Today I talk to Dr Andrew Makar, IT program manager and author of Project Management Interview Questions Made Easy, about getting a new job.
Why is preparing for a new job more than just about practising responses to interview questions?
Preparing to find the next opportunity requires a lot more preparation than futility trying to memorize an exhaustive list of project management interview questions. The majority of the “interview tip” websites seem to think providing over 50 interview questions is a useful resource a candidate can apply in an interview setting.
It isn’t realistic to memorize questions that may never be asked. This is why finding new opportunities and preparing for upcoming interviews is a reflective one much like a project management lessons learned session or retrospective.
I advocate thinking about past scenarios rather than memorizing questions. Reviewing your resume, reflecting on the lessons learned from those past projects and positions provides a much better background than rehearsing the perfect answer to a question that may never be asked.
You talk about a career contact matrix in your book. What is that?
The career contact matrix is a tool I’ve used to help me identify opportunities, leads, and follow up on active conversations for the next career opportunity. It’s a simple matrix that can track active opportunities and identify contacts for professional networking and follow up over a three- to six-month time period.
I developed a career contact matrix using a variety of formats including spreadsheets and mind maps. The career contact matrix consists of 9 simple columns including:
The matrix is managed like a project manager’s issue log where opportunities turn into qualified leads and other opportunities don’t meet your need or interest. By keeping in touch with your contacts, new opportunities can occur frequently and a timely phone call can open up an entirely new job opportunity. Another key benefit of an updated matrix is it becomes your emergency unemployment rescue kit. There is a template for the matrix in my book, Project Management Interview Questions Made Easy.
If you do find yourself unemployed, employers often use phone interviews as a way of cutting down the number of candidates they invite in to the office. What's the biggest difference between a phone interview and a face to face interview?
Phone interviews can be difficult because of the lack of subtext. You only have the benefit of the interviewer’s tone rather than seeing non-verbal communication signals. Most phone interviews tend to be screening interviews when there recruiter is vetting your profile for both skills and salary range. It is difficult to develop rapport with one phone call. The face to face interview is much better because you can look a person in the eye and determine if the opportunity is the right fit.
Remember, you are evaluating them just as they are evaluating you.
That’s a good tip. Do you have any others?
For the job seeker, developing your personal network and promoting your personal brand is a key factor to creating a career safety net. I use the career contact matrix to maintain an action plan for professional networking and building better relationships. I always dislike receiving an email from someone seeking a job when I haven’t spoken to them in a year. By developing better relationships and “checking in” from time to time, your job search becomes easier as opportunities pop.
My past 3 jobs have all come from a professional network instead of a job posting system. As project managers, we can spend over 40 hours a week delivering projects. Take at least one hour a week to focus on your career including networking, opportunity prospecting and directing your own career.
Is the interview the best time to ask questions about salary and benefits? If not, when should you ask about these?
The interview is the best time to sell yourself. The hiring decision is usually the interviewer’s decision. The salary and associated benefits is an HR decision. Focus on positioning yourself as the desired candidate and obtain the hire decision. Once HR makes an offer, you can negotiate the salary and benefits.
In my experience, the initial phone screen or the job description will help identify the position title. You can usually find out about benefits and salary ranges incomparable positions from others in your professional network or using tools like salary.monster.com or glassdoor.com
What happens if the interview includes other things like tests or a presentation? How can people prepare for those?
I’ve asked candidates to demonstrate their skills in an interview by providing situational questions or even asking candidates to draw a small data model. In a project management interview, you want to provide specific actions taken using the processes, tools and techniques to manage a project. If you indicate on your resume that earned value management is a skill, be prepared to share how you’d apply earned value on a project or better yet how you would do it in Microsoft Project. Reflecting on your past job scenarios, providing real world examples with the techniques to support your responses will help you pass any test or presentation.
About Andrew Makar
A new European law about using contract workers comes into effect in the UK on 1 October 2011. If your project relies on temporary staff, freelance workers, or contractors, you may find that your project costs go up.
What is the new law about?
The Agency Workers Regulations entitles freelancers, consultants and other ‘agency’ staff to equal access to benefits and equal working conditions to those of permanent staff. That impacts everything from maternity pay to annual appraisals and the right to attend the Christmas party.
Employing a temporary worker on your project means that they will be entitled to information about job opportunities in the company, access to the canteen and to use the childcare facilities if these are provided by the company: basically, they are ‘equal’ to permanent employees. It is likely to take some time to establish how far this goes: will they be entitled to a car parking space, for example? Or luncheon vouchers? (Although I’m not sure if companies still give out luncheon vouchers!)
These benefits apply from the first day that the person takes a role with the company. There’s another level of benefit for contractors, though. This level kicks in after the person has been in post for 12 weeks. At this point they become entitled to the same basic working and employment conditions as a permanent staff member.
