The Arras People Project Management Benchmark Report contains a useful snapshot summary of responses by job title this year. It means we can take a look at what an ‘average’ project manager looks like, if there is such a thing. Bear in mind that the survey is mainly targeted at UK project managers although there were a fair few responses from those working outside the UK.
Let’s meet our average PM.
Does any of this sound like you? Nearly 45% of the respondents to the Arras survey identified as project managers so this is data from a very representative sample.
Let’s have a look at some of the outlier responses and create a different sort of project manager.
This really doesn’t sound likely as a profile, does it? It’s a collection of the least common responses from people in the survey, but it doesn’t hang well together as a pen portrait of an atypical project manager. I could extrapolate from this that the ‘average’ project manager I constructed above from the most common responses to the survey is also not a particularly accurate profile.
Statistics are useful – in this case they help set salaries and responsibilities for people in professional project management positions. But they need to be considered in context.
Get a copy of the survey and see the details for yourself here.
The Arras People Project Management Benchmark Report is out and 2015 is the 10th anniversary of this important study into the state of the industry. One of the interesting snippets of information in the 40-page report is a peek into how the recruitment pipeline breaks down because the people involved aren’t using the same criteria to assess candidates.
The person hiring has very different views of what makes a great candidate for a PM role to the project management professionals who may be involved in the hiring process. Let’s say I’m the hiring manager. I have certain views as to what makes a great project manager, but I don’t want to sift through CVs and interview candidates alone. Project management is a team sport, so I bring one or two of my trusted senior project managers into the loop for the purposes of recruiting. They have a different view of what the person should be good at to excel in the job.
So far, so clear. Let’s look at where the differences of opinion are between hiring manager and peer.
Professional body membership
Hiring managers seem to put a greater emphasis on membership of professional bodies like PMI and APM than project managers involved in the recruitment process. Over 50% of recruiters say it’s important compared to only 29% of peers.
Continuous professional development
Should project management candidates show evidence of improving their skills over the years through continuous professional development? Over 50% of their peers believe that they should. Less than a third of hiring managers thought it was an important element for someone’s application.
Soft skills training
Project management is a lot about managing stakeholders and getting the soft skills right on a project goes a long way to achieving that. Over one in five hiring managers doesn’t believe it’s important but only 8% of peers would agree. Nearly 60% of peers think that their prospective colleagues should be able to demonstrate that they’ve done some soft skills training but only 15% of hiring managers would rank that as important on an application.
We’ve seen how professional body membership is viewed by both groups. What about credentials and certificates in project management subjects? This is one area where both hiring managers and the project managers involved in recruitment seem to have a similar view. Over 75% of recruiters and peers agree that PPM accreditation of some sort is essential for candidates.
Why does it matter whether the people involved in recruitment agree or not? A healthy debate is the result of not agreeing, and that can make for better hiring decisions.
Well, it can. But it can also result in posts not filled because managers can’t agree on who to recruit. It results in good candidates not getting a look in because they are weeded out at an early stage when actually they may well have the skills to do the job. That’s not to say that either hiring managers or peers are ‘wrong’ in their assessment of what it takes to do the role. I’m only highlighting that some candidates won’t make it past the first filter because of who is doing the filtering. If they had made it past and were subject to that healthy debate, the hiring team may end up with a different perspective on their application.
The disconnect in the recruitment supply chain, as Arras calls it, also creates problems when dealing with third party recruitment agencies (like Arras). That’s another viewpoint. They are specialist, and know what the market wants, but it’s still a third pair of eyes reviewing CVs and applying their own filters about what important skills and qualifications a candidate should have.
How do we fix this problem? I don’t think we can. It’s normal for people in different posts to have different opinions of a role – it’s normal for different people to have different opinions. Instead, all we can do is be open to the fact this is happening and make sure we really discuss a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses in the round before writing them off. Otherwise we’ll be left with vacancies we can’t fill and projects that can’t be delivered, and that’s no good for anyone.
What recruiters want from project managers (and what the project management industry thinks they want)
What do employers want from project managers? If you are in the market for a new job, then a study in Project Management Journal* may give you the answer. The researchers looked at over 760 jobs and documented what recruiters were asking for. What came out on top might surprise you.
