Project managers – how to hire

Shaking hands to their successMy first experience of managing a project was of the accidental kind. I was given the project to run as a side-line of my day job running an accounts team. I had to implement an accounting system, replacing the manual bookkeeping processes we were then using in our group head office. I was using the same systems as our major subsidiary and had access to the technical team and accounts team of that subsidiary so I had loads of support. But if you want to give your project the best chance to succeed, this is probably not the best way to find the project manager. This post is all about project managers – how to hire the right ones!


What to consider when hiring

In my post The project management ‘sweetspot’ I described how project managers have three critical skills and knowledge areas, and when you get them working together in balance, you’ve found your project management sweet spot. 

PM sweetspot

Well, from the hiring manager’s perspective, you want to hire the project manager with the biggest ‘sweetspot’ for the job. Get the right balance of leadership, technical PM skills and subject matter knowledge and the problem is solved. Easy right?


Let’s look at each factor in turn:

Subject matter knowledge

As the hiring manager, this is your business area so you should know enough to assess whether a particular candidate has the right level of subject matter knowledge. But since this is the area you are probably most comfortable in, you are likely to err on the side of caution, looking for too much knowledge or giving bias to someone with more knowledge. I’ve seen the latter a number of times. Someone appointed as the project or programme manager because they know the business or know the requirement. But when they don’t understand the demands of a project environment, of the need for a structured plan, effective governance etc. it spells trouble. Also, leading a project team is very different to leading or managing a line function. Project people have a different mindset and approach so need managing and motivating differently. It can work, especially if the lack of experience in project areas is recognised and compensated for by appropriate support, but it is a risk.


PM Tools and Techniques

If you’re not a project manager or had any project experience how do you assess this? Many make the mistake of falling back on badges, the most common being ‘they’re Prince2 practitioners so they must be good project managers’. There are tens if not hundreds of thousands of Prince2 practitioners in the UK alone, but there aren’t that many good project managers. Prince2 practitioner in itself means you have been trained to pass an exam. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of Prince2 practitioners that are damn good project managers, but it’s not a one to one match. By all means use it as a pointer but never select based on it alone and don’t discard everyone that isn’t a Prince2 practitioner. I’ve never been a Prince2 practitioner. Why? Because I don’t want to line the pockets of a training company to get a piece of paper to demonstrate a set of skills my experience already demonstrate in spades.


So how do you assess PM skills? Ask experienced and successful PMs in your own organisation to help you. Get them to provide you with the right questions and expected answers. Better still, get them involved in the selection process. Alternatively use a trusted recruitment consultant with a track record of finding good project managers. How do you find one of those? Again, ask your own PMs and then get third party references.


Leadership and people skills

Well, you are a leader so you should know what to look for. But remember what I said earlier about leading project teams being different to leading line teams, so go back to your project mangers and recruitment consultants and get them to help. When you identify potential candidates, ask them for examples of them demonstrating their leadership credentials. When It comes time for asking for references, also ask for team members that would give them a reference as well as previous bosses. You’ll learn an awful lot about someone’s true leadership capabilities from their team members.


Finding the right Project Manager

You now know what you are looking for, so go find them – they’re out there waiting for your call. But how do you find them? You effectively have three options:

  • Direct advertising
  • Recruitment agencies/consultants
  • Your network

Direct advertising

The volume of press and printed publication job advertising has dropped off dramatically in recent years with the rise of the internet. There are the job boards and sites on the internet which you can advertise on directly but the targeting is weak and you are prone to getting a lot of unsuitable applicants. For most professional job types, it just isn’t a cost effective way of reaching the right applicants. For project managers, it’s certainly not the way I would recommend.

Recruitment agencies

Even where print advertising was or is part of the strategy, many organisations use recruitment agencies. There are often agencies that specialise in particular market sectors and therefore claim a particular edge over more generalist rivals. You have the job specification defined from above so it should be pretty straight forward right?

Well it’s rarely that simple. Most medium to large scale organisations now have preferred supplier lists – especially for recruitment. So you have to go through HR and the job gets farmed out to one or more agencies. Most agencies are retained on very tight margins so their priority is to get the role filled as fast as possible so they can move on to the next one. They troll their databases using keyword searches and may post the job on various job sites. You rarely get the chance to establish a working relationship with the recruitment consultant so it’s difficult to get your real requirement understood. The end result is often a stream of poor quality cvs hitting your inbox.

At the higher end, where the fee can justify more time, they may search the market in more depth, perhaps using LinkedIn and their own network of employed project managers to find suitable targets. But don’t bank on it.

Using your own network

If you have established your own professional network, this can be the best place to start searching for the right candidates. Not necessarily directly if you are not that involved in project management yourself, but through trusted connections who may have used or know of good project managers. This is where LinkedIn comes in to its own. As the world’s largest professional online networking site with over 360m profiles worldwide and 18+m in the UK alone, the chances are your ideal project manager is a member.

With just a little of the right effort you can identify ideal target candidates or connections that could recommend them to you. And from their profiles, you can again use your network to check them out and validate their suitability even before any direct contact is made. Whilst this might seem like quite a bit of effort, it is nothing compared with the time save sifting through reams of sub-standard cvs and pointless interviews. Once you identify a candidate you can engage with them direct or instruct you recruitment consultant to do it.

Even where you start out with a recruitment agency and are lucky enough to get some good quality cvs, use your network to check out the candidates as I described above.


Need some help?

Developing the right strategy and approach to use LinkedIn effectively for recruitment can be a bit daunting. And trial and error can be very wasteful of your time. But help is at hand. I have used LinkedIn for a number of years to generate training and consulting assignments for my own business and I’m now offering help and support to others looking to do the same. Three steps:

  • Connect with me. You will immediately increase your second tier connections massively – and I have a lot of project managers as connections. And once we get to know each other I’d be happy to introduce you to the right people to help you fill your project management gaps.
  • Talk to me. Call me on 07768 463833. If I’m not  around leave me a message with a couple of times when I can call you back. When I do we can talk about how I can help you start to leverage your LinkedIn network to meet your objectives
  • Sign up for my e-book – “The 9 Key Points to Creating a Powerful Personal Profile” – after all, you want create the right impression with your potential candidates.

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  1. […] Allen Ruddock details the process of hiring the right project manager, from strategy to tactics. […]

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