Galen Low is joined by Jeff Chamberlain—a seasoned IT project management consultant—to tell us what’s different about getting a job as a PM today and shares his tips on how to get yourself noticed.
- Jeff started as a tech writer, so documentation is huge in project management. Now he’s a full-time project manager working for a project management consulting firm. [3:12]
- A lot of times, it’s the organic people that find themselves in project management that tend to do very well. [4:33]
If you don’t know how to write, you’re not gonna live in this job. Writing is a skill that a project manager has to develop and it’s key to success in this role.Jeff Chamberlain
- When Jeff was coming up as a project manager, there were two apps out there: the Prosci for the engineering and construction field, and the Microsoft Project. [6:09]
- Back in the day, Jeff saw that it was hard to convince companies to even do project management, much less hire a full-time project manager. [8:06]
You can’t just keep things to yourself and expect things to improve.Jeff Chamberlain
- Sometimes good projects don’t go well, as well as bad projects don’t go well. [10:52]
- The Agile Hybrid environment is one of the biggest change Jeff is seeing today in project management and it’s a great thing for the industry. [13:34]
- Agile is a perfect methodology for scope creep. [14:06]
- The thing that hasn’t changed about project management is in the world of predictive project management. A lot of people call it Waterfall. [14:39]
- Jeff was a certified scrum master back in 2011. [18:06]
- Everything’s a controversy in project management. There’s drama everywhere, but the reality of it is there are two camps. You don’t have to be a bridge builder to project manage a bridge building. You don’t have to be a software engineer to build a piece of software. [22:41]
- The hardest thing to do for a person wanting to get in the project management role is format their resume. [25:16]
If you’re a decent project manager and you have a good resume, you can get a job pretty quickly.Jeff Chamberlain
- An applicant tracking system is where you go onto somebody’s website and you go, ‘I want this job’, and you upload your resume. And what happens in the background is this tool essentially scans your document. The first thing it does that frustrates everybody is that it represents the information back to you snd it says, ‘Make sure this is correct’. [31:23]
- The easier way you can make your resume readable by the ATS is you’re going to make it readable by the hiring manager. [35:28]
- Jeff also talks about the importance of a cover letter. It does not have to be a canned letter. It could be really simple. If your resume passes through the ATS, your cover letter is gonna be passed on too. [35:44]
- If you’re a non-native speaker, give your resume to somebody that is, and let them read it. If you are a native speaker but you have trouble articulating yourself, hand it to somebody that you know is really good and let them beat up the resume. Let them edit it for you. [41:36]
- Jeff always tell people three things if they want to be a project manager or if they want to get hired onto a project team: learn how to write, learn project scheduling, and they have to be organized. [42:33]
Meet Our Guest
Jeff has been a project manager for over 25 years simply because he was the only one on the team that knew MS Project after the real PM quit. He enjoys helping aspiring PMs and just figuring out better ways to do the same thing.
The well experienced project manager is the one that knows how to take a bad project that’s not going well and make it go well.Jeff Chamberlain
Resources from this episode:
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- Follow Jeff on LinkedIn
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Read The Transcript:
We’re trying out transcribing our podcasts using a software program. Please forgive any typos as the bot isn’t correct 100% of the time.
Galen Low: Some of the project managers I know fell into the profession accidentally. They were in the right place at the right time, and they just had the wherewithal to turn a challenge into an opportunity.
The other project managers I know pursued the profession intentionally by taking courses, gaining certifications, and cutting their teeth in other roles within project teams to gain their experience.
As for the rest of the project managers I know... well, they did a combination of both.
So how do you get into a project management career—or even build upon it—when the path ahead of you seems to be a combination of dumb luck and years of effort?
If you've been finding it harder to land a role as a project manager lately, keep listening. We're gonna be discussing why getting a job as a project manager is different these days, as well as sharing our best tips for getting the attention of the company of your dreams.
Hey folks, thanks for tuning in. My name is Galen Low with the Digital Project Manager. We are a community of digital professionals on a mission to help each other get skilled, get confident, and get connected so that we can amplify the value of project management in a digital world. If you want to hear more about that, head over to thedigitalprojectmanager.com.
All right. Today, we are talking about the project management career path—why job seekers are finding it harder to land a project management role, why employers are finding it harder to hire great project managers, and how you can navigate the complexities of a sustained and rewarding career in project management.
With me today is Jeff Chamberlain, a seasoned IT project management consultant and PMI-certified bootcamp instructor who is also a co-moderator of a large online project management community.
Jeff Chamberlain: Thank you. Glad to be here.
Galen Low: Really excited to to get into it. Careers is a thing that always comes up in our community and honestly, it's evolving every day. It's getting more challenging every day, so I'm excited to, to take a big bite out of that.
But first I was just wondering, could you tell us a bit about your background and just how you got into project management in the first place?
Jeff Chamberlain: Sure. I got into project management many years ago when I was working for a large telecom.
I was on a project, project manager disappeared, took a new job, and I was very familiar with the Microsoft product line. My boss at the time kind of asked, Hey who, who amongst you is familiar with Microsoft Project? And I had Microsoft in front of it, so I assumed I was, and I said, I am. And I was then voluntold to be the project manager.
Now, back in the day, I had to take, you know, 14 discs loaded onto my laptop. And then I had this book that Microsoft provided that was, you know, yay big. And that's the only way I was able to figure it out. I worked with a great team. We jumped in, we got the work done, and that was my baptism by fire. So that's where I started.
Galen Low: And it wasn't so traumatizing that you that you kept being a project manager.
Jeff Chamberlain: No, I was always kind of organized in my business life. Maybe not so much my personal life, but I always had a methodology to my madness when it came to sorting things, whether it be email or easy to get tools or use.
