The interview process can often be just as stressful for the hiring manager as it is for the candidate. When you’re in the position of selecting your next great team member, you’re making a decision that will impact everything from team dynamics to client relationships, project budgets, long-term staffing plans, and more. So, while you’re eager to get that new person on-boarded and working, you’re also slightly hesitant because you want to find the right fit.
This proposition can feel even more stressful when it comes to hiring project managers. Why is that? Well, you’re hiring someone into a position that controls budgets, staffing, client relationships, process, and eventually the bottom-line of your operation. It’s an important hire, and most candidates don’t have more than a resumé to prove their experience. That’s pretty scary!
Here’s the thing: there are tons of really great PMs out there, and you can find them. it’s just a matter of determining what the role of the PM means to your organization and what experience your ideal candidate will possess coming in to your organization. If you base a interview process on this criteria, you'll find a successful, super star project manager to add to your team.
Swimming in Resumés
Hiring project managers is tough! There is no doubt that when you post a job opening, you’ll get a flood of resumes, but wading through them and finding the candidates that you think are worthy of an in-person interview can be confusing and time-consuming. Here are a few tips to look out for on resumes:
What are you looking for in your next PM? Someone who’s been around the block? If that’s the case, take a look at where they’ve worked and the type of projects they’ve worked on. Unless it’s critical for you and your organization, don’t require an exact match in terms of industry, but I would look at project size, company size, and length of time at each organization.
Also keep in mind that when you do hire a project manager, it will take a good six to nine months for that person to truly become comfortable in his or her role. So, if you see that someone has given up on PM roles at previous jobs within that timeframe, you’ll know that they didn’t give it a full shot…or they just didn’t cut it.
No matter what, experience—even if you’re looking at junior PMs—should give you a sense for what they’re used to, but not what they can handle. If you’re impressed enough by where a candidate has been, chances are you’ll be excited about where you can take them.
Are you an organization that requires a certification for your PMs? Well, you’ll be able to sort through those resumés quickly then. It’s great to have some sort of guidelines with respect to education or industry knowledge. Be sure you communicate that in your job listing so as to not waste your time or someone else’s.
For the longest time there was no education specifically for project managers. But now, we’re seeing students come out of college with the right preparation—or even a degree— to be a project manager. So if you want someone with formal training, you’re in luck! On the other hand, there are tons of great project managers that come from a variety of educational backgrounds. So unless you favor your alma mater or require a certification, it may be best to keep an open mind.
Is it silly when someone adds “rock climbing” to their resumé? No, because if a hiring manager has the same interest, they may be more inclined to meet that person. But what if those interests were more targeted on professional interests, goals, and activities?Certainly, if you see that a candidate has participated in local events, taken courses, or attended conferences, you’ll be more inclined to speak to them. So before you jump into that pool of resumés, sort out what is most meaningful to you and your organization.
No matter what you do, remember that a person’s resumé is not them. Sure, it says a lot about who they are, and how they will present themselves. But project managers are not designers, so don’t expect to see a lot of beautifully laid out submissions.
What Kind of PM Do You Employ?
While there are some tenets to every PM role (“on time and under budget.” anyone?), the role can vary from place to place. So be very clear about the type of PM you’re looking for.
The Agency PM
Are your PMs the people who strictly handle budgets, timelines, and resourcing? Or are they client-facing PMs who are more strategic? This is a huge difference in terms of the role, the workload, and the type of person you want to hire. Be sure to outline the expectations of your PMs in a well-written job description.
The In-house PM
Are your PMs responsible for working with multiple departments? Or are you on the marketing or IT team? Who are the people your PM will work with on a day-to-day basis, and what are their tasks? The worst thing you can do is hire a PM and throw them between two teams and expect them to succeed. Set some boundaries around the role and have a clear reporting structure.
The Industry-specific PM
Are you looking for a PM with technical skills to fit into your IT organization? Or maybe someone with construction-specific knowledge? Be sure you have ways to tell if that person has the know-how that he or she will need to manage your projects. Or, prepared to train them.
