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5 Surprising Project Manager Skills Recruiters Are Secretly Looking For

Updated on February 11, 2014

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Why Your Typical Project Manager Skills Aren't Enough

Let me start with some honest, if tough, advice for you: although you might think your skill set makes you the perfect candidate for your next project manager interview, the truth might not be something you want to hear.

Your current skills probably aren't enough to get you the job.

Project management is a sought-after career. It is well paid, it can be quite prestigious, and it can open up a lot of doors for you. It is also highly competitive. Gone are the days when you could simply walk into a job interview with the right qualifications and experience. Recruiters want more from you. They want interesting experiences. They want the best qualifications. And they want you to stand out from the hundreds, possibly thousands of others who applied for the job.

So if you are thinking of going to your next job interview and telling the recruiter that you are organized, a team player, and a great communicator, think again. They've heard this all before. It's boring!

So if you really want to get that job, let me tell about 5 project manager skills that will get you noticed, and will get you remembered long after you've left the building.

1. A Great Listener

So many job candidates go into an interview and sell themselves as great communicators. They can talk, and talk and talk! But actually, there is a far more important communication skill than talking, and that is listening.

A good listener is the difference between a good project manager and a great one. A project manager needs to be aware of everything going on around them. They need to know what the customer is asking for, and they need to understand everything their team is telling them. To do this, a project manager needs to listen, listen and listen again to everything they are being told.

Poll: the current job market

So let's find out how competitive the job market really is at the moment. So tell us: How many project manager jobs have you applied for in the last year?

See results

2. Embrace Failure

It might seem odd to suggest that you should ever mention failure in an interview, but bear with me because I will explain why.

If you've enjoyed success in a project then its great to be able to talk about that in an interview, and of course the interviewer will expect you to talk about your successes. Everyone does. But what is more interesting for an interviewer is looking at how a candidate handles a disaster.

Disaster projects might be ones you want to wipe from your memory, but these projects can actually be gold dust in an interview, because they can help you to demonstrate that you have the skills to learn from your mistakes. If you can show where mistakes were made and how you would do things differently next time, you've proven yourself to be a mature project manager who always strives to do better. That's a quality every recruiter wants.

3. Take Risks

Taking risks? Surely that's the job of the sales team, not the sensible project manager!

That's the immediate response most people have when asked about risk taking. Traditionally, project managers are the steady captains steering a ship away from the rocks. There is no room for taking risks.

Or is there?

The business world is changing. It's a very competitive place. Businesses are having to compete at a global level. They are having to release products faster, they are pushing themselves to be more innovative, and they are taking more risks.

So a project manager needs to work in harmony with this changing landscape. Of course, a project manager must control a project and keep it from failing. However, sometimes a calculated risk or two is an essential way of making a good project great. And it is that level of excellence that recruiters are looking for. So being skilled in calculating risks, and taking the odd (educated) risk, doesn't go amiss.

Five Surprising Project Manager Skills

4. Think Creatively

I think its fair to say that project managers are rarely associated with the word creative, but that's missing a huge trick.

Creativity can help you out in a crisis.

As a project manager, you will encounter some difficult situations when running a project. What most project managers can demonstrate is that they can handle a crisis, and minimize the issues. However, if you want to stand out in a room full of candidates, you can do better than this. Skills in creativity can help you think of unusual and intelligent solutions to problems.

Now that's the sort of skill that can really be a fantastic asset to a business.

5. Sense of Humor

For all your wonderful achievements, your fantastic qualifications, and the numerous awards scattered through your resume, one thing will always remain constant:

People recruit people

What does this odd phrase mean? Well, its pretty simple really. What people are really looking for in a project manager, above all else, is someone they can work with every day. They need to have a great personality, so having qualities such as a good sense of humor can really help you bond in an interview.

Don't go overboard of course. No-one wants a clown running their project. But someone who can smile, and remain friendly and confident when times get tough, can be a real asset for a business. After all, we spend 40+ hours a week with our colleagues. So all else being equal, as far as recruiter is concerned its worth employing someone that you can have a bit of a laugh with.

Be a Modern Project Manager: Ignore the Obvious Skills

So if you are thinking of a career in project management, or you are looking for your next project manager job, then stop being boring. If you simply show a recruiter the standard skill set you think they are looking for, they will never remember you and you are unlikely to get the job. So do something different next time. Stand out from the masses by showing yourself to be a more mature, modern project manager. These five skills will help you do just that.


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    • LLambie profile image

      Lauren 3 years ago from UK

      Hi George - absolutely agree - taking ownership is fundamental!

    • georgescifo profile image

      georgescifo 3 years ago from India

      Taking the ownership of work is another major thing that we need to look in a Project Manager who is being newly hired into our company.