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bigstock-We-are-Hiring-Sign-35317226 biggerInterviewing for project management jobs is something I have had to do but I don’t find it easy. How do you know what to ask? And how do you use what is normally a really short period of time to let the candidate show themselves in the best possible light?

Added to that is the fact that it’s easy for candidates to come up with answers to many of the standard questions because there are so many books about recruiting and interviewing. They have plenty of time to rehearse their answers, so the whole thing can feel like a box ticking exercise.

I’ve put together my 10 killer interview questions for hiring a project manager. Next time you have to recruit someone for your project team, why not try some of these?

1. What don’t you want to work on?

Good because: There are always bits of jobs we don’t like, but project managers typically work on the projects that they are assigned. It’s fine to have preferences, but you’re looking for someone who can respond to business needs even if that isn’t their top choice of project.

Bad response: “I like to choose the projects I work on, and I only really want to do the digital media ones. That’s OK, isn’t it?”

2. If you had to rate project management as a career, from 1-10 how would you rate it?

Good because: This will show you how they value their career and whether they see themselves progressing in a PM role. Ask them why they chose that rating.

Bad response: “I’d score it a 1 because I’m only doing this to fill in time before I can get a proper job.”

3. What’s the most important thing for a project manager to do?

Good because: It will show you their priorities and whether they have actually thought about what a project manager does. It will also demonstrate whether they are a good cultural fit for your team. If you have a strong focus on process and they think the most important thing is to be flexible and adapt processes as you go, then you probably won’t get on.

Bad response: “Well, it’s mainly admin, isn’t it?”

4. What do you spend the most time doing each day?

Good because: This gives you an indication of how they do their job. Someone who spends all day at the PC may suit your environment, or you might be looking for a project manager who gets out and visits clients most days of the week. Remember that they might be prepared to do something other than what they do now, so if you hear something that doesn’t fit with the post you are recruiting for, don’t rule them out before exploring this further.

Bad response: “Facebook.”

5. How do you work with sponsors? How do you manage up?

Good because: Managing up means working well with people more senior than you. Project managers do this all the time, so it’s good to find out how they make those relationships work.

Bad response: “I prefer not to get my sponsor involved. They’re typically a figurehead, so I don’t bother them.”

6. When was the last time you didn’t delegate and what happened?

Good because: This will help you work out if they are happy to be honest and tell you about a time that something went wrong. This shows their capacity to learn from mistakes and how they deal with information overload. Delegating work packages is key to project work and you’ll want to hire someone who understands that.

Bad response: “I never delegate – it’s easier to do it all myself.”

7. What was the most difficult ethical decision you’ve had to make on a project?

Good because: It can demonstrate their awareness of PMI Code of Ethics and even if they aren’t aware of that, their general approach to work. You can also use it to open up an interesting discussion and allow you to judge how they will fit into your business culture.

Bad response: “I awarded a contract to my cousin once, even though he was the most expensive. I did get a good holiday out of the kickback though.”

8. What criteria are you using to find your next job?

Good because: It will show you what’s important to them at work: green credentials, career progression, work/life balance, working for a big brand etc. It will also tell you if they are actively job hunting or whether they saw your ad and couldn’t resist (either is fine).

Bad response: “Salary, expense policy and the chance to travel abroad.”

9. How have you improved project management processes at your current firm?

Good because: Not everyone has the chance to work on business critical, exciting projects that make for a great CV, but everyone has the chance to offer some suggestions for improvements (even if they aren’t taken up). Look for someone who has ideas and who isn’t afraid to put them forward.

Bad response: “It’s all pretty rubbish there but I haven’t bothered to do anything about it as there’s no point.”

10. What creative problem solving techniques do you use?

Good because: It’s worth probing the technical skills of candidates. Can they talk knowledgably about fishbone diagrams, De Bono’s thinking hats, role play? Branch out to talk about the last project issue they resolved with creative thinking.

Bad response: “I tend to solve problems myself without involving the team.”

What other interview questions do you recommend using? Let us know in the comments below!

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Will Kintish

Will Kintish

Is your summer stretching ahead with one cocktail networking event after another? No? Mine neither. However, there is always some kind of requirement to met new people as a project manager, even if it’s just your next project team. And as author Will Kintish says, networking is simply about building relationships. I asked him for some more tips on getting started confidently.

