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How to Recruit an IT Project Manager

~ By Duncan Haughey

Door sign reading: Interview in Progress

Many job roles have claimed the title project manager, but in reality, are a far cry from the traditional role with overall responsibility for the planning and execution of a project. So when recruiting a project manager, how can you be sure you are hiring the right person?

First, you need to profile the kind of person for whom you are looking. Below are the behavioural competencies and technical skills typically required by an IT Project Manager.

Behavioural Competencies

  • Energetic, passionate and driven
  • Delivery focused and not easily distracted
  • Proven ability to work independently and with initiative to tight deadlines
  • Excellent interpersonal, communication and negotiation skills
  • High-level of creativity, adaptability and persistence to find the best solutions
  • The ability to plan, organise, schedule and co-ordinate multiple tasks to achieve objectives
  • Risk taker
  • A need to develop self-and-others

Technical Skills


  • Supplier management
  • Knowledge of outsourced and offshore operations
  • Good people skills, able to develop and mentor staff
  • Good influencing skills

Project Management

  • Understanding of project management methods such as PRINCE2
  • Understanding trade-offs between time, cost, quality and scope
  • Ability to produce and review business cases
  • Sound knowledge of project planning
  • Good knowledge of risk and issue management
  • Good knowledge of change management techniques
  • Ability to establish quality management systems
  • Ability to manage resources
  • Sound knowledge of budgeting and cost control

IT Skills

  • Good knowledge of IT development methods
  • Understanding of testing methods, processes and tools
  • Knowledge of business analysis and process redesign
  • Ability to develop Service Level Agreements

This list is not exhaustive but covers the major competencies and skills needed for the role.

Now you know the kind of person needed for the job, it's time to advertise and get the CVs rolling in.

When reviewing the CVs be ruthless and discard those that don't meet your needs until you reach a shortlist of potential candidates.

The Interview

Now you have narrowed down the CVs to a shortlist; it's time to carry out the interviews.

Start by spending a few minutes on the CV and finding out why the candidate is leaving their current job. Ask why they feel they would be the right person for the job.

Ask the candidate to bring examples of their work. You can tell a lot from reading a project plan, status report, risk log or project contract.

If they have performed satisfactorily to this point, then it's time to carry out some role-play. Provide a project management case study in which a project is failing. As the role-play unfolds, the person needs to explain what they would do to turn the project around and make it a success. You can gauge their approach to problem solving, people skills, planning and influencing during this exercise.

Below are some questions designed to help you find out more about the candidate.

Questions That Examine Leadership Potential

  1. How do you handle non-productive team members?
  2. How do you motivate team members who are burned out, or bored?
  3. How do you handle team members who come to you with their personal problems?
  4. What are your career goals? How do you see this job affecting your goals?
  5. Explain how you operate interdepartmentally.
  6. Tell me how you would react to a situation where there was more than one way to accomplish the same task, and there were very strong feelings by others on each position.
  7. Consider that you are in a diverse environment, out of your comfort zone. How would you rate your situational leadership style?
  8. Give me an example of your leadership involvement where teamwork played an important role.

Questions That Examine Trustworthiness

  1. Tell me about a situation where your loyalty was challenged. What did you do? Why?
  2. In what types of situations is it best to abandon loyalty to your manager?
  3. In today's business environment, when is loyalty to your manager particularly important?

Questions That Examine Personal Strengths and Weaknesses

  1. Why are you interested in this position?
  2. Describe what you think it would be like to do this job every day.
  3. What do you believe qualifies you for this position?
  4. What have you learned from your failures?
  5. Of your previous jobs, which one did you enjoy the most? What did you like the most/least? Why? What was your major accomplishment? What was your biggest frustration?
  6. Tell me about special projects or training you have had that would be relevant to this job.
  7. What are some things that you would not like your job to include?
  8. What are your current work plans? Why are you thinking about leaving your present job?
  9. Describe an ideal job for you.