So it, it was a pretty logical step for me at least I thought so at the time. You know, from there I became a little bit more formalized. I started as a tech writer, so documentation is huge in project management. And as I worked my way up into that company, I became a field engineer and then, you know, kind of a defacto project manager.
Later on I, I took bigger roles within the realm and I did, you know, I worked for a consulting firm. I had my own consulting business for a while. I've done a lot of IT work. I was an IT manager for a while, IT director, and, you know, learned a lot from that. And now I'm kind of a full-time project manager working for a project management consulting firm.
And I do PMI-certified bootcamp camp trainings. I'm, you know, skilled in that aspect. And I recently also took their citizen developer program, which we can get into later. It's a, it's a whole nother, it's a whole other thing.
Galen Low: So many things. I love that classic tumble into project management, like sometimes I think project management finds you in some ways.
Jeff Chamberlain: It does. You know, now they have educational programs for it where you can get a degree in project management and you get started and, you know, that's not a bad way of doing it. But a lot of times, it's the organic people that find themselves in project management that tend to do very well.
I mean, there, it wasn't taught in the 80's and 90's when I was coming up, not formally through college. It wasn't, you know, like, Hey, I wanna be a project manager when I grow up. It was, you know, it was computer science and math and engineering. So look, but I took it, I definitely took a different path.
Galen Low: No, it's it's super interesting.
I love the tech writing background. I think you're right in terms of like, there's some of these soft skills that blend into a project manager skillset, which we will get into.
Jeff Chamberlain: If you don't know how to write, you're not gonna live in this job. That's, you know, and I tell people that all the time, including my kids.
I mean, if you are in the habit of using text talk and tech in your writing, even in emails and "informal communication" it's a bad habit that will break into your work world. And I tell people not to do that. That's a skill that a project manager has to develop is writing and it's key to success in this role.
Galen Low: There you go. That's tip one. Yeah, you mentioned coaching and the other thing I know about you is that you are a co-moderator of a really large online community that's focused on project management and project management careers. And as you mentioned, you know, you do volunteer your time and you do one-on-one coaching for folks, especially folks who are trying to break into the industry.
So I'm just wondering what makes it so important for you to give back to this craft that you tumbled into?
Jeff Chamberlain: You know, when I was coming up as a project manager there was really two apps out there. You know, there was Prosci for the engineering and construction field, and then there was Microsoft Project and there was Excel.
And unfortunately, Excel is not a project management tool. It's really hard to do the work. And I had to figure out these formulas. I had to figure out how to, not just figure out the core math, but I had to figure out how to make Excel do it. And if you've ever done that, it's easier to just pound your head against a wall.
So what I try to do is, and that's just a small sample of what I call giving back. I don't want people to, you know, push that noodle up a hill. I want people to be able to easily, you know, do the role. And if I can do that through the fact that, you know, hey, when I did this, I'd burnt my hand.
So don't do this and you won't burn your hand. Obviously people stuff to learn the lessons and some of them are the hard way. But giving back to me means that there's gonna be a highly skilled workforce out there that can, you know, I can hire, or we or my company can hire or other companies can bring on board to help do right by the role.
The other thing is when I started project management was this, you know, and I don't want it all back in the 70's, project management's been around forever. I mean it's, it's been around forever, but in the corporate world versus the government world, it's been less, you know, tasty to them. It's an overhead function.
It, it cost money even though in the long run it saves money, and that's hard to articulate. And that's one of the key things that I try to get people to understand is if you're a project manager and you're making 50, a hundred, $150,000 a year, you're costing the company. So every dollar you can help them save and then communicate that you've saved them money, it's a win.
So back in my day, like I've said, it was hard to convince companies to even do project management, much less hire a full-time project manager. So the more I can get people to understand that, the more I can get people to successfully navigate these waters, the better off it is for the industry as a whole.
You know, PMOs are in the commercial world, not a new thing, but a newish thing in the last 20, 25 years since I started. So, it's great to have other people part of the world, which is why I like to give back.
Galen Low: It's so interesting, like we are so philosophically aligned. I agree entirely with what you're saying, like it shouldn't be so hard that you have to figure everything out yourself as you go and learn everything the hard way. It is important to learn some things through experience and you know, yeah, you're gonna have your hand burnt, but you don't, it doesn't have to be every time.
It's like this evolution of knowledge that, yes, project management has existed forever, but the way people have been learning it for a long time has just been, you know, they get voluntold to lead a project and then they burn their hand and then they burn their hand on something else and they roll the noodle up the hill. Right?
Like, and that's kind of been the path, and now there's just so much knowledge there.
Jeff Chamberlain: Yeah. And I really think that a lot of people kinda struggle with sharing information and the challenge with that, in my opinion, is that you can't just keep things to yourself and expect things to improve.
I rarely, you know, I'm a pretty straightforward and blunt person. If I see somebody struggling or not doing something right, I will tell them, and I'm pretty direct about it. Sometimes it doesn't go over well, but, you know, honesty's the direct, the best policy. And with project managers, you grow thick skin.
And when you're starting out, most people don't have that. So, as somebody that's peer coaching, you need to help them with that. You need to prevent them from being punched in the face or failing, even though project management is a role of failure. It really is. We try not to make it a huge amount.
We try to fail softly. And if you can help a new project manager learn that way, that's even better. And that's what I like to see is people who, it's like, well, that didn't work out well, so I'm not gonna do that anymore. That's the best way to teach somebody, you know.
Galen Low: Yeah, no, absolutely. I like that sort of resilience factor to it, and it ties in with the role of the project manager that, yeah, we are generally a cost. And it is a little bit is a little bit finicky in terms of trying to always advocate for our value, anywhere we go. And always be walking that line between failure and success because, yes, a project never goes perfectly.
