available. I have yet to come across another specialist PM CV writer with a background in delivering projects, specialist PM recruiting and over 8 years PM careers support like The CV Righter. I set up the business after being approached on countless occasions by all levels of PM professionals requesting their CV be rewritten, it makes sense that with a proven technique which really generates interviews I write your CV and you concentrate on delivering your projects – as with any resource planning within project teams there are “horses for courses” and achieving good results is what we all strive for.
Taken this all into account, you will see why it is important to make sure you invest in your career by taking advice and making sure you are seriously considered for the roles that are available, whether in abundance or scarce.
I’ve had a number of clients come to me recently asking how difficult it is to transfer into permanent roles for a number of reasons; one main concern is lack of stability with contract positions. This is why I always question those who decide to take a contractor route, in an ideal world you would command a good day rate and aim to work 6 months of the year with 6 months out of contract – however day rates aren’t always ideal and those who don’t plan carefully will need to be in contract for the full 12 months of the year. If you are looking to move into a permanent role, you should also realise that the change isn’t always ideal for everyone. The fact you have moved around a lot means you probably don’t settle too well into a permanent scenario. It is this reason that employers may become wary of considering you for a permanent job, they will question whether you are just taking the role because there are no contracts about and will you leave when the market improves.
It isn’t impossible to make the transition, however you will need to put in extra work with your CV and I would also recommend a strong cover letter detailing why the change from contract work. The CV will need more focus on where you have delivered from start to finish – not necessarily picking up part run projects and I would also focus attention on where you have improved team performance. Evidence of hitting the ground running is great for contract work but not necessarily required for FTE. However areas where you have improved overall project capability and really worked with the business will come across favourably in the CV.
Be ready for questions about your motives, you will be scrutinised at recruiter level, HR level and by hiring managers so it is important to get your story straight and believable.