You see the job of your dreams that you know you can do. What do you do next? For most people it is to send their most current CV and wait.
Wrong!! At least in the majority of cases.
Understanding Job Specifications
Before you can apply for a role, you need to fully appreciate what is being asked for so that you can present your best case and thus increase your chances of being called for an interview.
Let’s look at a typical job advert:
Fixed Term Project Manager required to lead the management of business change and efficiency projects within our public sector client. Reporting to the Corporate Programme and Project Services Manager within the ICT Services section you will ensure the timely and cost-effective delivery of business benefits through agreed project management standards.
Candidates will be able to demonstrate experience of managing projects using a defined methodology and using recognised tools (e.g. MS Project) to which they have received formal training. You will possess demonstrable problem solving skills as well as being an excellent verbal and written communicator. Your self motivated, proactive attitude allows you to work well under pressure and you are able to transfer this to motivate your colleagues and peers.
This role would suit an aspiring project manager who is looking to take on their first major responsibilities as well as established project managers looking to expand their public sector portfolio.
Typically an advert should:
- Describe the role
- Tell you what you need to have to apply
- Suggest what is in it for you (i.e. rewards and opportunities)
Exploring the example we commence with the nature of employment. The typical types of employment are: Permanent, Contract, Fixed Term and Temp. These are described as:
- Permanent–Employee of the business on a salary
- Contract –Not an employee of the business, paid through third-party on an hourly or daily rate for a set period of time.
- Fixed Term–Employee of the business with a salary but for a set period of time
- Temp-Employed through an agency to work on a limited period assignment. You might be paid hourly/daily but deductions will be taken for tax, NI and holidays.
The title of this example role (Project Manager) is prominent as is the fact that this is within the public sector. Research should therefore focus on understanding the nature of business change and efficiency within the public sector.
If the organisation is named, then direct any research into examining their strategic plans. For a public sector body look for Public Service Agreements (PSAs), which set out national and local targets agreed by individual local authorities and government. These can be found on the local authority website or through the Communities and local government website at:
The role is based within the ICT services section but counters this by concentrating on ‘business benefits’. This suggests that whilst a technical background is useful, the focus of change is very much on business transformation.
Moving onto the next paragraph, we see that candidates must:
”demonstrate experience of managing projects using a defined methodology and using recognised tools (eg MS Project) to which they have received formal training”
Breaking this down further requires that an application conveys the length of experience that you have of managing projects.
The term “using a defined methodology” may not be restricted to PRINCE2, but could include other formal project management techniques. Even where PRINCE2 is stipulated it may be worth checking to see if the organisation formally uses the approach. Experience has shown that often the phrase “received formal training” is the key statement, and as PRINCE2 is perhaps the best known of this that is why it is requested.
This emphasis on project management methodologies suggests that this is the focus rather than an out-and-out technology specialist. Given that the role is based in the ICT services means that an understanding is required, but often this requires the project manager to be the translator/facilitator between the technologists and the end users.
You might expect that problem solving skills and excellent verbal and written communications are the norm for a project manager, but how can you demonstrate these? Merely writing that you have these skills does not help to set you apart from the crowd; an example that highlights how you have used these will.
Asking for someone who is “self-motivated and proactive” suggests that you will need to convey a leadership role. This could indicate an environment where formal project management is just being introduced. In these situations the project manager needs to maintain the momentum.
- How have you managed your teams?
- How have you motivated them?
The use of the word “aspiring” in the final paragraph indicates that this role could help with career development. This further suggests that whilst knowledge of managing projects is required, this need not be at too high a level. Using “established” invites project managers with greater experience to transfer to the public sector.
This is only one example, but the same methodical approach is required to fully understand what an employer is looking for. Once you have an idea of the requirements, it is time to see how well you match up.
A degree of honesty is required when considering applying for roles. Those that apply for everything irrespective of the requirements of the role portray themselves as unfocused.
Should You Apply?
If you believe you match the requirements, then ask yourself the following two questions:
- Am I right for this job?
- Is this job right for me?
In relation to the first question, consider:
- Does your experience match the requirements?
- Do you have the necessary qualifications?
- Have you worked in the sector before?
- Can you do the job?
If you can answer all of these, then move on to answer the second question. It may seem obvious but:
- Is the role within travelling distance or are you willing to relocate?
- Does the salary match your expectations? Is it in the range of previous earnings?
- Does the role complement your career?
- Could you stay in the role for the length of the term or up to 2 years?
If you answer “no” to any of the questions you might consider devoting your energies to other roles.
If you can answer yes to these questions, you can then ask:
- Does your CV reflect your abilities?
Amending your CV to best reflect your skills, experience and qualifications increases your potential for an interview. And of course we have a LOT of advice on how you can go about doing just that.