Presenting your value in the project management jobs market

Colleagues standing a board with Post-Its as one of them marks notes with a marker pen

Recruitment in the project management market in mid-2018 finds itself in between times: the recessionary economy of post-2008 and an emerging state of recovery.

The relatively high availability of people during recessionary periods means employers don’t have to try too hard to attract new workers; the ability to be choosy means many look for a 120% fit from a candidate as they have no budget to invest in training. Churn levels amongst project management practitioners is low as people feel safer to remain with their current employer.

Conversely, a recovery period brings a reduction in the availability of good project managers in the job market at a time when businesses are looking to expand. Correspondingly, companies’ attitudes might change as they accept a lower recruitment “fit” and the need to think about a degree of training.

So, what should project managers looking for new roles be doing?

The CV

You need to be able to present yourself in the most effective way and, for most people, their first introduction to a potential employer or recruiter is via a CV.

If you’re chasing a particular role, your CV needs to stand out and be relevant to the role you’re applying for. For example, if I’m looking for a business-focused project manager and receive a CV extolling a candidate’s skills as an IT-focused project manager, I’m unlikely to read much further.

If you’re not sure whether you would be really good for the role then phone the recruiter and speak to them about it.

You need to think about how your CV will appeal to the keyword matching used by many recruiters who do not understand the world of project management. In that case, they are searching for people with certain accreditations and badges before they put you into a shortlist.

Presenting how good you are

Companies are finding it harder to identify "good" project managers, so how should project manager candidates demonstrate convincingly how good they are?

It takes a combination of project management skills and capabilities but for many employers this needs to be coupled with technical experience, domain experience. Qualifications and education are good, but you need to be able to show how they have been applied to solve real project management challenges.

The challenge comes if you have, for example, 20 years in financial services and are trying to move into public sector or generic IT project roles: you simply don’t have the domain experience. And while practitioners might say that skills are transferable across domains, many hiring managers do not share that opinion.

So, present relevant facts that are pertinent to a role you’re applying for, or a role you might want to stretch to. You need to understand the requirements of the hiring company: do your research and polish your soft skills.

Style and personality

According to the Arras People Project Management Benchmark Report, personality and style consistently rank among the most important factors that companies are looking for in project managers. But how can you gauge your current level of effectiveness in those areas and how can you improve it?

360 degree assessments and talking to people in your team or your peers will give you a clear idea if you don’t already know.

What is also worth considering when you go for new role is how your style will meld with the culture of the organization? Some workplaces prefer warm, cuddly people, but in others the culture is harder and favours “he who shouts loudest”. Ultimately, it’s about how well you can fit into an organization.

Certifications

Project management certifications bring you up to a required level but they don’t prove you can do it. As mentioned before, it’s a combination of certifications, skills, knowledge and experience. That said, a candidate’s CV may not get through the first sift by a recruiter if they haven’t got PRINCE2.

However, if you are a senior project manager with PMP and PRINCE2, how do you get to the next level? It might mean certifying in MSP. It’s up to the individual to think about life-long learning and commitment to their chosen profession.

I like to see a candidate who is evolving and taking relevant education to support their learning and development. Part of the professionalization of project management is that people are committing to ongoing programmes of learning.

Certifications provide practitioners with toolkits, while their skill and expertise should allow them to dip in and bring what is necessary to create the required level of rigour and process to their projects. After all, companies are not paying someone to come in and re-create the wheel.

The agile environment

Today, I believe many project management practitioners are still working in a waterfall project management environment (nothing wrong with that) but are aspiring to be seen as being agile. The Agile world on the other hand has eradicated many of the traditional job titles associated with projects, but if you scrape the surface of many job titles, they are re-labelled project managers.

For experienced project managers, learning about agile can help frame the language for the things that – often – you’ve been doing already.

Understanding agile approaches means you can have a conversation with someone in the agile world and talk the same language. It’s also another way of getting into the “club” and catching a chunk of the market.

Being busy delivering is no excuse; project managers have to lift their heads up and see what’s going on around them in the world – that differentiates you and is what makes you a balanced professional.

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