PMTips: Here with us today is Elaine Jackson, who is a highly proficient and dedicated Project Manager who enjoys teaching project managers and senior executives proven techniques that lead to successful and confident project delivery! Her 15+ years of experience in training, consulting, and coaching involves driving full understanding of project management. She is currently coaching youth to look at successful approaches to daily school and work activities using project management. Her certification in Sustainability allows her to claim SME status when speaking on green project management and delivering professional learning events. Toastmasters SME is a claimed title she holds with over 17 years of expertise as a professional speaker.
Elaine, welcome and thank you for doing this interview.
Elaine Jackson: Ana, thank you so, so much for having me on your PMTips platform and I'm looking forward to sharing some information that might help some of the other project managers listening.
PMTips: You have been a project management instructor for over 15 years. How often do your students ask you about the benefits of building a career in project management?
Elaine Jackson: Thank you for that question. So, what's interesting is that many project managers seem to have an idea of what they want, because many times they're driven. Project managers tell everyone what to do, they know what needs to be done. But when it comes to their own lies they get sort of stuck, and so the main reason clients come to me is they need more money, they want to get their PMP, so they say well I need more money or I need a better job, I've got to get out of the job where I am. Or they say their manager is giving them the next three months to get their PMP or they're going to lose their job. So, what you need to remember, is that those three months didn't come up all of a sudden. It probably was one, two or three years the manager has been asking the employee to get the training done, and they say they don't have time, and you know [give] one excuse after another. So, people usually come to me when their life or their career is stuck, and they have no way of dealing with the challenges of studying. And so I believe it would be ideal to have a career track mapped for training and duration for project managers that help guide them so that they know what they need to take when and where, in order to get to the ideal end point, which [is] whatever career path that is.
PMTips: What drives you to actively share your experience and knowledge with others? How do you create your presentations, which are extremely enjoyable both for your audience and yourself?
Elaine Jackson: Okay, so you want me to give up my secrets — okay, I'll try. This is a really a touchy question. Many people in the US know that there is glass ceilings, I'm assuming all over the world there's a glass ceiling. You go for a job and no matter what you do, you can't seem to get to that job, so we call that the glass ceiling. On the other side of that glass ceiling people are earning six and seven figure incomes, they're getting the bonuses and all of the perks that you want, but somehow you can't get there. So there are also — which maybe some people don't know — lower thresholds, and those lower thresholds tend to block women and minority groups from reaching some of the higher goals and income levels.
I have actually been dedicated to helping corporations resolve those barriers and to truly help them meet their goals. So when a company says that we offer equal pay for equal work, then we help them to achieve that by saying let us train your staff, let us help your staff meet your goals, they're not doing what they're supposed to do, why are they not doing it, why are they not following the initiative when you say get the work done, there's a difference between saying get the work done and them actually getting the work done, there's a lot more that happens in between those two phases. So the thing is “how can we help you move those people along.” So that's really what drives me.
And in terms of presentations, I tend to want to have the listener transcend to another level in their career. It makes me so happy when people call us to say “Oh, my god, I passed the PMP,” “Oh my god, I got that job that I've been going after, and you helped me,” and, you know, there's just tears of happiness on both sides because I've helped somebody break through their own perceived glass ceiling, and I've also helped add to the profession of project management.
PMTips: That sounds wonderful. While working as a consultant at HolisticPMC, you led presentations on proficient job interview techniques and programs on reading non-verbal language cues during job interviews. What are the best ways for project professionals to have a very successful job interview?
Elaine Jackson: I would say the best way to have a successful job interview is to hire yourself. But most people don't have the drive and the endurance to work for themselves, to own their own business, and manage their own budget, and deal with the marketing and all of that, you know, what they say, go hunting for the meat, kill the meat and bring it home and cook it, put it on the plate. Some people can only do a piece of that. So my suggestion would be for people to look at, for job interviewing, practice, practice, practice. That's how people get into Juilliard, the most famous music school in the world.
You need to practice your interview, you need to practice your facial expressions — I know it sounds crazy, you're probably laughing, those who will listen to this interview will probably laugh at facial expressions. If you don't have the right face, that poker face on, if you go to an interview, the recruiters are taught to look at your facial expressions, get really up close and personal look and see if your eyes are dilating or contracting, depending on the kind of questions that they give. Your body responds in a microsecond. And so in my workshops on communications for job interviews [I] teach project managers what [they] should say, the questions [they] should ask, how [they] should ask the questions clauses — in the language of public speaking we call that “pregnant pause”, sometimes you don't say anything and the person is hanging on the edge of the seat because the silence actually kills them, they want to fill it with something. So you want to be almost like an actor and just stage what you're going to say, how you're going to say it, because you want that person to go on and experience with you during that interview so that they start to love and like you, they see you are like them, you're getting along with them, you know the things they know and the reason you know the things they know is because you went on their LinkedIn profile and read up about them, and then went to Facebook [and] found out who their kids are and what they like to do, so you now start bringing those pieces into your presentation.