The top 5 skills requested by recruiters
OK, the first one on the list won’t surprise you at all: employers are looking for project managers with good communication skills. ‘Communication’ covers reporting, presenting and interpersonal skills. The top five skills list looks like this:
What professional bodies tell us is important
The interesting thing about this study is that the researchers compare what job ads ask for to what the project management professional bodies and literature tell us is important. In other words, they are comparing supply (project managers developing professionally through well-trodden credentials) and demand (what employers actually want).
Leadership, for example, is the thing that is most talked about at the moment in the professional project management world. The researchers say it is the hot topic for professional bodies and in professional development for project managers. But the job adverts say it is only in 8th position when it comes to being a desirable skill for a job candidate. Employers would rather have someone good planning skills (the 7th most requested competency) rather than a leader.
Another interesting fact for readers of this blog is that cost management comes out so highly in the adverts. It doesn’t feature at all in the top ten skills that project management literature tells us is important. We (the collective project management industry) are not supplying project managers with good cost management skills because it is not considered an essential skill. The employers beg to differ and count being able to balance the books as one of the top five. In fact, cost management features as a top five skill across three of the five industries studied: construction, engineering and government all rank cost management as essential. It doesn’t feature in the top five for ICT or healthcare projects (but that isn’t to say it isn’t in the top ten – this data isn’t given).
Time management is the same: the literature doesn’t rate this as a critical skill for project managers, but the research shows that employers value it very highly. Stakeholder management is in the same situation: a top five skill for recruiters but only ranking number 15 on the list of things that the global project management body of knowledge and literature think a project manager should be able to do.
So are professional bodies teaching the wrong things?
Professional bodies and the project management body of literature do not stress an importance on cost management, time management or stakeholder management and they do focus on leadership. This doesn’t align to what employers are asking for, based on this study of job adverts. So, are professional bodies focusing on the wrong things?
I don’t think professional bodies are focusing on the wrong things. I don’t think employers are asking for the wrong things either. The two sets of requirements are very different: a national or international project management association is focused on helping project managers be the very best that they can be based on the received wisdom and years of research into what makes project successful. An employer wants someone who can deliver a project and fit into their team and their existing project culture. Now.
There may also be something else at play: employers want people who can deliver in a very dynamic market place and perhaps the recognised industry standards for project management haven’t yet caught up. We’ve seen the introduction of stakeholder management in the latest PMI standards so there is definitely a shift towards aligning the knowledgebase with the practical skills that project managers need to be successful at work.
If nothing else, this study might explain why you are finding it so difficult to fill project management positions in your business!
* Ahsan, K., Ho, M. Khan, S. ‘Recruiting Project Managers: A Comparative Analysis of Competencies and Recruitment Signals from Job Advertisements’, Project Management Journal, Vol. 44, No. 5, pp36-54
One way to distinguish yourself from the other project managers in the department is to think about how good your grasp is of project finances. This is often an area where project managers have weaker skills because not all projects require them to balance lots of books and sometimes big projects even have financial analysts assigned to them so they don’t have to worry about working out the detail themselves.
So if you want to set yourself apart and develop a USP (unique selling point – something that makes you different from everyone else), building your project financial skills is a great start. You can then demonstrate how much value you add by being able to explain the project financials to your C-suite stakeholders.
Show you have a grasp on project finances
When asked, you should be able to talk knowledgeably about your project’s budget and whether or not you are on track. If you don’t have the figures to hand and you’ve been caught in the corridor by an exec who wants to know, explain that you don’t want to tell them the wrong thing and that you’ll check when you are back at your desk. Then follow up and email them the right figures as soon as you can. Of course, if pushed, you can always give a ballpark figure.
Show you understand the business case
Ideally, when you discuss your project with C-suite stakeholders (or anyone else, for that matter), you should be able to demonstrate that you have an understanding of the financials of the business case. If the project is going to deliver some kind of return on investment, then you should understand how that is going to be calculated. If there are other financial benefits, make sure you understand those and how the project deliverables and the work the team is doing will actually end up generating cash when the project is complete.
Work with your finance team
Get to know your finance department! They are a source of lots of useful information so find out what help they can offer you and make use of them! Even if they don’t have the staff to be able to dedicate lots of time to your project they can often help with ad hoc queries especially when it comes to things like invoice processing, year end processes and accruals.
Be aware of context that your project is working in. For example, is the company under some financial strains or is there pressure to spend a certain amount of the department budget before the end of the year?
Also make sure that you understand the financial terms that you are likely to hear when it comes to company budgets – ROI, IRR, payback period and so on. Check out my videos on these subjects if you need a refresher.