That means that contractors become entitled to the same working hours, rest breaks, equal pay, overtime payments and bonuses. They also become entitled to annual leave, with parity to what is on offer to the permanent staff. One quirk of the new law is that they can choose to take the time off or receive additional pay in lieu of the holiday time – not all companies offer permanent employees the opportunity to do this, instead opting for a ‘use it or lose it’ policy.
What is the impact on your project team?
Contractor rates are typically higher than permanent staff rates because contractors are currently not entitled to holiday pay, sickness absence pay or other benefits. With the introduction of the new law, you could have the opportunity to negotiate a reduction in contractor rates to take into effect the additional payments required for holiday entitlement.
Overall, costs for contractor staff could be higher, and you would be advised to review the provisions of the law and plan this into your budgets, especially if your project needs contractors on the team for over 12 weeks. You may even find it harder to get approval for temporary team members, because the terms of the new law make it less attractive to employee short term contractors.
Don’t forget the impact of all this on the permanent staff in your project team. Contractors are generally on high day rates – and now they are getting holiday pay? Managing the morale of your permanent team members when faced with high earning contractors could be tricky, so think about what you can do to address the balance. What else can you offer in terms of reward and recognition to support the permanent team members?
You may also find that permanent team members who have been thinking about contracting decide that this is the push they need to leave employment and set up on their own as a project management contractor.
First, find out if the rules apply to your company. Talk to your Human Resources department. This is the result of EU regulations, but even if you are working in a non-EU country, it could have an implication for your project if you have a European division. Normally, the rules of engagement in the hiring country apply so even if you are working elsewhere, team members based in the EU could be affected.
It’s costly to hire someone only to find that they are not a good fit for the project team. I spoke to Garrett Miller, an expert in hiring and author of Hire on a WHIM (more on what WHIM is below). Here’s what he had to say about finding the right person for the job.
Why does it cost so much to hire the wrong person?
There are two scenarios to look at when trying to calculate the cost of hiring the wrong person.
The first has to do with the direct costs of when hiring the wrong person results in turnover. The estimated costs of turnover vary from 50% to 150% of the employee’s salary. Experts say to increase those numbers when considering managerial positions. Needless to say whether you are calculating the costs on the lower or higher end, both are unacceptable.
That’s potentially a lot of money to a cash-strapped PMO. What are these costs made up of?
I’ll list a few of the biggest expenses and keep in mind all of the costs to replace this employee were already expensed to bring the outgoing employee on board in the first place.
Cost associated with hiring the wrong person include: Advertising for the position, HR costs to receive and sort through possibly hundreds of applicants, time to phone screen, coordinate and conduct interviews and travel expenses that are associated with the interviews. Once initial interviews are conducted there may be second or third interviews, reference checks, back ground checks, developing a package, the offer, the medical check and then the on-boarding process begins. For some companies the on-boarding process is a few days for others it’s weeks or months of training. One must think about the time it will take from beginning of the process up until the employee becomes productive. Have you considered the costs associated with efforts to cover the open position by other associates? The longer the position stays open the greater the burden on those covering and the pressure to fill the open spot increases. Many times it’s the increase pressure to fill that leads to poor choices and the cycle is set to repeat.
What’s the second way of looking at the cost of hiring someone?
The second scenario when looking at costs associated with hiring the wrong person may be even more costly. It occurs when the wrong person is hired and they don’t leave but they stay. The cost of having an employee that is a poor fit or that is missing an essential quality can be devastating to productivity. As valuable management and HR resources are mobilized to address and or try to “fix” the hire the morale and productivity of others may be negatively affected while the issues are addressed.
When wrong employees are brought into the company there is also a cost to the hiring manager’s reputation. The life blood of the company depends on bringing excellent talent on board and when this doesn’t occur the hiring manager is falling short of his or her greatest responsibility.
OK. We want to avoid that. How can managers avoid this when recruiting new project managers, by getting the right person first time?
We can never eliminate hiring errors but we can put ourselves in the best position to get it right. Here are just a few thoughts:
Often our interviews are conducted in sterile environments where the atmosphere is very stiff, safe and controlled. I think it is appropriate to conduct initial interviews in these settings because you want to set the candidate up for success. I find that conducting second interviews in a different, less predictable environment can help shed light on a candidate. For example conducting the second interview in the company café adds a whole host of factors. As you are standing in line you may bump into colleagues which may trigger spontaneous conversations, how did the candidate react and conduct themselves? Was the candidate polite to those behind the counter, were they patient, nervous, did they pick up after themselves? All of these help me see the whole person. If I’m going to interview them anyway, why not mix things up, you may be surprised by what you see, hear and observe.
That’s interesting. So, finally, what are your top tips for hiring new project managers or project personnel?
For some the tendency is to look for someone who is a driver and can just get things done! Though this is a great quality to have on the team, I also want someone who also possesses the quality of Humility.
