It would be wonderful if there was a foolproof method of assessing the merits of a candidate when hiring a project manager and perhaps with the advances in Minority Report-like information gathering this may be possible at some point.
Until then, hiring managers face significant challenges when filling such roles – the combination of life experience, hard and soft competencies as well as personality and “fit” which will identify the perfect candidate are not as easy to assess as a technical skill such as the ability to develop quality code in a given computer programming language. To further complicate matters, in most North America cities the number of applications for a position is likely to run into the hundreds. This volume is partially due to the economy but is also due to the success which PMI and other project management associations have achieved in marketing the career benefits of the profession.
So what can one look for to improve the effectiveness of the initial resume short-listing process?
Spelling and grammar – communication skills are critical to the role of a project manager but insufficient attention to detail when preparing something as important as a job application poses a greater concern that key project management artifacts might not be produced or reviewed with appropriate professionalism or diligence. This is especially important in companies which are at a low-level of organizational project management maturity – it takes a lot of effort to gain credibility in the profession, and just one spelling mistake identified by the wrong executive to lose it.
A healthy balance between education and experience – unless the vacancy is for a contract role , I want to know that the individual has invested in themselves to gain some education to complement what they’ve gained through practical experience. While most hiring managers may focus on the latter, without a good foundation of project management theory (e.g. understanding the “why” behind the “what” of project management practices) you may end up with someone who is not as adaptable or resilient when faced with a situation they’ve never encountered before.
A custom cover letter – when I see a generic cover letter that lacks relevancy to the company, project or role, I am concerned that the same superficial approach may be used when addressing the information needs of different stakeholders or worse, the individual might take a “one size fits all” approach to project management practices.
A focus on business outcomes – candidates will often list metrics such as duration, budget or peak team size for a sample of the projects they’ve managed. Don’t get me wrong – this is good information as someone who has never managed a project with more than five team members may not be able to successfully handle a project with a hundred staff. However, I am also looking for recognition of what was achieved through their projects as it will give me some confidence that the candidate is able to think beyond the triple constraint.
There are no guarantees of success when recruiting project managers, but with techniques such as the ones I’ve provided above it should be possible to identify a good set of candidates to progress to the next stage of the hiring process.