How to Hire the Living

No ZombiesThis is the first of a series of four posts based on my interview for the Conscious Software Development Telesummit, conducted by Michael Smith, The Zombie Apocalypse is Not an HR Product: How to Recruit, Hire, Retain, and Develop the Living.

The 21st Century workforce is a mix of employees, contingent workers, consultants, and service providers from third party firms and outsourcers. The core of this ever-changing group has to be your regular employees – the people you can rely on to provide direction and make the decisions that enable the others to prioritize and keep on schedule. But it seems that, as our technology mix becomes ever more complex, so does managing and recruiting the right people, with the right skills and experience. Even more difficult is retaining those people, and developing them to be the next batch of leaders, managers, and executives. The way to do it is to partner with the HR department in the most effective manner for both of you.

What qualifies you as an expert on this subject?

Good question. I’ve been a hiring manager, a consultant and corporate IT Director implementing and managing human capital management and recruiting solutions, a job seeker and an employee, and someone who left a good job for excellent reasons, several times. I spend a lot of my time around HR departments, working with the people responsible for recruiting, selecting, hiring, developing, retaining, and sometimes terminating members of the workforce of their organizations. And maybe most important: I spend a lot of my time working with groups of workers, developing them into high-performing teams. As a result of all of this activity over the last four decades, I’ve developed a few opinions.

What are the keys to hiring the right person?

There are a number of factors, including cultural fit, skills and experience, aptitude, and interest. Traditionally, the resume or CV has been the basis for an initial assessment, but times have changed. Many organizations now want to see a LinkedIn profile. In addition, there’s a trend toward more screening telephone interviews, followed by Skype or other forms of video or conference calls, assessing cultural fit and interest before an on-site interview with the hiring manager. Screening interviews with subject matter experts, rather than just the manager or peers, are becoming more common.

Over the last few years, many IT managers have shown more interest in professional certifications than in academic achievements. Some organizations, such as IBM, require the PMP credential for project management positions. In any case, determine what would be an acceptable substitute for listed skills and experience, and communicate it to the recruiters and interviewers. Also, ensure you have at least one interviewer who is a woman or a member of a visible minority. Communicate diversity!

There’s also a growing trend to evaluate people based on their writing, on-line persona, and personality assessments, such as Myers-Briggs. Big Data will have an increasing influence on this approach over the next few years. In the meantime, don’t hire people with poor communication skills. Even programmers have to be able to persuade people.

Why do so many positions stay open for so long?

In some cases, it’s supply and demand, but not always. Some organizations have “evergreen positions” that they are always trying to fill, because of high utilization or high turnover. In other cases, it’s too hard to get the “precise fit” and the organization is unwilling to take a “close fit.” This trend, especially, has been growing since the Great Recession. It leads to opportunity costs, as well as higher actual costs. Do not assume that the unemployment rate reflects the number of people who are qualified for the position you are recruiting, and who are actively searching for a job. Some skill sets are hard to find, especially in certain regions. I recently saw a requirement for a Workday software quality assurance analyst in Kalispell, Montana – good luck with that one.

Managing labor costs is not just an HR responsibility

Recruiting and replacement costs can run from 2 to 18 months of pay, based on the position. Suzanne Lucas, who blogs as The Evil HR Lady, notes that keeping a position open leads to unacknowledged departmental costs, such as lowered productivity and overwork by the remaining staff, that aren’t part of the HR estimate of recruiting costs. At some point, keeping a position open can impact retention of your other staff. In just about every large organization, there is one budget for recruiting and a different budget for training. A progressive, well-managed organization would consider whether to hire a “close fit,” in order to reduce the recruiting cost, and then spend some of the savings on training.

I recently heard of a company in Silicon Valley with a 10% no-show rate. They didn’t know why, and apparently hadn’t tried to find out. If you have to hire ten to get nine people to start, you have a problem!

In Part Two, How to Recruit the Living, we’ll look at common errors that managers and recruiters make in posting job requisitions.

The Best Teacher You Never Had

A few weeks ago, I was approached by fellow project management blogger Geoff Crane. Long-time readers of my weekly round-ups will recognize the name immediately – Geoff is the man behind PaperCut PM, and one of the funniest guys in our business. He’s also a new college professor, and his first project management class just graduated. To commemorate their milestone (and his), Geoff wanted to give them a going-away present – good advice from practicing project managers on how to get into the field, and how to manage your career once you get in. He’d compile the advice into an e-book, give it to them, and share it with the world. Would I contribute? Of course – I sent him my 300 words the same day!

The class has now graduated, and Geoff has published the e-book. As a testament to his influence in the industry, fifty-two of us stepped up to provide content. Looking at the list, I see a lot of very accomplished, well-known names, as well as a few I haven’t heard from before. Never mind; I’ll be following them from now on. Reading their contributions makes me proud to be part of this project management community. I’m honored to be in their company, and grateful to Geoff for including me in this monumental, quick-turnaround effort.

I urge you to take a few minutes to read some of these short notes, and pass along the advice in them to project management students, practitioners, and managers – it’s that widely applicable. You might even find a few things for yourself in this treasure chest.

Once again: thanks, Professor Crane. You’re all right, in my book.



Project Management Job Requirements Study Announced

Job ApplicantsNoel Radley, the managing editor for, published the results of an interesting survey last month. They looked at three hundred job listings on job board-scraper for project managers. The intent was to compare requirements for positions across three sectors: aerospace, healthcare, and information technology. The points of comparison were education, certifications, and years of experience.

The team at chose these three sectors based on PMI’s Industry Growth Forecast, published last year. The Forecast estimates 6.2 million new project management roles will be created in the United States between 2010 and 2020. PMI anticipates job growth in aerospace, healthcare, and information technology will each be over 12 percent.

Radley says, “After reading how 6.2 million new project management jobs are anticipated to be created by 2020, we wanted to understand what qualifications employers are looking for in the project manager role. We wanted project managers to be able to better understand trends in their sector: how many years of experience are wanted (on average), what the biggest industries for PM are, and if PM job seekers need to be investing in higher education and certifications to secure these jobs. We also wanted to give project managers a sense of whether they would be competitive if they decided to switch industries, helping them to think through what it would take to transition and seek a new opportunity.”

What I found interesting in the results was the reduced importance of education, especially advanced degrees, for companies hiring project managers. The skills gap referenced in the PMI Forecast is manifesting here first, as companies lower their academic expectations of new hires. If you don’t have a degree, but you have lots of industry and project management experience, you might be preferred over the recent graduate.

Another of their findings was that, of those job postings specifying a professional certification, the PMP credential was the most commonly mentioned – as expected for project manager in the U.S. If you don’t have a degree, that PMP may provide an additional edge.

I’d be interested in hearing from recent job seekers and hires whether it seems like the bar is getting lower, in terms of education and experience, and whether these “requirements” are becoming “preferred.” Leave a comment, and let’s add some anecdotes to Noel’s insightful analysis.