A complete guide to qualifications, interview techniques and tips for landing your ideal project management job.
Project managers are in demand across all industries and sectors. With keen organisational skills and the ability to see the bigger picture, a project manager who delivers time and again is the person every business with large and small projects to manage will look for.
Businesses want project managers who are qualified, with the ability to showcase their skills and with a growing portfolio of experience. You may think that getting your foot in the door is tough but with the right project management qualifications, alongside the right interview technique, you will secure your dream job.
Project management qualifications
The role of the project manager is critical to the success of a project. You will have a wide range of responsibilities in delivering the project but when it comes down to the basics, you are responsible for the day-to-day management of the project.
This includes everything from scoping through to scheduling, finance, risk, the quality of delivery and allocation of resources. You may also find yourself selecting a specific team of people to get the project delivered to the high standard expected and on time too.
Professional PM Qualifications are essential and are vital for an in-depth understanding of this fast-paced profession. Many people working as project managers have a degree and moved into project management after a stint in a particular business or industry. However, that is not the only route into the profession as there is also the PM Apprenticeship route.
Depending on the route you take to become qualified, either the vocational or academic route, you will need A levels as the basic starting point.
Here’s more about the pathways to a career in the project management profession:
- Project Management Apprenticeship – you may have a firm idea of the industry in which you want to be a project manager. Most industries need qualified project managers but you may decide you want to manage civil engineering projects for instance. Within this industry, like many others, there are apprenticeship opportunities. A combination of practical work alongside learning the theory of project management is a strong start for any career role but certainly for future project managers. Apprenticeships can be competitive, so you will need to polish your CV and work on your interview performance. Apprentices enjoy a great work-life balance but also find that they are in a strong position for future career development, often with the same company they started with.
- Basic qualifications – foundation courses in project management and related courses are a great starting point too. You may find that businesses advertise trainee positions (not the same as apprenticeships) in which you are expected to have some basic project management qualifications and knowledge. You may follow the company’s prescribed training route or complete more qualifications under your own steam.
- Project management degree – a degree in project management will place you in a very strong position to grab some of the best project manager posts out there. There may also be a chance once you have graduated to continue with a post-graduate degree in project management or a related field, as well as enjoy the benefits of being a member of a professional project management body.
All these routes to qualifications have pros and cons in terms of cost, the time taken to acquire the qualification and other factors too. Choose the route that suits you personally and places you in the position you need to be to land your dream project manager role.
With a polished CV and project management qualifications under your belt, you now need to be confident you have the right interview technique.
Interviewers will see a lot of candidates, all wanting the same job and many will be equally well-qualified so you need to be able to stand out for all the right reasons. Employers say that people who are offered a job succeed at the interview stage by:
- Making a great first impression – from smiling to a firm handshake, to being dressed smartly, arriving on time to having your phone on silent and tucked away, the small things make a big first impression on your interviewers. Think about how you come across and what impression you give as you enter the room.
- Having knowledge of the company – just as a company is interested in employing you, you need to show an interest in the company; what it has achieved and why you feel you would be the perfect fit. This comes down to understanding the projects the company takes on, as well as understanding its values and mission. Even though you may not be directly asked about this, interviewers will know who has researched their organisation by the content of their answers.
- Being organised – you have completed an application form and possibly other activities and exercises, and you will probably have provided a copy of your CV. Interviewers say they like to see an organised and prepared candidate. In other words, you have fully your completed application.
- The candidate’s body language – we communicate in several ways and talking is just one of them. What also will betray or support us in a high-pressure interview situation is our body language. Project management is also a high-pressure environment where, despite the pressure, you are expected to keep a cool head and make decision based on data and facts, and not a knee-jerk reaction. In an interview, your body language is important so consider how you come across when talking not just about the words you are saying. If you are unsure why not do a practise interview session with a friend to see how you physically react? Do you fiddle with your hands, touch your nose or continually pull at your hair. All these small, sub-conscious movements show how you are really feeling and may indicate a lack of confidence or an inability to work under pressure.
