A Project Management Approach to Hiring
Kate Studwell, Former Project Manager
Having just started as the team’s newest Project Manager, I’ve been reflecting a bit on the hiring process here at Viget. After six years at my previous company and being intimately involved in hiring, it had been a while since I went through the process as an interviewee. The experience made me realize that hiring is analogous to managing projects; there are a number of steps you need to take in order to get it right. Here’s my quick rundown of what both parties - the hiring manager and the applicant - can do to help make the process a successful (and enjoyable!) one.
As any good PM knows, the first phase in any project is to plan out the process.
Figure out what exactly the position is. Viget’s fearless leader, Brian Williams, mentioned at the Viget birthday a month ago that the best way to figure out what sort of person you need to hire for a role is to first do the job yourself. This will help you figure out what the responsibilities of the role are, and what skill set and personality type you need to fill that role. Give yourself some time to think this through; I know in the past, I’ve been so eager to fill a position that I rushed to get the job post up first and started reviewing applications before fully digesting exactly what I needed. It’s easy to become biased towards one candidate or another once you start reviewing resumes.
If you don’t already know, figure out what your career goals are! These can be long- or short-term. Do you have a specific path in mind, want to learn a specific set of skills, work in a specific industry, or change office environments? Figure out what you enjoy most about work and what your top priorities are. Get help if you need it! Tests like the Highlands Ability Battery, the DiSC test, or even the Myers-Briggs can help you figure out where your natural strengths are. My top reasons for applying to Viget were my desire to work on a larger project management team, learn more about Ruby on Rails technology, and, of course, the great culture and locations (I’m a Durhamite, and love both the DC area and Boulder)! This step can be a hard one, so don’t let it slow you down. Goals aren’t set in stone, so allow yourself the flexibility to adjust as you learn more about what you enjoy and where your strengths lie.
Once you’ve figured out what you’re looking for, spell it out!
To avoid wasting time weeding through applications that don’t match your needs, spell out what exactly you’re looking for. I have found in the past that describing what I’m NOT looking for is just as important as what I do want. So, if you wouldn’t consider someone who doesn’t have a college degree or wants to work remotely, for example, spell that out! Viget’s Project Manager job posting links to this blog post, which does a great job explaining the nuances of the PM role and what type of person will succeed here.
Explain who you are and what you’ll bring to the role in clear terms that can be understood by the hiring manager. Tailor your resume and cover letter to the company and the role, and avoid jargon specific to your current industry or company. Ask a friend or a peer to read over your application and help you figure out what might be vague or unclear to an outside party.
In the planning stage of any project, you should always figure out ahead of time how you’ll measure success. You should do the same during the hiring process!
You’ve already planned and defined the role, which will make figuring out how you’ll measure how each applicant stacks up much easier. While there is no exact science to this and each resume is different, a good approach is to put each applicant through the same process (and try to ask the same questions) so you can compare and contrast. Viget’s process includes a number of exercises, tailored for each role. Since our project managers need to be able to navigate many different situations from client interactions to in-depth conversations with our developers, applicants complete a few role-playing exercises, which allow them to show off their skills in a close-to-real-life situation. This is also a great way for applicants to get a sense for what the actual work at the organization will be like. As a hiring manager, you might also want to share your measurement strategy with team members that are going to be evaluating applicants. Make sure they understand what you’re looking for and help them think through ways to measure that, whether it be in interview questions, behaviors to observe, etc. A great resource for this is Geoff Smart and Randy Street’s Who.
Check in with yourself during the hiring process; It can be easy to get lost in trying to prove your worth that you might end up somewhere that doesn’t match your needs. After each interview, check back on the goals you’ve set for yourself and make sure the role and the company lines up with what you’re looking for. It’s okay if it’s not a 1:1 match, but make sure it sounds like a place you’d enjoy working! I greatly enjoyed the Viget process; while it was relatively lengthy, each interview and exercise I did gave me more insight into what exactly would be expected of me as a PM. Viget also involves team members from various labs throughout the process, so I came in confident that I’d get along well with the team.
Show Off Your Stuff
It can feel uncomfortable to brag about all the great stuff you’re doing, but the hiring process is all about selling yourself and the company.
Highlight the great products the company is creating, your unique culture, press mentions, and anything else that would want to make people want to work there! Viget does an amazing job at sharing, as Emily describes here. While I was interviewing, Viget employees also bragged about their fellow colleagues, which taught me that the organization truly values each and every member of its staff.
You’ve gotta sell yourself! Don’t come off as arrogant, but you should take pride in your accomplishments and share them! Hiring managers are looking for someone who does awesome work and is comfortable sharing the success with team members, clients, and the rest of the world.
As Amanda notes here, Viget places a lot of emphasis on reflecting at the end of each project. We do the same for our new hires!
Get feedback from your new hires on the process - ask them how they found you, what they enjoyed about the process, and whether they have any feedback. Since they’ve just gone through it, they’ll likely have some thoughts on possible improvements for future applicants. Viget also checks in with new hires a few weeks after they start to make sure things are going well and to make sure that the role is what the new hire expected. This helps our great people team, Anna and Emily, know whether they need to change any information they give out to applicants to give them a better sense of what Viget is like.
Reflecting on my experience with Viget, one of my biggest lessons learned was to ask lots of questions, and not to shy away from asking the same question of multiple people. Each interviewer had their own unique take on what the PM role is and what sort of person would succeed, so I was able to get a very detailed picture of what the role would be. I also had to remind myself that others weren’t as familiar with my previous company or industry as I was, so I had to take a step back and remember to provide background and context when talking about my skills. That could be challenging to do succinctly!
So, there you have it! Of course, it can be tempting to think that once there’s a process, everything else will fall into place. In reality, for both project management and hiring, it’s rarely this cut and dried. Each applicant is unique and has different strengths and weaknesses, and figuring out the best applicant can sometimes be quite challenging. The same goes for projects; each engagement will have new variables that affect the process some way or another. However, planning up front, spelling out what you’re looking for, and measuring each applicant as equally as possible will get you a much better hire than a willy-nilly approach. Besides, those variables and challenges are what makes all of this so fun!