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Top 5 Questions to Ask Before you Hire a Project Manager

written by: dianahardin • edited by: Marlene Gundlach • updated: 5/19/2011

Hiring a great Project Manager is largely a matter of finding the perfect fit. Before you make a hiring decision, there are specific questions you should ask during the interview process.

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    1. What is the number one skill necessary to be a great project manager?

    At first glance, this may seem like an unfair question, because being a project manager actually requires a broad range of skill sets to be successful. This includes:

    • Being a strong team leader;
    • Gathering and assimilating information quickly;
    • Planning and reviewing projects;
    • Having an engaging presentation style;
    • Being flexible; and
    • Having the fortitude to finish the job.

    With the answer to this question you will learn exactly what the candidate sees as his best quality. His answer will show you where his focus will lie, and a serious candidate will never admit that he doesn’t have what it takes to be a successful project manager.

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    2. What skills do you look for in the members of your team?

    In order to be a good leader, a project manager needs to be able to evaluate a team’s strengths and weaknesses. To do this, he will need to evaluate each individual team member’s strengths and weaknesses. The correct answer to this question would involve the fact that a team is a combination of members with many different skills. The candidate's answer will tell you if the he will be looking for team members just like himself or if he recognizes that a successful team is made up of workers with differing skill sets.

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    3. What methods do you like to use for project planning?

    This question serves a dual purpose. On one hand it gives you an idea of what planning methods the candidate is familiar with and has utilized in the past. It also gives you an idea of what resources the candidate might be expecting from you. After all, a great project manager is only as successful as the support he receives from other management areas.

    An experienced project manager will answer this question by citing a variety of tools, beginning with those used to outline the details of a project. A successful project manager needs to determine immediately what resources are available and what resources are still needed. Next will be the task of conducting research and using existing resources to help plan the various tasks required to complete the project. You will learn if this candidate prefers to use formal tools or simple spreadsheets. The answer to this question should also involve tracking problems that are encountered and successes that are accomplished. Regardless of the tools, a great project manager will keep it simple. Over planning or complex tracking systems can impact the completion of the project by draining the use of valuable resources.

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    4. Did Project X require overtime? If so, how much?

    What you are determining with this question is whether or not the candidate will be truthful with you. If you can identify a particularly difficult assignment listed on the applicant's resume that was accomplished in a narrow space of time, the only honest answer would be, “Yes, it did require quite a bit of overtime." If you did not find a project like this on his resume, see if you can uncover such a story during the interview process.

    There is a personality type within project management that is compelled to try and convince you that everything comes easily to him. This candidate will answer a question about overtime with a casual, “Oh, it didn't take much overtime at all." This tells you one of two things:

    • Either this candidate is going to try and spin the reality to match what he thinks you want to hear; or
    • This candidate does not do overtime.

    Neither are characteristics that you want to see in your project manager. If you are paying top dollar, you need someone who will see you through crunch times, which often translates into long hours.

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    5. According to your resume, you worked on Project X. How did the project turn out?

    What you really want to learn as a result of this question is whether the candidate was around for the end of the project. Does the candidate have the stamina needed to see a project through to completion, or does he lose direction near a project's end?

    If the candidate gives a vague generalization of how the project ended or openly admits that he was not around at the project’s completion, you should see this as a warning sign. It is up to you to determine whether this occurred once or a number of times. You might accomplish this by asking about other completed projects or by thoroughly checking his references. If he does admit to not seeing a project through to the end, it is in your best interest to find out why.

    The right answer to such a question would involve a plausible story explaining the completion of a project, regardless of its time frame. If the candidate was involved through the completion of the project, you will be able to tell by the details he provides regarding the project’s final stages, its implementation, and the overall reaction of his team members.

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    Making a Decision

    Once you take into account all of the information gathered from the interview process, you will need to take into consideration your upcoming projects and whether you feel a particular candidate will fit your needs. Take the time to check references and talk with team members to see what type of project manager they feel will best fit within your company. Never rush into a decision and interview as many qualified candidates as you can.