Will, let’s start at the beginning. How would you define networking?

Networking is something everyone on the planet does every day. It is simply building relationships. Every day we either reinforce existing relationships or we make new ones when we attend business and social events. There are 3 key steps to building long-term meaningful new relationships: know, like and trust.

  1. Get to know someone when you attend events. Every relationship has to start somewhere often with a smile, a handshake and the swopping of names and initial information.
  2. You have to build rapport early in any new relationship and get people to like you otherwise the relationship will never get off the ground. Find common ground, ask good questions, listen carefully and be genuinely interested.
  3. To create long-term meaningful relationships you and I need to build trust. This can be done quickly if after meeting someone new you offer to send them something useful to them you actually do it and do it quickly. Speed stuns. If you agree to call, email or broker an introduction again do it within 24 hours or when both parties agree a time which is suitable for both.

Why is now the right time for project managers to be thinking about networking?

As business activities are beginning to grow again, more opportunities are bound to occur. Project managers should be thinking about their career and business development prospects with an approach which is proactive rather than reactive.

In today’s highly competitive world, being a confident and effective networker sets you apart from the crowd. You become more visible, always feel in control and will always create more business opportunities than the average.

However technically capable one is at one’s job in today’s crowded marketplace, each person is generally a secret — particularly early on in one’s career. When you attend events people get to know who you are and what you do. Conversely, you find out what others do and how you can create mutually-beneficial business relationships. People buy people before they buy your service and when you build rapport easily people will want to do business with you rather than your competition.

So you advocate face-to-face as the best way of networking?

Of all the different ways to communicate, the original face-to-face method has to be, and always will be, the best way to build true relationships.  The electronic channels of communication are here to stay but will never replace the smile, the handshake, the eye contact and the genuine interest, asking intelligent and searching questions for starting a true relationship.

Why do you think people don’t like or fear networking? It’s not that hard, is it?

From my experience the vast majority do not like or fear networking and yes, it isn’t that hard. As I said at the start, it is simply building relationships. When I started out as a trainee accountant no-one used the word: it was called talking in those days!

My extensive research tells me people have 3 key fears:

1. Fear of Rejection

“Will anyone talk to me?” “Will I be included?” “Have I got the right to be in this room full of more experienced people?”

I share my experience and suggest when you are welcoming and warm to others the chances of rejection are slight. The tiny percentage of rude ignorant people should be dismissed and left alone.

2. Fear of the Unknown

“They are all strangers; what can I say to them?” “How do I know who to approach?” “What is going to happen at this event?”

I explain that even starting a conversation with a stranger you will find something in common. It is to do with the event itself. ‘Who do you know here?’ ‘What are you hoping to learn from this conference?’ ‘Where have you travelled from?’

Every room has open-formatted and closed-formatted groups. Look for the person alone or groups in open format and approach with a courteous, ‘Please may I join you?’ ‘May I introduce myself?’

3. Fear of failure and embarrassment

Many less-experienced professionals feel that these fears are caused by getting involved in conversations where they believe or realise that the other person knows more about a topic than they do. I simply suggest you use the 3 letter acronym TED to find out more:

Tell me what you mean…

Explain how….

Describe exactly where….

OK, it’s proof time. Do you have an example of where you or a connection have benefited directly from networking. Otherwise it’s just idle chit chat over cheap wine isn’t it?

I have literally hundreds of examples. People looking for their next career move have been on my open courses and mentioned this fact. A fellow delegate has said ‘I’m looking for someone like you’. New positions have been filled.

I attended a charity event where I presented. I met Nigel. We have become firm business associates.

I belong to a breakfast networking club where I use most of my fellow breakfasters for my services. Finding reliable suppliers is as important as gaining new clients.

Business Networking book coverThanks for those examples – you probably don’t get cheap wine at your breakfast club! Any closing comments?

Networking is a fundamental business skill. If you don’t network, or do it unwillingly or badly, it won’t stop you being successful.

BUT when you are known for being good at what you do, and you are an effective and confident networker, I believe any goal you set yourself will be achieved.