Think big picture
How does your project fit into your programme and the business strategy overall? This will also help set you apart as in my experience many project managers don’t have the ability to think about the bigger picture overall and focus very much on their own projects and getting those done (although this is changing). Being able to see the big picture is a further way to demonstrate your value to the C-suite and to set yourself apart from your fellow project managers.
Showing that you have a grasp on your project finances and how this affects the project and the company overall brings a touch of reality to business case, and helps you explain your project’s contribution to your team members as well. Make your business savvy the way you distinguish yourself from the competition at the top level – it really can set you apart in the quest for a new job or for recognition in what you do.
Today I talk to Dr Andrew Makar, IT program manager and author of Project Management Interview Questions Made Easy, about getting a new job.
Why is preparing for a new job more than just about practising responses to interview questions?
Preparing to find the next opportunity requires a lot more preparation than futility trying to memorize an exhaustive list of project management interview questions. The majority of the “interview tip” websites seem to think providing over 50 interview questions is a useful resource a candidate can apply in an interview setting.
It isn’t realistic to memorize questions that may never be asked. This is why finding new opportunities and preparing for upcoming interviews is a reflective one much like a project management lessons learned session or retrospective.
I advocate thinking about past scenarios rather than memorizing questions. Reviewing your resume, reflecting on the lessons learned from those past projects and positions provides a much better background than rehearsing the perfect answer to a question that may never be asked.
You talk about a career contact matrix in your book. What is that?
The career contact matrix is a tool I’ve used to help me identify opportunities, leads, and follow up on active conversations for the next career opportunity. It’s a simple matrix that can track active opportunities and identify contacts for professional networking and follow up over a three- to six-month time period.
I developed a career contact matrix using a variety of formats including spreadsheets and mind maps. The career contact matrix consists of 9 simple columns including:
The matrix is managed like a project manager’s issue log where opportunities turn into qualified leads and other opportunities don’t meet your need or interest. By keeping in touch with your contacts, new opportunities can occur frequently and a timely phone call can open up an entirely new job opportunity. Another key benefit of an updated matrix is it becomes your emergency unemployment rescue kit. There is a template for the matrix in my book, Project Management Interview Questions Made Easy.
If you do find yourself unemployed, employers often use phone interviews as a way of cutting down the number of candidates they invite in to the office. What's the biggest difference between a phone interview and a face to face interview?
Phone interviews can be difficult because of the lack of subtext. You only have the benefit of the interviewer’s tone rather than seeing non-verbal communication signals. Most phone interviews tend to be screening interviews when there recruiter is vetting your profile for both skills and salary range. It is difficult to develop rapport with one phone call. The face to face interview is much better because you can look a person in the eye and determine if the opportunity is the right fit.
Remember, you are evaluating them just as they are evaluating you.
That’s a good tip. Do you have any others?
For the job seeker, developing your personal network and promoting your personal brand is a key factor to creating a career safety net. I use the career contact matrix to maintain an action plan for professional networking and building better relationships. I always dislike receiving an email from someone seeking a job when I haven’t spoken to them in a year. By developing better relationships and “checking in” from time to time, your job search becomes easier as opportunities pop.
My past 3 jobs have all come from a professional network instead of a job posting system. As project managers, we can spend over 40 hours a week delivering projects. Take at least one hour a week to focus on your career including networking, opportunity prospecting and directing your own career.
Is the interview the best time to ask questions about salary and benefits? If not, when should you ask about these?
The interview is the best time to sell yourself. The hiring decision is usually the interviewer’s decision. The salary and associated benefits is an HR decision. Focus on positioning yourself as the desired candidate and obtain the hire decision. Once HR makes an offer, you can negotiate the salary and benefits.
In my experience, the initial phone screen or the job description will help identify the position title. You can usually find out about benefits and salary ranges incomparable positions from others in your professional network or using tools like salary.monster.com or glassdoor.com
What happens if the interview includes other things like tests or a presentation? How can people prepare for those?
I’ve asked candidates to demonstrate their skills in an interview by providing situational questions or even asking candidates to draw a small data model. In a project management interview, you want to provide specific actions taken using the processes, tools and techniques to manage a project. If you indicate on your resume that earned value management is a skill, be prepared to share how you’d apply earned value on a project or better yet how you would do it in Microsoft Project. Reflecting on your past job scenarios, providing real world examples with the techniques to support your responses will help you pass any test or presentation.
About Andrew Makar