We’ve practised questions and answers, researched the business and got our suits dry cleaned only to receive a call from HR / recruitment services asking us to attend an informal meeting with the hiring manager. Suddenly, we feel unprepared and unsure about how to handle a meeting in Costa or Starbucks tomorrow at 8:30am – what to do!?
Don’t panic for a start – an informal interview is certainly nothing to worry about but equally it is not something which should be treated as informal either. I have often pushed back on hiring managers asking why choose an informal meeting over the traditional approach. I have heard a few replies from: issues over time (heavy diaries mean meeting outside the office and office hours), interviewers wishing to escape the office for a change to testing candidates in a less formal environment. As the format of such interviews is perceived as “let the conversation flow” – it could be a test to see how you lead a conversation which isn’t so daunting but keep in mind that you also need to ensure you are entering core skills and experience into the dialogue too. Culture fit is generally a key driver to informal interviews – by taking you out of the formal environment the hiring manager may be trying to understand who you are, what your personality and sense of humour is like. Will you get on well with the team or stick out like a sore thumb?
Always treat these types of interviews like a test – if you prepare for the worst you can cover all bases and ensure you gain the greatest success:
- Do not assume the interview will actually be informal just because the surroundings are; prepare your questions and answers as you would for competency based interviews.
- Careful what you order!! Coffee houses are great but I have known candidates order strong coffee and be bouncing off the walls in the interview. Be sensible or avoid caffeine altogether and order decaf.
- Be prepared to be distracted, the downside to coffee houses and hotel lobbies has to be the noise and the hustle of people coming and going. For this, you must keep focussed on the interviewer – remember this may be a test!
- Make sure you have the mobile number of the interviewer in case you cannot see him/her when you arrive – especially first/last thing in the day as there will be a great deal of smartly dressed people at peak periods.
Don’t let the informal setting get in the way of asking some good strong questions – make sure you leave the meeting knowing if this is the job for you or not. It is not unreasonable for you to ask to see the offices at some point in the process too – it is important that you get to see where you could potentially be spending 8 hours a day, so if an offer is extended post interview – ask.
Having read thousands of CVs in my recruitment days and interviewed hundreds or candidates it became abundantly clear that the answer to the above question is the chronological format is most effective within the Project Management domain – why? Because employers need to understand where and when the skills have been used, simply listing core competencies does not give the reader any context. Also some skills may not have been used for 5 or 10 years, the hiring manager may require recent exercise of a particular skill as this plays a major part of that project. By listing expertise in skills based CVs you may be fortunate enough to reach interview but will be asked questions about those skills in the interview and be rejected against another candidate who does have recent relevant experience. Bear in mind when applying for a role you could be up against a large number of applicants, if there are candidates contextualising their skills on their CVs it is likely your CV will be discarded for those “ticking the boxes” for the recruiter / hiring managers role requirements list.
In a chronological CV each role should have a good level of detail which clearly states the key skills required for that role, every project is delivered differently and due to size and complexity a pragmatic approach to which aspects of formal methods used is key to successful delivery. There’s no point over complicating a fairly straight forward project, this only ties up the project manager or the support team in unnecessary “paperwork”. Do not assume the reader has worked in your organisation or on similar projects – if the CV isn’t clear, it does not get short listed.
Writing a skills based CV may seem like the easy option, it is. Being able to provide a list of bullet points or statements at the top of the CV which covers your entire career in project management would seem to make sense but it detracts away from the subtleties of each role and makes it difficult to actually “paint a picture” of you, the types of projects you have delivered and your style of execution.
Your CV is your personal marketing document – your customers are the recruiters and more importantly the hiring managers. What sells a product to you? For me it has to be a straight forward piece of information which says what it can do, how it works and how up to date it is in key areas of interest for me. Now take that formula and add to it the key requirement for any project management role which is exceptional attention to detail and written communication – think about all the reporting, MI etc.
The CV Righter is a dedicated Project Management CV writing service aimed at righting the CVs of project professionals who could use some insider perspective from PM recruitment specialism and having worked in PM previously. For more information visit: www.thecvrighter.co.uk