“We keep hearing about ‘specialising’ as the key to hiring project managers, mostly when talking about sectors. I was led to believe the project management skills are transferable. Is that really the case right now, and if so, is there a way for candidates to get around this “narrow-minded” view of specialism?” – E, Leicester
Good question, and one which we’ve come across a lot from candidates in recent times. I would start off by saying that Project Management as a profession is such a broad area, that to be truly successful in searching for a PM role the 1st step for any candidate should be to get a thorough understanding of your own strengths and weaknesses as a Project Manager. As I am sure you are well aware, a Construction Project Manager is a completely different beast to that of a Software Implementation Project Manager and even within specific sectors there are different nuances within role requirements that play to certain PM’s strengths rather than others. I suppose the best example of this would be within IT, whereby clients tend to come to us looking for very distinct skill sets, be they technical or stakeholder-based for example.
The general problem that we’ve had over the past couple of years since the recession kicked in is that clients, rightly or wrongly, have come to the assumption that within a candidate-heavy market they should be able to find ‘the perfect candidate’, ie, someone who has done pretty much the exact same job previously. As a specialist recruiter this has been a major challenge for us as you can imagine, as although the idea of a ‘perfect candidate’ is fine in theory, in reality that person does not always exist.
The good news is that over recent months we have started to see signs that the market has begun to thaw in this respect. I should point out that this is a slow process which will take time, but clients are beginning to raise confidence levels in terms of not only hiring new staff again, but also in trusting in people’s transferable skills. This trend has been particularly prevalent in areas such as Project Support and PMO, where in many cases it can be argued that specific models and working processes can be adapted to a range of sectors and industries.
Of course on the whole there is still a heavy emphasis on technical specialisms in the recruitment of PM’s at present. Certain sectors such as healthcare or financial services are particularly tough to break into without prior experience in those areas. In terms of getting around this mind-set with other areas of the market however, I think the key comes down to how you as an individual match yourself up with a particular job spec. Make sure your CV demonstrates clear evidence based results that relate to the competencies you are looking to transfer across to, whether they be client management or the management of virtual teams to name 2 examples. At the end of the day if you are looking to use your existing skill set to transfer into a new sector, you are going to have to work even harder on your CV to prove that you are results oriented and quick to adapt. The exceptional candidates will always manage this however, and it stands to reason that it is they who have the most success when attacking new areas of the market.
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