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Arras People Project Management Newsletter

April 2010 - Redundancy in Project Management

Dear Reader,

Has your career in project and programme management been put on hold by the dreaded 'R' that is redundancy? Would you know how to handle such doom and gloom effectively? The April edition of Tipoffs strives with notes and data serving as guidance on making your career a glass half-full prospect in a time where it's never seemed more empty.

While companies and public sector bodies may be switching to contract roles as the norm in these days of economic woe, is this shift necessarily to the Programme and Project Management (PPM) contractor's benefit? We turn to data from the 2010 Arras People Project Management Benchmark Report to determine what the numbers say about the future of contracting. We also have two different personal accounts of redundancy; Paul Weston, the father and out-of-work estimator who turned to blogging about his ordeal and channeled opportunity out of frustration. Arras People's Lindsay Scott profiles Paul's remarkable initiative and the powers of using social media tools to gain new employment. There is also one anonymous account about the reality of redundancy in today's world, and how the seemingly harrowing reality is hardly that at all.

The 2010 Arras People Project Management Benchmark Report continues to gain steam worldwide as a stellar resource for project management news and tips, and you can register for it today. See below for more details. Tipoffs editor Dan Strayer reviews our book of the month, The Little Black Book of Project Management, Third Edition. Capping it all off is our Q&A session, where a reader seeks advice on coping with a company's slow response with interview feedback.

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The Dangers Facing Programme & Project Management Contractors

Project Management Contractors

The perspective in recession-riddled Britain for a time in project management has been for companies and public sector bodies to hire less on a long-term basis and offer more contract roles. For the most part, Arras People has seen that to be the case, but not in the way one would think.
The Arras People 2010 Project Management Benchmark Report sought the trends for the calendar year from contract Programme and Project Management (PPM) personnel, 13% of which had taken up contracting after having previously worked in permanent roles prior to 2009. However, contracting opportunities had decreased for the year. Perhaps that isn't so alarming given the offering of fewer and fewer overall roles, but the numbers show just how stark things seem: in 2008, contractors who said they had seen contract availability drop from 2007 did so at a 46% rate, compared to 24% the previous year. This last year did not show that things had hit bottom: decreased contract availability fell another 17 points in 2009 to 63%. In direct correlation, contractors who felt things were stable had also fallen 17 points (35% in 2008 to 18% in 2009).
Couple these figures with the drop in earnings, and it appears that bad times are a way of life for the contractor as we enter the Teens. Increases in pay and "no change" respondents fell across the board. While pay increases from 2008 and 2009 were relatively even only at 10 percent and above (just below 10% of respondents in both years), the four ranges of earning reductions all rose significantly from 2008. Those who saw a reduction of 10 percent of more in 2008 (roughly 11% of respondents) saw that figure double in 2009 (approximately 23% of respondents), perhaps the clearest sign that, as one respondent stated, saw the contracting climate for PPM professionals as the "worst in 35 years".
Given these facts and figures, it's important to understand what factors could be driving the earnings reduction. The economic woes are an undoubtedly a big part of it. But the truth is that it could be a symbolic excuse for the hiring professionals to latch onto.
While contract offers are the popular route for companies in times of uncertainty over possibly unnecessary long-term financial commitments, the manner in which they are trending toward contract-based advertising is different. The modus operandiseems to revolve around the increase in popularity of "fixed-term" contracts, a more company-friendly way of hiring. The idea: put the worker on a salary (like an employee), but ensure the offer is only short-term and the salary pro-rata. Thus, the company avoids the usual day rate expectations however they do pick up the costs for holiday pay, pensions, employers national insurance and sick-leave related pay. The overall costs of fixed term hires are seen as an attractive alternative to day rate contract hires but have the hiring organisations really done their sums, do they really take into account these hidden costs?
This shift to increased "fixed term" offers in the marketplace may be something which is here to stay; only time will tell as we look to the marketplace recovery in the future. What is clear at the moment is a lack of confidence from the PPM contractors. Contractors have shifted to a more negative position across the mean from 2009's neutral position in the 2010 Benchmark Report. Increased time out between contracts, lower rates on offer than previous opportunities, increase in working hours (> 48 hours a week) and a decrease in the overall number of opportunities available have all had an impact on confidence levels.

Download the 2010 Project Management Benchmark Report from Arras People today, now in its fifth edition.

