0.5 Power Skills
Our Guest This Episode: Ren Love
“Be confident in what you know, and confident in how you’ll grow.” Those are the words of Ren Love, MS, PMP, CSM, SA, the newest member of our team and the Manager of Curriculum Development at Velociteach. Having started her career working in zoos, science centers and Disney’s Animal Kingdom before joining one of the Big Four accounting firms, Ren brings 10 years of unique management experiences. With a B.S. in Environmental Science, an M.S. in Biology, and an M.S. in Instructional Design and Learning Technologies, Ren’s educational background is almost as diverse as her professional one.
If you are new to project management or you just love all things project management, this is an episode for you! Listen in as Ren shares stories about memorable projects she has worked on and what led to their success. She offers practical leadership advice as she looks at the varied routes to becoming a project manager and suggests some top-notch interview tips. Additionally, Ren addresses a common problem that PMP students wonder about: What do you do if the methods that you use in your project leadership role are contrary to the project management approaches you’ve learned while studying for the PMP? Finally, you can also hear some common questions Ren gets asked about taking the PMP exam, and how to overcome testing anxiety.
Favorite Quotes from Our Talk:
"...be confident in what you know, and confident in how you’ll grow. You don’t have to know everything about everything. A well-rounded project manager is a lifelong learner. ...Be confident that your past life experiences have made you who you are and will make you good at project management in the situation you’re in. And then also be prepared to say, there are things that I’m going to grow, and in this company. What kind of opportunities can your company offer me to help me grow?"
"People are both the best and most challenging part of project management. While you can always google how to create a changelog, you can’t necessarily google how to lead another person. That takes a certain level of growth and engagement that’s a little bit harder than just downloading a template. So that’s something that really needs to be on the top of everyone’s professional development priority list."
The podcast by project managers for project managers. Ren Love is the newest member of our Velociteach team and the Manager of Curriculum Development. Hear about her unique management experiences as she talks about leadership, interviewing, the PMP exam, and coping with testing anxiety.
02:19 … Meet Ren
02:53 … Ren’s Project Management Journey
06:20 … Memorable Success at Projects
10:16 … Mammals and COVID
11:34 … Preparing for Leadership
14:08 … Routes to Project Management
16:31 … Leadership Styles for PMs
18:16 … Interviewing Tips
19:58 … Be Confident in what You Know
22:41 … Encouragement to New PMs
24:37 … Ren’s Advice Wish List
26:03 … Kevin and Kyle
27:11 … When the Job is Different to the PMP Training
30:35 … Common Questions about the PMP Exam
31:54 … Overcoming Exam Anxiety
34:47 … Contact Ren
35:56 … Closing
REN LOVE: …be confident in what you know, and confident in how you’ll grow. You don’t have to know everything about everything. A well-rounded project manager is a lifelong learner. …Be confident that your past life experiences have made you who you are and will make you good at project management in the situation you’re in. And then also be prepared to say, there are things that I’m going to grow, and in this company. What kind of opportunities can your company offer me to help me grow?
WENDY GROUNDS: You’re listening to Manage This, the podcast by project managers for project managers. I’m Wendy Grounds, and with me in the studio is Bill Yates and Danny Brewer. We’re so excited that you’re joining us, and we want to say thank you to our listeners who reach out to us and leave comments on our website or on social media. We love hearing from you, and we always appreciate your positive ratings. You will also earn PDUs for listening to this podcast. Just listen up at the end, and we’ll give you instructions on how to claim your PDUs from PMI.
Today we’re talking to one of our co-workers. Her name is Ren Love, and Ren has a very interesting educational background which is almost as diverse as her professional one. She has done many, many things in her exciting career before joining us at Velociteach. She has a B.S. in Environmental Science, she has an M.S. in Biology and an M.S. in Instructional Design and Learning Technologies. And she has worked in zoos, science centers, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, as well as one of the Big Four accounting firms. So she’s really had fingers in the pie all over the place, and she has also earned her PMP. She’s a Certified SAFe Agilist as well, as a Certified Scrum Master. So she’s got some well-rounded advice.
