Hiring a Technical Project Manager? 4 Things To Ask

Finding and hiring great Project Managers does not have to be as tough as you think. Knowing the right things to look for not only saves you time, it can help ensure you make the best hire. Project Managers must strike the perfect balance between using their exceptional mechanical knowledge to get the job done and using their soft skills to gracefully navigate complex situations. Managing team dynamics, influencing others to prioritize critical project deliverables, and communicating the right level of information to different audiences all require savvy soft skills.

What questions must a hiring manager ask to learn more about the person behind the resume? More importantly, how does one accurately assess a candidate’s skill set in one short interview?

You can start with straightforward questions about a candidate’s hard skills. If you are hiring an Agile Project Manager, you can them about which  workflow tools they have used (i.e. JIRA, Confluence, Microsoft Project, SharePoint, etc.). Project management skill sets for digital projects versus Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) implementations can vary a bit, so be sure to ask the candidate to describe what types of projects they have worked on in more detail from the resume. To get a quick idea regarding the size of projects they have managed, ask about total budget amounts they were directly responsible for managing.

After interviewing hundreds of Project Managers, here are four key questions to ask and why I recommend you ask them:

1) You are the new project manager of a project that has not yet begun, how would you begin building the project? 

This is a great first question to ask! It assesses a candidate's basic knowledge of Project Management. You will quickly get a solid understanding of whether they have started a project from the very beginning, how they go about mobilizing all key project factors, and their ability to deal with ambiguity. An interviewee who asks you additional follow-up questions (bonus points!) will give you a glimpse into the candidate’s level of experience and thought process. Key areas to cover would be to account for scope, budget, resources, and schedule. Experienced Project Managers will be able to answer this question with ease and confidence.

2) Tell me about the most difficult issue you negotiated.

Project Managers frequently experience situations that require negotiation. This question gives the candidate the opportunity to highlight an example that demonstrates empathy and relationship management skills. Sometimes it’s difficult to get team members on the same page and do that with grace. They should explain how they looked at both sides of a situation while arriving at a mutually beneficial agreement.

3) Tell me about the last time you made a mistake.

Team members appreciate when someone offers a mea culpa. This question demonstrates the candidate’s accountability and integrity. We all make mistakes but real talk here: What we learn from those frustrating experiences is what really counts. Look for the candidate to provide insight on how they admitted the mistake, remedied the situation, and what they learned from it.

One final question to ask yourself: Would you mind being stuck in an airport with this person? Your future hire doesn’t need to become your new best friend. Do you have a solid gut feeling that you could roadtrip to a client meeting when your flights are cancelled? You likely spend a great deal of time with your team, so keep this question in mind starting early on in the interview process.

I hope these questions are helpful additions to your arsenal of interviewing strategies. Happy hiring!