Questions That Examine Judgment

  1. What would you do if you found out that a contractor was in a conflict of interest situation?
  2. If I were to contact your former employee, what would he say about your decision-making abilities?
  3. Give me an example of a win-win situation you have negotiated.
  4. Tell me about your verbal and written communication ability. How well do you represent yourself to others? What makes you think so?
  5. Give me an example of a stressful situation in which you have been. How well did you handle it? If you had to do it again, would you do it differently? How do you deal with stress, pressure, and unreasonable demands?
  6. Tell me about a tough decision you had to make?

Questions That Examine General Experience

  1. Describe what you did at your workplace yesterday.
  2. How would you solve the following technical problem? (Describe a typical scenario that could occur in the new position.)
  3. What strengths did you bring to your last position?
  4. Describe how those contributions impacted results?

Questions That Examine Project Management Experience

  1. What are the necessary steps to successful project management?
  2. How do you plan for a project?
  3. What is important to consider when planning a (your type of project)?
  4. What are things that you have found to be a low priority when planning for (your type of project)?
  5. What distinguishes a project from routine operations?
  6. What are the three constraints on a project?
  7. What are the five control components of a project?
  8. What qualifications are required to be an effective project manager?
  9. What experience have you had in project management?
  10. Name five signs that indicate your project may fail.
  11. Tell us about a project in which you participated and your role in that project.
  12. When you get assigned a project, what steps do you take to complete the project?
  13. As you begin your assignment as a project manager, you quickly realise the corporate sponsor for the project no longer supports the project. What will you do?
  14. Your three-month project is about to exceed the projected budget after the first month. What steps will you take to address the potential cost overrun?
  15. Tell us about a successful project in which you participated and how you contributed to the success of that project.
  16. You are given the assignment of project manager, and the team members have already been identified. To increase the effectiveness of your project team, what steps will you take?
  17. You have been assigned as the project manager for a team comprised of new employees just out of college and entry-level consulting staff. What steps can you take to ensure the project is completed against a very tight time deadline?
  18. What is a project milestone?
  19. What is project float?
  20. Your project is beginning to exceed budget and to fall behind schedule due to almost daily user change orders and increasing conflicts in user requirements. How will you address the user issues?
  21. You've encountered a delay in an early phase of your project. What actions can you take to counter the delay? Which actions will have the most effect on the result?
  22. Describe what you did in a challenging project environment to get the job done on time and budget.
  23. What actions are required for successful executive sponsorship of a project?

Questions That Examine Past Consulting Services

  1. How did you get your last project?
  2. What were your specific responsibilities?
  3. What did you like about the project and dislike about the project?
  4. What did you learn from the project?
  5. Tell me about a time when you ran into any difficult situations. How did you handle them?
  6. Tell me about the types of interaction you had with other employees.
  7. Tell me about an accomplishment you are especially proud of and what it entailed.
  8. Do you have people from your past consulting services who would provide a professional reference?
  9. What other similar consulting or independent contractor services have you rendered?
  10. Discuss how you would envision working as an independent contractor or consultant for us.
  11. What conflicting responsibilities will you have?

Questions That Examine the New Assignment

  1. What would be your specific goals for this new role as a consultant or independent contractor?
  2. What experience do you have that you think will be helpful?
  3. This assignment will require a lot of [describe]. Will that be a problem for you?
  4. This assignment will require interacting with [describe the types of people]. What experience do you have working with such people?
  5. What would you like to get from this new assignment?
  6. What are two common but major obstacles for a project like this? What would you do in the face of these obstacles to keep your team on schedule?

Comments (2)

Topic: How to Recruit an IT Project Manager
4/5 (3)
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10th March 2015 10:38am
Neil (Stockport) says...
It would be fairly easy to ensure that any reference to former employers, people etc were redacted or removed from those documents. Details identifying intellectual property rights are easily removed. Looking at the format is sometimes enough to gauge experience and skill level.
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2nd February 2015 10:22am
Jason says...
This is a really thorough piece, but there are some mistakes. The most important of which is:

> Ask the candidate to bring examples of their work. You can tell a lot from a project plan, status report, risk log or project contract.

This is not appropriate since such artifacts woud be the intellectual property of the candidates' employer.

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