 

Business Networking – The Survival Guide by Will Kintish (Pearson) is out now, priced £12.99, from Amazon and all good book shops.

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Are you really managing information overload?

superhuman ninjaAt the social media webinar I gave at the end of last year for the PMI LEAD Community of Practice one of the main themes coming out of the comments and questions from participants was how to deal with the extra information channels that social media tools offer. People generally seem quite worried about how to handle information overload, to the point that it creates a panic or stress and they stop using tools that could actually be quite helpful if they were only used in the right way.

Graham Allcott talks about this in his book, How To Be A Productivity Ninja. It’s a time-management-y book but it’s really about how to get organised and stay organised. He says that information overload isn’t about having too much information at all. Instead, it’s a symptom of other sorts of stress.

Information overload vs. lack of control

He suggests that when we talk about feeling as if we are overloaded with information, what we really mean is that we can’t control it. And as project managers, controlling stuff is what we do! So it’s natural to feel as if we are losing control when there are lots more information sources and lots more ways for people to interact with each other rather than going through us.

However, this isn’t information overload, it’s an internal struggle with being out of control.

Information overload vs. looking foolish

Allcott also says that people talk about information overload when really what they mean is ‘I don’t understand the new technology and I’m going to look stupid if I admit that.’ Social media-style and collaboration tools are new for many people, and there is a learning curve to picking up using any new software product.

But this isn’t information overload, it’s worrying about looking foolish.

Information overload vs. Imposter Syndrome

When it feels as if everyone else knows what they are doing and you are just treading water to get by, and you are waiting for everyone to realise that you have no idea how to manage projects after all, that’s Imposter Syndrome. (You can read more about Imposter Syndrome and my ebook on the subject here.) It can manifest itself as information overload, because everyone else seems to be handling all the extra data wonderfully and you are struggling.

Ninja book coverThat isn’t information overload, it’s the belief that everyone else has cracked it.

Information overload vs. ambiguity

Allcott talks about the fact that lots of ways for data to arrive means that much of the data is likely to be vague or ambiguous. There is also ambiguity in the way in which we should deal with it. Is it an action for us? For someone else? If it’s a broadcast message how do we find out who is actually picking it up and doing that project task?

But that isn’t information overload, it’s worrying about how to deal with uncertainty.

Information overload vs. conflict

Things happen quickly on many projects, and there are often change requests that get processed at short notice. These could arrive via one of many channels. There are also often conflicting priorities, and lots of stakeholders who all have their own views. Given that they now have more channels than ever to complain to you about the project, the team or why their favourite change got rejected, it can certainly feel as if you are being overloaded with communication.

However, that isn’t information overload, it’s dealing with conflict.

Allcott recommends that you put systems in place to deal with all of this. Use a good project management change process. Sort out conflicts before they escalate. Deal with feeling out of control by putting in place To Do lists or other systems that help you manage effectively. Read my ebook about Imposter Syndrome (OK, he doesn’t recommend that one – that’s me!). The more you can systemise, the easier it will be to deal with all the information channels.

“Remember that most information is close to worthless.”

– Graham Allcott

Also recognise what is causing the stress: is it really that you have too much information crossing your desk and you don’t know what to do with it? Or is there another underlying cause that, if fixed, would help you manage all this communication effectively? He believes (as do I) that we can manage ourselves and the information effectively if we are smart about it, although he does say: “Remember that most information is close to worthless.”

With that in mind, what are you going to do to filter out the useless stuff, systemise the useful stuff and get yourself back in control of your project information channels?

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poster 5 more things

Last month I wrote about 5 things you should know as a new project manager. There’s actually more than 5 that newbie project managers should be paying attention to, so here are another 5!

1. Know what’s a showstopper

What is going to kill your project? Some problems aren’t that big a deal. But some are huge and will cause significant issues. Knowing which is which is partly down to your professional judgement, and if you are new to projects you might doubt your own ability to make that call. Showstoppers are things that will prevent your project from achieving its objectives. If you hit a problem and you don’t know how serious it really is, talk to your project sponsor or a trusted colleague. Chances are, if you are worried, then they will be too.

2. Manage risk

Risks are things that could potentially cause problems (there are also risks that could potentially improve things, but that’s for another day). They haven’t yet, but they might. Don’t ignore them. The project manager’s role is to work out how to make these risks disappear or at least have less of an impact if they do happen.

