Talk the walk

img WANTED: A senior-level project manager for a multi-million-dollar network solutions project. Responsibilities include stakeholder management, day-to-day oversight of global technical team and dealing with multiple vendors. Good communication skills a must.

Most project management job descriptions require strong people skills like communication. And while listing certifications and job experiences on a résumé can prove technical capabilities, it's more difficult to demonstrate these much-needed communication skills in writing.


by Kevin Gault

Communication skills don't always come across on paper. Use the interview to wow them.

“Project management is all about the people skills, and it's a challenge to prove that you possess the right stuff for a job,” says Sandeep Shouche, PMP, program manager, BMC Software, Pune, India.

Project managers can put themselves over the top in an interview by conveying their message clearly, accurately and concisely— demonstrating their solid communication skills. When sitting down with a potential employer, keep these things in mind.

It's up to project managers to prove they have the ability to get the job done. “Call on all of your experience to prepare anecdotal evidence that illustrates your skills as they pertain to the job you're interviewing for,” Mr. Shouche says.

In an interview, focus on selling your skills. “The biggest secret that project managers interviewing for a job should know is that all companies are looking for core competencies such as accountability, integrity, dealing with ambiguity, learning new tasks quickly and being motivated for results,” says Kathi Kroop, Salem, Ore., USA-based president of the PMI Human Resources Specific Interest Group (SIG) and faculty member in the MBA program at the University of Phoenix.

Consult the Experts

How-to books on job searching and interviewing are readily available. They offer tips on answering difficult questions, understanding the recruitment process, the importance of body language and tackling telephone interviews, says Angela Juul, PMP, Profiles International, Waco, Texas, USA. Here are a few resources that may be of assistance:

  1. Knock ‘em Dead series by Martin Yate [Adams Media Corp.]
  2. You're Hired! Interview Skills to Get the Job by Lorne Epstein [E3 Publishing, 2005]
  3. Mastering the Job Interview: The MBA Guide to Successful Business Interviews by Alexander Chernev [Brightstar Media Inc., 2005]
  4. A Better Job Interview: Questions and Techniques—The Interview Secrets That HR People Don't Want You To Know by Damen LC Choy [ Inc., 2004]
  5. Competency-Based Interviews: Master the Tough New Interview Style and Give Them the Answers That Will Win You the Job by Robin Kessler [Career Press, 2006]

Interviewers typically base their questions around those capabilities to determine whether a project manager possesses those particular traits.

For example, Ms. Kroop says, an interviewer may ask a job candidate to discuss a time when he or she had to quickly learn a new task and then train his or her staff. “Using his or her ability to communicate well, the project manager can tell the interviewer clearly how he or she worked through that situation, and the interviewer will learn about the candidate's [capacity] to learn quickly,” she says.

2. Be Concise.

Leave the long speeches to politicians and officials. Project managers must be able to communicate concisely because, in the working world, they deal with stakeholders and executives whose time is limited and valuable.

“In their work, project managers prepare brief executive summaries, and they develop concise project-status reports,” Ms. Kroop says. If they can communicate that way in an interview—where time is also of the essence— they'll be successful, she adds.

Project managers should be prepared to succinctly explain to the interviewer why they meet the requirements listed on the job posting.

“Communicate in brief, clear points,” Ms. Kroop says. “A good way to accomplish this is to prepare for an interview by practicing on answering questions that might be asked.”

3. Watch Your Body Language.

Just as project managers develop their verbal communication skills, they must also practice nonverbal cues. When managing projects and people, it's necessary to consider everything from how you sit to where you stand—all telltale signs of your feelings.

The same is true in the interview process. Often, hiring managers choose people for jobs not only because of what they say, but also because of the nonverbal messages they send, says Manon Deguire, PMP, managing partner of consulting firm Valense Ltd., London, England.

“Good project managers are excellent verbal communicators, but they must realize that nonverbal communication in job interviews makes a very strong impression as well,” Ms. Deguire says. “The saying, ‘You don't get a second chance to make a first impression,’ is especially true in this situation.”

She says a large portion of the decision-making process is made up of the interviewer's subconscious feelings about the candidate based on nonverbal cues. “Your posture, tone of voice, eye contact with the interviewer, speaking clearly—these things influence the hiring manager's decision much more than most of us realize,” Ms. Deguire says.

Conversely, a sound knowledge of nonverbal communication helps the interviewee understand those cues sent by the interviewer. “Understanding the tone of voice and body language of the interviewer will help the interviewee clearly understand the meaning of interview questions and the business challenges that a company is trying to address with the new hire,” says Angela Juul, PMP, director of solutions integration at HR consulting firm Profiles International in Waco, Texas, USA.

And when interviewing for a job abroad, it's vital to consider the nonverbal communication differences that may exist—such as eye contact, shaking hands and head-nodding.

4. Give … But Don't Forget to Take.

In project management, communication is not simply about knowing all the right answers; it's about asking the right questions as well.

In an interview, project managers should be able to answer the interviewer's questions and ask some in return. When preparing for an interview—similar to preparing for a project—make a list of questions to pull information from the interviewer.

Skilled and In Demand


Project management skills and experience can apply in almost any job interview—whether for a formal project management position or otherwise. Experienced project managers should keep a mental list of the capabilities they bring to the table, and then make their case.

“In a job interview situation, the fundamental skills of project management trump just about all the other things that employers are looking for,” says Jay Ress, PMP, a consultant for The Outset Consulting Group, Nashville, Tenn., USA.

An interviewer will likely speak with many technically qualified candidates for any given job, he says, but project managers can show they understand how to effectively plan for success—identifying key stakeholders and securing their buy-in.

”[Project managers] know how to engage people upfront in actively participating in the success of a venture. [They] know how to translate technology into meeting real-world and human business needs,” Mr. Ress says. “Convey a message that says, ‘That's what project management is, and I can offer you those things.’”

Abilities such as managing competing demands among stakeholders and staying within budgets and timeframes, Mr. Ress says, are skills that can apply to any field or job. “If you can ‘walk the walk’ and give some examples, you'll be that much better off,” he says.

“It's very important to get this information because every interviewer has a mental picture of the ideal candidate in terms of capabilities and behaviors,” Mr. Shouche says. “Once the job candidate understands these requirements, he or she can respond with answers that will tell the interviewer that they have the exact qualities the company is looking for.”

Just as project managers develop strong communication skills to get the project results they want, they can use those same skills to achieve desired results in job interviews. Doing so may very well ensure they receive the message they have been hoping for: “You're hired!”


Kevin Gault is a writer based in Landenberg, Pa., USA. He has written for the human resource consulting, high-tech, healthcare, pharmaceuticals, travel and chemicals industries.

<< << MAY 2007



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