BILL YATES: Yes, she does. I can’t wait to have this conversation with Ren. She joined us full-time in fall of 2022 as the Manager of Curriculum Development, and it’s just been a delight working with her, both as an instructor and now full-time on the team. And we just wanted our listeners to be able to hear from Ren and hear about her experience.
WENDY GROUNDS: And questions about the PMP exam, as well.
BILL YATES: Yes, yes.
WENDY GROUNDS: She addresses some of that. So we’re looking forward to this conversation. Hey, Ren, thank you so much for joining us today.
REN LOVE: I’m so happy to be here. Thank you for having me.
WENDY GROUNDS: We want to jump right in and ask you what your current position is.
REN LOVE: So here at Velociteach I am the Manager of Curriculum Development. So I started off as an instructor for Velociteach for about seven months before being hired full-time. And I’m in charge of updating and maintaining all of the course materials that we have here at Velociteach.
BILL YATES: That’s all. There’s not much to that.
REN LOVE: Yeah, it’s a lot more than what it sounds.
BILL YATES: Yeah, never a boring moment, that’s for sure.
WENDY GROUNDS: Tell us a little bit about your career background, just some of your story and how you got into project management.
REN LOVE: So my road to project management was very unusual. My early career, what I like to call my past life, that was in the sciences. So I’ve got an undergraduate degree in environmental science. My first master’s degree is in biology. And I spent about 10 or so years working in the field of zoo, aquariums, science centers. One of my first jobs ever I was working at Disney’s Animal Kingdom doing science education. Then I worked at a local science center in South Carolina before moving into the role of education programs coordinator at the Greenville Zoo, where I was for a long time.
So I think for a lot of people, we rethought our career choices when the pandemic hit. And during the pandemic, a lot of zoos across the country were closing, and a lot of education departments were downsizing. I got very lucky. The zoo I was working for was owned by the city, and the city had made a pledge to not lay off anybody during the pandemic, which is just amazing. But it did cause me to think to myself, what’s my future going to look like? What’s my future career going to look like? Not a ton of growth opportunities in that industry, just because it’s also very saturated with a lot of people. You tend to retire out of those jobs. People don’t just leave them.
So I sat down, and I was chatting with my mother, Margo Love, who was a project manager for years and years and years and years, and talked a little bit about that as a potential career path. And so she introduced me to project management. We talked about the PMP exam, and I remember telling her, “Well, I’ve never done project management.” And she convinced me that I had been doing project management this entire time. I just wasn’t called a project manager. And she said, “This is totally a possibility for you. Look into it.”
And so I did. I started studying for it. I passed the PMP exam in December of 2020. And then I was hired by one of the Big Four firms by February of 2021. So it was just a quick turnaround time from certification to becoming an official project manager. That’s where it all kind of began. I still sort of miss zoo life, but it’s been really exciting to try something brand new, very challenging, and also a little bit more lucrative. That’s worth mentioning, too. Leaving the zoo field to go to big business, for sure.
BILL YATES: There are so many correlations between life at the zoo and life as a project manager.
REN LOVE: Yes.
WENDY GROUNDS: Yes. Life in the circus and life as a project manager.
REN LOVE: Yes. So similar. Though I will say I get bitten much less in this line of work. The number has drastically declined.
BILL YATES: That’s one of my funniest stories of you, Ren, is I think you were showing some kind of creature to some elementary school kids, and you got bitten on the finger, and you were bleeding. What was it that bit you? I can’t remember what it was.
REN LOVE: Oh, it was a rooster named Fabio.
BILL YATES: A rooster.
REN LOVE: Yeah. And I was just trying to play it off and be like, “Oh, this isn’t happening.” And kids don’t let you do that. They do not.
BILL YATES: “Miss Ren, your finger is bleeding.”
REN LOVE: Yeah.
WENDY GROUNDS: I’ve told you before that my brother works in a zoo, and he was bit by a hippo on the knee.
REN LOVE: Wow.
WENDY GROUNDS: Did a lot of damage.
BILL YATES: That’s going to leave a mark.
WENDY GROUNDS: Yeah, yeah.
REN LOVE: That is significant. I’ve met hippos before. Usually they like to have their tongues rubbed. And so that puts you in a very dangerous situation. It takes a lot of trust.
