Here’s the deal: A company needs a project manager for a very exciting HVAC construction project. This is an awesome job, paying a gazillion dollars working on one of the most high-profile jobs ever.

Why should they hire you?

Don’t quit your current job just yet. I ask participants in my workshops to apply for the hypothetical job and list the reasons why they should be hired.

The usual responses are:

“I have lots of experience.”

“I have great communications skills.”

“I have technical knowledge.”

“I work well with teams.”

“I am reliable.”

I then turn the questions around and ask the group:

“Do any of you have too little experience? Do any of you have bad communications skills? Do any of you have poor technical knowledge?”

Of course not. They all say the same thing. They all articulate having the same skills. What most people think sets them apart just tells prospective or current employers that people are all the same. Your employer doesn’t really care about you. The company cares about what you can do for it. You need to spell out how your skills will get supervisors the outcomes they want. So, first identify those outcomes.

The project manager is usually responsible for four outcomes on a project:

  1. To complete the project on time
  2. To complete the project within budget
  3. To complete the project to the standards specified
  4. To maintain relationships with clients

In order to achieve these four outcomes, the process around identifying the right person for the job needs to be identified and followed diligently. A good source for this information is the approach taken by the Mechanical Contractors Association of America (this information is also relevant is you are looking to hire a project manager).

Resource management

The efficient planning, organizing and scheduling of the following elements:

  • Labor
  • Subcontractors
  • Materials
  • Equipment for installation
  • Supplies
  • Tools
  • Install-only items
  • Budgets and invoicing
  • Construction equipment (rental and company owned)

These are the resources that you have to plan, organize and schedule so that you get the maximum benefit from each element. Remember “the sum of the parts should be greater than the whole.” For example: Using labor, subcontractors and materials in an effective or innovative way can lead to additional cost and time savings.

Liaison activities

This covers the range of people that touch the project. The project manager has to be able to work with each of these:

  • Project owner and their representatives
  • Architects and engineers
  • Cost engineers
  • Worker’s compensation/safety managers
  • Green HVAC building specialists
  • Inspectors and city or municipality officials
  • General contractors
  • Mechanical contractors
  • Project management companies
  • Subcontractors and other trades
  • Own labor forces, including foremen
  • Material suppliers
  • Own company’s management team, including accounting and estimating
  • Neighbors, local businesses, the general public and media

Team coordination

The real skill of the good project manager is in combining the resources and the liaisons to ensure the successful completion of the project.

The skills of a project manager

These include:

  • Logical thinker
  • Able to make sound decisions
  • Good communicator
  • Team leader
  • Planning
  • Able to prioritize
  • Ability to handle crises
  • Entrepreneurial thinking
  • Good attention to detail
  • Reading and writing skills
  • Systems-oriented
  • Able to do some estimating
  • Organized
  • Technical knowledge of mechanical HVAC construction and electrical systems
  • Not easily intimidated

What to look for in a successful project manager

Ensure they are:

  • Profit-orientated
  • Clear and concise communications
  • Self-motivated
  • Assertive
  • Disciplined
  • Meets deadlines
  • Works will in a stressful environment
  • Can prioritize activities and processes
  • Analytical and attentive to details
  • System-oriented
  • Self-confident
  • Team leader
  • Enthusiastic
  • Persistent and consistent
  • Formal education and a solid track record as foreman or higher
  • Good decision making ability
  • Ethical and prudent
  • Able to deal with a broad range of people

Modify for your use

You should edit these lists to ensure that they are relevant to your needs, and then develop a series of questions and or tests that will help you identify how your candidates relate to each of the key points.

Ask open-ended questions about their experiences that will help you identify the elements that you seek:

“Tell me about some of the projects that you have worked on.”

“What challenges have you had to overcome?”

“What did you learn from these projects and challenges?”

“What would you do differently as a result of these experiences?”

“What procedure manuals have you used?”

“Have you ever developed any?”

“Have you brought any with you today?”

“How do you recommend handling the hand-over of the project from the estimator to the project management team?”

“What is the first meeting you would call after taking responsibility for the project?”

“How soon after the project is awarded should this happen?”

“What are some of the financial indicators you would use to manage your projects effectively?”

“What are some of the nonfinancial lead indicators that you would use throughout the project?”

“How do you deal with verbal change orders?”

“What would you do when you are instructed by the client to do work that you believe is outside the contract but the client says is part of the contract?”

Not cheating

Why not give candidates these questions in advance and ask them to prepare for the interview in this way? This will give you an opportunity to evaluate how they prepare for a project. After all, getting this job should be one of the most important projects they will ever work on (from their perspective). Have they preplanned the interview? Have they anticipated other questions? Are they assertive in sticking with their perspective or can you intimidate them into changing their principles.

Keep the outcomes that you as an employer want to achieve in mind and make sure that you are constantly evaluating candidates on how their responses and comments impact each of those four areas. Many of the questions will impact more than one of your four outcomes.

Use a points system to score each candidate on how well they are responding to each question in relation to your objectives. This will allow you to make a more impartial decision.

Once you have customized this process for your business and for your project manager position it should be easy to modify it for the other key positions in your company such as project coordinators, estimators, salespeople, accountants and general managers.

 Take a leadership role in your business and become a teacher and teach others so that they benefit from your experience. By documenting this procedure you can create a tool that many others can use.