In case you hadn’t noticed it, the Job Market is not in a great shape these days. Somehow, that outrageous situation has come to pass. Those of us who have been fortunate enough (or diligent enough) to have acquired certain professional qualifications have felt the soul-chilling threat of unemployment much less harshly than others… but we’ve still felt it. On top of that, there aren’t that many “Project Manager” job offers out there… and when there is one, it’s either not a perfect “fit” or there’s far too much competition.
Here are a few suggestions to help you apply for those few PM jobs you might come across:
1. Use the sharp-shooter’s approach
Once upon a time, as the story goes, it was perfectly possible to say “I’ve been managing projects” and for the most part, when we were looking for a new position, we could find plenty of job vacancies which more or less fitted our criteria. Nowadays we have to “cut our coat” according to the job description. Putting it bluntly, while you’re waiting for a “perfect fit” for your career plans, more bread won’t be appearing on your table. This means you need to use your ability to think analytically and laterally to determine the specific skillset required by each job vacancy, and focus on the part of your experience that demonstrates you’ve ‘been there and done that. For example, if you have experience in both Production and Supply Chain Management and the job description predominantly looks like outsourcing procurements, then it is worth the effort spent rewriting your resume to focus on the Supply Chain Management and outsourcing aspects (rather than Production) in your skill summary section and your recent job ‘responsibilities’.
2. Get your PMP Certification
Being PMP-Certified is a fantastic boon which should put you head and shoulders above 96% of the other applicants (only 4% of project managers in the US/Canada hold the PMP certification). Consequently you should make clear mention of it in your resume and also dedicate a sentence in your cover letter to emphasize the fact. Furthermore, you should draw the employer’s attention to how, in achieving your PMP status, you acquired a broad-based ability which transformed you into a highly versatile person. On your resume, ensure your skill summary section describes and illustrates how you can manage projects successfully from initiation to closing.
3. Focus on all dimensions of the PM job
You will be aware that the majority of Project Management job vacancies or ads have requirements for technical and social skills. Accordingly you should identify and address these two dimensions even if they are not clearly separated in the ad. The simplest way to do apply for a job is to make up a table in an Excel spreadsheet and list all specific requirements of the job in two distinct worksheets. For example under Technical Skills include University Degree, PMP certification, Technology experience, Budget and financial management experience. And under Social Skills include Management and leadership skills and experience, Ability to motivate, Demonstrated success at building team relationships and partnerships across organizational lines, etc. Then in a separate column, for each of these lines write down your own abilities and how they relate your past experience to this job.
This approach will help you prepare a more targeted resume and cover letter for this job offer, and will force you to think hard about your “elevator pitch” during the interview where you have to demonstrate that you are a perfect match for this position. All this would involve some effort on your part, but one or two applications done in this way are more likely to result in success than hundreds submitted ‘en masse’. The whole time you’re preparing your resume and cover letter, you should be thinking about the interview and the questions you’re likely to get asked. It’s a fact that through carefully aiming an application, the candidate can largely control the interview questions.
4. Research, Research, Research
If you’re going to avoid creating a cookie cutter resume, you need to know something about the company you are applying for. Your resume shouldn’t just be focused on the job they’re advertising, but the company itself. Each company has their own corporate culture. You need to show that you fit into theirs. An engineering firm and a consulting firm aren’t going to ask you the same types of questions. Their needs are different and their questions will reflect those needs. As much as possible, you want to answer those questions before they ask them; so that they say to themselves, “This sounds like the kind of person we’ve been looking for.”
So, what do you need to know about the company? Basically, everything you can find out. Use these questions as a checklist for your scavenger hunt:
- What is their main product or service?
- Who is the end
-user of their products or services?
- Have they received any new contracts recently (check the press releases on their web site)?
- What type of organizational structure are they using for managing projects (functional, matrix based, projectized)? This can greatly impact the limits of your authority and responsibility as a Project Manager.
- Do they have an active PMO (Project Management Office)?
- Whom will you be reporting to and what is their Project Management background?
- Who are the main stakeholders in your project (government, private industry, environmental groups, etc.)?
- Is the Project Manager expected to have a strong technical knowledge about their product, or would there be support staff (engineers and technicians) working on the project team?
- What type of industry specific training do they provide?
- What Project Management tools does the company regularly use (MS Project, Primavera, SAP)?
- Is the PM expected to maintain and update these tools, or is it done by others?
Many of these questions can be answered by a thorough review of the information that’s on the company’s web site or through search engines. The time you spend researching these answers will help you to develop your resume in a way that is much more focused on meeting their needs. Some of the questions can become topics of discussion during your interview and for showing more interest in the company.
5. Gather information about your past projects
The ammunition you’re going to use to make an explosive resume and cover letter are the projects you’ve managed or coordinated before. What you are selling is your experience and your ability to get things done. So, dig up every bit of information you can about your past projects and review it; looking for successes and accomplishments that you can use to impress the hiring manager.
While your experience might be product specific or even industry specific, you don’t want to leave the hiring manager with that idea. Project management is project management, whether for aerospace or the medical field. While you may not have specific knowledge about aerospace, your Project Management experience still carries over.
As much as possible, avoid being product or industry specific, unless the product or industry that you’ve worked in before aligns well with the position you’re applying for. Whether in your resume or in the interview, steer away from being specific and direct yourself towards being more general; showing how your accomplishments and experience can provide a benefit towards their company and the project that they need managed.
6. Create a “WOW” factor
For every position that you apply for, you must assume that 20-30 other qualified people out there are seeking that same position. With this overwhelming deluge of applications to sift through, the average resume may only receive a minute or less. Your resume and cover letter has to catch the attention of that hiring manager in that little time, or it just ends up in the scrap pile.
Companies that are hiring want to know what you can do for them. They’re assuming you meet the basic qualifications, or you wouldn’t have bothered sending your resume in. A lengthy work history and education only shows that you’re qualified, it doesn’t have any “Wow factor.” You want them to look at your resume and say, “I want to talk to this person”
How do you wow a hiring manager? By showing off your accomplishments. Did you save $200,000 on a project that you managed? Did you negotiate a claim that brought back $150,000 to the project? How about finishing projects before the scheduled due date? What huge hurdles have you had to overcome in a project, yet still completed it? Make sure you brag about those.