The hiring project: using project management to select the right candidate

Gretchen Steenstra | 05.15.13
Topics: Project Management, Association Management - Leadership

Although I’m not attending ASAE’s Finance, Human Resources, and Business Operations Conference this week, my colleagues are, and I have some insight to share on the intersection of HR and project management.


This may not be the best way to score candidates.

Recently I had to dust off my interview hat and refresh myself on the skills needed to interview a person, which is different than interviewing staff as part of a project. In preparation, I gathered information from peers who had recently hired a similar position; I reviewed position descriptions of similar organization; I met with the HR team. Finally, I was ready to develop my scorecard.

After reviewing all of my interview materials, I decided to organize them using a project charter template. Did it work? Yes!

The Position Charter included all of the key areas that are included in a Project Charter.

  1. Project Purpose and Objectives: state the high-level summary of the position.
  2. Goals: outline the goals and competencies of the position.
  3. Alignment with Organizational Goals: outline how the position will support organizational goals.
  4. Measurement/Acceptance Criteria: create a scorecard with questions for each candidate and a scoring system.
  5. Final Deliverables: hire a new employee.
  6. Risks/Constraints: define risks associated with the hiring process, including the possibilities that the top candidate does not accept the offer, no candidates fulfill the position requirements, or the top candidate’s salary requirements are over budget. 
  7. Stakeholders: determine which staff members need to be included in the hiring process.
  8. Timeline: develop a timeline for recruitment, initial screening, initial interviews, second interviews, offers, contract, and orientation.
  9. Budget: develop initial salary and benefits package with HR.

After I developed my Position Charter, I compiled a variety of interview questions that would support my overview document. One of my favorite references for this project was Who: The A Method for Hiring by Geoff Smart and Randy Street. This book has several key points about the stages of the interview process that were of particular interest to me. 

Learn about the candidate.

It is important to ask questions about what the candidate has accomplished and learned during his or her career, rather than what they would like to do. Everyone has great ideas about what they would like to do, but life is usually not that simple. What a person has actually accomplished is much more important. It is also important to try to learn a potential employee’s decision-making and thought process. 

  • What are your career goals?
  • What are you really good at professionally?
  • What are you not good at or not interested in doing professionally?
  • What are you passionate about?

Job History

  • Who are your last 5 bosses and how will they each rate your performance on a 1-10 scale when we call them?
    • This is an interesting twist outlined in the book. A friend used this method to interview a candidate who looked perfect on paper and during the initial interview. During the longer interview, as the candidate described their work history, a behavior pattern emerged that would not have been identified asking typical interview questions. During this process, my friend’s candidate actually said, ‘“I don’t mean to yell at people.” Yikes.
  • It is helpful to ask about job history in sequential order for the past 2-4 positions. Ask lots of probing questions: how, what, and tell me more:
    • What were you hired to do?
    • What accomplishments are you most proud of?
    • What were some low points during the job?
    • How would you rate the team you inherited on a grading scale? What changes did you make? Did you hire anybody? Fire anybody? How would you rate the team when you left?
    • Why did you leave that job?
    • Have you created a team and fostered cooperation?
    • How have you oriented a new senior staff member on a technical project? How have your oriented a new team member during the middle of a project?
    • How do you gather requirements?

Questions from the candidate

After asking the candidate many questions about their career history and goals, it was the candidate’s turn to ask me about the position. I layered this section of the discussion with the initial overview of the organization and position with the candidate’s experience and comments. I also talked about the culture of the organization and made intangible observations that would help determine candidate fit.

Close the meeting

At this point in each interview, I had a fairly good idea of the probability of a second interview. If the candidate was strong, I tried to close by selling the position and organization. If the candidate was not as strong, I closed the meeting by reviewing the general recruitment process.


After each interview I updated my scorecard with answers to key questions and added basic weights to each question. For this position, culture and fit were as important as technical ability. I discovered that the selection of a staff position was very similar to selecting a new software application. The familiar project management tools were very helpful when I applied them to my non-technical project.

photo: Malingering

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