Written by; Dan Strayer

From Redundancy to Tabloid Coverage: One Jobseeker's Story

Project Management Job SeekerFor one Senior Estimator, getting the news that he was made redundant set a few extraordinary wheels in motion that have led to successful employment once again just two months later. Paul Weston was made redundant over two months ago from his construction industry estimator role and through his use of social media he has not only gained a new job but also featured on local radio and within the national press!

Paul's story started back in February when he was made redundant and decided to post an article on his blog, "Who is Paul Weston?" Paul started his blog back in November 2009 to share his thoughts about his work; his amusing and anecdotal style makes an interesting and funny read. His blog piece "Chin Up Old Boy" is a very personal account of his thoughts and feelings about his situation and is a piece that most people who have faced redundancy can relate to.

I have been made redundant before, and I have spent a week or so without income, but each of those times I have had a little bit of dosh the bank, and quite relaxed as, at the time, the industry was buoyant, and jobs were plentiful. I could pick and choose (within reason) which company I went for an interview with and which one I wanted to work for. How the times have changed. A complete contrast in terms of available opportunities, and vacancies for a Senior Estimator! And those that are available are not the same sort of package, possibly 60-70% of what they were 2-3 years ago!!*

His blog post "Social Media Gone Crazy" is a brilliant piece on how Paul has managed to get his profile to a wider audience and - more importantly - how the response really helped his confidence levels as he carried on searching for a new position.

This past week has been interesting to say the least. I have heard of possible positions of employment...that have materialised into nothing, I have heard of some that may come to fruition...who knows, all I do know is I am still unemployed! And to be honest I still don't like it..ha ha ha...but I am still positive I will find employment, and being pro-active to the cause.

Yesterday a lovely lady called Shana sent me a direct message on Twitter, saying, and I quote "I know you are using Twitter for your job hunt, but can we help you on the radio at all with an interview?" Yes, you did read that correctly....a radio station had picked up on the twitter world madness evolving around my search for a job, and was now offering me a chance to go live on the radio to speak about using Twitter and social media to find employment!**

Paul went on to feature on the radio and continued his job search using Twitter and LinkedIn. But alas, still no job interviews.

Being made redundant is considered to be the eighth most stressful life event that could happen to an individual (the most stressful - death of a spouse and at seventh - marriage!) and remaining positive and focused during this life-changing event can be tremendously difficult;

"How do I remain positive and focused?" is a question quite a few folk have asked me over the past few weeks, and in all honesty I say "I have to remain positive and focused", I have to keep trying to get a job. I do go to my friends office and "work" from there, it keep me in that working mentality. Get up, go to work, come home, repeat 5 days per week (hours are negotiable). And to be brutally honest with you, at times I just want to shut myself away and cry. Human nature and emotion does take over at times. But, with a wonderful wife and 2 cracking little boys to look after, my ever increasing broad shoulders are left to burden the weight! Therefore it is a MUST that I achieve my goal. My family are my motivational drive, and I shall not fail them.

Paul then started to see a breakthrough; two job interviews were scheduled following a contact made using Twitter and a recruitment agent approach through his LinkedIn account. Again, Paul shares all his thoughts about each of the interviews on his blog which in turn has led to him being approached for motivational talks on his journey.

Finally, two months out of work, Paul has accepted and started his new position at the beginning of April. A roller coaster of a ride which has seen him not only get the outcome he deserved but he has also received some great coverage of how he has used new approaches for job hunting versus the traditional CV application.

It has been an emotional few weeks, I have met so many wonderful people, experienced several emotions that I never knew existed, beaten Sarah Beeny in a "Tweetout!", been on the radio, been invited to co-host a radio show live, been asked to talk at Social Media events, been able to get involved with a wonderful charity called the Tree House Appeal, as well as helping to promote a local Help for Heroes Charity Ball, also been able to spend some quality time with my family, laughed, joked, cried and prayed.......and this is just the beginning!

Just last week, Paul's story was also covered in the national press; a story all in itself as Paul shares his thoughts about the realities of appearing in the tabloid press. He has also been asked to put pen to paper and share his story in book form and finally he really can say "been there, bought the t-shirt!" as he continues to use his new found fame to raise money for a local charity - Tree House Appeal. Something tells me that Paul's story is not quite over yet, so continue reading over at Who is Paul Weston.

*Quoting from Chin Up Old Boy
**Quoting from Social Media Gone Crazy

To read Paul Weston's story, visit the Who Is Paul Weston blog. You can also follow Paul on Twitter at paulweston33.

Back in January we looked at how social media tools can help you find work in the article Career Development: Social Media and the Five Tools for the Professional Job Hunter. Paul Weston's story incorporates each of the five tools and really does prove that social media, when used enthusiastically and positively, can really give great returns on investment.

