JustJob Interviews: IT Senior Project Manager

JustJobs interviews professionals working in a variety of fields. The good folks there have given me permission to post some of their interviews here. So if you’re wondering what it’s like to work in a specific field, you might want to check in here frequently. I’ll be posting interviews as I get them.


This interview with an IT Senior Project Manager will take you through the ups and downs you can expect in the position, what it takes to land the job, what you can expect to earn and more. This is a true career story as told to AllChicagoJobs.com and is one of many interviews with professionals living in Chicago which among others include Program Director and a Hotel Bellperson.

What is your job title? How many years of experience do you have in that field?

I am a Senior Project Manager with a computer software firm located in downtown Chicago. I have been working in this capacity for 15 years.

2. Would you describe the things you do on a typical day?

On a daily basis, I analyze the needs of our clients, as well as their current processes and problems. Based on what I find, I develop improvements to their existing systems and try to improve their work flow. A lot of what I do is business oriented: budgeting, project planning, negotiating, reporting, and so forth.

What’s your ethnicity and gender? How has it hurt or helped you? If you ever experienced discrimination, how have you responded and what response worked best?

I am an African-American man who has neither been hurt nor helped by his race, nor have I experienced any discrimination on the job.

Do you speak any language other than English? If so, how has it helped you in your job?

I am fluent in French, which is helpful when I am dealing with some of our clients in Canada.

On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate your job satisfaction? What would it take to increase that rating?

My current job satisfaction is only around a 6. I feel that I may be getting burned out at this job and I may start looking into a career change.

What did you learn the hard way in this job and how did that happen?

I learned that effective communication is the key to a successful business relationship. I once worked on a project for three weeks without truly knowing what the client hoped to accomplish. My presentation was completely off-base and we lost the contract. That was early in my career and I never forgot the lesson I learned: sit down with the client and have them spell out exactly what they want.

What don’t they teach in school that would’ve been helpful to you?

In school, they don’t teach you about the impact that human variables will have on your work. Things like additional demands, schedule or budget changes, etc.

How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?

I went into business school after high school and earned a Bachelor’s degree in Management. A friend who worked for my present employer recommended me for a job and I was hired. If I could do it over again, I would try to land a job without a friend’s intervention.

What’s the strangest thing that ever happened to you in this job?

I once had a lunch meeting with a client who was a firm believer in the martini lunch. He had apparently been at our meeting place for quite a while before I arrived and had gotten a serious head start; he seemed quite inebriated and was in no shape to discuss his project. I reported back to my boss why the meeting had to be cancelled and he allowed me to return to the office. The client was fired the same day.

On a good day when things are going well, can you give an example of something that really makes you feel good?

I am made to feel good at the end of a project, when the client approves the software solution I came up with and it is implemented. I know that I did right by the client and they are satisfied.

When nothing seems to go right, what kind of snafus do you handle and what do you dislike the most?

On bad days, problems such as changed deadlines, irate clients, incompatible software, computer security flaws, and the like might occur. I mostly dislike those clients who are very demanding and don’t appreciate the hard work that goes into finding solutions to their problems.

How stressful is your job? Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance?

The stress level of my job varies. On one project, I might have two or three weeks to look at things and work up my recommendations. Another project might have the client screaming that they need the answer RIGHT NOW! To keep up a comfortable balance, I practice kickboxing to burn through the stress, and I dabble in painting to calm my mind.

What’s a rough salary range for the position you hold? Are you paid enough considering your responsibilities?

The average IT Project Manager earns over $90,000 per year. As a senior manager, I earn quite a bit more than that, so I feel that I am paid adequately.

What’s the most rewarding moment you’ve experienced in this position? Of all the things you’ve done at work, what are you most proud of?

My most rewarding moment came when I took over a huge project that we were in danger of losing due to it being mishandled by another project manager. I was able to save the project and the company’s reputation. The CEO took me out to lunch to show his appreciation.

What’s the most challenging moment you’ve experienced? What would you prefer to forget?

My most challenging moment was a client who kept insisting on changes every time I made a presentation on a particular project. His higher-ups cancelled the project because he pushed the work out past the deadline. I’d like to forget that but I still have to deal with him occasionally.

What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?

To get hired as a project manager, one typically needs to earn a bachelor’s degree in project management. To really stand out, you should go on to earn a masters degree or a project management certificate. Also relevant are excellent leadership, communication and time-management skills.

What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?

I’d tell my friend that to succeed in project management, a good education and any experience in management they can get will be invaluable.

How much vacation do you take? Is it enough?

I take three weeks of vacation each year. I am looking forward to my next anniversary, though, when I will earn the privilege of getting four weeks off.

Are there any common misunderstandings you want to correct about what you do?

There are no misunderstandings about my job that I am aware of.

Does this job move your heart? If not, what does?

My heart is not moved by my job, it does not define who I am. I am moved by my wife of 20 years and my desire to show her how much I love her.

If you could write your own ticket, what would you like to be doing in five years?

In five years, I expect to advance to upper management, perhaps even into an executive position. I just need to improve my job satisfaction, as I mentioned earlier. I think that extra week of vacation I’ll be earning will help.

Is there anything unique about your situation that readers should know when considering your experiences or accomplishments?

My mother passed away when I was in middle school and my father had a tough time raising my brother and I by himself. He instilled a sense of honor and an attitude of perseverance in me that I continue to live by.

The example he set with his selflessness and love have inspired me to always strive for greatness.

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