WENDY GROUNDS: So looking at projects that you’ve done in the past, do you have some that are really memorable? And what has led to their success?
REN LOVE: One of the most memorable ones, again, was very COVID-inspired, COVID-19 global pandemic. But for the Greenville Zoo specifically, and lots of zoos across the country, one of their biggest sources of revenue is their summer zoo camp. And so when I talk about a zoo camp project, it sounds very low stakes as opposed to something for NASA or something like that. But when you consider the fact that these zoo camps bring in 50%, sometimes up to 75% of a department’s revenue for an entire year in just this 10-week cycle, it becomes really high stakes. So having a successful zoo camp season can be a really big deal for kind of the survival of a zoo in general.
And so during COVID you’re facing these regulations that were imposed by municipalities and things like that where no visitors are allowed on zoo grounds, just zoo staff. And so we spent months waiting to hear what was going to happen because, if you remember at the beginning of the pandemic, there was a lot of waiting. There was a lot of, how long is this going to last? Turns out a long time.
BILL YATES: Couple weeks, just a couple weeks.
REN LOVE: Yeah, just a couple weeks, and then a couple weeks, and a couple months. And we finally heard back in the very beginning of May that zoo camp, if it was going to exist at all, had to be completely virtual. And that was very challenging for us because all of our zoo camps, they started June 1st, and they’re all in person. They all get to see animals and touch animals and get engaged. And so we decided that we needed to maintain that revenue. We would have to turn our zoo camps entirely virtual. And that was a ton of moving, interlocking parts that had to happen.
So I was one of the people who was in charge of contacting everybody who had registered for the in-person and keeping track of if they wanted a refund, if they wanted a spot in the virtual, or if they were feeling really kind and just wanted to donate that money to us and not want a refund. We had a lot of those, which was just really lovely. We also had to create these entirely virtual curriculums for these camps that are usually in person.
And that is about nine separate week-long curriculums for ages four all the way up to, like 14. So lots of different stuff there. And keeping in mind that these kids had been in virtual school. So it’s not like they were super excited to be sitting at the computer for the whole summer, as well as what they just had to do for the school year, the remainder of the school year.
And we are big believers in hands-on activities. So in addition to those virtual curriculums, we developed activity kits for each camp. So what we would do is we would either mail them out or deliver them with our Zoomobile. It had all these great pictures of little animals on them. We did contactless delivery where we would show up and, like, put it by the door and then get back in the car real quick, and then let them come take pictures of the van if they wanted to, which was fun. But that way kids had something to do in addition to what they were seeing us. So a lot of hands-on activities, a lot of organizing for that, a lot of coordinating for that.
And we did also mail a bunch out, and some went as far as like Canada and Mexico. Yeah, which was a surprise to us because most of our campers are local. But the word got out, and so we have some really cool stuff there. We also have interns that we have every year. So we had to train them. Pivoted our training from in-person to virtual platforming. And it was kind of a big feat. It was a big feat to do all of this curriculum development, coordinating, training in just four weeks while working under that stress and uncertainty of COVID. And we pulled it off.
And another component of COVID that I think a lot of people didn’t consider is that COVID was also something to be concerned about with mammals who are in the zoo. So in addition to not wanting to spread it to zoo guests, we were also working under restrictions and uncertainty on if the animals that we worked with could get COVID from us. So we knew primates could; we knew the big cats could. There were cases of lions having COVID. So we ended up being very, very careful and cautious about some of the mammals we had, too.
It was really great. We pulled it off. We retained about 85% of the revenue, which was stunningly great, extraordinary given the circumstances. And really it was only possible because we had such a good team. We’d been working together for five years at this point, very well-oiled machine. So it was one of those projects that could have gone horribly, but ended up being something that I think all of us were really proud of because we just trusted each other, and we just got it done. And it was great.
BILL YATES: Right now, the only visual I have in my head is Ren with a mask going up to the big cats and going, “All right, just put this mask on so you can’t catch COVID.”
REN LOVE: Or walking over to the orangutans and saying, “Six feet. Six feet.”
BILL YATES: Right, right, right.
REN LOVE: “Six feet apart, guys.”
