My first job applications were a mess. I clearly remember being asked who was the Governor of the Bank of England during an interview with a bank – obviously I was faking being interested in the finance sector as I had no clue.
I learned a lot from that experience: I went on to a career in financial services after all, but with much better prep before I met a potential employer!
The first step in getting a new job is to make a good impression with your resume (or CV, as we call it over here in the UK). And that means learning how to include your projects and your project management skills.
You’re going to want to describe your project management skills so the potential employer understands exactly what you are capable of. Let’s look at how to do that.
How to include work projects on your resume
On my CV, my projects are listed under my employer in the work experience section.
I use the traditional way of listing employers in chronological order. Underneath each company name, I talk about the projects I lead while I was there, during the time period that I held any particular job title.
As an example, for each project I list:
- A simplified version of what the project delivered. Mostly, projects are complicated with a lot of internal jargon. Hiring managers don’t understand that and recruitment tools won’t give you extra credit for terms they can’t understand. If you installed software across 30 offices, say that.
An exception to this rule is if you are going for a job that requires you to run projects that are identical (or similar) to what you have done in the past. If the job description talks about SAP deployment, and you’ve done that, absolutely name drop SAP in your application.
- The number of people in the team
- The project budget
- The duration
- The outcome
Here’s an example from my real CV:
Programme Manager: leading a business and technical team to implement digital radiology software across a network of 36 independent hospitals. I managed a capital budget of £8.6m and a team of 6 project managers, managing multiple projects. The team won several internal awards for this transformational program.
It talks about the scale of the project, what it did and what my role was, plus a bit about the outcome (the internal awards hint that it was recognized as a success without me having to spell it out).
The scale of the project is important because it gives hiring managers and idea of what you are capable of. There is a big difference between someone capable of leading a team of 30 in a complex deployment and someone whose past experience has been on projects with no budget responsibility and a team of 3.
Not that you couldn’t step up and lead a larger team and handle the finances – but as someone doing the interview I would like to know your work history to see if you are a fit for my job.
What if you don’t have project-related work experience?
You might not have work-related projects that you can list, especially if you are just starting out. Recent graduates with a project management degree and people looking for their first role need to be a little more creative with how to how they can do projects.
If you don’t have work projects, you can list personal projects. For example:
- Volunteer work e.g. through the parent/teacher association or a charity
- Student, class and academic projects
- Projects undertaken for your sports or hobby group e.g. organizing a trip
- Personal projects at home e.g. renovation work
- Side projects e.g. running a craft business or other side hustles.
I even put my wedding plans into Microsoft Project, although I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned that at interview beyond making a joke of it.
The point is to show you have the technical skills to lead a project. Your project experience doesn’t have to come from the work environment. Frankly, leading a group of volunteers is harder than leading people who are paid to do a job!
Most of project management is transferable skills, so don’t worry about using a different role in your life to illustrate what you are capable of.
Use action verbs to talk about the skills you gained and the things you can do. Then include an example as evidence.
Potential employers want to see that you haven’t simply copied and pasted a list of project management skills off the internet. Include a brief example of where you used the skill.
Use bullet points to make the list easy to read.
Recent experience is the best choice for examples where you have it. Try not to rely on examples that happened a long time ago – when I’ve been asked about that in interview it can be hard to remember exactly what I did!
Tailor your resume
If the job description talks about communication skills but doesn’t mention quality planning, then give more space on your application to showcasing how great you are at communicating. You might mention quality management in passing, but this employer isn’t putting a lot of emphasis on it, so you shouldn’t either.
Give prospective employers a tailored application that shows you can match what they are looking for. One option could be a project-based resume.
The project-based resume
A project-based resume is an alternative to the structure I have: the format where you list your employers by dates.
It’s actually pretty good for today’s economy, where people are more likely to have multiple jobs, perhaps a side hustle or a string of contracts. Listing out all your employers might look a bit messy, so you can instead focus on the skills you gained during your projects.
Employers also like them because they highlight skills and experience in a way that chronological CVs sometimes don’t.
It’s pretty easy to do. Add a subheading called ‘Key Projects’ and then list out your relevant experience and what you worked on.
You can even add that projects section to a traditional resume as well, as that might keep your document a bit cleaner, enabling you to focus more on what you delivered for past employers.
How to list projects on a resume
In the ‘Projects’ section of your resume you can list the work in any order. Many people will choose chronological order, but if you have taken career breaks, that might not work for you.
Put the most relevant projects first
The most relevant projects are the ones relevant to this employer, for this role. If a hiring manager scans your job application, you want them to see the most relevant stuff at the top.
Keep the descriptions short. Use keywords that will tick the boxes and constantly refer back to the job posting as you are pulling your application together. That will help you focus on what is important to the employer.
Choose relevant projects
So you did 6 projects that were all the same? Just pick one. Or make a note saying this was a regular type of project you often repeated. Don’t list them all, it’s boring and repetitive and you need the space to showcase a range of skills.
Try to get projects on the list that show your ability to do different things. Use one as an example of your leadership skills, pick another that highlights your ability to resolve conflict and work with tricky stakeholders.
The types of projects you include does matter, so where you have a lot of relevant experience to draw from, being selective is a great way to show off specific skills.
Focus on results
As a hiring manager, I don’t care if you completed all your project documentation on time. I care that you delivered a saving of $3m for the business. Focus on the business results.
This shows you have business acumen and the ability to link your projects to strategic objectives.
Talk about your role
There’s a humbleness about project leaders that makes us talk about ourselves as part of a team. Where the project is successful, the team takes the credit. Where it fails, it’s all on me. That kind of thing.
But your job application is not the time for humility! Talk about your specific role. Yes, there were probably other team members involved but call out the important details that relate to what you did.
I want to be able to spot a good candidate and if you write and talk about ‘we’ all the time, I can’t work out if that is you.
Don’t try to shoehorn your own personal style into what you think they want. Be yourself and let your personality shine through in your application.
How to blend project-based and chronological formats
Let’s say you don’t have enough full-time project work to warrant a separate section on your CV. Instead, you can weave the projects into your work history like this:
Project Coordinator, Acme Industries
Responsible for project administration and supporting a team of 3 project managers in the PMO.
Key projects: Worked on the implementation of a new employee communications portal for 3k staff, reporting to the project manager. Led the workstream on risk management and was responsible for updating the schedule weekly.
You can add in more, depending on what you have to talk about.
Your next steps
Ready to ace that job application! I reckon you are.
Here are some things to do next.
- Review this list of common project management job descriptions so you can check you understand what is being asked
- Now you know how to include work projects in your resume, spend some time updating it!
- Take a look at the different project management job titles so you know what jobs to apply for.
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