Three questions


Miguel Veloz, PMP, is a director and project manager at Fujitsu Consulting in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.


Three Questions

A few months ago, the company I work for won a contract for many projects, and we needed to quickly hire several project managers with diverse backgrounds and experience levels. I was assigned to interview 26 candidates in six weeks.

Everyone knew what a milestone is and had a decent explanation of how to plan a project, but I wanted more from candidates.

I wanted project managers who could think on their feet, who were resourceful and able to resolve challenges.

I wanted project managers who cared not only about the results, but also about the journey.

I wanted project managers who paid attention to both the details and the well-being of their teams.

These characteristics should come standard in all great project managers.

As I developed questions, I found that my three favorite questions taught me much about what a great project professional should avoid saying in interviews. Even the best can be sunk by poor answers.

Can you please define “project management” in two words?

The question served two purposes: It gave me a quick indication of the candidate's reaction to an unusual request, and it revealed what he or she thinks are the most important characteristics of project management.

Some applicants thought for over a minute before answering, others simply met the question with a puzzled expression and a few impressively responded without hesitation.

A sample of the answers: “Communicate, communicate” showed a willingness to work with sponsors and stakeholders alike. “Manage chaos” proved that the project manager loved a challenge. To me, the follow-up question was the most interesting part: “Why did you choose those words?”

One candidate who said “herding cats,” for instance, indicated that he was the type of project manager who likes so much control that it seemed to me the people under him might feel asphyxiated. That's not a project manager who would fit in our organization.

What are your weaknesses?

I thought anyone who had prepped for the interview would have an answer at the ready, and his or her preparation would shine through.

Some candidates responded with a weakness only to twist it into a positive. Other answers revealed much about a person's character.

To my surprise, at least a few people said they had “no weaknesses,” which I believe indicates either a lack of self-awareness or an elevated ego. One candidate's weakness was “picking up work after people.” She explained that if a developer fell behind schedule, she would pick up his or her workload to complete the project on time.

I prefer a leader who learns why the developer is delayed and helps that person improve his or her productivity without shouldering a team member's job.

What would you like your job to not include?

This question helps identify a candidate's true eagerness for the role and, hopefully, ensures that whomever we hired wouldn't leave in the first weeks after discovering the job wasn't a fit.

One answer stands out: “I can't think of anything I don't like, but I definitely prefer technical work, like designing software.” That's not the answer I wanted for the leader of a team.

Other responses confirmed the candidates had given the job description only a cursory glance, such as the project managers who applied for a software development position, only to respond that they were better at non-technical projects.

These interviews gave me a different perspective on my own work as a project manager. I was reminded how important it is for us to listen to our peers—even during interviews—and learn from each other. PM

I prefer a leader who learns why the developer is delayed and helps that person improve his or her productivity without shouldering a team member's job.

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