It's always full of a few failures and it's just, it's hard. It's difficult. It's difficult.
Jeff Chamberlain: And good projects don't go well, as well as bad projects don't go well. You don't differentiate that. And the well experienced project manager is the one that knows how to take a bad project that's not going well and make it go well.
And sometimes you just have to take a step back and let a good project that's not going well. You know, that's maybe having some problem just guided a little bit. And that's not a problem. The way you do the role.
Galen Low: It's a funny balance, right? Cause I mean, even in the training, but also the personalities that it attracts, we almost want the bar to be perfection.
We're all striving for it, even though it's actually, and we get trained, right? We're like, Okay, listen, here's how you make your project go perfectly. Whereas in reality, like you said, no project goes perfectly. Even the ones that go well, didn't go perfectly.
Jeff Chamberlain: I worked for a guy that used to say this, and it resonated with me, is just, don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
And, you know, it's one of the sayings that, you know, we're full of buzz words and sayings and whatnot, but it's one of the ones that really does resonate with me. 'Cause, you know, it's gold plating or whatever you call it. Sometimes you just, the customer pays for X, don't give them X plus 10, you know?
They're willing to pay for more if they want to. You wanna save them time, money, and effort. So don't make the perfect, you know, be or the great be the enemy of the good, however you wanna say it. It works.
Galen Low: It's really interesting. Yeah. No I'm all about that. And it is like, you almost have to resist that urge.
I think a lot of the personalities that I talk to in the role where it's actually resisting the urge to gold plate, because you want to do such a good job.
Jeff Chamberlain: Developers will do it and architect will do it and, you know, construction engineers will do it. It's like, man, if I could just make this an arch instead of a squared, you know, it's not industry specific.
It's you know, you have a project managers. If I can just get this budget instead of being 10% or 2% over budget, if I can make it under budget, that's perfect. You know, you're not always gonna do that. Just work with it.
Galen Low: Yeah. It's about the constraints. You mentioned about like project management, you've been doing it a while.
The actual art of project management has been around for a long time. But I'm just wondering, like, do you think that the role of a project manager, especially in like digital and in IT, like, is the role the same as it was say a decade ago? And what are the things that are the same and what are the things that are different?
Jeff Chamberlain: So, you know, as much as things change, they say the same. We always come up with new terms. I mean, in, in the 80's it was total quality management. In the 90's we got into ISO, but right now we're in a world where project management is changing and it's Agile and know, one organization calls it Pure Agile.
Another one might call it Agile Hybrid. It's a really hard methodology to go, I'm 100% Agile. And that's okay, because there are ways to do it, in what PMI calls the Agile Hybrid environment. That's the biggest change I'm seeing and it's a great thing for the industry. Five years ago, I was not a huge fan.
10 years ago, I was not a huge fan. But as you read a little bit about it, you recognize and as you do it, and that's the other thing. As I started doing it, you recognize that you can essentially iterate and do a good job with iteration. It wasn't until I had an agile coach point out to me that agile is a perfect methodology for scope creep.
And when I say perfect, I mean it's an environment design for scope creep. If you think about it, that's what agile is. It's iteration, it's change, and it's being adaptive to those changes. So I think that's the biggest change in project management is that we're going into and this really is well suited for software design, which is where a lot of things are being controlled right now.
I think the thing that hasn't changed about project management is in the world of predictive project management, but we, a lot of people call it Waterfall. That's not an accurate methodology statement when it comes to predictive.
Waterfall is things that a task stop, the next task starts. You know, you start with design, then you go to build an implementation task, so on. Predictive is more of your old school waterfall, where you got these guys that are men and women that are managing schedules that have a critical path and tasks along that.
And you've gotta deal with stakeholder management and budget and all this other stuff. I think that does stay the same in a lot of industries. You can't build a bridge in an iterative fashion. You have to build the bridge. And, you know, you can't get halfway across and go, you know what? I really wish this was a one of those bridges that does this, you know. No, I'm sorry.
We, we've already planned it to be a, I'm not a construction guy and you can clearly understand that. So fifth bridge, you know, versus, you know, the kind that have the, like the Brooklyn Bridge. You can't change that mid path. Same thing with building a house. You have to have a good change management process.
You can't have scope creep that affects version 1.0. And that's okay, because there's a need for that in this world. And that's where things have stayed the same. But like I said, the agile part of project management, you know, a lot of people are really hot and heavy on that. They really like it.
Let's do agile. Let's do agile. One of my roles as a project manager I like to advise my stakeholders where it's appropriate to use, where it will succeed, and also let them know where it's not an appropriate methodology to use. And maybe where it's not gonna see and why, because it is a, you know, trendy and not a lot of trendy stuff in project management, but that, that is one.
And there's a lot of tools being built around it and that are fantastic tools, I've used many of them. But quite frankly you have to understand where it applies. Just like any other tool set.
Galen Low: And you mentioned something really important, which I think is that, you know, even going back, you know, a decade and I said a decade ago and I'm like, you know, in the grand scheme of things, that's not very long. But a decade ago, Agile, it was coming in as a contender and looked like it might be the only way to do things moving forward.
And today we're in a space where actually, like hybrids are accepted and known, and you know, when we look at the data, we see that a lot of people are running things in a hybrid way. You're right, there are still industries and there are still projects that need predictive methodologies.
And in some ways, like what I'm getting from this is that, yeah, actually the flexibility of methodology and like how you, how we're approaching these things and how we're blending and how we're just trying to focus on just finding the right way to do something, to have our project succeed versus like, pick a camp and pick a textbook that you're going to like believe in and that's what you need to choose.
That's that's really interesting.
Jeff Chamberlain: Yeah. And that's why agile hybrid exists. Because, you know, we have to get along and there's no, you know, there's people out there that are old school and they wanna manage things a certain way. And there are people that only understand the iterative way and, you know, there's no, there's definitely a blend.
