How to Hire Effective Project Managers

Hiring and maintaining a strong project manager is essential to your portfolio’s success. You should focus not only on experience but also on the leadership qualifications of the candidate.

Below, I will list out a high-level framework for sourcing, hiring and supporting best in class project managers. And to give you an idea of salaries for various project management positions across the world, take a look at’s 2014 Salary Round-up Guide.

Look in the Right Places

The hunt for qualified candidates to join your organization can be a challenging task. Posting a job description to a free site may even cause more work than you bargained for. You’ll spend the majority of your time sifting through unqualified candidates than wooing high performers.

Place a strong focus on looking for people with shared contacts within your organization. Advertise internally as well as externally, as those internal referrals can produce your most dedicated and top performers. Look for project-management or industry-similar meetup groups in your town. Scan the web for conferences and seminars around digital design, development or quality assurance that you can attend to chat with potential candidates in person.

Find a Culture Fit

As your organization grows, your culture will grow along with it. The first interview should focus on whether or not the project manager would be a good culture fit for your internal requirements and the project team. While project managers need to know how to create project plans, work breakdowns and status reports, they also need to coach, lead and mentor team members.

You’ll want to make sure the candidate has the potential for not only completing a project on time and on budget but also being respected by their peers and project teams. A personality conflict can cause a lot of issues on a project. Ask your candidates how they overcome challenges, deal with stress and work within a team.

Having a project manager with a solid appreciation of your company’s culture will dramatically strengthen their commitment to delivering projects successfully.

Charter Challenge

Internal processes are extremely diverse from company to company, and the challenges of your particular project work will vary. Developing a way to quiz a project manager during the candidate process can give you a sneak peek into their thought process. Understanding how a project manager approaches their project planning and risk management early on in the interview process will arm you with the right questions to ask.

One effective way to do this is to share a sample of how you initially define your projects. I call this “interview homework.” Whether it be a “fake” proposal, charter or RFP is up to your process, so just use whatever project manager in your organization gets handed from the beginning to start their planning. Purposefully add mistakes, misspellings, bad math, confusing dates, etc., to this document, and include explicit directions on what you expect the results to be. Your hope will be to not only get back a document that outlines the mistakes and risks, but also outlines a suggested path forward that is easily digestible.

Test this internally to shake out any roadblocks in comprehension before sending it off to an outside candidate. If your candidate passes this test and their response is solid, then it’s time for that second interview.

Detailed Second Interview

You want the candidate to have a good rapport with your team day one. Try to not only include potential peers but potential team members as part of that discussion. The role of the project manager reaches far and wide in an organization, so having people from other departments to talk to your candidate will allow you to gain a broader perspective of how they would impact projects.

Senior-level project managers or department managers should lead the second interview. This interview (or series of interviews) should include a review of the “homework” where you can report back to the candidate on how well they performed and what some of their opportunities missed were.

This feedback is important, as it will show the candidate what you are looking for in a successful project manager, but it’ll also allow them to ask questions about your internal processes and allow them an opportunity to gauge what it would be like to work for you.

Consider having newer employees participate in this interview, as they can give you an important perspective on how quickly the candidate might be ready to make an impact. If the project manager is certified, ask about where they received their certification and what they thought of the process. If they’ve made it this far, stay in constant contact after the interview so that the candidate knows where they are in the decision-making process.

Comprehensive Onboarding

As I mentioned above, many companies have a unique way they approach their project processes. Create a checklist and timeline so your new hire has a clear roadmap on how to learn the expectations of the role. Explain the history of project management at your organization as well as its current state. This can be critical to helping a new PM understanding their place in the bigger picture. Spending this time upfront will allow the employee to understand not only the expectations of the company, but also of the project(s) they were hired to manage.

The first few days should include reviewing processes and roles within the project(s). Walk through project audits andpost-mortem documentation to show the project manager the expectations of the organization. Encourage your new employee to ask why you do things a certain way.

Create an open environment for questions. Understanding the why’s will allow them to prioritize the how’s more effectively and with greater success.

Structured Mentorship

Assigning a new project manager a mentor is essential to getting that person efficient in your organization as quickly as possible. Preferably, this should be a senior project manager or tenured member of the project team.

Many organizations will follow a “just-in-time” hiring rule and assign a new project manager to a project on their first day. This can be disastrous to the health of the project as this new PM will not understand the constraints and expectations of the role within your company.

Having a structured mentorship program will allow your new project manager to understand the tools, reports, resources and goals in order to be successful. Shadowing projects that are already in flight is one of the best ways to see how your team works.

90-day, 6-month and Annual Reviews

As a project manager, knowing what a “bad job” is can be fairly clear, but what does a “good job” look like in your portfolio? Is it just on-time and on-budget, or are there different factors you use to judge performance? How do you gauge internal and external customer service?

Outline all of these expectations into a workflow so that the project manager can clearly see if they are aligned with your organizations goals in terms of project management. Project managers grow after each and every project, so if your company only focuses on an annual review to share feedback on a project manager’s performance, then you are missing out on many additional opportunities to help shape their success.

Formal and consistent feedback throughout the year will help the project manager understand their impact to your organization.

The right tools will help you maintain visibility of your team and your projects, so you can avoid surprises during reviews. can give you a dashboard view of your tasks, resources and project status in real time. To see if it’s right for you, sign up now for your free 30-day trial.

Written By:  Kurt Schmidt


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