5 interview tips for assembling the best project teams


Hiring project talent is never a sure thing. These tips should give you a good foundation for acquiring the best project team talent possible.

You want your project management infrastructure to be the best that it can be, right? Forget the project management office (PMO). That's a nice to have if you can afford it and are big enough to need it. What I'm talking about here is just getting the right talent in the right place at the right time.

If there was a list of questions that would guarantee that you get the best candidates possible for the positions you're filling on the team, that list would be like gold in someone's hands. There isn't. The best I can say is focus on your particular need and make sure they are targeted toward getting the most cohesive team possible. How do you do that? Here's my own 5 tips for questioning project managers and project team candidates. These interview tips should help you acquire talent that have the skills you need and will hopefully fit well into your current infrastructure.

1. Ask for quantifiable answers. Look for quantifiable results. You need to hear dollar numbers, profit margins, change order sizes...things that let you know that they are aware of the magnitude of the projects they are managing or have managed. The money side is always important. If they are clueless of that, even if they are part of the team and not the leader, then that may be a problem. Everyone on the team should be tied into the financial part of the project, in my opinion.

2. Be consistent with your questions. Some interviewers like to shoot from the hip and see where the interview goes. I disagree with this process. At least in the first round – and don't take it more than two rounds or you'll tick off and probably lose the best candidates. Go with a great set of questions designed to weed out those that aren't going to work for you. So tailor those questions to your business and industry.

If the right experience is lacking or a candidate is setting off red lights...go with your gut and move on. You can't turn a bad candidate into a good candidate...period...and why even try no matter how much you like them or sympathize with their situation or no matter how badly you may need them if your candidate pool is very small or non-existent. Skip them. Trust me. Your gut is right.

3. Ask questions that require answers that show success. Project wins are important. And the fact that they have some to tell you and they sound knowledgeable as they walk you through them...that's tells you that they are real. If they seem to be going through the motions then they may be regurgitating someone else's success story and may not have the experience you're looking for. Again, trust your gut on this.

4. Ask failure-based questions. The same goes with failure-based questions. They can't have only successes. If they do, they're probably lying or in denial and you don't want them. We learn from our project mistakes and our client criticisms. I know I have and I'm a better leader and project manager for those mistakes and failures. You need to a hear a good fail and how they responded and look for times when they try to transfer blame...because if you see that in the interview process you'll see it even more on the job. Skip over them.

5. Have finalists run a mock project status call or project kickoff session. Finally, see if you can set up a mock project status call or kickoff session. Send them some info and ask them to put together a meeting – just a 15 or 30 minute call to go through the status report (easier to actually pull off than a mock kickoff session) and have existing people on your side play team roles. Make it as defined and organized on your side as possible.

I had a consulting gig where this was part of the hiring process for me. They used a project kickoff session and gave me 12 hours to prepare and basically no info upfront on their roles on the call. It was not put together well on their end, but thankfully I've been through so many kickoff sessions and status calls that I was able to put something professional together anyway, but it was frustrating that they were not prepared at all and did not define their roles at all as they had stated they would...so I just ran through the call as best as I could with what I had and what I made up along the way. It must have impressed them as I got the gig, but left me less than impressed with them and their ability to organize.

Summary / call for input

Everyone has their own hiring process and angles they like to use. The fact is, there is no sure way you're getting the best resources and no sure way you're even getting good ones. But by following these five steps, you should be on your way there. Some make sense, some may be tried and true steps that you've already used...I'm hoping that there is something new in the list for you to use.

What are your thoughts? What suggestions do you have for acquiring the best project managers and best project team talent available for the engagements your organization takes on for their customers? Please share and discuss.

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