The market seems pretty buoyant at the moment for project management jobs: if you remember back, PMI predicted a while ago that the world would need many new project management roles filled to meet demand, and while I don’t have hard facts to back it up, anecdotally there seems to be a fair number of roles around at the moment.
The good news is that many roles maintain an element of remote working, with some vacancies being advertised as fully remote, so location is no longer a constraint when looking for work.
If you are in the market for a new role, and are getting ready to hit the interviews, then here are some tips that might help you impress recruiters and land that premium position.
Read the job advert carefully
I know this seems obvious, but if you go back to the job advert before your interview, you can pick out keywords and skills that they are likely to want you to evidence. The time between application and interview can seem like ages, so keep a copy of the job ad to remind yourself of what you applied for.
Read the person spec and any other info
Go through the person specification or further information about the role like the job description. Again, you probably did this on application to see if you were a good fit for the role. This time, you’re reading for the main skills that are likely to get asked about at interview.
If there are any buzzwords, power skills, notes about past experience, make sure you put some time aside to come up with examples you can talk about during the interview that show you have those skills.
Read up on the company
What can you find out about the company and team you are applying to join? Check sites like Glassdoor, see if any of your connections on LinkedIn work there, check customer reviews for a sense of what is important to them.
Read the annual report, check out their social media presence and watch any videos from the senior executives if any exist in the public domain.
This research is a useful source of information about values, culture and whether the company is a good fit for your future ambition. It’s also helps you come up with questions to ask at the end of the interview, when the interviewer inevitably asks you if you have anything else you’d like to know.
Speaking of which…
Make a list of questions to ask
Come up with three or four questions to ask at the end of the interview. You want a few to choose from in case some of them are answered within the interview discussion itself – if that happens, you might be left with nothing left to ask, and I think it always looks good to have something to say at that point.
Remember, you don’t have to wait until the end to ask. If the conversation drifts on to a topic relevant to your question, ask it then. After all, the interview should be a conversation rather than an interrogation.
Finally, remember that this is your chance to find out if the company is a good fit for you. Taking a job that is not right for your values, work/life balance, skill level or anything else that makes it a bad choice is only going to be something you regret in the future. Possibly in the very near future.
Use the interview as a way of checking that what you have learned about the role and the company holds true, and that you would like to build the next phase of your career there. Then go in and knock their socks off!
In this video I talk about what to look out for when you are hiring someone. It can be expensive to bring people on to the team, so it's definitely worth getting it right first time! Here are some tips for making sure that your recruitment efforts don't go to waste.
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