BILL YATES: That’s a great project. So Ren, how did you prepare for your leadership role as a project manager?
REN LOVE: So if I’m being brutally honest, which I will be, I did not at all focus on preparing for leadership, not nearly as much as I should have. I think I spent most of my time researching the new industry I was in. I was jumping from an unusual industry to the business world, so it was all brand new to me. And I was also spending time making sure I was properly implementing the processes I had just learned through the process of passing the PMP.
In hindsight, it would have been beneficial to be just a little bit more proactive in regards to the people side of project management, maybe read some books on leadership, maybe take a course on management techniques. You know, what I know now is that people are both the best and most challenging part of project management. While you can always google how to create a changelog, you can’t necessarily google how to lead another person. That takes a certain level of growth and engagement that’s a little bit harder than just downloading a template.
So that’s something that really needs to be on the top of everyone’s professional development priority list. It definitely should have been on the top of mine. And it’s something easily forgotten because there are so many moving parts of project management. But leadership, I wish I had prepared a little bit more. That’s the short answer.
BILL YATES: As the person who hired you, I can tell you, you are a phenomenal leader. Some of your experiences working with the zoo, working with the Animal Kingdom, being exposed to Disney, certainly with the EY, you got dunked in a lot of different environments and got to see leadership from different angles. And I think that’s one of the benefits that you’ve had. You’ve picked up a lot through osmosis.
REN LOVE: Yeah. What has been really wonderful, and I think one of the things, too, that I didn’t just mention with preparing for leadership roles is keeping a mental list of how you felt as the person being managed when things were happening. So I have worked in management situations that were challenging, to say the least. And so you would think to yourself, listen, if I ever become a boss, I’m going to do that differently.
And then I’ve also worked on teams, definitely at Disney, one of the most incredible companies I’ve ever worked for, where I thought to myself, these people are aces. I just want to be like them when I grow up. And so keeping a list of the things they did to make me feel wonderful and exceptional. And so that can also help too. If you’re thrust into a leadership role, think to yourself, if I was the person I’m leading, how do I want to be approached? And how do I want this work to happen?
WENDY GROUNDS: One of the things you get to do is to talk to other project managers to talk a bit about their journey. And we’ve chatted with you about unusual routes to the profession of project managers. So what are some of the stories you’ve heard about?
REN LOVE: I’ve heard some wonderful ones. And it’s one of my favorite things about teaching for Velociteach because our classes are open to the public. And so we’ll have all sorts of amazing people. I had a class of food scientists who worked for an organization where they started their careers as chemists and some taste testers, and then they moved into project management from there. So food science. I have a really close friend who was a nuclear tech on a submarine, now works as a project manager for NASA, which is pretty cool. And then I’ve also met project managers who started kind of where I started in the nonprofit field as social workers or in forms of education. And so what’s really great about all that is hearing all the different kinds of projects that do exist in the world.
Because I think when we talk about project management, genuinely, I think a lot of us picture software development or building a house. Those are two of your biggest examples of a project; right? Construction or software. And basically every industry has some form of project. So it’s been really cool to see. I have a colleague who went from managing university kitchens to managing multimillion dollar technical projects. So it’s kind of an open world out there for if you’re interested in getting into project management.
BILL YATES: Yeah, I totally agree. I’m thinking of Antonio Nieto Rodriguez and his emphasis on the project economy. We don’t do business the way we used to. Everything’s set up as a project now, and then it gets passed over to a different group, and it’s across all industries, across all facets of business. So it is amazing to see how people end up in project management. And you and I have met so many students where they say, you know, “One day I just kind of woke up and went, ‘Dang, I guess I’m a project manager now.’”
REN LOVE: You know, I’ve met a lot of children, and I have interacted with a lot of children. I have never met one who said, “I want to be a project manager when I grow up.” But statistically, at least one of those kids that I’ve met is going to be a project manager. Probably quite a few more. It’s one of those jobs that you just wake up, like you said, you wake up one day, and you’re like, “Wait a second, am I a project manager?”
WENDY GROUNDS: What leadership styles do you recommend are effective for project managers? You have the authoritarian, the democratic, the servant leadership.
