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Project Management Skills: What Employers Want

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You want to be a project manager. You know it's a great career path choice with plenty of opportunity for growth—but that's only if you have the right skills to get your foot in the door. Wouldn't it be great if you knew exactly what project management skills employers are looking for when sifting through piles of resumes, and if you had inside knowledge about what strengths to play up during interviews?

We've done the research to give you just those details, thanks to an analysis of 122,153 job listings for project managers by labor market analytics company Burning Glass Technologies, as well as feedback from AIU Business Program Director Dawn Kaiser, Ph.D.

"Everyone is a project manager on a small level," Dr. Kaiser says. "Every day when you decide what you're going to do, how you're going to do it, and when you'll finish—that's a project." But in the professional world, she says, effective project management goes well beyond the initial skills you've developed for everyday life. You need to be a strong communicative leader who has a meticulous eye for detail, painstaking planning abilities, and is a stickler for budgets and time.

According to the Burning Glass research, the specific project management skills most in-demand among employers hiring for these roles are:

Scheduling. Project managers need to be able to visualize the goal and then schedule all the details it takes to complete the objective.

Contract management. When looking specifically for a "contract manager," businesses typically mean they are searching for someone with a very specific technical skill who can take on a management role.

Collaboration. As Kaiser pointed out, project manager communication skills are key to success as a project manager. You have to be able to communicate goals and expectations in a team environment in order to collaborate for a successful outcome.

Business process. A project manager has to be familiar with every aspect of how a business runs—and succeeds—to ultimately be successful.

Systems Development Life Cycle (SDLC). An SDLC is a planning tool for project managers, typically used to complete IT projects.

Scrum. It's not just a rugby term! Scrum is an increasingly popular methodology originally used in software development that is popular among project managers because it encourages and creates an agile framework for completing complex projects.

Procurement. Procurement can be a complex operation at large organizations, so knowledge of managing and working within this process can be essential for project managers.

Microsoft Sharepoint. This web application platform is built to enable and streamline team collaboration, making it an ideal tool for project managers to help teams store, organize, share, and access information. The software is popular among organizations in a wide variety of industries and fields in today's marketplace.

Mentoring. As project manager, you are expected to develop relationships with and mentor your team, management and the company client.

Process Improvement. You should be able to analyze data, performance, budgets and other factors to find ways to improve your project process as you move forward.1

There are, of course, many other software programs that employers use other than the ones mentioned above. Specifically, Burning Glass found employers also interested in project manager technical skills and proficiency in Microsoft, Oracle and SQL.

While the specialized project manager skill set and your familiarity with a variety of computer programs are important to your success, there are other key aspects as well. As Kaiser notes—and Burning Glass confirmed—employers also seek candidates with project manager interpersonal skills, the key to which is the ability to effectively communicate and lead. In addition, employers are specifically looking for project managers with strong organizational skills, strong writers and problem solvers.

"You have to work well in high-pressure situations to succeed as a project manager," Kaiser says. "You are truly the one responsible for success or failure."

Ready to learn more? Explore related degrees in project management at AIU.

1Labor/Insight (Burning Glass Technologies), 1/1/14-12/31/14