past 18 months I have conducted in-depth interviews with more than 25 seasoned
IT project managers in multi-national organizations. Here are the key skills and
behaviors that hiring managers want to see when interviewing for IT project
managers, both for new hires and staffing special projects.
1. Competence. "Can the candidate do the job?" Your
project management certification helps to establish your competence, but every
hiring manager interviewed told me that project management certification is only
a starting point.
You also need competence in other tasks required to carry out the
tasks of the job. For example, on enterprise-wide programs, you must demonstrate
executive presence be able to present your project confidently to senior
You must know how to frame up defects and keep them in perspective
relative to the project goals and the risk it poses to your project and the
business. You must be able to plan, prepare for, and facilitate large conference
calls, if you have a sizeable and dispersed project team. (Obviously, it goes
without saying that you need to be proficient in the project planning software
that the organization uses.)
The lesson is: Highlight your competencies when applying for a project
management position. Establish your basic competency with a recognized project
management certification as a foundation. Then, take stock of your other skills
that seasoned project managers demonstrate and make sure to market them to your
2. Communication skills. "Can the candidate communicate
with multiple levels and groups?" This goes far beyond "Can you send out a nice
email to all team members, and weekly status reports?"
Different stakeholders need different levels and packages of
information. Project sponsors want status information to stay informed, but
require focused messages when you want them to take action. For example, "Joe,
we have reached an impasse with the development vendor and I need you to call
Sally for ETA on the backlog of defects". Project team members need two way
communication "I need you to complete task# 47 by Thursday. What do you
anticipate will hinder this progress?"
The lesson is: Learn how to communicate in multiple formats (email, voice
mail, in person) and package information correctly for the audience.
3. Prior experience. "The ideal candidate is someone who
has successfully managed this exact same type of project, recently." Hiring
managers are looking for project managers with experience, to reduce their risk
of a bad hire and to reduce the learning curve.
A surprising result of my research is that hiring managers are
not impressed by squeaky clean project managers. If a candidate claims that
every project she managed was a total success and does not have any scars from
mistakes she made, then seasoned hiring managers smell something fishy.
Every sizeable IT project has issues. Some are a result of mistakes that
the project manager made. The best project managers conduct a "lessons learned"
of their own behaviors and continually improve their skills and behaviors. Don't
be afraid to show your scars and the lessons learned to say "I made this mistake
in the past, have learned to proactively manage similar situations now, and
it will not happen on your project".
The lesson is: Make sure to highlight your prior experience to hiring
managers, including lessons that you learned from your scars.
4. Knowledge of the business and ability to learn more.
"Does this candidate for an IT project manager position know the
insurance / car manufacturing / banking business, and how quickly can they
learn more about it?"
IT projects are initiated to meet a business need. The IT project manager
should know the business need, objective and constraints to make better
recommendations and decisions for the project.
In addition, the project manager will encounter new terms and situations
and business needs during the project lifecycle. You need to be able to continue
learning and teach yourself if needed. For example, when you interface with the
Service oriented Architecture team for the first time, do you say "I don't
understand technical stuff", or do you Google it, speak with a subject matter
expert and learn the basics before you go home tonight? Your ability to continue
learning the business and IT landscape makes your project (and you) more
The lesson is: Make sure that you continue learning your business and
market this behavior to hiring managers.
In summary, hiring managers are looking for competent project managers that
make the effort to understand the goals of the project and continue drawing on a
variety of skills to work with people and move the project forward. There is no
place for the "narrow minded, yet certified project manager who walks around
with a clipboard and checklist to get status."