REN LOVE: So my quick answer, my rule of thumb is lead other people how you would want to be led. It’s a very much like twist on the golden rule. And treat people how you want to be treated. I think all of us – most of us, I would say – have worked with managers whose leadership styles left a little bit to be desired, either in one way or another. You were mentioning there’s quite a few different leadership styles out there. You’ve got directive leaders who they’re handing out assignments. They’re not particularly interested in getting input from members of the team. And in some industries, that’s considered very effective.
You also have, kind of on the flipside of that, where you’ve got leadership styles that are coaching or affiliating, where the goal there is to build a team and help mentor your team members in growing their careers, which is a wonderful form of leadership, especially for functional managers who work in departments. But I think project managers really have to ride the line because project managers have to be right there in the middle of the two. You’ve got to get stuff done, but you also want your team to be growing and collaborating and becoming the best work version of themselves.
So I really think you’ve got visionary or participatory leadership styles. And really, I will say, PMI loves those two, as well. PMI says those are the most valuable leadership styles. And that’s where you’re building kind of a shared vision among the team. You’re all collaborating together. You’re working with them. And you’re not just handing out the work. But really I think where you’re kind of combining that directive and coaching where it’s like, “All right, we’ve got to do this and this, but I’m going to help you do it. I will help you get where we need to go.”
BILL YATES: If I were a project manager, and I had a team member or a significant stakeholder say to me, “You know, Bill, I feel like our relationship is transactional,” I think that would be like a dagger to my heart; right? That would be the toughest thing because I always think of that quote from Scott Berkun that “Relationships are the key to success with projects.” And that project manager needs to recognize that and build those relationships. It’s an important trait of that leadership style. What tips do you have for someone who is interviewing for a project manager position?
REN LOVE: So I would say, outside of your normal tips, like make eye contact and eat breakfast before you go in, that kind of stuff, have an example of a project that you’re really proud of. I think that’s one of the first ones is have an example ready for a project that you’re really proud of the work you did, and you can demonstrate how you played a key role there.
And on the flipside, have an example of a project that did not go well because for that you really need to be able to demonstrate a self-awareness as to what went wrong, and what role you played in that, and what steps you’ve taken since then. If you could redo that project again with what you know now, how it would be successful, and this is why, because this is what you learned, and this is what you would do. And so I think those are probably the two biggest things.
I would also say figure out your leadership philosophy and approach. So research that a little bit more than I did and be prepared to discuss that because different organizations already have an idea of what kind of leaders they want within their organization. And so being clear with what you want will help see if you match up with what they need and what they’re looking for, which is good.
And then I think the last one, and I give this advice to almost everybody when it comes to project management and getting certifications or even just getting a job, be confident in what you know, and confident in how you’ll grow. So you don’t have to know everything about everything. A well-rounded project manager is a lifelong learner. They’re always learning about things. Be confident that your past life experiences have made you who you are and will make you good at project management in the situation you’re in.
And then also be prepared to say, there are things that I’m going to grow, and in this company. What kind of opportunities can your company offer me to help me grow? Or what kind of situations can I get into where I’m going to become the best of the best of the project managers you have here? So I think those are probably my biggest pieces of advice.
BILL YATES: I’m going to trademark that, “Be confident in what you know and how you’ll grow.” I’ve got it.
REN LOVE: Maybe I’ll make that and put it on a T-shirt, maybe.
WENDY GROUNDS: One tip that I have for interviewing is something my son did, is remember the names of who you’re talking to. Because he was just looking for an intern position, and there were about four or five people that he interviewed with. And each person, he wrote down their name on a little notepad. And each person would come in, and they would say, “Who did you talk to? Who have you been with?” And he would be able to say the names, not thinking that that was a test.
He got the job. A few years later, he’s in the office, and they’re interviewing someone else. And one of the bosses walked by and said, “He doesn’t know any names.”
REN LOVE: That’s amazing.
BILL YATES: That’s good.
WENDY GROUNDS: So write down their names.
