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Project management recruitment with Lindsay Scott

This week we speak to Lindsay Scott, Director of Arras People, a project management recruitment service.

Updated on: 14th November 2019

What common issues do companies come up against when looking to hire a project manager?

“One of the biggest issues that companies have when looking to hire a project manager is clarity of job specification and requirements. 

“Companies can often become blinkered because the way that they construct and approach project management as a business and the way they want their project managers to be may not necessarily be that representative of the kind of people that are in the marketplace at any one given time. 

“Also, organisations undertake project management in different ways and recruiters find it difficult to articulate this, so often the job specification or advert will not truly reflect what it is that they’re really looking for.

“Although it’s important for a candidate to answer the technical requirements listed on a job description, such as having good communication and stakeholder management skills for example, more often than not the decider will be based on if the candidate is the right cultural fit – it’s incredibly hard to put that into a job specification.”

Learning People | Project manager leading a meeting

What’s the most unusual project Arras People has recruited a project manager for?

“We got approached by a London local authority who required a project manager not long after the 2007 tube bombings when the Muslim community was experiencing a lot of aggression towards it.  This particular council wanted a project manager who would work with those kind of groups in the community to promote unification and an open door policy, in the face of something so awful having happened. 

“It was about keeping the community calm, so in this case project management was very much a social thing. This just highlights that although the project didn’t require an airplane to be built, or an IT system, or anything else like a traditional project might require, the principles remained the same despite it being in such an unlikely place. 

“In a community project like that the project manager had to arrange a number of social based projects by using the principles that we all know and love – such as putting together a communication plan, and managing a team of people to review it. 

“Another example is having to find a project manager for the Olympics in 2012. There were a lot of concession food shops and stands around the purpose built Olympic Park, so for example McDonald’s wanted a whole building rather than just a stand. This meant creating a new pop up building in a limited timescale. 

“It was really interesting working with a big brand like McDonald’s because you got to see another side of the Olympics. They needed a project manager to not only have a background in putting together buildings quite quickly, but to also have an understanding of the workings of the Olympics and working with some of the bigger brands. 

“Something that was very short lived still worked to an ideal classic project set up – where you definitely have a beginning, a middle and an end. For project managers it’s a strange job because you’ve got a short requirement for a short period of time. 

“What you find when you’re in recruitment for project management is that people’s attitudes about what they want from work vary drastically – the people who want to work on a permanent basis are usually very different from a contractor or freelancer who are happy to take on these kind of big projects. 

“The project manager that we ended up recruiting for the role had a track record of working at the Olympics, both Summer and Winter, so every couple of years he does the same sort of thing.  I think the people that do really well at contracting are the people that have the freedom to do so, so the project manager who did the Olympics for example gets paid extremely well at least every couple of years.

“Project management is different in different industries. In banking for example it’s very regulatory, but with events such as the Olympics, you generally roll your sleeves up and get on with it. You have to make decisions very quickly on your feet, and you don’t need to have approval so far up the chain. 

“You probably take some principles from agile, like for example getting together in the morning and deciding what needs to get done that day, so you need that kind of agility, but then agile traditionally is more to do with software rather than something like retail.  In situations like the Olympics it’s more the principle of how can you do things quickly but still be sure you’re making the right decisions?”

How highly do you rate certification?

A certification is great because it acts as a globally recognised standard the candidate has worked to, so it’s a good tick in the box. The real value in certification is how much it will make you stand out. The project managers that really stand out are the ones that have paid attention to their soft skills but also their business skills as well, i.e. someone who is really thinking about their professional development with high aims.

“Worryingly a lot of people are leaving their jobs believing that they are capable project managers, but they only have project coordinator experience. This happens a lot with some really large organisations who call their people project managers, who in the outside marketplace are actually only project coordinators. 

“Certification is great for tackling this issue – if someone wants to market themselves as a project manager in their job search and have a certification to prove it, this strengthens and qualifies their position with potential employers.”

Learning People | Desk with keyboard and hand

How do you perceive the landscape of project management changing in the coming years?

“The Arras People’s annual benchmark report released this month has shown that we’re now closer to a 50/50 split between men and women in project management, especially in under 35 year olds. In previous years this split has normally been about 80% men and 20% women, so it’s an interesting change in statistics. I also feel that the age range of project managers will continue to diversify.

Arras People recruit anybody and everybody.  We’ve got people on the bottom scale, so they’re students who are just graduating – I give a lot of talks to universities and graduates. And then we have project managers who are on the other end of the scale and near retirement age, or 55 year olds who are struggling to get back into the market after they’ve been out of work for awhile and are on the wrong side of 50. 

Project management is so diverse in terms of different industries using it, I hope people from all walks of life will discover the options open to them.”