So as project managers, I say you really need to understand various cultures, you need to understand the people who are interviewing you, and be able to see [if] you fit into that environment. If you don't fit into the environment, [you’d] better not fake it, it's better that you don't sit there and fake it and pretend because on day two you're going to start hating the job, hating yourself, hating the people. Find the ideal job, and then start to believe that you deserve it and then work towards knowing everything about the company and the people, the culture, everything. And then when you go to the interview, the papers that you use are the same color as the logo [of] the company — it’s a whole psychological breakdown.
This last interview I went on, and I turned the job down because it wasn't exactly what I needed, but the woman was ready to fall out of the chair. The only problem is the money didn't fall out of the pocket, so I was like no I don't think this is ideal. So that's what I normally suggest, really just getting as close to being an employee and an employee that wears the sweater and the rah-rah, you know, shaking the little tassel, being the team player for the company. You've got to show that you really love it in your heart.
PMTips: You have experience as a coach and trainer to audiences of different age groups, starting from young children, high school students to already experienced professionals. What is the difference between leading a class, a presentation and preparing a course for audiences of different ages?
Elaine Jackson: Well, as we all know there's a lot of differences in generations, and every generation has their little thing that's a little quirky about [them]: “Oh, you're a Generation X, or you’re Generation Y, or you’re a millennial.” So what I suggest — and I am not in any way an expert, I would love to hone my skills in being able to address any generation. My culture is originally from the West Indies, so what we say in the West Indies: “You do what I tell you to do, or else.” I try not to use that technique with my clients, unless they're not doing what I tell them to do, to study for their PMP.
And so, what I suggest for classes: the body language is so critical, so when I'm talking to young people, very young people, like middle school, high school, I tend to use facial expressions, turning my head side to side, you know, like hip-hop, and I'm very energetic, I’m into a lot of martial arts and fencing and stuff. So I can be jumping around the stage and I can just really get them excited about the energy that I'm putting out. Now, if I'm talking to a group of business analysts, or maybe some group that really is more strict [sic], I can't really be all out there or on the edge, because they may not identify with it, they may feel uncomfortable coming out of your skin. So you have to sort of look like what my class is — I go into jokes, I tell them some stories that probably no one in the industry tells, and they're like “Oh, my god, I never thought about that.”
In terms of presentations, I use graphics, [and it’s] the same thing: if you're talking to a younger group, you want to use graphics and names of famous people that they can identify with, whereas with an older group you may want to use things that are more from their generation, but certainly staying away from things that might be harmful, like saying “Oh, the little old lady was classic,” and she just goes “Wait a minute, are you talking about me?” So the bottom line is you want to be aware that you're not harming other people's cultures, or sexism, or ageism. And then in terms of the course, I tend to ask students: “what works for you, when you did your class last year, let me see your notebook, how do you take notes.” Because getting an idea on how they like to take notes, if they say they don't take notes, for me that's a problem. I've had students tell me they just let the information wash over them as they just sit and listen to it, when they tell me that I say we have to have a conversation, because PMP material is not something you can just sit and listen to like a story book, it's way more than that. So that, on a very high level, is how I approach different age groups, doing presentations and selling my course to them.
PMTips: You have worked alongside Frank Saladis in the creation of the book A Day in the Life of a Project Manager, a collection of stories written by project managers who share their practical experiences associated with the managing of a project. What was the outcome from glimpsing into the “real” stories of project managers? How is the book helpful to other project managers?
