Project Manager Job Offers: Using The Sharp-Shooter Approach

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.

Construction Companies Benefit From Project Management Professionals (PMP)

Eighty percent of construction companies fail within the first two years, with another 18% joining their ranks in another three years.

There are various reasons that lead to a construction company going in trouble, including general economic conditions, not being competitive, heavy operating expenses, poor accounting system or even high employee turnover, but none impact a construction business as significantly as lack of project managerial expertise.

The Project Management Professional (PMP) certification is for project managers with extensive experience. Qualifications and testing criteria are rigorous, making it a widely respected certification. Generally speaking, construction projects are run by contractors, not by certified Project Management Professionals (PMPs).

The contractors would say that they’re the only ones who truly understand construction, because they’ve been there and done that; but, is that viewpoint valid? Where does the need for hands-on experience end, and the need for rigorous and structured project management ability begin?

Most contractors, whether general contractors or specialists (plumbers, electricians, etc.), worked their way up in the construction business. That means they started out as an apprentice, became a journeyman, possibly were promoted to being a crew chief or jobsite superintendent by the company owner, then eventually stepped out on their own to start their own company and be a contractor.

Here are 5 basic areas in which these contractors and Professional Project Managers think differently. These areas can make or break a project, specially when it comes to maintaining the project on schedule and on budget:

1 – Bidding Strategies and Change Orders

The world of construction is highly competitive, especially in today’s economy. Each job out there has a number of contractors bidding on it, driving prices down and all but eliminating profit margins. A common strategy which many contractors are using today is to bid the job with minimal overhead and negligible profits, depending on “Change Orders” to make their profits.

While this strategy works, it may not be working quite as well as many contractors would like. The very fact of bidding a job in that manner means that there is little room for error. Even a slight error in scope management, cost estimating or scheduling can take a project from profitable to being a loss.

If the project is being provided under a contract, then some advance thinking has to go into how to deal with “Change Orders” when they occur. Project Management Professionals approach Change Orders with a different mindset, since they see this as a change to the original “Plan” and seek to integrate the change into the overall plan instead of “tacking it on top of” work that is already being done.

Approved change orders can require revised cost estimates, new schedule updates, revised activity sequencing, additional risk analysis and even calculation of cumulative impacts. Therefore setting up a “Configuration Management” process with integrated change control provides an effective way to centrally manage and document change orders, while providing opportunities for increased profit margin.

2 – Claim Management

Although this may seem the same as the change orders (mentioned above), it is actually a separate area. “Change Orders” deal with changes for which both the owner and contractor are in agreement. “Claims” deal with areas where there is disagreement. These are extra charges due to unforeseen problems on the project, which the contractor wishes to recoup from the owner at the time of project closing. What makes these claims challenging is the difference in interpretation of the project scope. The owner may feel that these unforeseen situations are part of the scope of the contractor, while the contractor may see them as extra costs he incurred, for things outside of his control.

Effective claim management requires thoroughly documenting the problem, sending on-time notifications to the owner, including estimates of cost and schedule impacts, along with creating a convincing justification for the charges. This is one of the most challenging communication problems on a construction project. Project Management Professionals are trained in dealing with claims, whereas the typical contractor is usually at the mercy of the owner.

3 – Thinking “Tasks” instead of “Processes”

Eighty percent of construction companies fail within the first two years, with another eighteen percent joining their ranks in another three years. It’s not the lack of knowledge in construction, but the lack of knowledge in how to manage their projects. This article describes how construction companies benefit from Certified Project Managers.

A contractor or construction superintendent usually becomes such because they know how to do the job. But, that isn’t the same thing as knowing how to manage the job. They see the project as a series of separate tasks; get all the tasks right and the project will come together.

However, Project Management Professionals (PMPs) are trained to think in terms of “processes.” Thinking this way creates a more global approach to the project, seeing the individual tasks as only part of the processes. This drastically changes their approach to managing a project, seeing how things fit together not so much by a “gut feeling,” but as a continuing path, filled with measurable risks and challenges, towards a specific goal. There are parts of this PMP mindset, such as Communication Management, Risk Management and Time Management which are not directly related to the ability to swing a hammer:

- Not knowing how to set up a “Communication Plan” to clearly define how to communicate the right information to the right stakeholder at the right time can cost a company that just got off the ground heavily.

- Not knowing how to create a “Risk Management Plan” or “Risk Register” for the project, including how to deal with those risks, whether by mitigating them, eliminating them or transferring them, could become fatal.

- Not knowing which tasks on your project are on the “Critical Path” could extend your schedule (hence costs) by enough to make your profits marginal or non-existent.

4 – Managing Technical Changes

Integrating, communicating and managing technical changes, such as changes to a building’s blueprints or equipment drawings requires thorough action, which is properly documented to ensure that everyone is made aware of the change. These technical changes can be as minor as a change in paint color to something major enough to cause a skyscraper to fall down in high winds. Regardless of the size of the change, each one is important to the owner, requiring proper integration and implementation.

As part of their training, Project Management Professionals learn that change requests should be subject to a thorough process that may require analyzing estimated impacts on cost, quality or schedule before the change is approved. Coordinating changes across the entire project, and documenting the complete impact or technical change should be a second nature to any project manager who seeks a successful and profitable project outcome.

5 – Managing Suppliers and Subcontractors

A major part of managing a construction project is ensuring that the work crews and supplies are on the job site when they are needed. A typical contractor deals with their suppliers at the last minute, calling in their orders and expecting delivery the same day. Their way of dealing with subcontractors bears a closer resemblance to browbeating than any accepted management philosophy.

When a construction project is properly managed, a project schedule is created before the first person shows up at the job site. This schedule is maintained and adjusted as needed, be it due to adverse weather, construction delays or other problems on the job. With an accurate project schedule, there is no reason to deal with suppliers and subcontractors on a last minute basis. Everything can be pre-planned and communicated to the proper people well in advance.

Another problem with managing sub-contractors is that when problems occur, the buyer (contractor) has little leverage for claiming the incurred costs due to seller’s (sub-contractor’s) fault. A procurement contract should include terms and conditions that contractor specifies to establish what the sub-contractor is to provide. By including the right terms and conditions into the sub-contracts, many typical problems can be avoided.

As part of the Project Management Professional training, “Procurement Management” is discussed within the perspective of buyer-seller relationship. This relationship exists at many levels, including sub-contractors performance evaluations. These processes indicate if the sub is performing the work according to plans, rate how well the work is being performed, create the basis for early termination of the sub’s contract, and application of penalties, fees or incentives.