When you bring in new project managers, do you do so strategically?

Interviewing is subjective, of course, but for the essential job of Project Manager, you want your process to be as bulletproof as possible. After all, ending up with a bad Project Manager could cost you big time. Fortunately, PMO director Russell Hartley is here to share his best practices for making the right hiring decisions upfront.

Alexandra Levit: Russell, what’s the biggest mistake that hiring managers make when recruiting new PMs?

Russell Hartley: They use generic job descriptions. You’ll see things like “good communication skills,” “be a self-starter,” and “work well with teams.” Well, job descriptions like this will quickly get you overrun with responses that are hardly targeted. So instead of wasting time with vagaries, describe the details of the actual project, and if you want it done using a certain methodology, say so.

While stellar project managers can usually work on any type of project, there are certain projects we really enjoy doing versus ones we are capable of doing but would prefer not to. By putting the specific needs for the position into the job description, you are far more likely to get responses from project managers who really want to do that type of project. And wouldn’t you rather have someone leading the team who doesn’t think of it like a dentist appointment?

Alex: Do you recommend hiring PMs for specific technical skills?

Russell: Someone once commented on my blog that a good project manager’s knowledge is a mile wide and an inch deep. Technical skills can often be learned, but excellent PM skills are harder to come by. By requiring PMs to have very specialized knowledge, you will dramatically reduce the pool of applicants, and an outstanding PM who could do amazing things for your company might be left out. Deciding on what is truly needed for every position will save you time and attract the right people.

Alex: Should every project have a designated PM?

Russell: With cost-cutting measures in place at a lot of firms, hiring managers are trying to do more with less. So, a PM in many cases is expected not to just lead the project but also get their hands dirty in whatever the team needs doing.

Critical projects need dedicated PMs. Does this add cost to the company? Of course. But if the project is so important to the business that it is funded and ready for implementation, why would you want to cut corners with the person leading it? It would be like using a quarterback to block for an entire game. You’re asking for the project to stall down the line.

Alex: Anything else hiring managers should do or not do when looking for PMs?

Russell:Eliminate the essay questions.For example, I recently saw this exact question in a PM online application: “Please explain your experience with managing the full life cycle of multiple implementation projects, including project planning, execution and training.” How many pages would a complete answer to this question take? Imagine being the applicant, thinking you are almost done with the process and then coming across a question like this.

If the point is to assess their writing skills, just ask for samples. But don’t ask open ended questions that, to answer in a professional manner, require more than 2-3 sentences. If nothing else, you will have a lot less to read and can see how concise the applicant can be.