Written by; Lindsay Scott

Reality Sets In: Redundancy and Beyond

Having worked for the same organisation for five years I was informed I was at risk of redundancy and subsequently received scheduled "counseling" meetings leading up to eventual redundancy. At the time I was both shocked (what had I done wrong) and anxious (what will I do now) - after the initial feelings had subsided I was left with an outplacement consultant provided by my organisation and a cheque in my hand. I found the outplacement consultant didn't tell me more than I already knew - bring your CV up to date, polish your interview shoes and remember it's a "difficult" market out there (yeah, thanks for that!).
After taking a holiday to recharge the batteries I took to refreshing my CV and created a plan with a list of activities I felt were appropriate to secure my next position. My list included contacting local recruitment agencies and also national specialist agencies, I created a target list of suppliers and related organisations and began sending my CV with a tailored covering letter to contacts I had already made and began creating relationships with HR people etc through information I pulled off the internet. I soon found myself in a contract position which tided me over for a few months and gave me the much required experience outside of my previous employer - after five years it can be beneficial to take a short term assignment to demonstrate you can transfer quickly into other companies and products.
Once that contract was completed I was back looking for new opportunities - at this point the market was particularly poor with regard to relevant roles becoming available and after a number of interviews which found me questioning recruiters' understanding of project management I came across the Job Search Support Service supplied by Arras People through the Job Centre Plus. A completely free service (all I needed to do was seek a referral from the JCP), which takes a look at my approach to finding roles, a CV review and interview techniques. I was pleasantly surprised by the service I received - having gained a thorough review of my CV and an audit of where and what I had been applying for I was provided with tools and techniques on how to tap into the hidden job market (unadvertised roles). It quickly became clear that I had been pro-active at my approach to finding new roles and these skills could be put to effective use in obtaining a role through a more speculative approach. By taking this approach I found I was soon being invited into interviews by prospective employers and found I was also gaining much-needed commercial awareness.
The key areas I found to be effective when looking for a new role were:

  • Write an effective CV covering your understanding of the projects you were working on, your competency levels and key achievements. Seek feedback - from ex-colleagues, recruiters and specialist recruiters
  • Create a plan for activities such as timelines for chasing up agencies, applications, researching etc. Ensure each day is structured and varied - stay motivated!
  • Research all the available help out there and don't assume any one person's advice is necessarily right (including your own).
  • Make sure you distribute your CV to agencies and upload on the job boards (Monster, Total Jobs etc) and refresh it at least once a month.

On reflection I find myself actually happy I was made redundant - it gave me the push I needed to move on from an employer I had already given so much of my time and skills to, but could not provide a fast track to further my career at that point. I am now in a permanent position which has a better salary, continuous professional development (CPD) programme and location.

Written by; The author wanted to remain anonymous

Review -The Little Black Book of Project Management

Project Management BookAdvice or text books of any sort of professional/academic calibre are showing their increased desire of late to break up the pages - sub-chapters, sub-sub-chapters, changes in boldness of text, tables and figures, famous quotes, indented text, indented again text, etc. It's nothing new, but it does split a book's readership into two camps: those who want the meat and potatoes without the distractions (i.e. they don't like it), and those who think the meat and potatoes need enhancement (i.e. they like it and/or need it).

Michael C. Thomsett's third edition in his nearly two decade revisions of The Little Black Book of Project Management may provide such division, but this reviewer found it enhancing and insightful. The American-written and published Black Book features constant breakaway from endless text consistently, and critics of such style when employed here by Thomsett seem to be dust specs of over think and nitpicking. After all, we live in a world where tools that keep us hooked are necessary to alleviate from all other distractions we didn't face 25 years ago. A full-time author who has written in the past on real estate, stock market investment, business management and even a historical work on Hitler, Thomsett wants to do more than just tell you what he knows or has learned - he wants to show you how it works in real-life scenarios through example, framework and diagram.
Nothing from Black Book resonated with me nearly as well as the notion of "everyone has a customer". Having come to this way of thinking in my own daily course of life, I cannot emphasize enough how right Thomsett is and how valuable it remains for anybody in any part of the working ladder (regardless of delegated function) to treat those they interact with as businesses treat a customer. Under this guise, the fellow delivering office mail treats all his deliveries as valued customers, whether they all work under the same umbrella or not. The customer in your working function does not necessarily mean "external to the company"; rather, it is the person you interact with frequently and are most keen to satisfy and deliver for (so to speak). It's not that you're selling: it's that they're convincing them of your ability to help matters.
Black Book more than lives up to the implications of its title. Though hardly the industry's Holy Book, Black Book considers everything and leaves open to the reader whatever answers they choose to be right for them. In keeping with Arras People's belief that no one methodology can possibly live up to the quirkiness faced in each project, Black Book concurs as such on page 173, in a passage about Project Control Documentation:

"Because every project is different, no exact level of documentation is going to be appropriate in every case. It has to be dictated by need."

