How do you demonstrate your ability to learn new software to a potential employer?

Wednesday, September 17th, 2008 - construction jobs, CV Writing, Job Application, Job Interview, resume writing


David asks: I recently had a phone interview with a company that I would love to work for, as an entry level project controls junior in construction. During the interview it was mentioned that the company uses Primavera extensively – I have experience with MicroSoft Project, a product similar to Primavera. A friend sent me a copy of Primavera, and I have begun preparing a small project about developing a career in the construction field. Is it appropriate to present this little project to the company? If so, in this age of spam blockers, firewalls, and viral hysteria, how do I present the project? Should I change the project to something more generic? Would you consider it unethical to include knowledge of Primavera as a qualification on my resume, having never used it professionally? Thanks for any response.

In answer:
Let’s start with the basics – if you have had a telephone interview, and you have not listed Primavera as a skill, then either the retained recruiter or HR manager clearly thought from your CV/Resume that you already have the basic skills to do the job, and learn the required additional skills in post. So, why worry about learning about Primavera – stick to the basics: “I am a good entry level project manager, with proven skills in managed delivery via learnt software systems, as shown by my use of MS Project.”

Secondly, don’t look like a “brown-noser” by taking to the interview your Primavera “project.” You will only show your present lack of knowledge – and additionally a school/college-like “please the teacher/professor” approach: not an adult/business approach which is appropriate to the tough, hard sector which is construction.

Primavera is designed to manage very large projects with dozens of people in the software simultaneously. No matter how complex the project you create, I think there is more risk to highlight your limited experience. The flip side of this is that some hiring managers will be impressed with your initiative to dive in. The problem is that you can’t predict which will win out with the hiring manager you are interviewing with.

I would if asked in interview say that you had as a result of the initial telephone interview looked at Primavera – a widely used program among the big construction companies. You could list it on a revised CV/Resume as “familiar with,” and be prepared to discuss this familiarity in an interview – don’t make it out to be something it isn’t – just be honest. Another good way to quickly learn about software is to read through bug listings, user support forums or mailing lists, etc. – where people talk about problems and solutions. It’ll give you a feel for how software is used in the real world, and where it’s not perfect or not intuitive. This approach shows you are willing to learn and investigate, and take appropriate action when required to be prepared.

One thing to remember, in construction, there are people that believe that Project is just a toy compared to Primavera. If you’re interviewing with someone that thinks that way, you’re not going persuade them that Project experience is a substitute for Primavera. A better approach is to emphasize your skill and experience with the actual tasks that both programs manager – project scheduling, project controls, financial controls, etc…

Sometimes, candidates forget that the skills they already have are the reason that the company picked up the phone for a chat, and that their wrong approach to any training issues raised could totally kill the opportunity for them. Stick to what you have which is what made them pick up the phone, rather than trying to prove yourself in an unfamiliar new skills area which they are happy to train you in.

Good Luck!

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