I feel myself, I certified as a certified scrum master back in like 2011, just simply because I had a client that wanted it. And as I took the course I understood it, I understood its benefits, and we did a couple of projects with it. It was not bad. I wasn't, like I said, I wasn't a huge fan early on. But years later, I actually went to a PMI conference and somebody was telling me why they liked it.
And again, she was a coach, she was an agile coach and she did, she was a scrum master as well, and walked me through it and it was like, you know, mind blown type of thing. It was really an eye opener for me. And that's kind of when I started recognizing there is a place for this in my toolbox and I will use it.
Galen Low: I love that. I wanna come back to the value piece. Earlier we were talking about the fact that, you know, it's a bit of an uphill battle for project managers, you know, we are a cost center. It's not always obvious how we are saving or making an organization money. Do you think that's changed at all?
Do you think that's changing? Are people understanding the value of project management more? Especially when, you know, you can talk to any non-project manager and they will kind of know what Agile is. Like that's saying something but is our value, like, is the perception of our value changing at all?
Jeff Chamberlain: Oh, definitely. When I got into this role, there was a diverse group of project managers and they were typically engineers. You know, somebody that just kind of was organized, kind of good with people, and they were the ones that managed the project. And then today, we have companies like, well, my company's been around for a bit of time, but we have companies that have structured into PMOs. And then we have companies that have structured into structured PMOs.
Like I know a company that has an IT PMO, and inside they also have an engineering PMO, and then they have a finance PMO. So they have gotten to the point where they recognize value so much that they want people that are, you know, stovepiped. I want a finance PMO. I want you to understand accounting.
I want you to understand how our books are structured. I want you to understand how we pay our bills. In engineering we want, you know, technical project managers, somebody who has an education in some of the technical stuff we do. So it is a huge shift and we now fill for project management time. When I started, it was definitely overhead.
And as we've grown, I worked for a consulting firm that bill does this 20% of the project. And it was a, you said you did not, if you were a client and I don't wanna pay this, then we literally had them sign documentation saying they will provide their own project management services. And I didn't work on those projects.
And they would go over budget, they would go over time, and we had clients that eventually came around and we had others that just simply understood that was the cost of doing business. So yes, to answer your question succinctly, it is changed. The value aspect.
Galen Low: I like that op, like I like that option that you've given customers to be like, sure, we'll run this project with no project manager or bring in your own and then you can look at that data and compare it and it's pretty irrefutable.
Jeff Chamberlain: It ends up being it if you, if long as you're doing similar type projects, like if you're implementing a enterprise type tool and it's tool X, and then we can show you, hey, here's what we did last year with this same version at this customer, at this size, and this is how, when, how long it took us to do it. And this is what we're looking at saving.
Otherwise you guys have to spend the money, you know, on your own.
Galen Low: The other thing that you touched on that I thought was really interesting, and I want to dig into it a little bit, maybe now, maybe later, but just this notion where they're specialized. You said they're structured PMOs where as a project manager, you are expected to know.
You're in the finance project, you're expected to know how the books are done. You're not just looking at a Gantt chart, you're not just looking at a product backlog and not understanding what part, what role this project plays in the business. You're expected to be part of the business and be part of incrementing the business, not just doing increments on your project.
I think we, we'll dig into that a little bit later, but I thought it was really apt. The fact that, yeah, it's not just about getting trained to do project management. There's more to it.
Jeff Chamberlain: It is a little bit of a, you know, there's, everything's a controversy in project management. There's drama everywhere, but the reality of it is, we'll get into this, but the reality of it is there are two camps.
You don't have to be a bridge builder to project manage a bridge building. You don't have to be a software engineer to build a piece of software. And we could discuss that, and I agree to that to a certain extent, but then I agree where the focus, you know, where you have a focal point person.
It does. It's very helpful. So again, definitely, let's re-explore that.
Galen Low: Let's re-explore that. I wanted to take a little bit of a side quest, because I know you do a lot of coaching, career coaching. I know you talk to a lot of folks who are trying to start their career as a project manager or who are interested in a career in project management, but you know, are having trouble getting started.
What's the biggest challenge you see job seekers looking for project management roles facing today? And what advice do you have for overcoming it?
Jeff Chamberlain: Yeah there's two types of coaching I do. The one type of coaching I do is, I like to bring people into, you know, like that have project management experience and they want to go to the next step, which is certifying as a project management professional.
I'm not chilling, I don't work for PMI. I am a certified trainer. I don't, when I coach people individually, I'm not acting as a representative of PMI. But there is a relatively complicated process in getting to the point of taking the certification test. And it starts with the application. One of the things I do is I walk people through their experience and I tell them, this is what you need to look at in your background in your experience.
Let's look at PMBOK 6 is a great example. Let's look at these 10 knowledge base areas. Where do, you know, where have you done these particular categories? Let's write them down and then let's talk about the projects you've done. And then I help them apply. I have a way to help people do studying that is associated with the test.
There's some really good material out there. What, you know, whether you go out to Udemy and you take the test prep or you look at the Rita Mulcahy books. She's, you know, from a generational standpoint, she's been teaching project managers for a long time. She's passed on now, but her company still exists. They use a lot of the same methodologies and methods to teach what's the difference between a methodology and method?
But she, they use the same techniques to train people on taking the test, and it's a lot bigger book on learning. So that's the one part. The other part I do is, the hardest thing to do for a person wanting to get in the role is format their resume. It is so different to write a project management resume, even as a new person, than it is to write one for a developer or somebody who is an accountant. And the reason why I say that is a developer can say, these are the types of things I've done.
