Helping candidates to stand out

Despite becoming increasingly popular and desirable as a career choice over the last 15-20 years, project management is yet to be considered a profession.

While there might be the Project Management Institute (PMI) and Association of Project Management (APM) keeping this a well-respected and highly regarded career choice, there is currently no professional body to enforce standards which all project managers must adhere, and be accountable to, across the board.

There is also no industry-wide certification process, and therein lies the problem when it comes to meeting the recruitment demand for this chosen career path.

One of the problems for people not only wanting to get into project management, but for those already in it, is that project management has traditionally placed technical skills above soft skills like leadership and communication, and business skills like management, despite these becoming just as important.

The problem is not just the limitation that this places on career progression, but the fact that technical skills by themselves don’t allow people to understand how good they are.

Being able to differentiate and rate yourself in order to ultimately answer the question: “How do you know you are a good project manager” has never been more critical when going through the recruitment process.

The fact is that any organisations worth their salt – the ones that are moving away from the ‘sheep-dipping’ style of training to something that involves addressing their skills gap – are now conducting assessment-based skills audits, and are therefore starting to see exactly who they have, and who it is they are looking for to fill the areas they fall short.

Assessing competency

Big organisations, like the energy companies, are starting to implement these on an organisation-wide level, but unfortunately there are a lot more project managers that don’t work for these organisations, than do. For these project managers, it all comes down to self-development, as discussed in a previous blog: Why competency assessment is crucial for self-development.

As mentioned, one of the main ways a current or prospective project manager can assess themselves in terms of how good they are is to understand that the skills they have beyond the day to day tool kit of the project manager are just as essential.

One key way to meet this assessment-led criteria is to undertake a competency assessment, as can be found with the PMI and APM. They cover both technical and soft skills, as well as the business environment you work in, and no project management career professional can afford not to do one.

As things currently stand, organisations can only go on what ‘badges’ people have gained from the training they have done, rather than roles they are currently in. That is because, ultimately, everybody does projects slightly differently, and apart from training certificates, there is no easy way of telling the outside world how you do them.

The onus is therefore very much on organisations to first identify how they themselves run their projects; what competences they have identified as being crucial for their project managers and clear job groupings that can be used in order to find external candidates suitable for their business.

Recruiters meanwhile will increasingly have to meet profile requests from organisations who know exactly who they are looking for in a project manager and will therefore need to adopt the same assessment-led process when it comes to short-listing the right people for these organisations.

One issue however for the recruitment of project managers is if an HR department is charged with the process, especially if they are looking at CVs based solely on a keyword search. There are many nuances of project management which make it difficult to select people to interview based on a CV, such as the importance of people management skills in projects and how difficult this is to convey in a CV.

Chinese whispers

The situation can also be less than ideal when recruitment is conducted on behalf of a hiring manager, alongside a recruitment consultant that is governed by HR, something which can often result in a Chinese whispers effect.

As Lindsay Scott of project management recruitment specialists, Arras People explains: “The hiring manager is the person who has the requirement for a new project manager and they are often also the person in the business who understands the ins and outs of project management too. Often HR departments can be barriers to getting great candidates seen by the hiring manager – perhaps a certain accreditation is missing or an example of a competency is not understood. Unless we badger HR and risk ruining our relationship with them, it can be very difficult for us to get the right candidates seen by them. Of course they will know their business better than we do, so they won’t always be willing to trust our judgement.

“This isn’t helped by project managers traditionally having less than ideal CVs in the first place. It is only by talking to someone that their management capabilities will come across. As we can’t see everyone who applies for a position, we have to draw up a sensible shortlist of people that look right on paper, and then interview them, before passing on their profile and CVs. It is time consuming and somewhat hit and miss because we rely heavily on just a CV when someone makes an application.

“Ultimately though, if organisations are serious about projects and understanding what people they have got and what people they need, this has got to have a knock on effect in the way that they hire people. So it is up to us to respond to this, ideally by facilitating a world where recruitment, assessment, skills and project management training are joined up – and hopefully getting the hiring manager to come directly to us if they are not seeing the right people.

“Until then, people need to understand that if they do an assessment they will also need to go on to do some training and development. Even if your organisation is not interested in providing any, you will still have to think of yourself if you want to take control of your career as no one else will do it for you.”