Elaine Jackson: Even now, it has been like five years since that book was produced, and people are still asking for it, they’re like “Where is that book, where can I order it?” It was the most exciting and challenging, I am going to have to say really challenging project, because the scope sort of kept evolving, things that we as Americans assumed, we just said we'll put it out there, and we'll get 200 people that want to write a book that are project managers, and they'll write a book, they'll write their story, and they'll keep it to like 5,000 characters. And we just had all these parameters, and we said they needed to know English. Well, English is a wide variety, it is a wide catch-all. English to me doesn't mean the same thing to you, which is someone from the UK, or someone from another country where English is a second language. So we got a mixed bag of individuals that after a sentence they did no space, two spaces, after a paragraph no space, etc. Everybody looked at grammar and everything differently. And I was like, oh, my god, I did not expect this. I just expected that people would have followed a certain rule of grammar and English words. When Peter Taylor writes in English, his English is different than American English, it was, like, do we change it or do we leave it the same. And, you know, it was just a lot of controversy around what to do, and the group kept getting bigger and bigger, it was a project that really everyone still now talks about with just such reverence of happiness and in saying that they learned a lot from it. The book is out there still, if people want to look at a copy or read the stories, varied from personal stories to project stories, things that people felt were important to the industry. It's called A Day in the Life of a Project Manager.
PMTips: You have been a GPM practitioner for 6 years already and you continue to show your support toward the sustainable project management initiative. What are the benefits for a PM professional from bringing sustainability in their work?
Elaine Jackson: Well, I look at GPM or green project management, as like project management on steroids. So when you do project management you say you can triple constraint, you know, time, cost, scope, and you're trying to handle the communication with your stakeholders, and you're really trying to balance everything so that the project goes at a smooth rate or a smooth pace so that it finishes on, time that everybody's happy. But anyone listening to this as a project manager or program manager really knows that's not the case, there's a lot of — and I don’t want to say backstabbing, but I guess I did say it, right — issues that go on, like people's personalities, there's very strong personalities in project management, and so it's important to balance all of that.
So in GPM you're not only looking at the triple constraint, you're also looking at how those constraints impact people, are you hiring the right people, did you hire people who are underage, did you hire people who came into the country illegally and now you're overworking them because they can't report you (they're undocumented, so who are they going to report, they'll end up reporting themselves), is any part of your project unethical, is there any corruption going on that you're hiding or that may be there (but you don't know but you're still working on the project, [if] something happens you're going to have to go to court and testify), is your project impacting the environment, is there more carbon output, is there more disease in this world because your project put contaminants out and now children are sick, older people are sick.
So it's looking at the 5 Ps, it’s looking at [the] process, looking at the organizational process assets so to speak, looking at all the areas that triple constraint can now impact, so it's looking at a multi-layered approach. Project managers can easily get into sustainability, but I think that like in the past people wait, they say “okay, the sky is falling, well I haven't seen any evidence of it, so I'm going to wait, global warming is coming, oh, you know, I don't believe in it,” and then all of a sudden now we have these swings of temperatures, winters where there's hardly any snow, there's actually been snow in areas where giraffes are standing in snow, I saw it last year and I don't remember where, somewhere in some desert somewhere, and they're just standing there, and how can you avoid that. So project managers really have a responsibility to take the next level of transitioning their careers into sustainability. It's an easy transition. I have a presentation on it, I'll share it with the group if they'd like, but it's an easy transition and it's a transition that must happen.
PMTips: I agree. How important is it for professionals that aspire to become project managers to acquire any of PMI’s certifications and what are the benefits for project management professionals to keep earning PDUs after obtaining such certifications?
Elaine Jackson: Ana, this is such an important question, right, and “should I get the certification, I'm 50 years old and I've been doing this job for 30 years, and I've been doing it well, why do I have to.” It’s important. When individuals come to me, the first thing I let them know is that as a project manager you want to be able to be on the same page with everybody. Everybody needs to call everything by the same terminology, you need to say “well, about this we need to do some brainstorming,” and someone in the room shouldn't say “well, what's that.” There should be some common nomenclature, some common knowledge, and that doesn't happen, and practically you have people who are trained and people who are not trained. And so it's normalizing the amount of knowledge so that no one can ever say “I didn't know, no one told me.”
In terms of certification, it's a necessary evil. I'm an Aries, so I believe more and more and more. The more certifications you have, the more access to knowledge [you have]. It doesn't mean that you're smart, it just means that you're smart about the way you're going about making sure you are on even keel with everybody else on the team, that when you go for a job interview you don't say “well, I've been on the job 30 years.” That means you just sat there and you weren't overlooked for raises or bonuses or even getting let go, because you sort of kept your head low, you stayed in your cubicle and you stayed quiet — this is saying that the nail that sticks up gets hit. I'd rather get hit and tagged with something better than sit in the same thing over and over and then retire, and I'm no better off than the day I started. Certifications are really important, PMI certifications as well as other certifications are critical to grow your career, stay fresh, stay current, so that when there's a situation within your project, you can talk with knowledge rather than speak out of turn and then someone says “where did you get that from, that information is from 20 years ago, that's not valid information, you know you need to go and read some current books.” Nobody wants to be embarrassed in a meeting, but it does happen. So you need to read up and be current on information, if you want to hold your job, you're going to have to be certified and trained, and be willing to speak up when the time comes on project meetings.