I've done web development, or I've built apps that do this and these are the languages I'm familiar with. With a project manager, you have to kinda put the proof in the pudding and that is, this is my skill set, this is how I measured them, it's outcome based. I did this and it did this. It's sort of the percent, the dollar sign, and the clock. Right?
I saved you money as a percentage. I saved you money as a money and I saved you time. And when you write your resume, people who may have worked retail, it's hard for them to say, I wanna be a project manager. But I can tell them, you know, retail's a hard job. You might have instituted an inventory system at your organization that at the end of the night, instead of having to count every widget, you just have a just in time delivery method.
And that's a project that you did. And you can articulate that, not only in your app, but on your resume. So the resume is the biggest barrier for most people. And when somebody comes to me, and I'm sorry that this is a lengthy explanation, but this is a huge impact.
When somebody comes to me and they say, I put out 300 resumes and I'm not getting any interviews. I tell them, it's your resume. 99 times out of a hundred, it's your resume. And we need to look at that. So people will post resumes and the community is very active. We've been there, we've had to refl, you know, we're project based.
So a lot of times, many of us have been laid off. Me personally, I've been laid off like four times. It happens. But if you're a decent project manager and you have a good resume, you can get a job pretty quickly, if you have a decent resume. The last time I had to change jobs, I was hired probably within 30 days. And simply, it wasn't 30 days to get the job, it took me, I put a resume in and 30 days later I started the job.
So, two to three weeks of that was onboarding. You know, like, Okay, let's get your background done, let's get your fingerprinting done, let's do this, let's do that. So, it is a process of looking at what's going wrong and people just feel like, Oh, I've got a good resume because the career center built it for me.
I've implemented applicant tracking systems and I've helped built them. And I know, if you upload a resume and it's got your picture on it and it's got eight different colors and three different font choices and pipes and symbols and lines, it ain't getting read. I mean, it's a bottom line. I've written a lot about that to people and once you take your resume and you turn it into something simple, you know, something that a 1980's scanner can read, then you're gonna recognize it'll be a lot easier to get to that hiring manager.
So again, very lengthy explanation, but it's a big problem in the industry is getting people over that home.
Galen Low: Honestly, there's so many good things there. Like, so even when you were talking about like preparing to write the PMP exam. You know, a lot of folks I talked to, they're like you know, I can't do my PMP.
I don't have enough project experience. And it sounds like this catch 22. But then the other thing you said, which is that you might have project experience from working retail and that is something that you can blend in that, you know, that is accounts as like exposure to project management or to projects period.
And you're bringing that relevant and adjacent experience into how you are getting certified or how you're training to become a project manager and you're bringing that in. The other thing that you said is just like this whole notion of like the metrics, the impact that we had.
And I found that like, at least in the circles I travel in, that it was always secondary, right? We're like, Okay, Iron triangle. That's my job. Right? And then we started, you know, putting out our resumes and our resumes looked like job descriptions. It was like, what did I do? Oh, I had led projects so that they were on time and on schedule I mean, and on budget and within the scope.
And that's boring. And so any hiring manager reading that, that's probably like, it's like a 'duh' moment.
Jeff Chamberlain: Yeah. Okay. So you need a job.
Galen Low: Exactly, right? Yeah. It's like, okay that's great. Tell me more. But I found that the mindset of a project manager, you know, when I was coming up was not to have that understanding, not to be measuring that impact.
We weren't thinking about, okay, well what needle did we move with this project? We weren't thinking about, okay, what KPIs should I make sure that I record in this project so that I can put it on my resume later and so on will read that and go, Oh, I get it. Yeah. You shaved you know, 20 minutes off a 30 minute operation that happens four times a day.
I get that. You probably save them, you know, $20,000 a week. That's amazing. Okay. That's the kind of impact I wanna have. And also that's the kind of mind that I want to bring onto my team as well.
Jeff Chamberlain: It's problem solving in a structured format, and most people don't think of it that way.
Projects are, Hey, a customer comes to you and they want a new software. Project comes to you, or a customer comes to you and they want this to, you have to think of it as a problem solving process. And that is an aspect of it, but that's how you get to the next level, you know, is solving those problems.
Galen Low: And I like it. Yeah. It's all about problem solving. Speaking of problem solving, you mentioned something else which was the applicant tracking systems, which is the other game changer across any job seeker's journey now. And yes, to your point, yeah, your resume is probably better looking like Craigslist than it does any of the 150 templates that came with, you know, Microsoft Word.
But I mean it's keyword driven, right? So like do you have any tips of like qualifications or keywords that are must-haves for somebody in their resume?
Jeff Chamberlain: So it goes beyond a keyword search and most people don't recognize what an applicant tracking system is. So let's take a quick definition. An applicant tracking system is where you go onto somebody's website and you go, I want this job, and you upload your resume.
And what happens in the background is this tool essentially scans your document. Now, we'll get into keywords in a minute, but the first thing it does that frustrates everybody is that it represents the information back to you. And it says, make sure this is correct. And everybody gets irritated because the number one thing I always hear is, I just uploaded my resume.
Why do I have to fill this information in? And I tell everybody, The reason why is because your resume format is horrible. If you can upload a resume that is easily read, it runs at a single column, and you have things structured consistently throughout the resume, you're not gonna have to do all the corrections you're gonna have to do.
Now, there are some really bad ATS systems out there. I won't name companies, but there are some bad ones that literally will take you to another step that you have to fill in an application. I can tell you my knowledge of the industry has gotten, so I recognize that those are going away. Many of them.
It's not AI driven. A resume is not gonna go, this person doesn't qualify, and that person does. They might present some questions that will eliminate your resume, for instance. And they, and by law, they have to be restricted. So for instance, are you legal to work in the United States or in Canada or in Switzerland?
