“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.
Here’s your 7 step guide to reaching success when looking for a new job:
- Research – when you take the decision to start looking for a new role you really need to understand the industry and the roles you are applying for, make a start by looking at the types of roles you wish to apply for. Job descriptions and adverts are widely available online, by reading through them and understanding what is involved you will quickly identify the roles most relevant to you. Also spend some time researching the industries you wish to work in. Look at some of the larger corporate websites to gain a greater knowledge of what is hot at the moment as these will likely be the growth areas in that field. Start to match up your skill-set and exposure to relevant projects, make a note of these and use them as examples in your CV.
- Make a list – gather a list of the relevant role titles to your skill, and place in a spreadsheet to keep track of websites which yield good search results for them. As well as searching job boards, think about placing random searches into search engines as you will also bring up roles with direct employers too which you may have otherwise missed – a lot of employers will only advertise on their own websites.
- Focus – Ensure you are spending time on roles which you can meet a minimum of 90% of the criteria listed, this saves you wasting time on roles which you are unlikely to get into the short-list for and keeps your list down to a manageable size. It is important to streamline your applications so you can spend more time tweaking your CV and writing a cover letter for so you can yield more results. It is quality not quantity!
- Make another list – create another spreadsheet of roles you have applied to and through which websites, when etc. you need to be organised when you start receiving calls from HR / recruiters etc. it does make all the difference when you sound on the ball during these calls.
- Follow up – leave it a day or two after you make an application then call up the person handling your application. Check it has been received and offer to clarify anything further they may need to know. Round up the call by asking when you can expect to hear a response regarding your application – remain professional throughout, this includes speaking to receptionists etc. be friendly, clear, helpful and don’t let frustrations show. The person handling your application makes the decision whether to pass on your CV to clients/hiring managers so keep in mind they are testing you from the first point of application. Put yourself in their shoes – if you come across abrupt or desperate then they are highly unlikely to put your forward through fear of having their reputation soiled.
Always an interesting topic of conversation, when people tell me their employers will do almost anything to keep them. A compliment yes, obviously you are doing something right but how healthy is it to keep going at the same place beyond a few years? The problem with most organisations is that the projects can tend to become a little BAU (business as usual) and as much as a success you are at delivering, is this actually assisting you in moving forward in your career – probably not! Yes you may well be nicely compensated on your annual salary review and bonuses are always great but is the work actually stretching you?
As a progressive PPM professional you should always be looking for the next challenge and for pieces of work which will expand your skill set and portfolio of success, additional training when offered should always be embraced and taking on new teams, especially those which need strong leadership. Contractors are a great example of those who relish taking on difficult or failing pieces of work; the challenges make for an interesting work life and also enhance their capabilities moving forward. Contracting isn’t for the feint hearted though and those who prefer the security of a salary rather than day rates should really look at new internal challenges but also at moving on after a while to new businesses which offer something fresh and exciting to add to your experience portfolio. It can be daunting when you have worked within the same environment for a number of years to move on into the unknown. This is a common concern but as the PPM job market has been up and down, the roles are always there and sometimes it is about taking a leap of faith – in reality, just how stable is your current business? I was talking with a Project Director last week who works for a large blue chip, she told me that the headcount across the business was being rapidly reduced and that she has advised her project teams to update their CVs despite no actual decision to make cuts within the team as of yet. She told me she was met with resistance as there was a distinct “head burying” culture which she is trying to break through.
It is also common for counter offers to be made by employers to keep talent on board when external job offers are made – however is this not too little, too late? If you were truly valued then why does it take a threat of leaving to receive a salary you feel is more commensurate to your skill set. Take positive steps forward to ensure you keep on enjoying your work, be happy and learn to let go. Resistant to change? Come on, we’re all project people and projects are change.
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.