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:
- Opportunity Status
- Opportunity Title
- Contact Name
- Contact Phone
- Contact Email
- Contact Job Title
- LinkedIn Profile
- Next Steps
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
Dr. Andrew Makar is an IT program manager and is the author of How To Use Microsoft Project and several Microsoft Project tutorials. For more project management advice visit http://www.tacticalprojectmanagement.com.