Nail Your Next PM Job With A Simple Trick

I hate resume writing.I enjoy working on my resume about as much as I enjoy sticking my hand down the garburator to pull out a fallen spoon. I loathe the exercise, and it makes me break out in a sweat.

What makes it worse is the fact that I grew up “knowing how” to write a resume a certain way, and the advent of keyword searching software has made my tired, 1980s approach obsolete. I’m thrilled to keep pace with new trends, except nobody ever filled in the blanks on what I’m supposed to do now. The consequence of course is, I feel like an old man and will likely soon be removing my teeth and dropping them in a glass of water before I can eat my morning prunes.

So last week, when I had lunch with a recruiter friend, I spent most of the hour bitching about resume writing, and asked him a lot of questions about new practices.

What he told me was illuminating. If you find your resume isn’t getting the attention it deserves, I’m going to share with you what I learned from that lunch.

First of all, because you’re likely a project manager reading this blog, you’re in an enviable position. Everything you do is quantifiable. If you can quantify something, then you have a discrete metric by which to report on. Just like on your projects, metrics can be separated from the body of your status prose, and reported individually. The more you think about your projects, the more data elements you can likely identify that would be of interest to a prospective employer. Think about some of the following items:

  • size of your project budget
  • methodologies you used
  • different tools you used directly
  • technologies you managed
  • size of the team you managed
  • number of direct reports you had
  • duration of the project

Here’s the trick. Instead of writing prose to encapsulate each of those items, make them into a table and report on them, just like you would in one of your status reports. Make the table consistent for each project you choose to include on your resume, so the reader doesn’t have to jump around. Spend a bit of time thinking about the kind of data points that are appropriate for your career. Voila, you’ve just substantially reduced the amount of agonizing prose you have to write, but you still get to communicate everything.

Here’s an example table:

Position Title, Company Functional Role
Project Description (short narrative about high level challenges, and how you overcame them)
Budget Duration Team Size
Methodologies (comma separated list) Technologies and Special Tools (comma separated list)
Deliverables (comma separated list of project artifacts you delivered)
Special Notes (anything else that’s special to that project)

You can go a step further by creating bulleted lists of your skill sets, and technical competencies. And when you’re really stuck and have to write actual sentences? Tell the employer about some of the challenges you had on your project and how you overcame them. After all, the data stuff has been taken care of so you’re free to turn what’s left into a (very) short case study.

Remember that your resume is a sales document. And while I completely feel your pain where the actual exercise is concerned, it’s crucial you go the extra mile creating your resume from a prospective employer’s perspective.

Incidentally, my groovy, hip, keyword-searchable and human-readable resume is here, and you’re more than welcome to completely rip off the format. If it helps you get a job, send me a note and let me know! It’ll absolutely make my day if someone benefits from reading this blog!

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I’m a professor of project management at the college where I work. My students continually amaze me with their insights, passion and all-around awesomeness. I figure they deserve access to more answers than I can give them by myself. This site is for them.
  • Lindsay Scott – Arras People

    Hi Geoff,
    Really liked the article and you’re right about a project professional having a pretty unique set of “data” which makes resume writing easier (well easier than pulling teeth anyway!) I like the way the resume is set out above however I would say that here in the UK it’s important to add chronological dates to show when you did stuff and also use of tables can be problematic for resume databases and stuff like that. What I especially liked in the table is the skillet and competencies, often a CV can be too heavy on company acronyms and too much detail about the project – often to the determent of the right kind of detail about the resume owner I.e., the individual’s skills and competence. I think you have this covered to some extend in your own CV in the top half of page one.

    The issue is with CVs are that an organisation wants to be able to see what you can do for them but often you don’t know what they’re looking for because the job specification is crap or it doesn’t even exist. No wonder people struggle to make sure they’re writing the right things on their CV but in absence of clear direction having a CV which is nicely balanced between what and how you did in past and what I know i can do for you in the future is the only way to go. Of course the next question is…..how do I find that balance!

  • That’s some really useful feedback, Lindsay, thank you! The tabular format can be adapted with dates easily enough. I have actually entered the contents of the document into text fields online already. What I found was that it stripped the table away and put each cell’s contents on a separate line. That made it easy to throw in a few carriage returns in appropriate places and still have the content relatively clean and legible (although that may not work for every site).

    What I liked about this exercise was, it got me away from talking about myself (blech) and focused on thinking about my projects in terms a potential employer might care about.

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