Desperately seeking talent


by Rachel Zupek


There's nothing like a global recession to shake up the job scene. Although project managers remain valued, companies are far more selective.

“Project managers need to realize that we are in a new economy,” says Jason Hill, PMP, partner at Sound Advice Consulting Services, a New York, New York, USA-based recruiting company focused on program and project management. “People are expected to do more with less. Sensitivity to costs and risks are higher. And compensation levels have changed downward.”

There is some good news, though.

“The cutbacks during the recession and the positive movement toward recovery have led organizations to start projects that were put off in the past, as well as to start new projects that will enable them to compete in the recovery,” he says.

And organizations will need talented individuals to run those projects. Here's what you'll need to compete in this new world order:


Financial Savvy. Even on the road to recovery, companies continue to look for efficiencies in productivity and costs. Organizations want project managers who can keep costs down and avoid scope creep, says Max Dufour, PMP, a Boston, Massachusetts, USA-based principal with SunGard, a software and IT services company.

“As budgets shrunk, it became imperative to manage scope and costs tightly. As funding decreased, project objectives remained similar,” Mr. Dufour says. “Project managers who are able to identify costs savings and redefine the critical path definitely get ahead.”

Companies trying to save money will reevaluate their organizational processes and technology, ramping up the quest for lean-thinking project managers, says Donna Reed, PMP, owner of Reed Consulting Inc., a project management and agile coaching consultancy in Seal Beach, California, USA.

“Enterprises will be in search of project managers who have a broad range of technology and process improvement experience,” says Ms. Reed, who is also the founder of The Agilista PM blog. “They'll also be seeking project managers who understand business processes well enough to apply lean thinking to them, making them more efficient for quicker results.”


Collaboration. Maintaining open lines of dialogue has always helped keep projects on track, and the recession didn't change that.

“Communication and client-facing skills remain critical because they impact a wide range of project management areas, from how status updates are delivered to how challenges are addressed with customers,” Mr. Dufour says.

The methods of communication have changed, though, as more companies employ dispersed project teams.

“With the projected increase of virtual and independent teams, the need for better communication skills and collaboration mechanisms becomes even greater,” says Dhirendra Shantilal, Singapore-based senior vice president, Asia Pacific, at Kelly Services, a global outsourcing, consulting and staffing firm. “Project managers across the board, regardless of industry, will need to have the skills to adopt more concise and meaningful approaches to communication.”

»Enterprises will be in search of project managers who have a broad range of technology and process improvement experience.

—Donna Reed, PMP, Reed Consulting Inc., Seal Beach, California, USA


Niche Knowledge. With such a large pool of project managers looking for a job, a solid track record of “on time and on budget” isn't enough. Companies want the people who know all the ins and outs of their specific sector. “Headhunters are focused on industry and functional expertise so that they can differentiate their candidates from generalists' profiles,” Mr. Dufour says.

Experience in a particular sector can set project professionals apart from the pack.

“Today, clients are expecting to see candidates with expertise and/or knowledge of their industries and products,” says Carlos Kingwergs, managing partner, Management Recruiters International, México City, México. “Potential employers are more reluctant to interview talent who don't have previous professional experience in their niche markets.”


Risk Management. The economic downturn has been a game-changer in terms of business models and how companies do business. When it comes to projects nowadays, more and more executives want to play it safe.

“The recession brought about an increase in the awareness of how organizations spend their money and how they manage risk,” Mr. Hill says. “These concerns touch upon critical components of any project. A project manager's ability to manage people, manage risks and achieve results within this heightened state of awareness is critical.”

Project managers must identify obstacles as well as know how to overcome them.

“If managing risk means achieving success, any project manager who has to manage projects and resources will have to balance and prioritize these factors according to the specific needs of the project at hand,” he says.


Change Management. As the expression goes, the only constant is change—and nowhere is that more evident than in project management. And to deal with change, project managers must go beyond the usual considerations.

“Besides bringing the project's vision to reality, strategic thinking is a skill that helps project managers confront change, plan for and make transitions, and envision new possibilities and opportunities,” Mr. Shantilal says.

Increasingly, project professionals will be expected to provide end-to-end solutions and not simply manage a project plan, Mr. Dufour says.

“We are always recruiting experienced project managers who can manage change efficiently by integrating new customer needs into an ongoing project,” he says.

With its emphasis on continuous feedback, agile is fast emerging as one way for companies to adapt to marketplace changes. And that's increasing demand for project managers and consultants familiar with the technique.

“Companies are trying to transition to agile,” Ms. Reed says. “Without proper training on how to do this transition, concern will continue to grow regarding project managers' ability to deal with a new agile world.”

Expectations for project managers are higher these days. But armed with the right knowledge, you just might get your pick of positions. PM


Learn another language.

“Employees are living in a new environment where supervisors are based abroad and projects involve people around the globe,” says Carlos Kingwergs, Management Recruiters International, México City, México.




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