Tuesday, October 6, 2009

How to Interview and Hire a Good Project Manager

This is a topic near and dear to me these days. I have been blogging about leadership a lot recently and think some discussion about how to actually find and hire those with leadership skills is in order. When I think of the best project managers I end up talking about leaders more than the person who was a great developer turned PM. Generally speaking these folks are well guarded by their employers, but occasionally these folks come available due to need for growth, company closings or other unforeseen events. Especially with the economy the way it is, more of these folks are available now. So… how do you find them? If they are a looking for work, they are on the job boards or represented by a recruiter. Even if they are not you can find them because those with leadership attributes contribute to the community even when they are not collecting a paycheck. Look for blogs in the specific areas you are hiring for? Once you find an candidate ask yourself a couple of questions: Are they talking about interesting things in their field? Does the blog mention the new things they are learning? What are people saying about them on LinkedIn, twitter, or other sites? In Chicago it’s a small community, maybe somebody you know has worked with them.

Once you have found somebody make sure they have the hard skills needed for the job. Either an intensive interview process, skills test/problem, portfolio review, or just pairing with them to write software will vet them out. No matter what, make sure the people who will be working with them and the company leadership talk them. For leadership positions you are seeking for soft skills too. The soft skill traits to looks for are:

• Mentoring
• Ability to confront problems directly and candidly
• Communicating a vision – not just tasks
• Give constructive feedback – ask about how it was received and acted on within 3 months, 6, 12, etc…
• Interests in a wide range of topics – so that they can relate to peers and customers
• Analytical view of process and how to get things done – do they understand why they follow process? When does it make sense to not follow well established processes?
• Ability to train or find the right training for those they lead
• Work via a set of principals [link]
• Understand the difference between confidence and arrogance
• To understand and articulate how well they are doing their job
• Introspection – “I can always do it better next time”

The final question should be how do they plan to become more valuable to the company after they start working there. There is no wrong answer to this question unless it is, “I don’t know”. Some of my favorite answers are:

• Help raise the bar and build the organization around exemplary performers
• Develop an innovative approach to hiring or staff training
• Develop innovative processes or practices (methodologies)
• Develop new systematic ways to help clients and perform client counseling
• Develop better ways of disseminating and build firmwide expertise
• Develop some expertise in a specific market then continue to listen to (and define) the market

Photo Credit:
Sheffield Tiger
under a Creative Commons Attribution License