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How to hire a rock star project manager

How to hire a rock star project manager

When hiring a PM, the knee-jerk tendency seems to be to hire the person with the most technical knowledge, when other, broader skills are more likely to get the results you're really after.

A great project manager (PM) can mean more than just the difference between project success and failure (which is important enough). With a rock star PM on your team, you can enjoy some peace of mind knowing that projects and processes are being shepherded in a professional, efficient, timely and ultimately profitable manner. Conversely, a lousy PM can have deleterious effects, including a drain on your own time and, eventually, your company’s money.

Here are the things to do, consider and look for to ensure you get the former, and avoid the latter.

Clearly and precisely identify the goals for the position

The first step when looking to hire a first-rate PM is identifying what the crucial goals are for this role. Be clear within the job posting on exactly what you need from the PM. All too often project management job postings are cookie-cutter and focus primarily on the general technical aspects and candidate attributes.  Flush out detailed business and job-specific goals, and document precisely how the new project manager’s role will assist in accomplishing those exact goals.

Plan ahead to increase chances of finding the best candidate

The timing for hiring a PM should be identified ahead of the actual need. Waiting until the need is arises will simply create unnecessary stress and possibly end in disappointment. Often the hiring process cuts too close to the initiating of a project, creating a situation where the rush is on and yet the choices may be too limited.  The end result: hiring a good project manager, but not the best one for a specific role.

[Related: How to win the war for IT talent]

After those important basics are checked off your list, what exactly should you look for in a primo project manager? Ultimately, you want to find a PM who meets the following criteria:

Is a business strategist

Consider looking for project managers with broader high-level business knowledge and skillsets who understands how their role plays into the overall business-wide objectives. Project managers who possess this understanding, and who approach the role with this in mind can make a top PM candidate as they are able to make a conscious effort to ensure all project activities align with strategy. Without this knowledge and understanding, the key foundations can easily be eroded.

Loves what they do

The role of a project manager is stressful in the best of times, requiring them to juggle multiple deadlines, resources, requests, stakeholders, and goals. The role can be overwhelming, rewarding and discouraging all at the same time, and can result in a high level of job satisfaction but also job frustration. In order for a PM to be effective and stay focused and vested, they must absolutely love what they do, as often times this is what allows them to stay motivated and focused. 

Exudes intrapreneurial spirit

Project managers need to be of an intrapreneur mindset, always evaluating the best methods for business goal attainment. All decisions and actions must be directed towards the best interests of the business. This requires a project manager to be innovative, extremely focused, as well as goal and people oriented at the same time.

Demonstrates extraordinary leadership

Exceptional leadership skills are not optional in this role. While the majority of PMs will have some form of formal technical training and combined experience, not all project managers demonstrate exceptional leadership. Leadership is not simply leading, facilitating, managing and directing. True leaders must lead by example, make difficult decisions when necessary, and act in a fair manner when it comes to all stakeholders while ensuring their attention and effort remains trained on business objectives at all times. Accomplishing this is not always easy but is necessary in order to be an extraordinary leader.

Excels at crisis resolution

Crisis resolution is another one of those areas a PM must be versed and experienced in, as this is guaranteed to be a regular fixture in the world of project management, and more often than not projects do not go as planned. Project managers will often encounter one crisis or another, whether financial, time-based, human resource in nature or other related, and will need to remain calm, focused and level-headed, and act appropriately, regardless of the situation. A crisis resolution expert can make all the difference as this can be easier said than done.

Exhibits outstanding communication skills

Many projects have been derailed solely on communication issues that have arisen simply because the project manager lacked sufficient oral, written or non-verbal communication skills. Knowing how to effectively communicate, and which medium to utilize in a particular situation is critical. This is easily one of the most important skills to look for due to the potential ramifications.

Is obviously results-oriented

Ultimately a project manager must be results-oriented if they are to be successful. Absent this, project management is pointless, as the project activities are only executed with an intended end result required. Hiring a project manager that simply navigates from one phase to another without vetting whether the activities align with the end goals cannot be successful. This is a must.

Interlaces with your business culture

When hiring a project manager look for individuals that will work well within the business culture. Personality and character make a difference, seek individuals that can work easily with stakeholders, and project the business culture in general. This will help to decrease the likelihood of unnecessary friction and help to accomplish a smoother transition, especially in the initial phases.

Understands their role within the power of “TEAM”

While project managers lead and facilitate, they must also be team players and understand the power of the “team” concept. Hiring a project manager who may be too self-focused can be disastrous for team dynamics, as it can establish mistrust, lack of buy-in or cooperation from other team members. Carefully assess this characteristic and the candidate’s personality when hiring a project manager.

[Related: Should you outsource your project management?]

Now that you know what to look for, how should do you go about finding what may at first seem like a mythical creature?

Talk to others in the PM and recruitment field

Project managers come to the table with varied levels of experience, training, views and expectations. It is always a good idea to reach out to colleagues and other business professionals for project manager referrals that can fit specific business needs. Ask around about candidates with the most suitable characteristics and personality traits for your business culture and specific needs. Take advantage expertise and knowledge from other professionals whenever possible to avoid the stress of not knowing where to start. May be even searching professional networks like LinkedIn as a starting point, as many individuals will have recommendations on their personal profiles that can offer insights into some of these factors.

Verify their training and experience

Once a project management candidate has been selected, spend sufficient time carefully verifying their experience, training, personality attributes, working styles, leadership and, facilitation skills to ensure the best individual for specific needs has been selected.

Hire on a trial project basis before hiring full-time

Give thought to hiring a contractor project manager to ensure the right individual with the required skill sets has been chosen prior to committing to a full-time position. This arrangement can work to the benefit of both the employer and employee to ensure the fit works and both parties want to continue with the arrangement.

Offer and request feedback

After hiring a PM, keep two-way dialogue going to ensure you know what is working and what needs work.  Hiring a PM and realizing things may not be going as anticipated can be frustrating, and may not necessarily be the fault of the PM. It may be a situation where employer expectations may not have been clearly defined or parameters had changed following the hiring process. These changes may not have been conveyed to the new PM, making goals difficult for them to attain without the employer revisiting and updating the job requirements and scope.

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