“As a senior project manager with experience of working on some high profile projects with large names in financial services I have been applying for a number of project management jobs recently and had a few calls but still no interviews – what am I doing wrong? I am clearly attracting some interest but not a lot and I don’t seem to be getting further that the initial recruiter call and promise of being put forward to the client.” John Senior PM London
Without looking at your CV it is hard to say but I can make an educated guess at where you are going wrong John – for a start, the fact you have worked on high profile projects for reputable businesses will always attract some interest from recruiters. However the experience alone won’t cut it with the employers and this part is the most frustrating for the recruiters, your CV clearly isn’t selling you positively so the recruiters are taking a punt by putting you forward for roles but you are being rejected against your peers who have a much stronger CV.
Be sure to tell us about the projects – what was involved and what they achieved but don’t write an essay, keep it clear and concise (we don’t need to know sq ft just general scale). Then tell us how you work – think about the job description, it should contain a list of wants, are you addressing these wants on your CV?? And not just a list of skills, use the space to talk through context so we know exactly who, how, when, why etc. Do not assume the reviewer will know you work in a particular way, having the PM badges doesn’t excuse you from talking about method in your CV.
Skills are an obvious subject to address in your CV, but are you actually writing the right things? We’ve all heard that recruiters keyword search on specific words which are relevant to PM and delivery/support etc, and this is true, however a list of keywords just doesn’t cut it. Anyone can write a good list from a little research which will have your CV come to the top of a search but with no context it is just a list or a word, we can’t actually see where or when you have used the skill. Equally, copying and pasting your job description may look like you’ve made more effort but it is obvious this is what you have done to recruiters and HR professionals, they read bland and generic (and dare I say….Lazy!).
If you have already created a list then you are half way there to getting some really good pieces of information on the CV, have a think about how you have used the skill, some skills are a daily requirement so you can talk about how you regularly do XYZ and talk about why you do it, if it is a skill you don’t use as regularly but for more specific pieces of work then talk about specifics for using it. You’ll soon have a good list of bullet points which incorporate the keywords but they actually tell a story and make your use of them more realistic to the reviewer. Not rocket science, but an area that a lot of project professionals fail to do with their CVs, placing more focus on the project which in turn makes for a great marketing pitch for the project and/or business but does nothing to sell you and your skill-set.
When you submit your CV for a job, where does it go? Well it depends on where you apply for the role – whether it is direct to an employer or through a job board. So we’ll take a look at the various scenarios:
- Direct employer: In this scenario the CV will generally go into a pool of applications to be sorted by HR or outsourced recruitment services, at this point the reviewer will skim read your CV and review for various elements required for the role. At this point you will be placed into a YES, NO or MAYBE pile. A shortlist will be prepared from the YES pile; if they are low on numbers then the MAYBE pile will be reviewed again for weaker possibilities. The shortlist will be sent to a number of personnel including the hiring manager and HR manager, at this point the shortlist will be reduced to a number of candidates deemed fit for interview.
- Job board applications: Similar to the above scenario, another layer of scrutiny will be added into the mix prior to reaching the HR department at the employer. The recruiter will receive a (generally) larger pool of applications, and the sorting process will begin. Using a list of key requirements the recruiter will review CVs and quickly sort into YES or NO piles, due to the volume of applications there is little room for a MAYBE pile. If the recruitment business is PM specific then they will tend to be much more focussed on PM requirements and more ruthless when rejecting CVs which do not meet the mark. Once a shortlist is put together, they will be sent to the employer to start the above process, unless there is already a relationship in place where the hiring manager may deal direct with applications.
Because the recruitment process is so stringent, it is important to make sure you really work on that CV and make sure it ticks all the boxes for your applications or you face being placed in the recycle bin.
So you’ve spent a few hours writing your CV, to you it is clear and demonstrates the skills and experience you have, great start – have you had it reviewed? One of the greatest falling points for anyone writing a CV is not getting feedback, it is all too easy to believe your CV is clear (and to you it is as it’s what you’ve done etc) however to others it might not be so easy to read. Having reviewed thousands of CVs both in a PM recruitment capacity and as a CV writer I have come across a plethora of styles and levels of information – from 17 pages (yes really) to one page with barely any detail (just the essentials).
The long CVs do tend to put employers and recruiters off because there’s too much to read and it also says you cannot condense pieces of information, if you cannot do it on a document then you are likely to be a big talker, then the doom of a 4 hour interview sets in buy hiring managers who simply haven’t got the time. For those who only place job titles and a list of keywords into a short document, you are telling the reviewer that you are either lazy or you cannot articulate yourself clearly – now in the PM field, this is not good! Think about the reports and project documentation you need to provide, you are not demonstrating some core key skills. Plus on the brief CVs, how can we truly understand what it is you have been doing? It makes good sense to get a balance of the two and really think about what key areas are relevant to the jobs you are applying for.