And if you say, No, they may eliminate you from that role because they're allowed to do that. At least here in the States. I can't really speak to Canada, but you know, are you over the age of 18? You know, if you say no, and the job requires you to be over 18, they can eliminate you. And then they might ask some key questions, like in the job description it says, You need six years experience of doing Jira or working with Jira or what have you.
And you answer, No, or I have four, or you answer, I only have four. And this becomes important, then they might eliminate you. But if you paid attention to what the job description says and you answer them or you structure your resume to match that better, then that's where the keyword start making a difference.
They're clearly looking for a Jira expert here, so I'm gonna make sure if I've used Jira, instead of putting a list of my skills and one of them is Jira, I'm gonna put a bullet point and say, I've managed a Jira implementation, or I've trained people on Jira, or I used Jira to do Kanban boards and I've done reporting out of it and this, and that. I'm gonna focus my job roles on where I use Jira.
If they're looking for somebody that has experience with building a drawbridge, hey, I remember what it's called. You know, I'm gonna go and I'm gonna mention projects where I built the drawbridge. Hey, I built the, I helped implement the drawbridge that goes over this river and et cetera. It's relevant in that it is keyword for specific, and yes, you should put as many keywords as possible in resume as that match the job description.
And to that point, to further do it, it's not just going, they say PMP. I wanna say I have one, but I want to tell them how I've used it. So the biggest mistake people say, and I've heard recruiters advocate for this, and this is a no-no. Copy in all the keywords and then paste them really super tiny in the footer in white.
Don't do that. Don't do that because every single applicant tracking system that's out there nowadays already knows if you're doing that and you're just gonna get kicked to the bin. It literally kicked to the bin. The easier you can make that resume readable by the ATS is you're gonna make it readable by the hiring manager. Because that is your biography for them, and they're gonna drill you on that resume.
And then the other part is a cover letter. People, it does not have to be a canned letter. It could be really simple. Every ATS, if your resume passes through, your cover letter's gonna be passed on. And I'm gonna read it as a hiring manager and most other hiring managers are gonna skim it. But if you tell me in that cover letter, Hey, I'm a really good guy and I went here.
No. I wanna see, hey, I came across your company and your company is X, Y, Z. And I see that you make an automatic peanut sheller. I really like peanuts. And I think that this is a fantastic tool. As I went through your website, I realized that you guys are growing. I wanna be a part of that organization. My background is really nicely matched to that.
Take a look at my attached resume. It's a personal letter. It's not a canned letter. And that's a big misconception with a lot of people going through and struggling getting hired right now. You are telling somebody why you wanna work for their company and you can't just go me. You have to put the you in that.
And that is the company. And it's a pain, you know, which is why when you're looking for a job, it's an eight hour a day thing. It doesn't mean you're applying to 300 jobs a day. It just means you're looking you're screening for jobs. When you find them, you're writing your resume and your cover letter to that job and you're documenting it. And then you submit your application and then you go through the ATS process and then you follow up on jobs that you've already applied to.
And it's a role, it's a project management role to get a project management job. And that's kinda a lot. It's a lot of work, but in order to get a high paying job that is rewarding at a good company, this is how you do it. It's not just flinging 'em out on your phone. I mean, I see people doing that all the time and it's like you're not gonna get a really good job just doing the quick apply through LinkedIn.
It's great, maybe if you have a good network and you can list out things. But it's not gonna get you a great job.
Galen Low: I love that. I love that, like one of the big challenges is some of the myth surrounding job seeking today. The myth that, yeah, is you can just, you should just shotgun approach it because it's all going through an ATS and you know, you gotta get by this filter and sometimes it won't get through.
So just apply for as many jobs as you can. Don't put too much time into it. But yeah, I mean, I, it resonates with me. My experience has been that taking the time to craft something and to show that you understand the business that you're trying to work within, and that you have done your research and you have thought about how you fit into the bigger puzzle and like their strategic plan and where they're trying to go. That's usually been where I've had the most success.
You know, even if it is a rejection, right? To be like, Hey, listen, like thanks for everything, like, this is great. We just, you know, we went in a different direction. But that's still better than just not receiving any response to a generic resume that I threw into a black hole.
Jeff Chamberlain: Yeah, and a lot of people kind of get hung up on the fact that maybe they don't have five years experience in a particular software, but they only have four years.
That's okay. It's okay to say that because what's gonna happen a lot of times is they're gonna look at resume to resume, especially if they narrow you down. If that's one of the requirements, but not the main one. There may be another guy that has seven years experience in that software, but it was eight years ago and it was when it was a desktop app.
Now it's a SAS type tool. If you've been working on it and it's been in the last four years consistently, but you don't have the five or six or whatever years experience they want, they're gonna look at you before they look at that other guy. So it's often said that I'm gonna do, I'm gonna make a gender statement here that women do not apply, especially to technology companies because they don't feel that they meet 100% of the qualifications.
And men are just wing their, surgeon. I could do that. You know I, whatever. I mean, there's a huge difference in the gender population in the way people apply. And the recipes that I've seen come across my desk that have been both now, and I did some project management recruiting, so that come from women that clearly have the skillset, but you could tell they were hesitant to apply.
And then when you interview 'em, they feel shocked. It surprises me because it's the whole, if you don't play, you don't win. And there's so many people out there that have the skillset at 80% or 90%, and I would rather hire you than maybe somebody that has the equivalent, but their experience is older or not necessarily relevant to my industry.
So, while it is not a shotgun or a numbers game, it is a focused, you know, sniper approach where you can definitely identify a business or an industry you're good at and you have a skillset, apply. You know, take that chance and tell them why you're applying. I only have four years experience, but guess what?
I'm highly trained in this and this is why, and I teach people how to use it. I'm good. And that's what's in your cover letter.