REN LOVE: Another piece of advice I got years and years ago, back when interviews and things were done in person, I was interviewing in a scholarship competition to get a scholarship for undergraduate, which I won by the way, which I’m very proud of. But there was a panel of interviewers, and it was a full day. So there was, I don’t know, 40 of us just hanging out, hoping to get some money from this organization. And advice, my dad said, “Okay, when you go in there, introduce yourself, shake everybody’s hand, and act like you belong there.”
And I did. I was like, “Ah,” you know. And I shook everybody’s hand, and I sat down, and there were other components. There was a written component. There was a group component. So it was like a full-day competition thing. But I do remember afterwards someone came up to me, and she said, “I interviewed 27 people today, and you’re the only one who shook my hand.” And I was like, “Oh, okay.” So that advice worked out for me.
WENDY GROUNDS: Personal connection is important.
REN LOVE: Yeah.
WENDY GROUNDS: Talking about that, looking for jobs, what other encouragement could you give to project managers that are just starting their careers, that are very new to project management?
REN LOVE: Yes. My first piece of advice is you are not an imposter. You belong here. It’s not that everyone around you knows something that you don’t, or that you’ve somehow tricked your way into getting this interview. You’ve done the work to be where you are, and I think that’s something to really remember when you’re feeling overwhelmed or nervous about this new career choice that you’re kind of – that you’re pursuing. But really all of your work experiences, all of your experience working as a member of a team, working within teams, all of your experience in working for someone or managing someone else, all of that can help you in your new career path.
I mean, I came from a zoo. And so at the zoo I was working with animals who had attitudes, and they took a lot of patience and a lot of, you can’t force a 500-pound tortoise to do anything. You can’t force a parrot to do anything. And so that taught me patience; right? And so sometimes when you’re working with developers, it’s very similar. They’ve got their pace of work, and you can’t just walk in and say…
BILL YATES: The 500-pound tortoise.
REN LOVE: Yeah, exactly. It’s like, “You guys are tortoising right now, but it is what it is; right?” And they’re less likely to bite you than the parrot is. That’s a perk. But yeah, so I think being aware that all of the experiences that you’ve had in your past, they can be leveraged and learned from to inform your future, and all of it is relevant to who you are, and all of it’s what makes you interesting. So I think that’s the other thing is all of it, what makes you a new and different and interesting candidate. So don’t shy away from that weird year you took off to go work for Greenpeace or whatever, but bring it up. Mention it and say, you know, “These are my experiences that I had that make me unique and interesting and different from everybody else you’re interviewing.”
BILL YATES: Ren, what advice do you wish you’d received early in your career?
REN LOVE: Overcommunicate, and it’s okay to overcommunicate. So I think project management, there’s a lot of skills that you really need to know to be successful. You can learn a lot of them. Like I said, you can download a lot of templates from the Internet. But the people part, so the leadership part, is one of the most challenging. And really all of it comes down to how well you communicate with other people. And so also when I say “communicate,” I mean don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to dig into like the company’s history, or the history of the project if you’re new to this project. The most important communication components for project managers are like frequency, clarity, accuracy.
So some members of the team aren’t going to love if you’re constantly reaching out asking for project updates. But at the end of the day, your job is to paint a picture of how the project is going, and your team is the one who has all the colors you need to paint that picture. So don’t be afraid to go get it, and get that information. And you know, if you’re frustrating people, have a conversation with them. Say, “What would be a frequency comfortable for you that works for both of us?” And again, that’s more communication. So I think a big piece of advice for anybody starting early in their career is don’t be afraid to open your mouth and speak and communicate, ask questions.
WENDY GROUNDS: Taking a little break. When we come back, Ren’s going to talk to us a little bit more about the PMP exam.
KEVIN RONEY: If I were to ask you: “What single thing can make or break your project?” … what would you say?
KYLE CROWE: Most definitely the people! You can have the perfect project plan, an enormous budget, or even the best tools, but if you don’t hire the right people to work with you, you’re ultimately going to undermine your project.
KEVIN RONEY: Unfortunately, the hiring process can be tricky. And hiring the wrong person can be costly. I wonder how many of our listeners are recalling hiring mistakes made in the past that they don’t want to repeat?
