5 Do’s and Don’ts for recruiting a Project Manager

A good Project Manager will enable your business to deliver your products or services to customers profitability, and in a manner that will ensure you secure repeat business. But hire a bad one, and you’ll be faced with projects that are over budget, with poor profit margins, and unhappy customers. So what should you be looking for to get things right?


Do… Start with the end in mind!

A general job description will be a big long list of possible duties and responsibilities, and it’s a big ask to find someone who will be an expert in everything. While it’s a good place to start, think about what skills, strengths and weaknesses you already have in your team and focus your search for a Project Manager on filling those gaps. For example, if you’ve got a team who you can trust to produce work to a high standard of quality, but are perhaps a bit lax when it comes to deadlines, focus your search on someone with strong people management and project delivery skills.  If the problem is that your engineers are a bit too technologically oriented and project costs can run away over budget, then focus on someone who has a bit more of a technical mindset to communicate with the engineers on their level and has a good head for figures. Don’t write off the skills that aren’t your priority as irrelevant, but make them the desirables of the job, not the core requirements.


Do… Check references before you offer the job

Many Project Managers will change jobs quite frequently. In most job roles, this would normally be a big red flag. However, the nature of project work means many companies employ on fixed term contracts or use contractors for short stints – it’s the variety and flexibility of employment that project work offers which attracts many people into this sort of work. So while most candidates will have a long list of jobs out of choice, it can allow those candidates whose job hopping comes from necessity, where contracts haven’t been extended or permanent roles offered. Ringing for references is one of the main way to check this – you don’t need to speak to a current employer, a previous one will do. A good recruitment agency should be checking this for you as a matter of cause for high level jobs such as Project Management, but it’s always worthwhile making your own checks too so you aren’t burned by a failed hire down the line.


Do… Ask hanging questions in interview

Competency questions are great for ensuring a candidate as the right skills, by asking for examples of past performance and behaviours. However, it’s all too easy to ask leading questions that candidates have prepared answers for and will naturally show them in a good light. An example would be asking “Tell me how you have delivered a project successfully”: the candidate will only be giving you the positives from their experience so won’t be getting an accurate representation of how they’ll perform.  Instead, ask what’s called a “hanging question” – one that doesn’t directly call for a positive or negative response, but leaves things hanging – how about “Tell me about the last project you worked on?” It’s much more open-ended, and if things haven’t gone well (and they more than likely didn’t if the candidate is looking for a new role), you’ll learn far more about the candidate from whether they talk about how they attempted to mitigate disaster, what they took from the experience, or whether it was everyone else’s fault but theirs!


Don’t… Get hung up on technical ability.

The key purpose of a Project Manager is to oversee work, and coordinate between different business functions to deliver client projects to their specifications. But as many engineering companies offer unique or highly niche solutions, it will often be an impossible task to find someone who meets all your requirements, and has experience in your niche industry too.  While a good amount of engineering background and knowledge will go a long way, the design of solutions will be left to Design Engineers and Estimators who need the in-depth technical understanding. A Project Manager’s main job is communication, so focus on this – product knowledge can be learn must more easily.


Don’t… Value experience over skills and potential

In all sectors and in all job roles, we hear from clients “we want someone with 2/3/5/7/10 years of experience in the role.” While it is technically an illegal request from an age discrimination standpoint, we usually take these numbers with a pinch of salt because how long you’ve been doing something for doesn’t correlate with your ability. After all, we all know someone who has had 5 or more years of driving lessons but still can’t pass their test, and others who have been driving for much longer but you’d rather not get in a car with!  The longer you do something, the more you tend to get stuck in your ways, less open to new ways of doing things and new approaches, and more likely to cut corners. While we wouldn’t recommend someone inexperienced for every job, offering someone a step up into a Project Manager position has its benefits if you have other staff and the support systems to get them up to speed – a lack of training and development opportunities is a big reason candidates will leave a job for a new company, but supporting someone through training is one of the main reasons we hear for staying, or being attracted to a new role.

For more advice in recruiting for Project Managers in Stockport and South Manchester, get in touch with our specialist in this field, Cathy Bates.