As an experienced project practitioner chances are you have a lot of project management skills and experience. The question I get asked a lot is how to convey this on a CV. How can you write a CV that highlights all your experiences and skills whilst still being attractive to read and understood by your target audience?
That is where we begin with the audience. We have to understand who the audience is when writing a CV. Too many practitioners think the CV is just about recording the skills and experiences of their career, in other words, the audience is you, you are writing for yourself. Practitioners tend to use the CV as a personal record of their own skills, experiences and achievements yet the real audience is the person who wants to hire you.
With a simple mindshift of writing the CV with the audience in mind it becomes a little easier to think about what project management skills to highlight and more importantly how to highlight these on the CV.
Here is an example of a typical project management CV:
It is perhaps an extreme example of the type of project management CV I normally see when recruiting for project management positions. It highlights just how much project managers tend to focus on the project they have managed without covering much detail about how they have managed the project.
It is in the detail of ‘how a project was managed’ where the real project management skills are. It is in the ‘how’ that someone who is reading the CV for the first time and wanting to hire you finds out if you are a likely fit for the new opportunity they have.
Chances are a new opportunity for you will not be exactly the same kind of projects you were previously managing yet the CV, like the example above, tells us nothing about whether this person would be a good fit for other types of projects because it is so focused on the project deliverables and technicalities of the project.
So the project management CV needs to find the balance between telling enough about the project managed and the skills used to manage it.
Understanding the Audience You are Writing Your CV For
Let’s think about the audience for a project management CV. There are generally three audiences when applying for a new opportunity via an organisation or recruitment agency.
The first is the machine. It is commonplace today that when you first apply for a position, your details and CV are automatically added to a database. The database also strips vital details from the CV in order to better manage this new data. The machine is our first audience and requires simple and common project management language in order to make sure it is logically picking out the keywords and ordering this information in a way which can be used by our second audience.
The second audience is usually an initial shortlisting gateway. This could be someone who knows a thing or two about project management but in most cases it is not. This audience is checking that the machine has done a good enough job of providing a first shortlist of people against a new requirement and will be looking at the basic details to see where the matches are. Things they are also looking for include location, previous company worked for, spelling errors and so on.
The third audience is someone who definitely knows something about project management and is most likely to be the person who has requested CVs in the first place and will be conducting the interviewing and subsequently the hiring.
Most project practitioners today write their CV with the third audience in mind – the hiring manager. Often the hiring manager never gets to see it because it never got past the first two audiences.
So the project management CV needs to find the balance between what each audience wants to see.
What Project Management Skills are Important on Your CV?
The project management skills that are the most important on your CV are the ones that your audience wants to see. It makes sense that a document like a CV would change based on who is reading it. A CV can’t be all things to everyone. Thinking this way only leads to frustration when you’re trying to secure a new job.
If there is a job description or advertisement we have something to work with. Already we know what kind of project management terminology and language is being used. Our CV will use the same language and terminology that our audience uses. If they choose to use ‘business change’ rather than ‘business transformation’, our own CV will also use that phrase.
If the advertisement or job specification mentions stakeholder management high up in the requirements, our own CV will show stakeholder management skills high up in the CV.
What we are doing is thinking about our three audiences. We need to mention “stakeholder management” because the machine will be primed to pull out CVs with this mentioned. We are highlighting “stakeholder management” high up in our roles and responsibilities because the second audience is scanning for the keyword too. Finally, the final audience is looking to see what you have actually done in relation to stakeholder management. They will want to gain an idea about how many stakeholders there were, who they were, how complex the relationships might have been.
Take a look at an improved CV from a project practitioner:
In this example they are trying to strike a balance between what projects they have worked on and how they managed it.
In this one employment history alone you can see just how many keywords can be pulled from it. This is without even thinking about the introduction to the CV, key achievements or any other jobs they have performed in the past.
The CV example here not only carries strong keywords, it is also readable and works for both inexperienced audiences and the more experienced interviewer or line manager.
The project management skills we need to highlight are based on what our audience wants to see. It can be easy to rework a CV based on a specific job advertisement or job specification but what can you do if there is no advertisement?
Which Project Management Skills on a CV Opens Doors?
Let’s get back to basics. When we think about how we manage projects we need to think about the competency areas of project management. These are areas such as:
- Planning – WBS, Gantt, PIDs
- Risk Management
- Stakeholder Management
- Resource Management
It is these basic competency (skills) areas of project management that give us some indication of how you manage projects.
One way to think about your own competency areas of project management is to follow your own project lifecycle. Think about your current or last project in a linear lifecycle form. What skills or competencies did you use throughout the lifecycle? Do it on an A4 piece of paper now. Draw the line and add the project management ‘products’ that you were responsible for.
A quick example:
When you start to understand your own basic project management skills and competency areas, it is these that become part of the CV. It is these basic competency areas that hirers are looking for from project managers. Hirers don’t just hire you based on the project you previously managed – they will want to hire you based on the demonstrable project management ability you have.