KYLE CROWE: We can avoid future mistakes by learning more about hiring tips and strategies to ensure you find the absolute best fit for your team. Laura Butcher and Don Lang designed an InSite course for Velociteach called HIRE THE BEST: STRATEGIES, TOOLS AND TIPS FOR HIRING TOP TALENT
KEVIN RONEY: This course is designed for team leaders involved in interviewing, assessing, and selecting talent. It focuses on key drivers impacting the hiring process, and introduces the frameworks, templates and tools to bridge common gaps in interviewing and assessing candidates.
KYLE CROWE: You can also listen to Don and Laura on talk more in-depth about hiring strategies for the ideal project leader on Manage This episode 94. Let us help you find the perfect fit to take your team to the next level.
BILL YATES: Ren, one of the fun things that we get to do is we help students gain confidence and pass a very difficult PMP exam. We’ve got a couple of questions about that. Sometimes the approaches that a project manager learns during their PMP studying, those approaches are very different than what they’re doing on their actual job, what their company does, or what they have found to be successful in their industry. When you confront that, or when you face that with students, what advice do you give them?
REN LOVE: So I give them the advice to create two worlds in their mind, which sounds overwhelming; right? But there’s PMI’s perfect world of project management. It’s over here on this side. And then there’s what you really may experience in your day-to-day life, reality. So this is PMI’s perfect world of project management. And then there’s the reality of your project management life. And so really my biggest piece of advice comes that when you’re trying to pass the PMP exam, it’s to not use your day-to-day experience, but to answer the questions as PMI would want them to be answered.
So, for example, students will say to me, “We don’t ever make project charters. We don’t ever do it in our industry or in our company.” And so if you’re thinking on your day-to-day experience, if you are reading a question and thinking, “Well, we don’t create project charters, so I’ll pick an answer that says you don’t need one,” you would be really, really wrong, according to PMI. They think you should stop the presses and create a project charter before doing anything else. So a big piece of advice there is to know the difference between your day-to-day experience and PMI’s perfect world of project management, and be ready to put yourself in the PMI’s mindset before you take the exam.
And of course, I’m not suggesting that when you study for the exam, you go back to your organization and say, “You’re doing this, this, and this totally wrong,” because they may have reasons for why they’re approaching things a certain way. I will tell you that you’ll learn a lot of great new tools for how to approach a project in reality. But when you’re passing the exam, just think about PMI’s perfect world of project management. Stay in there.
BILL YATES: That’s great advice. It is different. There is a wall between the two. And you’re right, also, there are things that I personally picked up in my PMP prep. You know, when I was studying to pass the exam, I’m like, “Oh, well, that would have been a nice thing that we could have done for our customers back when I was managing those projects with all those utilities. That’s a good idea.” Or, “Hey, we did this. We just didn’t call it that.”
To your point about the charter, I had some companies, some utilities throughout the U.S., they insisted on a charter, but most of them did not because they, “Well, you know, we have a statement of work. We have a contract with you. We don’t need a charter.”
REN LOVE: Exactly.
BILL YATES: So it was kind of implied. So to your point, that’s one of the toughest things to drive home with students is, “Okay, I like that analogy. There are two separate worlds here. So which world are we going to focus on and help you pass this exam?”
REN LOVE: Yeah. Well, and it’s funny that you mentioned things that you picked up. So I had never built a work breakdown structure before; and now I love them, and I build them for everything. I’m going on a trip to Japan; and guys, I have a work breakdown structure for the trip to Japan. I sit at home on my off hours making work breakdown structures now because I love them so much. So that is a great part of studying for the exam where you’re like, “Wait a second. That is a really good idea. Let’s do that.”
WENDY GROUNDS: Looking at the PMP exam, are there some common questions that students ask you?
REN LOVE: Yes. So outside of content questions, there are two really common questions. The first is if students should take it in person or virtually. I could do a whole other podcast series on why you should take it in person and not necessarily virtually. And that is my opinion. That is not a sanctioned statement by PMI or Velociteach, I don’t think. But I personally think you should take it in person. I get that question a lot, and I’ve got a lot of reasons and anecdotes for why that is. That’s one of the big ones. And then the second one I just love because it is the most common question in, like, every industry is, “Are there bathroom breaks?”
