How to Read a Project Manager Job Description

Project manager at work
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When you are applying for jobs, the first thing you’ll come across after the brief advert is the job description. This is the document that the hiring manager or recruitment agency will send to you that describes what they are looking for. In other words, it sets out which role they need filled. It is then up to you to interpret that and show how you meet their requirements.

Let’s look at the different sections of a job description for project managers so you know what to look out for.

Look For: Company Background

This might be a separate document or might be the first part of the job description. Either way, read through the material you have about the hiring company. You can do your own research as well: it never hurts to dig into the company because if you are successful at interview you’ll have to choose if you really want to work there!

Look For: Location

Job descriptions often include the location of the post. This could be a deal-breaker if you aren’t prepared to relocate. The perfect project management job isn’t perfect if it means uprooting your family and moving across the country.

Or maybe that’s what does make it perfect for you! Location has a huge part to play in whether you want to take the role, so check it out.

Look For: Job Title

If you are looking for a job that reflects your experience and will help you move up in your career, you aren’t going to be interested in a job with the title of Project Coordinator.

But if you’re looking for your first move into project management that would be a good choice.

It’s always worth checking the job title to ensure it’s in line with your expectations and that they have sent you the right document!

Look For: Department and Manager

You won’t get the name of the manager on the job description but you are likely to get the name of the department where the role sits and the job title of the person you would be working for.

This is useful because it tells you how the company is structured and the kinds of projects you are likely to get involved with. A job in the Project Management Office could see you lead a wide variety of business projects. A job in the IT department is going to be focused on technology projects.

Equally, check out the job title of your prospective manager. Would you be working for a senior project manager? A director or VP? A PMO Manager? Does it matter to you? This can give you an idea of the perceived status of the position and therefore the influence you are likely to have in the role. The more challenging the projects, the more useful it is to have friends in high places!

Look For: Education

Employers will normally include their expectations about the level of education they would expect from candidates. They might list the fact that they are looking for a Master’s level education, for example.

Don’t be put off if you don’t have that level of education, especially if you have deep domain knowledge or expertise in their industry. That often counts for a lot, so even if you don’t meet the educational requirements on the project manager job description it could still be worth putting in an application for the job if you are strong in other areas.

Look For: Certifications

Hiring managers will list the certifications that they expect the successful candidate to have. This is likely to include project management credentials such as the PMP® credential, CAPM credential® or a PRINCE2® certificate.

Employers around the world have different expectations and requirements so you might also see requests for certifications in ​Agile methods or specialist industry areas.

If you don’t yet have your qualification but are actively studying for it (and can prove it — for example you have already booked your exam) then it would still be worth applying.

Look For: Previous Experience

In this section of the job description for a project manager, you’re going to see what the employer expects you to have in terms of previous experience.

This is likely to be in terms of years (e.g. “10-15 years’ relevant experience”) and also in terms of industry (“Healthcare experience preferred”).

When you put your application together make sure that you highlight the experiences you’ve had that most closely match the job description. There is no point submitting an application that showcases your experience in marine projects because that happens to be your most recent job when your previous job in hospitality is a perfect fit for their project manager role.

Look For: Skills

You’ll also likely see a long list of the skills they want. Employers use this section of the project manager job description to talk about the type of person they would like to employ.

The kind of skills you are likely to see include:

And so on.

When you write your application, be sure to focus on how you can demonstrate these skills so that your making it really clear to the recruiter that you are a good fit and can do everything (or at least most of what) they ask for.

Find out more about the top skills for project managers so you can craft your application appropriately.

Other Job Description Areas to Look For

Employers have different templates for job descriptions but you could see a segment that covers the areas of responsibility or locus of control. In other words, what your responsibilities would be over a team or budget. This will set out if there are any resources who would report directly to you and what budget you would personally be responsible for.

You are unlikely to see a salary on a job description, but you might do.

Should You Apply?

Yes! If you meet about 80 percent of the requirements of the job description it is worth applying. Remember that employers specify their dream candidate, but they are more than likely to compromise if the right person comes along. Often fit with the team and culture is as big a decision making factor as skills on paper. If you think you could do the job but are hesitant about whether you meet the requirements, apply. Spend time on your application so you make a good first impression and show your talents, experience, and skills in the best possible way.

Then let the hiring manager decide whether or not to invite you to interview.

Good luck with your job search!