Thomsett can take elements like establishing a project schedule, break down the options available to the project manager, and effectively put you in a position to make the informed decision the situation requires. That is a testament to the continuous updates of Black Book as an evolution, as accounting for the Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK) would attest. Ultimately, Black Book is a quick read designed for you be informed and prepared. Provided you don't mind too much information from all the text interruptions!

-- Reviewed by Dan Strayer, Editor, Project Management Tipoffs

Q&A: Interview Feedback Delays

"Why are employers taking so long to come back with feedback after interviews?" - Danielle, London

Thanks for your question. OK, let's cut to the chase here and talk about the three types of situations that arise after an interview; one - the interviewers really liked the person and can already see them working within their organisation. It's highly unlikely that this interviewee is going to have to wait awhile before they get feedback. Number two - the interviewers really didn't gel with the person and really can't see them performing well in that role, this interviewee might have a wait on their hands for feedback, mainly because the interviewer is busying themselves making an offer to the person they did like. Which leaves number three - the interviewers really don't know, they can't decide whether this person is right for them or not, which often means the interviewers want to see more people before they make up their minds. Interviewee three is going to have quite a wait on their hands too, because the organisation doesn't want to say no just yet, they want to keep all their irons in the fire.
So now let's look at this from the interviewee point of view for a moment and share a few thoughts about why waiting for feedback regardless of whether you are an Interviewee Two or Three just doesn't work. Interviewee Two is going to make sure that they tell all their friends, ex-colleagues and peers, just what they think about an organisation, which after inviting someone in for an interview, they just can't be bothered to finished the process professionally. Interviewee Three is more than likely going to get fed up waiting to hear from an interview that happened weeks (if not months in some cases) ago and write off the experience and organisation as time wasters. The organisation just lost one of their irons.
So let's look at it from an organisation view point again, this time taking into account what actually happens behind the scenes after an interview.
The interviewer or interviewers are often not the only decision-makers in the process and in some organizations getting a decision can be an overly bureaucratic process. With more decision-makers in the chain, you can expect to add days if not weeks to the time of them getting back to you.
We can also thank certain employment laws which have also added to overly bureaucratic process; feedback has to be collated from all individual interviewers score sheets, a comprehensive rolled-up feedback sheet is created, the feedback is checked to ensure no discrimination has occurred and the feedback has to be worded correctly to ensure the organisation is not left wide open to any accusations of unfair practices.
Recruitment activity in an organisation is often a sign that changes are afoot; new services or products have meant that you, as a project manager, have been called in for an interview to see how you can help that organization manage that change. It's not surprising then to see the negative side to change within an organisation and how this filters through to things like recruitment activity. One week the organization is swamped by new work and crying out for resources, hence the recruitment need. Often, this is followed by a period of "fire fighting" whilst the recruitment process gets underway. Following a period of chaos, internal resources will be identified and realigned to under-resourced projects, which means that by the time a potential new employee has been identified, they may not be needed after all. This is a recurring theme both in advertised roles suddenly becoming non-existent and for interviewees who receive no feedback.
Finally the expectations of when feedback will be available, normally set at the interview, were never realistic in the first place. Often interviewers will get caught up in the moment, wanting to be professional and helpful, leaving the interviewee with the knowledge that feedback will be expected within X days. The reality is, the interviewer returns to their desk and continues with their day job and other matters become much more pressing.

If you would like to put a question to us, contact us and it could end up in a future edition of the Tipoffs Q&A. For more examples like this and/or further help & advice regarding extending your search and creating professional and effective cover letters refer to our Careers clinicCareers Advice pages.

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Arras takes part in APM debate

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Arras People's Lindsay Scott was one of nine panelists involved in a round-table discussion about professionalism in project management qualifications. The heart of the discussion, featuring a variety of consultants from all walks of the PPM industry in the UK, was featured in Project magazine, the official magazine from the Association for Project Management (APM).

Chaired by Andrew Bragg, chief executive of APM, Lindsay's voice was heard on professional issues including perception, competencies, soft skills, project failure, and assessment, among others.

The article can be found here (.PDF)
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