PMTips: One of your expertise as a project management instructor is leading trainings for the PMP Certification. What is your advice to project managers who are willing to take the PMP exam? What are the best ways for them to prepare and pass the exam?
Elaine Jackson: Loaded question. I could talk forever on this, but I won't, because I know you gave me two minutes, right? Тhe important thing — if someone listening wants to get the PMP, I think the most important thing is to say to yourself “why do I want to get it.” Because this is almost, if you think about it, this is almost the same kind of decision one would make if they say they want to go to law school, and you want to go to medical school, and they want to be a brain surgeon. This is like a major step in one's career, because it's not just [reading] a book and then [taking] a 10-question test and it's done. There are many layers to this whole process. First, making a decision to do it, understanding what that impact of that decision is going to mean now, during and at the end. And there's life after the PMP. After the PMP you have to keep up your PDUs, keep going to training, you have to just keep growing in the field, you can't just get it and then it's like a vaccination, you get it one time and it's over, you have to keep going. And so the one important thing I can say, during this interview for anyone that's on the fence, [is] to say why are you doing it and are you willing to do whatever it takes. There's a breakdown before the breakthrough, and the breakdown is when you have to study until you're ready to cry, studied late at night, studied through when you're hungry, when you're tired, are you willing to go to the edge and stay there. And if you're willing to follow the instructions of your coach, and you're willing to sit out through everything it takes to get that PMP, you'll get it. If you're not willing, chances are it may not be the right thing for you right now.
PMTips: You have been involved in the coaching and guiding of PMI Global Conference and PMI EMEA Congress presenters to perfect their presentations, and confirm clarity and impact for optimal messaging. With that said what would your advice be to project management professionals that would like to step up and share their expertise with others but do not know how to begin?
Elaine Jackson: Well, when we spoke about this question, what we talked about are people looking to present to PMI, or are people looking for a track record on how do they go from being a project coordinator, how do they go to being project expediter, project team lead, project manager, program manager, portfolio manager, what does that track look like. And when we talked earlier, I said there should be some sort of mapping as to what you need to do to get to those various steps. Even Frank Saladis is one of, he is not the founder, but then he has a very high title within PMI, there are only like 16 or 20 of them within PMI. And so the bottom line is how do you advance in the career, or how do you get to the point where you can go and do presentations.
I evaluated I would say probably close to 30 presentations, and these are people that had various ranges, some very little experience, they were afraid of delivering a presentation, but, guess what, they were they were winners because they were willing to step out of their comfort zone and just sit there in the fire of doing a presentation and knowing that it's going to take their career to the next level. So that is what project managers need to realize, that whatever you do, if you're feeling uncomfortable and you're feeling like “Oh, my god, I'm gonna almost die,” — you're not going to die. And what I say about the PMP [is] no one has ever died taking the PMP exam — I've checked it, I researched it, I haven't found anyone that went to take the test [and] just before they finish the test they drop dead, never. You feel like you want you to, the same thing with doing presentations, so I would say the best thing for people to do to get started is to get started. Make a plan — I'm going to join a Toastmasters I'm going to learn how to give the different speeches, and how to speak with expression, and how to move a crowd to cry, and how to get them to laugh, and how to get them to run up to the front and ask me for my business cards at the end of the presentation. If you're a low-key person and you don't like all that touchy-feely stuff, then what kind of presentations do you want to give? Do you want to give a presentation like a minister? If that's your style, then work on that kind of presentation, you know, “Dearly beloved” kind of speech. But if you have a lot of energy in you, you just want to come out and share that with everyone, there are avenues, not only Toastmasters, [like the] National Speakers Association. So I would suggest that you get started, rather than [saying] for 20 years “I wish I had, if only I had.”
PMTips: Elaine, thank you for joining us today, for providing advice, and for sharing your professional experiences with our readers and listeners.
Elaine Jackson: Thank you so much, Ana, thank you again, and it's been a pleasure and I look forward to networking with you and helping you and other endeavors.
PMTips: Yes, that would be wonderful, I really appreciate it, thank you, Elaine.
Interview conducted by Ana Mitevska