What I look for when hiring full-time Project Managers

A common question I get asked by clients is what they should assess when staffing full-time PM positions.

Competency at project management requires both hard & soft skills, and “fit” is a difficult quality to judge – a star PM in one company’s culture is not necessarily a great PM for another.

Here are some of the attributes or techniques I recommend using to try to identify a good candidate:

1. “Scars on the back” – a good PM will have experienced failures, and should have learned something useful from them.  Distrust the PM who claims to “walk on water” – there are likely skeletons in that closet!

2. Self-awareness – To excel at the soft skills of PM, one needs to be self-aware.  This goes beyond the usual “what is your greatest strength or greatest weakness” to understanding how one will act in different circumstances.  A good way to assess this is through scenarios or role-play – the less prepared a candidate is for these, the more likely their true colors will emerge.  Assuming you know your corporate culture, design a scenario or role play that will be focused on assessing the candidates’ fit within your culture.  This can test everything from commitment to accountability, time management, reliance on formal vs. informal authority,  and openness of communication.

3. 360 degree references – The normal method of conducting references is to speak with a candidate’s past superiors or clients.  Extend this to include peers (other PMs or Resource Managers) and project team members.  This is one way to understand if the PM you are hiring is an “ends justify the means” bully.

4. If they have a PM certification (e.g. PMP), ask them when they received it and why they wanted to achieve it.  There is no right or wrong answer, but it’s a good way to see if their body language betrays them in the middle of a lie.

5. Current knowledge of PM trends & practices – PM is life-long learning so whether it is reading, attending conferences or participating in local PM association Chapter meetings, it is good to confirm that they don’t think they know it all.

6. Knowledge of your business – a good PM recognizes that completion of the project does not automatically mean that business value is realized.  An effective PM needs to know enough about your business including key clients, partners & competitors, market positioning and external influences.

7. Situational communication – Assess whether the PM is effective at tailoring communications to executives, peers and team members.  Again, a scenario or role play may be the best way to gauge this.

The risk of making a bad PM hiring decision can be grave – strategy is achieved through successful achievement of expected project benefits, and a bad PM could cost your company much more than just recruiting fees & fully loaded salary!

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