Staffing for Success – How to Interview

I am really getting lots of questions about staffing and it is seems to be really hot topic on the web these days.  I wrote a white paper on the subject a few years ago (you are welcome to download a copy of Cognitive Technologies’ whitepaper, “Staffing for Success – Back to Basics” by registering in the library).  I also gave some simple tips on interviewing back in May 2009 (Interviewing tips for PMs) but I am not really an expert on that subject, so I’ve asked a well know practitioner, Dr. Karen McGraw, to give us all tips on how to interview candidates in order to make sure we hire the right people.

Using the Interview to Find and Select the Right Candidate

Guest Post by Dr. Karen L. McGraw, CEO, Silver Bear Group

The “how to get a job” industry is booming! Go into your neighborhood bookstore and count the number of books that tell people how to interview to get the job. For people who find the job interview a very nerve-wracking experience, these advice books certainly have a place. Of course you want to make the best impression you possibly can as you vie for your dream job and hope to stand out from the crowd of other applicants.

But what does this mean for the project or program manager who is hiring to staff an upcoming project, or for the operational manager who needs staff with special skills in order to successfully implement a new process? I think it means that it can become even more difficult to select the best candidates, because they are likely to be well-prepared for the interview.  Similarly, we need better preparation to ensure that the time we spend with an interviewee produces the data we need to make the right decision.

Much has been written about the use of behavioral interview questions to help discern the interviewee’s role in a particular achievement.  The typical behavioral interview consists of using the following kinds of questions, followed by secondary questions that enable you to drill down and reveal what the interviewee really did and what their role really was:

  • Tell me about a time when you …
  • Give me an example of how you …
  • How did that turn out?
  • What did you do next?
  • What would you have done differently?

The answers summarize how the individual approached the situation, what they did to address and resolve it, and the outcomes or results produced. These types of questions give you more insight into the candidate’s capabilities. In addition, the interviewer gets a better feel for how the candidate communicates and presents ideas, confronts problems, makes decisions, and learns from events. But the data you gather is only as good as the questions you ask and how you respond to the answers. But the real secret to effective behavioral interviews is preparation before the interview, followed by appropriate use of the response data and revelations after the interview is over.

Before the Interview

Behavioral interview questions are all about what the person did—the actions they took, the decisions they made—and the results produced.  But if you are asking about minimally important tasks and ignoring others, you won’t have good data to help you determine if this candidate is a good fit. To improve the questions you ask, conduct a planning meeting with a small team of key performers either in the job role for which you are hiring, or who interact with that job role in a team setting.  Discuss topics such as, “What are the most important outcomes this role must produce?” “What facilitates success in this job role?”  “What competencies or capabilities are essential to avoid failure?”

Use the information discussed to produce a prioritized list of the key position requirements and the special qualifications, traits, and experience the ideal candidate would have. Work from the list of key position requirements to construct 5-7 critical behavioral interview questions. Then review the special qualifications (e.g., certifications, training, etc.) and traits (e.g., results-oriented, collaborative decision maker, etc.) to develop other questions that will help you judge the candidate’s appropriateness for the job. Finally, use the information discussed and the list of behavioral questions to construct a Job Evaluation Form for the position. Provide interviewers with a form like this and ask them to rate each candidate against the factors and provide comments to capture examples or other information that should be considered.

After the Interview

How many times have you called an interviewer to get their feedback after they interviewed a candidate only to hear “I really liked him (or her).” For many jobs it is important that an individual is likeable. But now is not the time to be swayed by “likeability.” It should be but one factor in the equation you use to determine the best candidate for the job.

To improve your odds of success, gather the Job Evaluation Forms completed by your interviewers. Compile the ratings and comments for each candidate and compare the findings across candidates to help you make your final decision. Combine the rating information and comments with other data you have, such as personality test results, to help you make the optimal decision.

In the end, there is no perfect technique—we’re all human and are affected by a candidate’s likability and preparedness. But careful planning can help you ask the questions that matter most and will enable you to use the data from each interview to choose the candidate most capable of producing the results required by the job.

Do you have special tips to help you successfully fill job roles? Please share them!

How to Manage a Project while Doing your Regular Job

If you are reading this post, then like many other managers and PMs, you may have been given an extra duty of “Project Manager” for a new project in your organization. Not that your management has relieved you of your normal job role and duties—they just think you are the best person to manage this project and think you can handle it.

