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The project manager's CV

At all times, but especially in tough times like present, successful project managers are those who skills are relevant to their customer’s needs. This is especially true when it comes to changing your role.

There are many reasons for changing roles: you may have been made redundant, perhaps you are a contractor whose current contract is ending, or maybe you just want to do something new. Whether you want a permanent or contract role you are looking for a new customer for your project management skills. So, how do you make yourself appealing to that customer? 

It’s all down to how you present yourself.

My first tip is to find the balance between claiming to have too broad and too narrow a skill set. Make your experience look too wide and you come across as a jack-of-all trades. You may be able to deliver any project, but present yourself as a jack-of-all-trades and you will not be credible for anything but relatively junior project roles. Customers don’t have general projects – in their eyes, every project is special and needs a specialist. On the other hand, make your experience look too narrow, and when someone wants an expert they may come knocking at your door, but the chances are that this will not be often. When a less specialised project is available, your highly specialised skills can actually put potential employers off using you. So, you need to think about how to describe yourself as sufficiently broadly skilled to appeal to a variety of roles, but sufficiently focussed to be regarded as capable of meeting the challenge of this customer’s projects.

My second tip is always to think from your customers’ viewpoint. What do they want and how can you best position your skills? Occasionally, you will be lucky and find that there is a role with a perfect match to your skills. More frequently you will see jobs advertised that you know are not right for you. But in between these two situations lie thousands of projects – not exactly what you have managed before, but close enough. When faced with this situation ask yourself two questions:

  • Can you really deliver the project?
  • Can you convince the customer that you can?

These are two very different questions. The first is about your skills and competencies. I’m not going to comment on it as only you know the answer to it - but it is the second that determines whether you get a job or not. To answer it, you need to assess what the customer is looking for. Put yourself in your customers’ position. What would make you hire someone like yourself?

If you are struggling, how can you make yourself more attractive to customers? This is all down to how you market yourself. A well written CV is a must. Don’t look at your CV as a list of what you have done or as something to make you feel good about yourself. Above all else, it is a sales document – and the product is you. Watch good sales people – they always try to make their sales patter resonate with the person they are selling to. They ask a few questions, and then weave the answers into their sales routine so it sounds as if their product is just perfect for you. The same is true for your CV. It must be tailored to the opportunity you are chasing. The very same experience can be presented in various ways, by focussing on different aspects of your work. 

I have one central massive CV which lists everything I have ever done. But when I am approaching a new customer I thin it out and focus only on those aspects of my experience that are relevant to that customer. I’ve been working for more than 25 years, a lot of that time as a consultant or contractor – and so it’s just a matter of the passage of time I have done lots of things. But many of these projects are irrelevant to individual customers. If I put too much the customer thinks I’m a jack-of-all-trades, if I put too little the customer thinks my experience is not deep enough. I aim to get it just right for that customer. I have published 8 books – but I generally only mention one or two on my CV, that’s enough for most customers. Sometimes I don’t mention my books at all if I think it will mean nothing to the customer, or even put him or her off.

The right qualifications and accreditations also help – and we are moving into an era in which accreditations are getting more important. However, don’t be fooled into thinking that with some qualifications the floodgates of work will open. Customers want intelligent and practical people, not those with a hundred and one qualifications and accreditations. Having a qualification may be essential but it is never enough on its own. Customers are looking for a proven ability to deliver projects relevant to their business, and are mostly interested in track record. A few credible past employers who will willingly provide strong, pertinent references will help you more than any qualification. If you are going to invest in qualifications – get the ones that count.

The best way to develop the right sellable skills is to have a track record in successfully delivering projects in a field. What if your experience is not an exact match? My final tip is to do two things when interacting with any new potential customer:

  1. Present your skills in the most compelling way relevant to the customer’s need. Stress the similarities between what you have done in the past and what is being asked for now. If you have worked in telecommunications and the customer works in retail banking, don’t point out how different the industries are, but stress how similar they are. They are both extremely regulated environments, are highly competitive, have growing customer service expectations, outsource extensively, are capital intensive, and are both dependent on and spend significant amounts on technology. Better still stress the similarities between projects you have done in the past and the precise project the customer wants done now.
  2. To make yourself rapidly familiar with the jargon of an industry. There are some real differences between industries, but fewer than initially appear. I have worked in the public sector, telecommunications, media, financial services, manufacturing, utilities, health sector, and mining. Yes, there are real differences, but one of the main differences is language. The barrier to entry into some specialisations is primarily learning the jargon. If you are jumping industry, work hard to pick up the jargon quickly.
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