No matter what “kind” of PM you employ, it’s important to think about how the PM function truly operates in your organization. You might want a PM who is highly technical and can turn out pages upon pages of documentation. You might need a people person who can help you manage client expectations as well as your internal teams and process. Or you might need a PM who can also help you with some other tasks that aren’t all 100% PM-specific. That’s okay, because the role is different in every workplace. You need to hire the PM that will do the best job for you under your own set of circumstances.
Once you’ve waded through those resumés and found a handful of good candidates, it’s time to get real. That’s right, start talking to these people. But what’s your process for that? Be thorough, but don’t kill yourself, your team, or the candidates with a long, drawn-out process. Here’s a recommended process:
Step One: Phone Interview
This is always a great first step in determining how good a PM could be, and how they might fit into your team. If they have good phone etiquette, can hold a conversation, and seem comfortable, you’ll want to meet them in person. So ask some questions that get at their experience, personality, and potential cultural fit.
Some possible questions:
- Tell me about yourself and your work experience.
- What drew you to this job and this company?
- What kind of company are you looking to work for?
- What is your favorite thing about being a project manager?
- What is your least favorite thing about being a project manager?
- What has your favorite project been? Why?
- Do you have any questions for me?
All of these questions may seem “high level,” but that is the point! If you’re a good interviewer with a great interviewee, you can turn a handful of questions into an hour-long conversation. And, at this early point in the process, you want to gauge the candidate for comfort and relatability. One note: ALWAYS ask that last question. If the candidate doesn’t have any questions (unless you exhaustively briefed them on the role, the company, the team, projects, etc.), that should be a red flag. After all, the interviewing process should be not only for you to get to know the candidate, but for the candidate to get to know you.
Step Two: In-person Interviews
The in-person interview can teach you so much about your candidates:
- How they react under pressure
- How they’ll present themselves in formal work settings, like large meetings and presentations
- How well they can think on their feet
- Chemistry with your team or interviewers
- The real facts that appear on their resumés
- Do you have an example of a project plan and or planning materials that you can share, such as a timeline in excel or another project planning tool?
Do yourself a favor and put some thought into how you want to conduct your interviews. If you’re a small company, you might just do one interview with a few team members. If you’re at a larger company, you will likely do a series of interviews. Either way, be sure to organize these meetings in a way that helps the candidate to understand your organization and practices. At the same time, as a set of questions that will help you to understand the candidate’s career experience and goals, as well as some questions that will provide a sense for how they will handle the challenges your PMs face. And, of course, you want to get a sense for what it would be like to work with this person day-in and day-out.
Some possible questions:
- How would you describe yourself as a PM?
- Are there any project management methodologies you prefer? Any you do not know?
- What has been your biggest challenge as a PM?
- What would you do if your project is going over time and over budget?
- Are there any tools you feel you MUST use to manage a project?
- What is your favorite go-to resource for project management?
- Where do you seem to spend most of your time on projects?
Above all else, ask questions that will help you get a sense for the kind of PM you’re interviewing. Are they controlling? Will they be do well under stress? Is this person a good communicator? If you zone in on what qualities are most important to you, you will find the person who fits the role best for you. So tailor the questions and don’t forget to have a bit of fun with them too.
Step Three: Watch the Follow-ups
The last step is to see how well your candidate does with follow-ups. This is critical with any good PM, because following-up is a huge part of their job, no matter where they work. You don’t just want to see that they are eager to work for your company, but that they have the guts to follow-up to get what they want (or need). As soon as you get a follow-up that feels right, you’ll know you’ve found the right PM to join your team.
Once you’ve found that special PM, it’s time to make an offer. There’s something to be said about a good negotiator, especially when it comes to the PM role. But, if you want to avoid that back and forth, be straightfoward about what you can offer from day one. The last thing you want to do is make an offer that is way off base with your candidate’s expectations. That’ll just waste your time and frustrate you.
Let’s face it: there is no foolproof plan for not hiring the wrong candidate. It happens. The best you can do to avoid doing so is by putting a process in place that feels right. Of course there is no right or wrong way of doing this, but there are ways to make yourself—and your team—feel more confident about the hiring process. Craft a job description and hiring process that will draw the right candidates for your team using these basic guidelines, and recruiting and interviewing will feel less like a chore and more like finding your favorite new coworker.