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From the Sponsor’s Desk – 10 Project Manager Resume Best Practices

Project managers live a life of change, from project to project, from stakeholder to stakeholder, from team to team, from technology to technology.

That means periodic searches for new opportunities to stay employed, leverage your talents and build your skills and capabilities. It doesn’t matter whether you’re going from company to company as a contractor or getting your assignments within a company or organization. Personal contacts and a solid professional reputation are essential in the search process. But the bedrock is the resume. Having a comprehensive, robust portfolio and a targeted resume to secure that next ideal assignment can be the game changer.

I have a colleague who has been a highly successful contract project manager for over two decades. His projects are always successful. Always. They’re not always on budget and schedule. They don’t always deliver the originally planned functionality. But his key stakeholders love him. His biggest challenge is leaving. They just don’t want him to go even though he charges a sizeable premium for his services. He is also amazingly successful at securing the kinds of assignments that will build his skills and capabilities going forward. In addition to the usual employment history and education, here are the ten project manager resume best practices he uses to differentiate himself from the competition.

1. Match the opportunity

The resume should always be targeted at the opportunity. Do your research. If you know someone in the organization you’re seeking to join, have a chat. Find out about the mission, vision, culture and core competencies. Learn about recent successes and failures, market performance, competitors, internal practices, processes and technologies. Get any information you can about the key stakeholders, their careers and aspirations. Always keep the hiring manager’s needs in mind. Shape your resume to that information base to show off a hiring manager’s dream candidate – you. Customizing shows you care enough to learn about the organization and helps the decision makers arrive at the right hiring decision.

2. Focus on your successes

The whole purpose of your resume is to get an interview and the job offer so you can decide if you want to take on the challenge they’re offering. Don’t include problem or failed projects, even if you think they were someone else’s fault. Include your best work and demonstrate how that can help your prospective future employer.

3. Cultivate Brevity

My colleague uses a two page rule of thumb but has gone to five pages on occasion because the situations dictated a fuller response. The key is to keep the material absolutely relevant, legible and succinct. Use charts, graphs, pictograms and other graphics as appropriate to make your point and attract the reader’s attention. Remember that old saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words”? It can be especially true in your resume.

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4. Demonstrate Currency

Even though the prospective assignment may only require knowledge of and experience with conventional practices and technologies, include your exposure to new and emerging developments. The hiring manager might see these capabilities as an opportunity for the organization which can strengthen your case.

5. Lessons learned

For each assignment you cover in your resume, include lessons learned and applied along the way. Show how they contributed to a successful outcome. Lessons learned demonstrate your commitment to finding better ways and your ability to collaborate and deliver change. Don’t cover post project reviews or audit unless they were emphatically positive.

6. Be a professional

It’s one thing to do the work. It’s another matter to demonstrate that you take professionalism seriously. Include your certifications, like PMP, CAPM, CSM, Prince2, GOAM/APM, etc. Also include any related certifications, including change management, Lean/Six Sigma, ITIL, quality management, etc. Certifications alone won’t get you the job but, more and more, they are a necessary pre-requisite.

Also include memberships in project management and related organizations like PMI, IPMA, ACMP and CMI and your level of involvement – member, contributor, board member, etc. Finally, cover any related publishing activity, including books published, blog posts, podcasts, articles, speaking engagements, any commentaries you have contributed and any industry accolades you have received in the recent past.

7. Recognize your networks – stakeholders, teams, clients

Project management is all about leadership, with your clients, stakeholders and team members. Resumes that feature the “I” word will be quickly discarded. Taking credit for the work and success of others will usually earn your resume a speedy reject. Use your successes with the diverse set of players involved in projects to demonstrate your leadership agility and capability.

8. Be a storyteller

Bullet points are nice and succinct but not very compelling. Sometimes a short story can gain a reader’s attention where a bulleted list will fail. An article, How to Tell a Great Story by Carolyn O’Hara in the Harvard Business Review quotes Nick Morgan, author of Power Cues and president and founder of Public Words, a communications consulting firm: “Facts and figures and all the rational things that we think are important in the business world actually don’t stick in our minds at all”. The article goes on to suggest that stories create “sticky” memories by attaching emotions to things that happen. So create some sticky memories in the minds of hiring managers by telling a few compelling stories.

9. Seek feedback

No project manager is an island. PM’s work with all sorts of people within and outside an organization. Take advantage of that. Get feedback from stakeholders, team mates, clients, peers, even your current boss, depending on the circumstances and relationship of course. You’ll be amazed at the feedback you get. It’s almost like a 360 degree performance appraisal, intimidating at first but immensely illuminating in the longer term. Reflect that feedback in your resume. It will be a much better product as a result.

10. Show your personal brand

This is your resume. Structure the content, format and media to reinforce who you are and what you offer. It doesn’t have to be on letter size or A4 paper. It doesn’t have to be on paper at all or only minimally. A web site, podcast, blog posts, Youtube video? How about a resume in Twitter tweets? Experiment. Get feedback. Revise and try again. Check out Elon Musk’s resume to get an idea of the possible.

There you have it – my colleague’s 10 project manager resume best practices. Try them out and let us know how they worked for you. If you have your own resume best practices, please leave a comment below so others can benefit. And remember, review Project Pre-Check’s three building blocks covering the key stakeholder group, the decision management process and Decision Framework best practices to ensure you cover everything of significance in your new, compelling resume.

Finally, thanks to everyone who has willingly shared their experiences for presentation in this blog. Everyone benefits. First time contributors get a copy of one of my books. Readers get insights they can apply to their own unique circumstances. So, if you have a project experience, a favorite best practice, or an interesting insight that can make a PM’s life easier, send me the details and we’ll chat. I’ll write it up and, when you’re happy with the results, Project Times will post it so others can learn from your insights. Thanks

Drew Davison

Drew Davison is the owner and principal consultant at Davison Consulting and a former system development executive. He is the developer of Project Pre-Check, an innovative framework for launching projects and guiding successful project delivery, the author of Project Pre-Check - The Stakeholder Practice for Successful Business and Technology Change and Project Pre-Check FastPath - The Project Manager’s Guide to Stakeholder Management. He works with organizations that are undergoing major business and technology change to implement the empowered stakeholder groups critical to project success. Drew can be reached at [email protected].

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