I define Humility as the ‘ability and willingness to learn’. I need project managers that are always in the learning mode. They are open to new ideas and actually solicit ideas from others. They may have had terrific success doing things their way but they are willing to really listen. Pride is at the root of a lot of projects that have gone wrong. In the project review process you will often hear the question, “Why didn’t you ask for help or let me know that you were stuck?” Humility lends itself to cooperation, collaboration and good coaching opportunities.
More about my interviewee: Garrett Miller is a workplace productivity coach and trainer, keynote speaker, and author of Hire on a WHIM: The Four Qualities that Make for Great Employees (2010, www.HireonaWHIM.com). Known for his extensive experience in hiring, training, attracting, and retaining top talent, he is president and CEO of CoTria, a company that provides time-saving solutions to help clients manage more efficiently.
Want a new job? The growth areas for new jobs are outsourcing, business transformation programmes, shared services and offshoring, according to Wellingtone Project Management.
Vince Hines from Wellingtone Project Management summarises the state of the PM recruitment world every so often, and his latest update shows that people are still hiring staff for project work. I’m not at all surprised by the outsourcing and offshoring comments – I spoke about the impact of the economic downturn and the increase we’d see in these types of projects at the APM conference in 2008.
Many large organizations kicked off business transformation efforts as a result of the recession, and they are now part way through their programmes. If your organization is doing this, and you have the chance to get involved, Hines recommends that this would be a “good career move”.
Cost reduction and efficiency improvements are, perhaps not surprisingly, strong areas for project growth... Equally other areas of particular interest within the project management industry include:
• Recognising need to improve project selection & Portfolio Management
However, Hines reports that confidence overall is reducing. August was a busy month, but things are tailing off now as we get closer to the end of the year. The total number of employers who have declared themselves out of the running for new hires through recruitment freezes has risen from 30% to 37%. Hines thinks that we’ll see this level of cautiousness for quite some time.
So, in a climate where we’re seeing more people put the brakes on recruiting at all, how can you make yourself as hire-able as possible? Companies have realised (finally!) that project selection is a key area in getting return on investment for their projects. Pick the right projects, and you’ll get the benefits. Pick any old project, and your company could spend a lot of money doing something that won’t really make that much difference. Project managers and PMO staff who understand the business case process, can identify benefits and compare projects will be in demand.
Hines also believes that companies want to manage their people more effectively. Project managers who can people-manage as well as project manage will also be sought after. Resource leveling and resource forecasting, combined with predicting how projects in the pipeline will change the demand for project and other staff in the future, are also key skills to highlight on your application.
Unsurprisingly, all this boils down to is that project managers who have kept up to date with the way in which the world has changed as a result of their not being lots of money to slosh around on failing projects, and who are highly skilled, personable, and able to help their businesses achieve the corporate objectives, will be targeted by recruiters. If that sounds like you, good luck with your job hunting – there’s a job out there for you. If it doesn’t sound like you, what are you going to do to improve your chances?
The Journal of Consumer Affairs has just published a study that says 27% of people aged 23 to 28 can answer basic financial questions.
The research was headed by Dr. Annamaria Lusardi, the Joel Z. and Susan Hyatt Professor of Economics at Dartmouth College and a Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. It gives some reasons why so few young people are financially literate including the fact that financial literacy is largely influenced by parental education levels and financial habits.
Young people who are financially literate are more likely to:
According to the study in the Summer 2010 issue, a college-educated young male whose parents had stocks and retirement savings when the respondent was a teenager was about 45% percent more likely to know about risk diversification than a female with less than a high school education, whose parents were not wealthy. Young women, African-Americans, Hispanics, and those with low educational attainment scored lower than other groups. The results of this research support the US Treasury-backed findings of the Financial Capability Survey which were released at the end of last year.
When you are recruiting project managers, you can’t ask questions about a candidate’s parents and their personal financial situation. However, you could get candidates to do a simple numeracy test, or set them a project finance case study to work on, as part of the recruitment process.
Lusardi, who is the author of Overcoming the Saving Slump analysed financial literacy questions based on knowledge of simple concepts, such as the capacity to do a two-percent calculation, and the workings of inflation and risk diversification. While one of the aims of the study appears to be to highlight the fact that schools don’t teach literacy, it flags up that young adults entering the workforce may not be as clued up with numbers as you might think.
“If we do not address financial illiteracy among young people through high school literacy classes, we will fail to equip young people with the tools they need to make financial decisions, and we may pay the cost down the road,” Lusardi says. That could be on your project, if it’s managed by someone who doesn’t have the basic numeracy to ask the right questions. “Not everybody has an opportunity to learn from their parents or their friends. Young people at the start of their career, or who are in the process of buying their first home need to be financially knowledgeable before they engage in financial contracts.”
Of course, not everyone who will pitch up for a job is financially illiterate, and not all of your young project management employees will need extra help with juggling the finances on a project. But it doesn’t hurt to ask – as experienced project managers, coaches and mentors we should be looking out for people who might need a helping hand with project financials, and providing it. Not only could you end up with someone who is skilled at managing maths at work, you could also be equipping someone get to better handle their personal finances.