Employability is a “big conversation” at the moment, according to Killian Underhill, talent acquisition partner at global property and construction consultancy Gleeds.
Alongside Josh Chana, project manager at consultancy Faithful+Gould, Underhill co-hosted a webinar as part of APM’s Festival of Education and Research about the project management skills employers and hiring managers are looking for.
Formal qualifications or industry experience?
In Chana’s view, qualifications show one’s “level of knowledge”, while experience shows the ability to take the theory of knowledge and put it into action. Both, he says, are equally valuable.
Underhill, however, believes experience has a ‘slight edge’ over formal qualifications: “There are a lot of situations you’ll come across, especially as a project manager, such as working with difficult characters or dealing with demanding customers, so formal qualifications may not help you so much in that situation, although understanding the fundamentals of project management and the project life cycle is still very useful.”
The best project managers, says Underhill, are those who take the time to listen to what the challenges are while understanding things from a technical point of view.
Showcase abilities by rebranding university experiences
For university graduates, it can be difficult to demonstrate certain skills if you haven’t yet had industry experience. But, as Underhill advises, it is important not to undervalue the work done at university: it’s about drawing out the details and finding those transferable skills.
“Often, the key stumbling block can come when we’re not quite sure how to market certain skills to employers,” he says.
University provides a wealth of experiences and opportunities that can – and should – be included in CVs and job applications. Working as part of a group on a university project, for example, can demonstrate teamwork, communication and time management skills.
“When I was a student, it was difficult trying to showcase my abilities without the sort of tangible experience you get from the workplace,” says Chana. “So, think back to university. Think about your dissertations, your sports teams, your societies and any volunteering you did. It’s about showing employers these skills across the board from the experiences you’ve gained in life and at university.”
He adds: “Look at things like critical thinking or problem solving – was there a situation or experience you had where you can think of a key takeaway or key outcome? Was there a problem you encountered or solved, or an accomplishment?”
Highlight soft skills
Regardless of level and ability, it’s important to highlight soft skills on CVs and job applications, such as people management, time management and communication. Any kind of team working or project that demonstrates leadership or critical thinking, for example, can be a good way of getting this across.
“Soft skills can be a hard thing to demonstrate on a CV, so make those skills really clear for the reader,” Underhill advises. “If you led a particular university project or were involved in volunteer work, pick out those skills.”
Update your CV regularly
Chana advises regular CV updates, with clear and concise details of completed projects, including relevant project statistics. “Return to your CV every couple of months and update it,” says Chana. “Keep it ticking over, so that when a project management job comes up you don’t need to try and remember specific project details.”
Both Chana and Underhill emphasise the importance of professional development at every career stage. One of the viewers of the webinar recommended “immersing yourself” in the project community, professional bodies and networking opportunities. “When you couple this with your qualifications and experience, you’ve got an ability to really showcase and demonstrate your own learnings to employers,” they said. “Combine that with technical skills, a degree or formal qualifications and you become an attractive proposition to employers.”
Make use of LinkedIn
“Don’t underestimate the value of LinkedIn,” says Chana. “It’s a really good way of making connections.”
Underhill advises adding key projects (depending on client confidentiality agreements) on one’s LinkedIn profile and making use of keywords.
“Recruiters spend a lot of time on LinkedIn, and we’re looking for keywords and projects,” Underhill explains. “So put in key systems you’ve used, key projects you’ve worked on, clients you’ve worked with. LinkedIn is a like a public CV and it’s a great way to get a new job.”
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