What do I look for when recruiting a Project Manager?

A blog recently came to my attention over at Software Advice that looks at the differences in project management vacancies across three sectors: aerospace, healthcare and IT. Analysis of 300 Job Listings Reveals What Employers Are Looking For in a Project Manager

It seems that aerospace has the highest entry barriers entry in terms of experience, degree status, and project management qualifications. This is to be expected, as it is an industry that places uncompromising demands on safety, engineering excellence, documentation, and strict adherence to process.

The research being US-based, the most valued PM certification is PMI’s Project Management Professional (PMP). Elsewhere in the world, particularly in the UK, I would expect PMP to be one of several recognised qualifications (including Prince2 Professional and APM’s Registered Project Professional).

It got me thinking: when I’m recruiting a PM, what do I look for? Here are the steps that I would normally take.

Step 1 – Finding Candidates

Who do I know who could do this job?

I have a pretty good personal network of capable project managers, so the first step is always to call on someone that I already know and trust. If that works out (and it often does) then qualifications are irrelevant; I wouldn’t even ask for a CV. An interview – fairly informal – would still be required, as I want to know that the person understands the job and feels confident that they can deliver. I wouldn’t really ask about experience, as that hurdle has already been cleared.

The personal network doesn’t happen by accident. I have always invested plenty of time in maintaining it. Not as a cynical, must-do chore; it is one of the most enjoyable parts of having a career.

Who would you recommend to do this job?

If my direct contacts aren’t available, then I ask if they have any recommendations. Someone that is trusted by someone that I trust is probably pretty good, but this method isn’t infallible. Certainly I would expect to see a CV, and hold a formal interview.

Ask on LinkedIn

This is a new approach for me, but I have tried it, and it works. On my LinkedIn profile, and linked to my Twitter feed, I might ask if anyone knows anyone that can do the job. I’ve only tried it once, but the results were impressive. Unfortunately the project I was recruiting for fell apart, but I had strong candidates lined up.

A Trusted Agency

Sorry, agencies, but you only get a look in once I’ve run out of other ideas. I do have several that I trust, but it still can be a bit of a lottery. Now I’ll probably get CVs to review – so what am I looking for?

Step 2 – The CV Trawl

Relevant experience. That’s 90% of what I’m looking for. Has the candidate worked in this sector before? Have they work with the right technologies? Do they appear to have done the right sort of job (i.e. project management, programme management, etc). It is the relevant experience that gets the interview.

I’m also interested in where the candidate has worked. If they have experience working for companies that take project management seriously, then that is a bonus. For example, both Ericsson and Siemens have a well-established in-house project management standards and training.

I’ll probably scan for degree and certification, but these are “bonus points”. A good degree is really nice to see, but it is not essential. A relevant certification possibly shows that the individual is serious about project management as a profession. Qualifications that I like to see are one or more of:

  • PMP – Project Management Professional (PMI)
  • RPP – Registered Project Professional (APM)
  • APMP – APM Project Management Qualification
  • Prince2 Practioner (UK Cabinet Office)
  • MSP – Managing Successful Programmes (UK Cabinet Office)
  • P3O Practitioner
  • Certified Scrum Master

 Step 3 – The Interview

In an interview, I look to explore the same topics I was looking for in the CV. Experience first and foremost, and then I want to hear what the candidate understands of the job I want them to take on. What are their thoughts – how would they go about tackling the job?

Regarding qualifications, I might ask why they hold a particular certification. What benefit did they expect to get from it, and how is it working out?

Finally, I always like to ask something unexpected, just to see if the candidate can think on their feet. I was once asked in interview “What is the average height of Spain?”. It’s a great question – and I got the job!

What does this mean for Project Managers?

I don’t think my selection method is that unusual, so what are the lessons if you’re a career-building project manager?  I think they are these:

1. Network. That is where your referrals will come from.

2. Always do a good job! That is where your reputation comes from.

3. Make sure your CV describes relevant experience. “Relevant” varies depending on the context, so always tailor your CV to match the opportunity.

4. Invest in relevant training and qualifications, as a way of developing your skills. But don’t expect them to open doors on their own. Contacts, reputation and experience will always trump certificates.


By |2015-08-19T10:54:44+00:00June 9th, 2014|Project Management|Comments Off on What do I look for when recruiting a Project Manager?

About the Author: