Making Better Project Management Hires

“He who fails to plan, plans to fail”  Winston Churchill

Planning is critical to the success of any project manager.  For hiring managers looking to supplement their project management ranks, the same rule applies.  There are steps hiring managers can and should take before and during the recruiting process to ensure a successful outcome after hiring is complete.

1.  Know what you need

Before starting the hiring process, hiring managers must know what they are looking for.

Not all projects are the same.  By definition, they are unique.  So are project managers.  Generally, they all follow similar methods to managing projects, but their experience and ability to tackle certain types of projects can vary widely.  Hence one of the reasons why project results can vary widely as well.

Putting any project manager on any project is not a recipe for success.  Instead, aligning project needs with PM ability and going in prepared for any gaps (development plans, mentoring, etc) can improve outcomes for the project and the project manager.

Depending on the industry and type of project, needs may vary. However, the budget, duration, size of the team and complexity should minimally be considered.


2.  Gather consistent work history

Based on identified project needs, it’s important to gather consistent information from each candidate regarding their work history.

PM’s should call out key quantifiable measures, such as largest budget, longest duration, and biggest team size in their resumes so that their experience can more easily be compared against project needs. However, this practice is not universal.  For any PM’s reading this…take note.

The quantifiable/discrete project needs are easy to gather by a company recruiter or by the hiring manager in a quick screening call.

  • Do you have international experience?
  • What’s the largest team you’ve managed?
  • Your resume shows you are a program manager.  How many concurrent projects have you managed?
  • What was the overall duration and budget of the program?


3.  Ask scenario-based questions

There is more to a project than the size of the team or the budget that needs to be managed by the potential candidate.  There are nuances and complexities of an organization and/or customer base that should be considered.  These point to the soft skills the PM should possess in preparation for navigating the team and stakeholders through the project.

The hiring manager has an opportunity to develop scenarios that are likely conditions the project manager will encounter.  For example, if the customer base is resistant to change or the environment is heavily political, understanding the thought process of a candidate relative to those conditions would be beneficial.

A great way to develop scenario questions is to ask existing project managers who have managed projects in similar conditions.  The candidate will not have the context and background to come up with exactly the same response as how the original PM handled the situation.  Instead, during the interview, the hiring manager can assess how the PM plans to respond, the types of questions he or she leads with, or the general approach the candidate develops.  This goes a long way to providing insight to the candidate’s soft skills.


4.  Check for fit

In all candidate discussions, ensuring the individual has interests that are aligned to the job is key.  A recent article on the three interview questions all hiring managers should ask addresses ways to determine fit.


5.  Trust your gut

Hiring an employee is like proposing marriage after a few rounds of speed dating.  Hiring managers have a limited amount of time to determine that a candidate has the experience, capability and soft skills necessary to execute on the project or projects they are hired to manage.

No matter how much time is spent with candidates gathering information, there is still risk involved, as there is with any hire. The last check is up to the hiring manager alone.  What does the gut say?  If there are two strong candidates that appear viable and there is some hesitation to one of them, pay attention.

It takes considerable time and money to hire and train a new employee.  And to move them on to a new team or organization if things don’t work out.  Like butterflies before the wedding, the hiring manager has to determine if it’s something more than nerves.


These steps focus on project managers, but can be utilized for any hire.  Proper planning prevents poor performance.  Planning ahead for the interview and selection process will result in better hiring outcomes, for PM’s or any role.

There’s help out there for hiring managers interested in these concepts, who are unsure where to begin.  The PM Test™ is a tailorable solution for organizations that are interested in improving their project outcomes through better alignment of project needs and PM abilities.  If you are interested in tools to help you consistently assess your projects and your project management candidates, or ways to introduce these concepts into your existing organizational processes, I’m happy to help.