Each project risk will need a management strategy and an action plan. Work with your team to establish what to do about them. You might not take any action for some smaller risks but for those that have the potential to give you a big headache you’ll want to look at creative solutions to make them go away.

What documents should your project have?

Project Initiation Document
Project Plan
Risk log
Issue log
Change log
Project Closure Document

There are plenty of others but these are the minimum.

3. Learn to cope when things go wrong

When problems do hit (and they will!), the best project managers deal with them calmly and professionally. If that isn’t your nature, you’ll have to work hard to give the impression of having everything under control. You set the tone for the team and they will take their lead from you. However disastrous the problem, don’t run around like a headless chicken screaming, “The sky is falling!” Sit down with some subject matter experts and come up with some solutions to the problem so you can present your project sponsor with a recommendation of how to deal with it.

4. Understand the benefits

What benefits will this project deliver? Every project task you do should contribute to achieving those. These days, companies don’t have the budget or resources to invest in projects that don’t deliver anything useful. And as business priorities change at a scary rate, today’s high profile, top priority project is tomorrow’s pointless exercise. Make sure you understand your project’s benefits and keep checking that they will be achieved and that the project does still align with current business strategy. If it doesn’t, it’s probably time for your project to be stopped and for you to work on something more worthwhile.

5. No one will understand your job

Finally, accept the fact that people outside of project management won’t understand what you do. If the project goes well, they’ll ask why they needed a project manager at all. If the project goes badly, be prepared for it to be all your fault. I have always found it hard to explain the role of a project manager. My job is to make it easy for other people to do their jobs, and if that doesn’t sound like a non-job then I don’t know what does.

If you can get a mentor, then get one. If you can’t, read everything you can, research good practices online, attend training and take some certificates. In fact, do all that even if you do have a mentor. You should never stop learning and developing professionally, even when you’ve got lots of experience and people are asking you to mentor them. Project management is basically about building good relationships with other people to get things done, and as every project and every person is different, there is always going to be something you can learn and take forward to your next piece of work.

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poster 5 thingsIt would be nice to think that every company has a formal mentoring scheme, and that you can tap into the experience of other project managers through this. However, that isn’t always the case. As a result, new project managers and people managing projects for the first time often find themselves making mistakes. That’s normal – we all make mistakes from time to time, especially in a new job. But there are some simple things that you can do to get up to speed quickly and avoid rookie errors. Here are 5 things that I wish someone had told me when I first started managing projects.

1. Manage scope

The scope of your project is normally set at the beginning, but it’s foolish to think that it won’t change. The average project goes through 4 formal versions of scope, so you need to come up with a way of managing those changes when they happen.

2. Learn the vocab

Project management has a lot of jargon. From baselines to Gantt charts, work breakdown structures to risk sensitivity analysis, there are so many new terms to get to grips with. And don’t get me started on the terminology that goes with earned value management. The thing is, even if you understand it, your business colleagues probably won’t. Part of your job as a project manager is to translate the project and the work you are doing into terms that they can understand. Make it easy for them to work with you.

5 common rookie mistakes:

Failing to communicate
Overlooking stakeholders who should be involved
Not managing expectations
Not updating the project schedule regularly
Failing to manage change

3. Review success continually

Traditionally, project managers reviewed the project at the end. The lessons learned meeting would look at everything that went well and everything that didn’t, and pick out key lessons to apply to future projects. This is still a good approach, but a better approach is to do that as you go along, and not to leave it to the last minute. Then you can tweak what you are doing to improve things now.

4. Create a common goal

Projects are most successful when everyone knows what they are doing and why. I’ve worked on two particular projects where everyone had a very clear view of what would make the project a success and what the business outcome should be. They were easily the hardest, most challenging projects I’ve done to date, but it really helps to bring people back to the common reason why we were doing the work in the first place. Shared objectives matter, so make sure you understand what your project is for.

5. Use short tasks

Putting together a project schedule is time consuming and a bit boring. So it’s tempting to use massively long tasks on your plan like ‘testing’. This isn’t helpful in the long run as it is far harder to track progress when your tasks are long. There’s a risk that someone on the team will keep telling you that everything is on track and it’s only when it is too late to do anything about it that you’ll realise they were wrong. Short tasks help you pick up slippage early and do something about it.