So when I was working at the zoo, they did research on the most common question asked in zoos, aquariums, theme parks, science centers. It’s “Where’s the bathroom?” And so, yeah, I get that question a lot, too. Yes, there are two bathroom breaks that you can get, 10 minutes apiece, during the exam. But those are the top two questions I get asked. Should they take it in person or virtually, or are there breaks? And the answer is you should take it in person, and there are bathroom breaks. You can’t review them after you’ve gone on your break, so keep that in mind. But yeah.
BILL YATES: Ren, I want to ask you this question. One of the common things that I face is I’ll have a student who just says, you know, “I can study this stuff all day, and I can have it down. I can even do well on the practice test. I’ll go into InSite and use the practice test that you guys have. And I do pretty well, but I get exam anxiety.” What kind of tips do you give people for overcoming anxiety or trying to manage it for this exam?
REN LOVE: So I am a person who has testing anxiety. So this is a great question for me to answer because I have my own personal tips and tricks. One of the first ones is, is that, if you have put in the hard work, and you know you’ve put in the hard work, you can convince yourself you’re an expert. And so that’s the first step. So my anxiety is always worse when I feel unprepared. The first step is put in the hard work and be confident that you at least know something. So there’s that.
The second is, if you’re taking the exam, either in person or virtually, you do still get those two breaks. But they show you, you have a countdown clock, and they show you your timing.
So what you can do here is when you’re practicing your exams, make sure you’re practicing at a certain pace, and you can build in moments where you can take a deep breath or, you know, I know some people crack their knuckles or stretch. And so sometimes having that like physical release of tension where you like roll your shoulders or something that can help your mental tension kind of flow out.
Another very useful thing is that PMI provides a virtual whiteboard during the test. And so a lot of people do what we call a brain dump where you can write down something at the beginning of the exam that you just kind of have sitting there in case you need it.
While you’re studying, if you keep encountering something that you think to yourself, “Oh, I can never get this,” write that on a Post-it note, put it somewhere, and then keep track of all of those things and say, “All right, those things are going to be my brain dump because I already have known that I can’t figure this out.” And so put things on that whiteboard at the very beginning of the exam that are like, “All right, these are the things that stress me out the most.” So you can let some anxiety go that way.
And then I think the other thing, too, is bring a good, healthy, energizing snack like trail mix or something because when you’re hungry, and you’re stressed, it’s just going to get worse and worse and worse. So I think those are kind of my biggest tips for fighting anxiety on the day of.
And then also remember, it’s just an exam. It’s just one day of your life. Your cat will still love you. Your dog will still love you. It’s okay. You can take it again. And if you do fail this time around, you had a great experience learning exactly what it’s going to be like next time. So keep that in mind, too. The stakes here, they’re lower than they feel like they are. So I think that’s the other thing to remember, too.
WENDY GROUNDS: That’s excellent. Thank you so much, Ren. If our audience wants to talk to you some more, which is the best way they can reach you?
REN LOVE: Oh, yeah. So I am on LinkedIn as Ren Love, R-E-N L‑O-V-E. And then they can also reach out to me through Velociteach. So my email there is firstname.lastname@example.org. I am happy to chitchat about all things project management or zoos or whatever.
BILL YATES: Ren, this has been fantastic. One of the takeaways that I have from very early in our conversation is always listen to your mother. Your mother was like, “You are a natural project manager.” There was a project manager inside of you from day one. You just didn’t know it. And it became revealed later. You’re such a unique combination of different professional experiences and project management in different environments. And it’s just a delight to have you on the team. Thanks for joining us today.
REN LOVE: Oh, thank you so much. And I’m so happy to be here. And just as a side note, Velociteach is one of the best teams I have ever worked on. So I am so pumped to be here.
BILL YATES: Check’s in the mail.
REN LOVE: Yes. Thank you guys so much for having me.
WENDY GROUNDS: That’s it for us here on Manage This. Thank you for joining us today. You can visit us at Velociteach.com, where you can subscribe to this podcast and see a complete transcript of the show. To earn your free PDUs, you can claim them by going to Velociteach.com, choose Manage This Podcast from the top of the page, click the button that says Claim PDUs, and click through the steps. Until next time, keep calm and Manage This.