How to identify the perfect project leader in an interview


By chantelharris, 29 July, 2014

Although most experienced interviewers can spot an unreliable CV a mile away, there are a lot subtle challenges when it comes to hiring the perfect candidates for your business. This is especially true when it comes to employing someone to fill a leadership role.

Simply put, a great leader is not afraid of hard work, but not every hard worker is meant for leadership. How do we identify the candidate who would not only be a great employee, but also an asset to the business in terms of project management?

Start at the definition

When interviewing a potential manager or project leader, it is worthwhile asking them to define leadership. Do they have a clear understanding of what it means to take charge? Is their view of leadership in line with the company’s?  Does it sound like they are interested in leading, or only in the thrill of being in charge?

Appreciate their effort

Ambitious candidates will often describe themselves as natural leaders. Although the inherent ability to take charge is an admirable start to leadership qualities, conscious effort to better those talents is often what separates a good manager from a great one. 

Does your candidate’s CV mention any project management training or a course in leadership skills? Besides the knowledge this type of training provides, the fact that the candidate went to the trouble of acquiring it points to a true interest in leadership.

Find first-hand accounts of their character

There is a famous proverb that says, “If you want to know what a man is like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors.”

When it comes to contacting the references your candidate suggested, take note of how many were his or her seniors. Although these references are helpful, ask if you can speak to other people who used to work with them. Perhaps their former secretary is still on staff, or even a cleaner who used to tidy their office.

The opinion previous subordinates have of your candidate is often a very good indication of their character and the way they would treat other members of your team.

Talk about solutions

A truly great project leader is creative, innovative and optimistic. Talk to your candidate about challenges you face in the company and see how they respond. Are their immediate suggestions indicative of real problem solving abilities?

Ask them about challenges they faced in their previous job and how these problems were solved. From their answers, make a point of deriving if they tackled the issue as part of a team. If they only mention their own success, are they taking the credit for what should have been a delegated task.

The right project leader can be an invaluable resource to your company, just as a poor leader can be a constant source of frustration. Make sure your management appointments are a boon to your company by making the most of the interviewing process.