Galen Low: I love that. I love that storytelling about yourself and how you kind of fit into the organization you're trying to work for and having the confidence to say, I'm going to add value. You know, you're asking for a specific thing. I may not have it, but I'm going to add value because I'm awesome.
Jeff Chamberlain: Yeah. Cover letters are a great way, I mean, think about any kind of email that you write. I mean, it they're a great way to communicate you to them. And what's it about them that's important to you?
Galen Low: It goes back to what you said at the beginning. At the beginning you said you know, it's gonna help you to be able to write.
Jeff Chamberlain: Yeah. And you need to keep doing that, you know. And to that point, one last thing on a resume. After you've written your resume, if you're a non-native speaker, give it to somebody that is, and let 'em read them back.
Let 'em read it. If you are a native speaker, but you have trouble articulating yourself sometimes. We all have that. Hand it to somebody that you know is really good and let them beat up the resume. Let them edit it for you. Not necessarily for the content, but you know, make sure you use this adverb versus this adverb and the pronoun versus this pronoun.
Let somebody else read it to you. It's a, it's important to do that so that you can hear it and correct.
Galen Low: I love that.
Jeff Chamberlain: That's all on resumes.
Galen Low: What's let's flip to the other side of the table. So for the hiring managers, you know, we've been talking about the skills of a project manager. There's the usual suspects, but what are the qualifications that hiring managers should be looking for a project manager role?
Maybe some of the ones that they aren't usually listing in these job postings?
Jeff Chamberlain: I could tell you, I always tell people three things when, if you wanna be a project manager and you wanna get hired onto a project team. Maybe not as a project manager initially, but if you wanna impress a project manager and lemme see if I can get these all kind of in order.
The first thing is, I said it early on, learn how to write. If you are not a good writer, take a little class at the community college. Even if it's on resume writing or whatever, just take a class at the community college. Because it is so important and that every communication you make, whether you're texting your mom, don't use things like LOL or anything like that.
Just write it out. Stop the text while you are trying to become a project manager, at least. I'm not, don't, obviously, casual conversation is great, but even when you're emailing and texting, just write properly. The second thing is learn project scheduling. In the industry, it is the pain point of every project team. And I'm not just talking about, Hey, write a Gantt chart for me or learn Microsoft Project.
I'm talking about whether it is the iterations and the two week sprints or the Gantt chart where you are building in Slack, where you are learning about dependencies. Just the concept of project scheduling and the reason why is because nobody wants to do it. So guess what the most available position on a project team is the person doing the scheduling.
And you're gonna hate it. You'll hate the first 18 months to two years while you're doing it, and you will do it for 18 months to two years because it is a valuable role on the project team. And that means you learn the project tools. You do. It helps you. And then the third thing is you really have to be an organized person.
And you know, you could say, Oh, I'm very organized, but are you? Look at your inbox, look at the things around you. Are you? Does everything have a home in your world? Are your emails, do you have a thousand in your inbox and you still need to sort 'em into those little folders you created two years ago and you thought it was a good idea?
Do you have automations in your world that help you do your job? Everything from visual basic to auto hot key to, you know, power tools and power query and things like that. Do you automate your life? And if you can answer 'Yes' to these three things, you're a pretty good start on being a project manager.
You just need to learn the formalness of it. And yes, it's a stodgy crowd, you know, Oh, I need to deal with stakeholders and it's okay though. Those three things will solve so many issues that pop up in a project manager's life, that when you're interviewing a program manager or somebody in a PMO that runs a PMO, they're gonna go, I can teach stakeholder management.
I can teach budgeting. I can teach earn value management. But what they can't teach is those core skills that exist. The learning how to write, the being organized, and the project scheduling. I mean, you could teach project scheduling, but the reality of it is if you have somebody already ready to go and you could plop 'em in your project team and they know that, then you're better off.
Galen Low: But I like that as like searching for a sensibility. If you're a hiring manager, looking for a project manager, even if someone comes in through the door that looks underqualified, the things that are going to be, you know, something you can work with in shape, it's gonna be basically, you've said, communicate well.
Said be ready to do a job that might not be the sexiest job. Right? Project scheduling. You could teach project scheduling, but I think what I heard was be willing to do the job that gets you in. Be willing to do the work that makes things move forward. And the last one was just being organized.
And I think that's also a sensibility as well that you know, you can train on top of if you're willing to put into time.
Jeff Chamberlain: And a lot of times a project manager will tell them in an interview, they'll let you know what their biggest headache is. For me, the last job I took was, this is a job of politics.
You have to be politic. And you know, with my personality I'm not always politic, but I recognize that the client, you know, has to services have, the needs have to come first. I recognize that, you know, clients don't like to be misled and I like to be lied. And I will answer, I will tell my, you know, the people I'm working with is, this is my personality.
I understand. Obviously you have to be nice, you have to be polite, but you wanna give 'em good advice. That's what they're paying for. And that, I think made a big difference in my interview is that, yes, politics is very important in certain roles, but also integrity, honesty, and the ability to do the job kind of outranks that sometimes.
Galen Low: Honestly, we should make a t-shirt of that. We need to give them good advice. That's what they're paying for. And we're talking about the value of a project manager that is absolutely very high up on the list.
I wonder if we can dive into some of the tougher stuff. So I talked to a lot of people, probably you do as well. I talk to people who have a PMP, who have an MBA some folks who have doctorates and they're still being told they are underqualified for the roles that they're applying for.
So, do you think that like hiring managers are starting to ask too much from a project manager role?
Jeff Chamberlain: You know, it's interesting you say that. would have to look at the job description for those people, because if you see a job description for a project manager and they're asking for an MBA or they're asking for a PhD or whatever, I'm not saying it doesn't exist because it does.
