Maybe you’re interested in a job as a project manager (PM), moving projects forwards and keeping technical staff focused on bigger-picture business goals. Maybe you’ve already got a PM gig but are looking for greener pastures — or a higher salary.
We’ve given you resume advice before. But after speaking to a number of career specialists and those who work with (and hire!) PMs regularly, we came away with tips tailored for project managers to ensure your resume, LinkedIn profile, and the email you’re about to send to your future boss all put your best foot forward. After all, as Cynthia Davis, co-founder of recruitment platform Diversifying.io, puts it, “A structured and easy-to-follow resume is itself showing an ability to organize and efficiently deliver information” — and that’s crucial to success as a PM.
1. Focus on what’s important to your future employer
When sending a resume to a potential employer, you’ll want to tailor it to the company and its industry. That means crafting a resume that bridges the gap between what you’ve done and what you want to do in the future, says Davis. “Don’t assume that the person reading the resume knows the systems in place at your current job. Articulate how your skills would add value to the role you are applying for.”
“Take out all the jargon, and then take out some more,” urges Elizabeth Harrin, director at RebelsGuideToPM, an education and mentoring site for project managers. “I know many resumes are read by automated services that search for keywords, so you do want to include the terms that are mentioned in the job description, but any internal words or department names, abbreviations, and specific vocab for your industry should be replaced with something else. You only have a short time to make a good impression and some of the resumes I have read aren’t scannable at all, as they don’t make sense when you read them quickly because of the technical language. Remember that your hiring manager might not be in the same industry as you and they certainly won’t know your internal jargon.”
That said, it’s OK to get a bit into the technical weeds within the field of the company where you’re applying. “It’s hard to project manage something when you don’t know what it is,” says Lovisa Stenbäcken Stjernlöf, identity and governance lead at Advania Sweden. “I would recommend tailoring any resume with technical knowledge within the area you want to work, rather than adding more PM skills.”
2. Impacts trump responsibilities
A traditionally formatted resume includes a list of jobs you’ve held and the responsibilities involved in each. But this paradigm doesn’t really work for project management, since a PM’s career is built from a series of discrete projects that might have widely differing deliverables. One of the near-universal pieces of advice we got from all the experts we spoke to: Structure your resume around the results you’ve delivered to internal or external clients.
Alan Zucker, founding principal at Project Management Essentials, says you should ask yourself a few questions about any engagement you include on your resume. “Describe the business impact,” he says. “How did this project benefit the sponsoring organization? Did it open new markets? Generate revenue? Reduce costs? Consolidate operations?”
Zucker adds that here too, focus is important. “Be clear and concise when describing your performance,” he says. “You want your experience to be quickly understood. Do not get lost in the weeds. Remember, most recruiters and hiring managers will not have the context to understand the details of your past projects.”
How does this philosophy translate to actual bullet points on a resume? Here are some examples for you from Debra Wheatman, president of Careers Done Write:
- Realized 8% budget saving and 11% increase in client satisfaction by overhauling operating and governance model for two BPM application platforms and standardizing operating model based on ITIL framework.
- Delivered 11% increase in customer satisfaction by designing and implementing customer satisfaction survey to identify improvement opportunities and coordinate system enhancements.
- Managed program to optimize IT assets in Latin America region delivering $100K+ in savings.
3. Get quantitative
You’ll note that all those example bullets had numbers in them. Our experts were also in agreement that quantifying your achievements is a must to make your resume stand out.
“Working for 10 months on an e-commerce platform is good as it indicates that the candidate can thrive in a busy environment,” says Devin Schumacher, founder of SERP Co. “But what will make that stand out even more is when the candidate indicates that in those 10 months, she was able to cut costs by 30% or save time in process improvements by a certain percentage. These strong numeric claims backed by actual data — which can be vetted or verified by former employers or supervisors — are truly the best.”
“So often I see resumes from the people I mentor and there are no figures in there,” says RebelsGuideToPM’s Harrin. “I don’t know if you are capable of leading a team of 3 or 300, so spell it out. That really helps a hiring manager understand if you are a good fit for the job. Put in any non-commercially sensitive details that you can, like the project’s budget, duration in years or months, amount of training hours delivered, or anything that helps recruiters understand the scale of the work you have led to date. This is useful as so many people have a PM job title but do radically different things in different firms, so understanding the scope of your work is useful.”
One thing to be careful of: You don’t want to provide too many details about your current employer to another company that may well be a competitor. David Ciccarelli, tech entrepreneur and CEO of Voices, suggests that, when discussing increases in output or decreases in costs, “display that as a percentage increase or decrease rather than whole numbers so as to keep the financials of your employer private.” On the other hand, Maziar Adl, CTO of Gocious, says that you should “try to explain things with real numbers to help the hiring manager gauge the size and scale of your work.” In the end, you’ll have to use your judgment as to what data is too sensitive to share.
4. Show off your certs
Sara Hutchison is an executive resume writer with a background in working with IT professionals. She also holds a CompTIA Project+ certification herself, and thinks that you should do a lot more than just list the names of your certs on your CV.
“I personally found that the foundations of the Project+ certification themselves made for a great section of my own resume,” she says. “You can write out the certification on your resume as if it were a job description, with the issuing authority being in the company spot. Your date of completion of the cert or years it will be active would go in the dates column. From there, use bullets to expand on the principles you gained with that certification and use keywords directly from the goal job description.”
That said, be sure to know how your certifications or other credentials fit into the big picture of the industry — and don’t try to bluff your way past knowledgeable hiring managers.
“I was recently working with a client and their bio read that they were a ‘Certified Project Manager,’” Hutchison says. “But after reviewing the resume, I didn’t see any PM certs. I inquired and learned they had taken a program in college about project management and that is what they were referring to. To me, when I see Certified Project Manager, I think Project Management Professional (PMP) or Certified Project Manager (CPM) — and those are distinguishing certifications that weigh heavier than most. Overstating your project management training is a red flag on a resume to me. You can say you hold a Certificate in Project Management, but you shouldn’t say you are a Certified Project Manager unless you have the PMP or CPM, in my opinion. Similarly, if you have either of these certs, be sure to add those letters at the end of your name.”
5. Don’t neglect the human touch
Despite all the importance of hard data and rigorous certifications, you still want to come across to potential hiring managers as a real person. “Try to show the human side,” says Gocious’s Adl. “This can be done by highlighting things that you are passionate about and key accomplishments you are proud of.”
This is important beyond just adding some emotional warmth to an otherwise impersonal document. So-called “soft skills” are in fact crucial to success as a PM. “While technical skills are important to employers, it’s also critical to prove you have the interpersonal skills necessary to work with and lead teams,” says Dave Garrett, chief strategy and growth officer at the Project Management Institute. “Now more than ever, employers are looking for project managers who are dedicated to effective problem-solving, communicating with their colleagues, and offering flexible solutions when needed. By showcasing that you’ve invested in training and continuous education in these areas, you will prove to hiring managers that you are committed to learning and advancing your career in project management.”
And a great way to show the impact you’ve had on your colleagues is to let them have their say on your resume. “Weave in testimonials from end customers sourced from G2Crowd, Capterra, or Software Advice,” says Voices’ Ciccarelli. “If you mostly work with internal stakeholders, ask for a testimonial on your LinkedIn profile. In both of these instances, the comments are public and verifiable by the hiring manager.” Getting testimony from real people, beyond the numbers, should hopefully be the icing on the cake for a hiring manager deciding whom to interview.