By Russell Harley, veteran project manager and Director at PMO
This is a companion article to “Five Ways to be a More Effective Project Manager“. That article obviously dealt with Project Managers improving their capabilities. This article is to help Hiring Managers improve their practices to find the best Project Managers for their needs.
Stop Using Generic Job Descriptions.
Every Project Manager position advertised seems to be copied out of text books for training Project Managers. “Must have good communication skills,” “Be a self-starter,”and “Work well with teams” are all examples. Job descriptions like this will quickly get you overrun with responses. Instead of these trite and generic requirements, spend some time to actually describe details of the actual project. While good Project Manager can work on pretty much any type of project, there are types of projects we enjoy doing versus those we can do but prefer not to.
By putting the specific needs for that position into the job description, you are far more likely to get responses from Project Managers that really want to do that type of project versus those that would rather not. After all wouldn’t you rather have someone leading the team that enjoyed that type of project versus someone that treated it like a dentist appointment?
Decide Exactly What You Really Need.
This has been discussed in depth in this Technical versus Functional Project Management article but is worth repeating here. One response to that article was, “A good PM’s knowledge is a mile wide and an inch deep.” If a project involves computer networking, do you need someone that has an in-depth understanding of the differences between Cisco IOS versions or someone that understands the difference between a router and a switch? The first would require a Cisco Network Engineer, not a Project Manager. While the second could be any PM regardless of expertise in networking as that type of knowledge is easily learned.
By requiring specialized knowledge of Project Managers for projects you are dramatically reducing the pool of people that will apply. This means that an outstanding PM who could do amazing things for your company is left out due to this. Deciding on what is truly needed can really help save time and attract the right people. Which leads us to…
Critical Projects Need Dedicated Project Managers./h4>
With cost-cutting measures in place at a lot of firms, hiring managers are trying to do more with less people. This unfortunately has been expanded into Project Manager roles as well. So a Project Manager in many cases is expected not to just lead the project but also ‘get their hands dirty’ in whatever the team needs doing. For small projects this is not an issue. As long as the ‘Project Manager’ is not expected to be leading dozens of these ‘small’ projects.
Anything much larger, and especially critical projects, need dedicated Project Managers. Does this add cost to the company? Of course. But if the project is that important to the business that it is funded and ready to start being planned out, why would you want to cut corners on cost with the person you want to lead the project? It would be like asking a quarterback to be used as a linebacker to block for an entire game. It would not make sense to use a quarterback that way anymore than it would be to ask a Project Manager to build computer racks, for example (and yes this really happened). Could a Project Manager do this? Sure. Does it make sense? No.
If You Need a Specific Methodology Used, Say So.
A common question asked of Project Managers is, “What Project Management methodologies do you use?” The correct answer from the applicant should always be: “Whatever one you want me to use.” So why is this question even asked? If you need a PMBOK Project Manager, say you are a Project Management Institute shop in the job description. Again, this will help you reduce the number of applicants. If you need Just in Time, Six Sigma, etc., just say so.
If you aren’t sure or have a variety of processes, then say you need a Project Manager that has experience in a variety of Project Management methods and can adjust as needed.
Eliminate the Essay Questions.
When doing research for this article a question that AT&T asked as part of their online application for a Project Manager position was found (and this is an exact quote), “Please explain your experience with managing the full life cycle of multiple implementation projects, including project planning, execution and training.” How many pages would an answer take to fully answer this question? And as a hiring manager how many answers would you actually read before you started ignoring the answers entirely?
To make this even worse, the applicant, after spending all the time going through the process to apply, thinks they are almost done then gets asked this kind of question. There was even more than one of these types of questions in the same application for AT&T. Needless to say you are not going to find the best people for the task by doing this.
Unfortunately, AT&T is not the only one with this practice. Other companies were found asking similar types of questions, like this one from United Health Group: “What makes you a good leader?” How about this as a response: “Not answering questions like this in an online application.”
If the point is to see their writing skills, just ask for writing samples; see if they have published things online, etc. After all we are not doing research papers, we are applying for jobs. So 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. This is a much better combination than these types of questions listed above.
As this article has shown, many of the ‘common’ practices to hire good, or even great, Project Managers can have just the opposite effect. They can also prevent the very people you are looking for to not even apply. As a hiring manager, this is not something you want to occur. “But we get overwhelmed with responses and there are too many to go through.” you say.
By following some of the suggestions in this article, you can reduce the inflow to a more manageable level. At the same time you will get applicants that are a much better match to what you really need them to do. And has been pointed out, will want to do. A much better outcome than what seems to be occurring in today’s job market.
Russell Harley is a veteran project manager and PMO director, passionate about helping organizations embrace world-class project management practices and “climb out of the quicksand” in terms of gaining control over complex, ever-changing project portfolios. The best practices he advocates stem from key learning’s acquired from his M.S Degree in Project Management, combined with over 20 years of hands-on PM experience in the high technology, telecommunications, and clean energy sectors.