- Smiling through the nerves – interviewers expect candidates to be nervous but unfortunately, this can make some people act differently. Some people, for instance, withdraw from the situation, coming across as aloof. By understanding that you are nervous and it is OK to be nervous, you will give a better interview. And through it all, don’t forget to smile and engage with the interviewers.
- Maintaining eye contact – not everyone is comfortable making eye contact. Holding someone’s gaze for a long time may be uncomfortable but eye contact is an important signal to potential interviewers – it shows a confidence and a maturity. If you are unsure or very uncomfortable making eye contact, you need to make sure you give the right impression when it comes to showing your confidence – and not appearing aloof.
- Think about your answers – interviewers will want to get an idea of who you are and what you can bring to the role; but they are looking for other traits too. They want to understand your personality, considering how you will fit into their current team and so on. Quite often in interviews, there are no right and wrong answers but it’s more about how you deliver the answer. Here’s a most important tip: think about your answers. Give yourself a chance to understand what it is the interviewer is actually asking before you respond.
- Being yourself – it’s hard to let your personality shine through when you are a mess of nerves! This is your dream job, the start you want in the profession you have chosen. But remember, the interviewer wants to get to know you a little better and not have you regurgitate your CV for every question they ask.
- Asking questions – there is nothing worse than the few seconds at the end of the interview in which you are asked “do you have any questions?” for you to shake your head. The ending of an interview is just as, if not more, important than the start because this is your parting impression. Have a number of questions prepared in case some have already been covered in the interview.
Tips for landing your dream project management job
Your application and CV has landed you an interview. You have practised your interview skills but what else can you do to show potential employers you are the right choice?
1. Work on yourself
Understanding and knowing yourself and the skills and attributes you bring to a role will mean that when you get asked the killer question – “what will you bring to the company?” – you will have a genuine answer to give, and not just waffle.
There are many self-assessment activities online that help you understand what you are really like under pressure. There are other ‘tests’ that can help you determine how you come across, what are your shining qualities and talents.
Don’t forget, an employer wants to see you and your character and personality. So help them see who you are by having a keen sense of self.
2. Make more of your experience
Employers understand that when they are interviewing someone who is new to the profession of project management, that their experience will be less than other candidates.
But lack of relevant experience doesn’t make you any less valuable as a candidate. But YOU need to have confidence in the experience that you do have. Reflect on what you have done so far and consider how this has informed your progress towards becoming a successful project manager.
3. Be relevant
As with all professionals, current practice and attitudes change over time. Stay relevant by subscribing to current journals and understanding the direction the project management profession in your chosen industry is moving in. Be aware that project management is now a chartered profession and think about how that might affect your future career.
4. Skills outside of project management matter
As well as being generally well-organised, having a working knowledge of project management software and tools, and so on, your project management qualifications are key to your success – as are the soft skills we all have.
Soft skills can be defined as the personal attributes that have contributed to your career progression so far. So the hours of self-directed study you put in to get your project management qualification shows you are self-motivated with a positive attitude.
Soft skills are also the traits we need to interact harmoniously and effectively with others, and when you consider how people-led project management can be, being able to relate to, listen to and work in a team with colleagues are all soft skills you need to showcase.
5. Send a follow-up email
Project management is a profession like many others and that means your professional reputation is something to be developed and nourished.
Make a start by sending a simple, quick email after the interview to thank the interviewers for being invited to an interview. This creates a strong impression and indicates you are someone who knows how to communicate and is a professional in their field (or has the makings of becoming a professional).
Sending a thank you email may not actually clinch you the job but it does help to create a great impression with a company. Don’t forget, for several months after an interview, if another position does become available, they could offer it to you if you have the skills they are looking for and you were on their short-list.
Not heard within the week after the interview? Follow up with a phone call or an email and if they are willing, ask for feedback.
Is project management your ideal career choice?
Project managers who are qualified, skilled and have a great personality will always be in demand. To land your dream job, you need to have the skill set the employer is looking for but the character and soft skills to match.
Your dream project management job is out there somewhere. Why not get out there and grab it!