Every project manager knows what it’s like to interview for a job: it’s just another project to manage. Yet, all too often a project manager who is ready to take their career to the next level after years of success will just improvise in an interview. They figure they are excellent presenters and that should carry them through.
The reality is that presenting for an HR interview or an executive final round interview often requires presenting you, not your projects.
A good way to talk about yourself is by creating a portfolio of your past projects and presenting it along with your resume. That, coupled with your already savvy presentation skills, and a dash of good old fashioned story-telling, should impress any prospective employer.
What Does a Project Manager Portfolio Looks Like?
Do you want it on paper or digital? That’s up to you.
If you prefer a digital platform for your presentation, then take along a tablet with a PDF or interactive web portfolio showcasing your work. You could mirror the screen on a larger screen for a presentation feel, or share the tablet across the table with the interviewer and guide them through it.
If you prefer bringing a hard copy, try a leather or wire-bound book that includes the best of your best work (Moleskine makes albums that would make elegant portfolios). Presentation goes a long way. This is your life’s work. Take the time to show you are serious about your work as a project manager.
Whichever you choose, make sure you control what they see and direct the conversation.
The cover can be as simple as your name and any credentials you have (PMP for example) and a title like Project Portfolio Manager elegantly printed beneath. Or, you can spend a little time and money and have the cover designed professionally for a paper portfolio.
Stay away from putting dates or other words on the front cover that will date the portfolio. For example, if you put a date on the cover and 18-24 months past, this will quickly call into question the relevancy and timeliness of the content inside the portfolio.
Include a Table of Contents
A Table of Contents (TOC) serves to highlight your core skills at a glance. Reading the TOC should help the interviewer instantly stack up all your key strengths without even opening the book. Since this list will likely be read and perceived this way, make sure you impress with truly core skills.
Let’s say you are an expert at Time Management, Communication, Project Planning, and Risk Management. Include these in your table of contents and then include examples that support each area of expertise. Don’t simply list 20 top all time skills of project managers. Knowing your strengths and speaking to them will give you an edge.
It’s All About…You
By the way, when it comes to your portfolio, it doesn’t need to stick to any particular format or methodology of project management. This portfolio is a reflection of you and what makes you unique. The best way to do this? Stories. That’s right, stories. You need to begin compiling a list of deliverables, artifacts, and examples that will allow you to tell a story during an interview.
Here’s an example. You may have compiled your own special version of a Lessons Learned spreadsheet. It is based upon your unique experience, history, and exposure to other lessons learned spreadsheets you have worked with over the years. You’ve tweaked, revised, updated and molded this spreadsheet so that it is nothing less than perfect. You now have a story to tell.
Your story should include The Problem, How You Solved It, and The Results. This is how the story would go about the Lessons Learned spreadsheet when you are sitting across from an interviewer.
“We had very similar projects that would run through our shop. The problem was that every time a new project would come in we just seemed to make the same mistakes over and over again. We would look at each other in despair and wonder whether this was the first time we had ever done a project like this before (even though we had done it hundreds of times in the past).
So, what we did to solve this problem was put together a Lessons Learned spreadsheet that every agreed to update and own.
Now, this was no ordinary Lessons Learned spreadsheet, it includes [list special features here]. What was the result? We were able to reduce the amount of time it took to get a project done by 30%, which allowed us to do more work in less time and increase our sales by 20%. Not bad for implementing just one little sheet of paper!”
You should have a similar story for every deliverable, report, and example you have included in your project portfolio.
How to Present Your Project Portfolio
Now that you know how to make your portfolio, how do you present it at an interview? When the time is right, and the interviewer asks you a question along the lines of “What type of experience do you have?” you immediately turn to your portfolio. You can open to the TOC or immediately launch the online/mobile version of the TOC and let them scan that at a glance. You can then ask them, which area would they like to talk through first.
You have now accomplished two things. First, you know which area they are particularly interested in or where their company needs help. Second, you have taken control of the interview by bringing it into your domain of expertise. By telling the story of you, through your core competencies, you will be leading, rather than following.
Stand Out from the Crowd
The days of showing up to an interview with just a paper resume and a couple of references is over. Times have changed, the game has changed, and the challenge of making you stand apart from the competition has changed, as well. An awesome project portfolio can make all the difference when it comes to getting your next job.
Here’s another story to include in your Project Manager Portfolio: the software tools you are skilled in. SIgn up for a free trial at ProjectManager.com and become familiar with online project planning software. It’s free to try for 30 days.