If you are a “git-r-done” kind of person, this is going to be a common occurrence. In today’s fast-paced business world, it’s likely that you’ll have more than one thing to work on at any given time for your whole career. To address this situation, I thought I would share eight (8) tips on how to juggle multiple projects and work – while keeping your sanity:

  1. Learn to Prioritize! If you had a full time job or your “work plate” was full already, then it is obvious you will have to prioritize tasks and projects in order to survive. Prioritization means determining the order for dealing with tasks. But the key to successful prioritization is using the right factor to determine the relative importance of each task. Tatyana Sussex suggests 6 steps to this in “How to Prioritize Work When Everything is #1.” One of her main points is to differentiate between what is urgent vs. important.
  2. Plan and document each project or work target. The old saying “Plan your work and work your plan” has been attributed to many people, from Vince Lombardi to Margaret Thatcher. But I bet it comes from experienced managers who probably had the same type of workload as I’ve had! What this means to me is starting with a clear agreement on what “done” looks like. (By the way, this is a key part of Agile/Scrum projects) This defines the end game. It also requires having a common understanding of this end game with the project sponsor and key stakeholders. All of this must be in place before you establish a timeline of actionable steps and begin to work through them. I addressed the importance of project planning in a previous post.
  3. Find the right resources and assign the work! You don’t need to do every task and part of a project yourself. Recruit, steal, find and assign people and resources to get the tasks and work done. An earlier post by Dr. Karen McGraw on how to interview and select the right candidate addressing recruiting the right people. Another key skill is knowing how to work with people at all levels: peers, subordinates and bosses because the project’s ultimate success will depend on it. Finally, when you assign a task, do so with clear and specific requirements and targets, then get out of the way—DON’T micromanage.
  4. Learn to be Flexible. Change is a fact of life, and so is uncertainty. Even the best plan is not immune to the unexpected. In the middle of one of our projects nature dealt us a flood that put lives, property, and the project at risk. Be willing to scale up or down to suit real-time project needs. Making course corrections or changing priorities when events happen is the best strategy to keep all of your work and projects moving forward.
  5. Streamline the work and tasks. Eliminate unnecessary work and non-productive tasks! I am always amazed at how projects and work processes have wasted effort included in the requirements. In addition, during your project you may be asked to do more with less, as organizational needs and situations change. I provided some suggestions for doing this in a previous post.
  6. Communicate often and effectively. Learn to communicate effectively and spend less time checking up on work. Put processes and tools in place that can communicate status easily and quickly. Learn what communication is best for each project member and each part of the project. Email may not always be best, and online conference calls may be wasteful in time. (In a previous post I offered tips to help you manage your email.) Use a variety of communication techniques which streamline messaging and help you to manage communication more effectively.
  7. Know your own limits. Knowing your limits means managing expectations, understanding your own limitations, and being realistic about them. This is a key productivity concept for any program manager. When you get overloaded, you are not effective. Taking on too much will be detrimental to your overall productivity and to your well-being. Personally I get real grouchy when I am in overload mode. Molly Connor provides some tips for things you can say to help you manage within your personal limitations.
  8. Get something accomplished every day. I try to set targets for each day that allow me to feel good when a complete items each day. They don’t all have to be large or significant, but the key is to get the work products and project tasks completed. To achieve my targets, I schedule chunks of uninterrupted time whenever I can. Research shows that it takes your brain 15 minutes to re-focus after an interruption. Convey the concept to your resources and team members. Some people even create a “To Stop List” in order to get rid of distractions that can get in the way of achieving tasks.

I wish I had used some of these tips early in my career – I wouldn’t have burned so much mid-night oil! See which of these tips you can implement in your work style as you are assigned those “extra” projects.

If you have additional tips for juggling lots of work and projects, please share as a comment.

 

The Lazy Project Manager's Blog

The Home of Productive Laziness Thoughts

ProjectManagement.com

Thoughts, experience, tips and tricks on issues affecting managers and project management

A Girl's Guide to Project Management

Project Management musings for one and all

How to Manage a Camel - Project Management Blog

Project Management Recruitment, Careers and News from Arras People

LeadingAnswers: Leadership and Agile Project Management Blog

Thoughts, experience, tips and tricks on issues affecting managers and project management

Project Management Hut

Thoughts, experience, tips and tricks on issues affecting managers and project management

Herding Cats

Thoughts, experience, tips and tricks on issues affecting managers and project management

beyondcenter

Pushing the Edges Out ...

projectxpert

Just another WordPress.com site