Read part 2 of this article: 5 More Things You Need To Know

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Do I need a project management degree?

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Will a degree in project management help your career?

Recently someone got in contact with me to ask about how to get into project management. I thought I’d repeat here what I said to her, in case anyone else finds it useful. She wrote:

I have been advised that you have to do a degree in a particular subject e.g. engineering, do project management training e.g. PMI, PRINCE2 etc and work your way up in order to become a project manager.  Is this true? On the other hand, I have been advised to do a degree in project management and do work experience in a particular field to build up your experience.

So, do you need a degree in project management to become a project manager?

Firstly, I should say that I don’t think you require a degree in a particular subject in order to become a project manager – both my degrees are in English Literature and I work as an IT project manager in the healthcare sector. But you will benefit from a project management qualification such as PMP, CAPM or PRINCE2 in order to get a job as a project manager.

Having said that, this might be different if you want to work in a non-office/non-generalist field such as architecture or civil engineering. For all that project management is mainly transferable skills I wouldn’t know where to start with building shopping centres or roads after the years doing what I do.

Personally, I think employers value work experience over a degree, so a degree in project management, while it will show that you have the technical and soft skills, will not ensure you a job. What I would do is this: get a degree in a subject I enjoy and could find work in, and then add project management as a specialism later through targeted work experience and certificates. Oh, that’s what I actually did do.

Having a degree is a useful back up in case you change your mind later about wanting to work in project management. If you really want a project management degree, there are lots of Masters level courses that offer professionals with experience the ability to codify that through academic and practical study. So if you do want to ‘prove’ your skills, I would suggest doing so at a later date with one of those once you have some work experience to your name. The risk of a undergraduate degree in project management is that you actually find out you don’t much like it after all and then you’re stuck with it.

 

Please note that this is my personal opinion and that I cannot give tailored career advice over email. I do have some resources for students here and you can find my views on whether CAPM or PRINCE2 is the right choice for you here.

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How to communicate in virtual teams: Hungarian PMs speak

I was in Budapest last Thursday for a fleeting visit – I spoke at the PMI Hungary Chapter’s Art of Projects conference for International Project Management Day (see some photos from the event here). I gave a presentation on social media use in virtual teams and also ran a workshop on virtual meetings. My fellow… Continue Reading->

PMI Hungary’s Art of Projects Conference: the view from Budapest

Starting with the big image and going clockwise: The MOM Cultural Centre which hosted the conference Chapter Chair introducing the day The amazing round room View from the balcony over Budapest Traditional Hungarian snacks: apple and cherry strudels Endre, Project Manager of the Year, receiving his prize One of the tomobola winners collecting a copy… Continue Reading->

Giveaway: Supercommunicator

Earlier this year I reviewed Supercommunicator: Explaining The Complicated So Anyone Can Understand by Frank J. Pietrucha. Now I have a copy to give away. Use the contact form to get in touch with the phrase "I'm a supercommunicator" by Wednesday 12 November 2014 and I will enter you into the draw. Normal giveaway rules… Continue Reading->

Book review: Trust in Virtual Teams

Trust matters because it helps build a resilient project team. It helps get things done. Trusted team members not only do only what is asked, but what the project needs them to do, because they know that the project manager will trust their decisions and actions.  Trust is a shortcut to better working relationships and… Continue Reading->

The Mr Tumble Approach to Project Management (The Parent Project Month 20)

I said we’d never resort to television while Jack is still under 2, it’s not good for his development, language learning, he’s too young, blah blah blah. But we’ve soon found out that the gap between the end of his nap around 4pm and tea at 5.30pm is awful. So hello, Mr Tumble. You are… Continue Reading->

Better stakeholder engagement: Interview with Oana Krogh-Nielsen

Oana Krogh-Nielsen, Head of PMO for the National Electrification Program at Banedanmark, is speaking at Nordic Project Zone next week and I was lucky enough to catch up with her to ask about the amazing projects she is working on. Here’s what she had to say. Hello Oana! Let’s get started: can you explain your… Continue Reading->