How to Hire an Interim Project Manager

By: Leslie Stevens-Huffman

If your management team lacks the bandwidth to tackle one more engineering project, hiring a short-term project manager (PM) is a popular and viable solution.

An experienced freelancer is capable of shepherding projects with diverse objectives, duties, technical tools, budgets and deadlines as this post explains. Moreover, a quality contract PM not only provides valuable know-how, but also an extra set of hands.

For instance, an interim PM can source and manage a team of engineering contractors, resolve problems, control the workflow and communicate with clients. Many specialized staffing firms maintain a pool of qualified candidates and hence can often provide immediate relief.

Project management versus software implementation with businessm

Naturally, you want to hire the right person to lead your engineering project. So here are five steps that are guaranteed to produce a great match.

Step One: Create a List of Goals and Challenges

It’s important to recognize a key distinction between interim PMs and their full-time counterparts. Contractors are hired to oversee a single project or even a specific phase of a project, not a broad range of projects over many years. Instead of looking for more of a generalist, use a targeted selection process to identify a contractor who most closely matches your exact needs.

Targeted selection begins with the creation of precise goals. Review the scope of work, the client’s needs, the firm’s financial goals and other key components to define your top objectives and challenges. Complications are inevitable and will influence who you hire, so anticipate them from the outset.

Avoid costly misfires by gaining consensus on the PM’s charter before moving forward.  Since a PM’s tasks, duties and responsibilities should support the overarching goals of the project, how you define and measure success should be top-of-mind throughout the hiring process.

Step Two: Create a Job Description and Hiring Profile

Once you know what the PM needs to achieve, you’re ready to create a job description and hiring profile that outlines the requisite technical skills and certifications, competencies, behaviors, education and practical experience. For instance, will the PM need to be familiar with construction law, risk mitigation or R&D processes? Will he or she need diplomacy and tact to deal with the client? Emphasize what’s needed in the short-term, and resist the urge to create a laundry list of unrelated skills.

Step Three: Select a Reputable Source

Does your staffing firm understand your discipline? Do they have experience placing PMs? Have you reviewed how (and even whether!) they screen and vet their candidates?  Thorough screening and matching on their part will shorten the hiring process and reduce your workload.

Step Four: Draft Relevant Interview Questions

A foolproof way to decide whether a PM has the right skills and temperament is to review their work history and pose a series of questions that explore their behaviors, decision making and adaptability in similar projects and conditions. For example, you might ask any of the following. How do you keep a globally-dispersed team motivated and focused? How do you handle difficult stakeholders? Have you ever encountered a shortage of materials or other vendor issues, and if so, how did you handle them?

Of course, you’ll want to delve into his or her communication methodologies, reporting practices, firefighting expertise, change management philosophy and other skills germane to the success of the project. The PM should be able to provide a detailed account of similar projects including the results they achieved.

As both parties benefit from a proper fit, the contractor should ask pertinent questions about the purpose of the project, protocols and resources, scope of work, the team and the level of support he or she will receive.

Step Five: Orientation

A formal orientation, one that covers everything from tools and passwords to resources, staff rosters and documentation procedures, should be incorporated into the hiring and onboarding process for contract PMs. After all, even an experienced veteran needs to get the lay of the land.
Other information of potential interest

How to Engineer a Just-in-Time Talent Pool

Engineering Solutions to Today’s Talent Shortage

What to Look for in Contractor Engineering Resumes

What Engineers Really Want from Employers

Chemistry Lesson: Using Science to Select Culturally Compatible Contractors

Five Myths about Co-Employment

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