And in a lot of clinical cases it does. And absolutely you need to have that level of education to do it. But if you're telling me that in order to help design your software, I need an MBA, I'm gonna be very kind of questioning that. What I will say is if people are saying they're underqualified, I go back to the resume.
What is your resume showing? Does it show that you maybe did project work, but you're spelling it out in a way that doesn't make it feel like project work? Again, let's go back to that retail worker. It's a fantastic opportunity, retail, you have lulls and you have what they call in the weeds, right? If you're in a law and back in the day when I worked at the mall as a, you know, as a kid, you know, if you can lean, you can clean was the statement.
But nowadays, you know, and I'm not naming any coffee shop like, you know, Starbucks, but if you work at a mom-and-pop or you work at a, the local, whatever, you know, mobile phone store, you can come up with processes that make things better, that qualify you to become. You know maybe you're a college student and you're graduating in a year or six months, this is when you start talking about process, you know, and workflow management.
And even looking at a schedule, you know, you know what that is, right? When you're the system manager of a, of the local T-mobile or phone store, the staffing schedule is probably more complex than any Gantt chart that I've ever seen because John can't work on Tuesdays because he is a dog walker on that day. And Anne can't work on this day because she's in college.
It is the management of resources. And if you have been able to successfully do that through a process you built, that goes on your resume, and that's how you express scheduling one of the three tiers of project management. It goes a little bit beyond that in many other aspects, but that's how you, that's how you qualify yourself for the job.
Galen Low: I love that and I love the other thing that you had said that kind of ties into this, which is that even if you have a PMP or an MBA, like just putting those three letters without explaining it in your resume is really like you have to contextualize it. You need that specificity to show how your skills, whether you have an MBA or whether you worked at T-Mobile, like for three summers, explain how that's actually going to translate into value for the people that are bringing you on.
Jeff Chamberlain: role is really sold to people as one of experience. And, you know, young men and women today have a great disadvantage to when I was in college. Number one, the price of college is exorbited. It hasn't tracked to the world. You know, nothing in the world, even gasoline, you name it, you know, maybe house prices, but, and it's unfortunate because we sold that bill of goods to them.
But this business is really experienced-driven and it's not huge. It's not like you need 30 years of experience to run a project. You know, two years into this role, I felt comfortable. You know, three years into the role, I was able to certify. Well back then it was different. It was hours on a project that it was a lot easier to kind of get certified.
Nowadays, I could probably do it not outta college, but just a few years in. But the other challenge that young men and women have nowadays is the companies are, hey, this is an entry level role, but you need three years experience. A concern, you know, and I, it's one of the reasons why internships are important, working while you're in college is important.
These type of things become very valuable. If you're getting an MBA, you gotta know business. And knowing business means you gotta be working. That way you can apply that skill as you're doing it. So, you know, I look forward to the students coming in, the new people coming in because I think they bring great ideas and the fresh perspective on things that you never see.
There's a lot of gatekeeping in the industry, and honestly, I've kind of done it myself and I feel a little bad for that. But as I've learned by managing these online communities, people that struggle with it, I've become a little bit more sensitive to it myself. And you know, if I could, you know, reach down and pull somebody up instead of pushing them back, I, you know, I'm a better person for it.
It's something that needs to be done more and more. And I, as I, as I grow with the community, as I get older in it, that's what I wanna see is more of these young men and women coming up into this community and offering their ideas because that's how we way something grows.
Galen Low: I totally agree. I totally. We were talking about a bill of goods sold, and I think the other bill of goods that we sold was that there are project manager roles to be found. But one of the things you and I have been talking about is just titling, job titles and different roles and now project management, you know, it's factoring in as a skill set, but the job title might not be project manager.
So should folks in their search, should they be looking for project manager roles or would they have better luck looking for roles that just have project management somewhere in the required skills?
Jeff Chamberlain: It's an interesting question. A lot of time, what I like to tell people is find a company, you know, like, you know, Google, biggest company in the world.
Let's just hit it that way or Tesla and say, I really wanna work for Tesla. And then look at the types of roles we're advertising for. And look at the types of roles that overlap your skills. And a lot of times it's not a project management role, maybe it's product manager. And again, that's a very important role in, in the world.
And in that, in the agile world it's probably the key stakeholder outside of the person paying the bills. And essentially they are, because they're the ones that are end up saying, this product is gonna be marketable. I think we get hung up on the role of project manage- I think it's a good role, therefore I want to do it.
It's not for everybody. It's not. But there are many project roles that are out there for everybody. You know, even if you're super great at doing data analyst, analysis, the BI role, the business intelligence role, or the BA, Business Analyst role, is super important on a project team. The developers, testers, everybody is important on the project team and as you get better, a, as being part of a project team, you might recognize, I really wanna be a project manager. Now you know how to do it. You've done it, you've been on the role and you can kind work your way into it. Or you could say, There is no way I'm gonna do what she's doing.
That's a crazy job that's just, you know, it's, get an education in it. I mean, it's kind of what I did. Yeah, I was pushed into the role, but I was encouraged into the role. I kind of wanted, I was already in a lead role. I like managing teams, I like guiding people. I like doing this stuff. So I was young and it was a young team and we all were willing to learn and willing to away our egos, which is very unusual for a young male dominated industry like engineering and at the time.
But we did a very good job with it and that's how you get into it. So I, that's how I did it and I grew into it. I've worked with many people who are the same way. So you just kinda have a strategy, find the company, find the organization, more organizational type, and then go from there.
Galen Low: I really like that notion of of finding a company and seeing where you fit.
I love that. Absolutely. Awesome. Jeff, thank you so much for your insights today. I loved all the stories, I loved the ground we covered and we did cover a lot of ground, and I think our listeners will get a lot of value out of it.
Jeff Chamberlain: Thank you very much for inviting me.
Galen Low: So what do you think?
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