I've written a good deal about what to look for in a good project manager or what characteristics a good project manager should have. Up till now, about the only thing I've written for the other side - for those looking for jobs - is how crazy it is that HR departments use PMP certification as an initial weed-out criteria for some PM job postings.

So now I'd like to discuss some thoughts on what an aspiring or transitional project manager should be looking for both in an organization and in a hiring manager. For this segment, we'll look at the organization. In addition to this article on this topic will focus on the hiring manager and the personnel in place or coming on board.

The Organization

First you have to ask yourself a few questions. Like, do I want to be a big fish in a small pond or would I rather just blend in for now? Do I have the entrepreneurial spirit to create something that doesn't currently exist? Do I have enough experience or do I need mentored? Is PMP certification important to me or worth the money and effort to me? Do I want to relocate? These are obviously just a few of the questions to consider when looking for a project management job, and I haven't even touched on salary ... which I won't. That just a personal issue and certainly a case-by-case issue. Let's look at these other questions in a little more detail ...

Does size matter?

Does the size of the organization or the PM staff matter to you? It's a reasonable question. For me, I have a preference - not really a h2 preference, but still a preference - for being a big fish in a small pond. I like working with startups or with organizations with little to no PM structure. The most fun I ever had working directly for an organization was leading their Las Vegas remote office and running all Las Vegas-based projects for them. I was building a PM practice and a PMO in Las Vegas. In fact, I didn't even report to the PMO Director - I reported to a VP located on the west coast.

However, there are some who I'm sure prefer to blend in or come into an organization with a mature structure that they can help grow even further, albeit slower than changes that would be happening with a smaller organization or a startup. This question is also somewhat about stability. Do you need instant stability when you change jobs or start a new job? If you do, then the startup environment is likely not for you.

Am I an entrepreneur?

This one goes along with the first question somewhat. If you need to be part of a large organization, then you're not likely thinking - at this time anyway - like an entrepreneur. You're probably not thinking like a change master yet, and that's ok. But analyze that first because you want to be happy. If you need to be able to come in and make things happen fast and help make organizational changes that are positive in order to be happy in your PM career, then joining a large organization with a mature PM process or mature PMO is likely not for you.

To mentor or be mentored?

This one may seem out there, but to some it may be important. If you're a junior PM and you want to be mentored by an experienced PM with many successes under their belt, then the composition of the current project management staff at the organization may matter to you. If so, then you'll want to ask a few questions about this during your interview process. Likewise, if you have lots of experience and being able to mentor other PMs is something that is of interest to you, you may want to ask those types of questions, too. You may want to know if they have processes in place that would allow this on certain projects. If you need to learn (or teach) along the way, then coming into an organization that is stretched incredibly thin is not going to be the best situation for you because each project manager will be handling multiple projects with little or no time for mentoring and knowledge transfer.

Is PMP certification important?

Is PMP certification important to the organization you're talking to? Is it important to you? Do you have the motivation to get certified (or are you wanting the push)? An organization that values it but is still interested in hiring you even if you don't have it may be the best situation for you if it's important to you. I was interested in getting my PMP certification and signed on with a company who was so set on it that they offered me a $5,000 increase in pay upon certification. That was all the incentive I needed. Those situations are now rare or non-existent, but if it's important or required by the company and they will bring you on even if you don't have it then they're still likely to pay all your fees including training and testing. So if PMP certification is important to you, this may be a great way to get it for free.

Do I want to relocate?

We looked at what to look for the organization as you're seeking out a new project management challenge. There are many things to consider as we discussed and of course we're thinking in terms of best-case scenario - that you have the 'luxury' of seeking a position out on your terms. In reality, that's hard to do in this current economic climate, but those opportunities are still out there ... they're just harder to find.

The Hiring Manager

For this segment, we're considering what to look for in the hiring manager or PMO Director when you're seeking out a new project management role. In my opinion, there are five key things about that individual that you may want to consider. Ask the right questions or do the right online searching and you may get your questions answered thus allowing you to make a better decision as the process moves along.

Is the manager an experienced PM?

Through some questions and answers of the hiring manager or possibly during your initial HR screening, you should be able to determine something about the hiring manager. Is this person an experienced project manager? Does this person have any background in project management? Does this person have any experience using PM tools like Seavus Project Viewer or other project scheduling software offerings? The concern here is, of course, that you not get stuck with a department manager who just moved into a PMO director role with no PM background.

Unfortunately, it happens. And the result is PMO that is poorly setup and poorly run because the individual has little to no understanding of how a proper PM process works. They may have been involved in projects before in peripheral roles, but may have never led a project. Without the PM background, it's very difficult to successfully lead a group of project managers and to effectively lay the groundwork for good project management practices. And I'm not even touching on what happens the first time this individual sits in on an important customer kickoff meeting on a project representing your organization as the best of their PM practice. Ouch. If this is the case, look elsewhere.

How much management experience does this person have?

Just as you don't necessarily want to jump into a PMO that is run by a non-PM person, you may also not want to jump into a role where you are managed by someone who has never managed resources before. Consider carefully if you want to be this individual's guinea pig. People who have never managed resources before definitely have a learning curve before becoming effective and it can be rough and even erratic at times in the early going. Everyone has to start somewhere, but you must ask yourself what level of experience you're looking for in your supervisor before taking such a position. And in the PM role, this becomes even more critical because you have to look not only at their PM expertise - which is definitely unique to PM - but also their leadership abilities and management experience.

We looked at both the PM experience level and the management experience level of the person you might be reporting to in a new PM role you're considering. When considered carefully along with your preference and career goals, these should play a role in your decision-making process. Now, we'll look at three more items that can be important to your project management job hunt. These are: how project-involved is the PMO director, how connected is that person in the organization, and what is his overall management style?

Let's look at each of these three items a little deeper ...

How much of a PM role does the PMO Director take on?

I've said it before and I'll say it again ... the most successful PMOs have a director at the helm that has little to no involvement in directly managing individual projects. They'll get involved in high-profile projects that need assistance or during kickoffs on very visible projects. Other than that, they need to be operating as PMO directors in order to provide the best PMO oversight and to provide the best support to the entire project management staff. Otherwise, the PMO process fire fighting and any political struggles are going to fall to the very individuals who are supposed to be managing the projects effectively - the project managers. So ask the right questions and figure out what the PMO director's role is. If it's really just an overblown project manager, my advice would be to run away fast.

How connected is he in the organization?

The next thing to consider is this ... how connected is the PMO leader? In order to knock down barriers, get funding and training approvals, ensure that senior management is buying into and involved in the PMO, and that the PMO is involved in major planning and decision-making in the organization, then you need to have a PMO director who is respected and well-connected in the organization. This will be a difficult one to determine before going onboard, but try to investigate this one to the best of your ability. If you take a position working for a PMO director who is just a figurehead and has no clout in the organization, then the PMO itself may be short-lived and you may not want to be leaving your current position knowing this.

What is his management/oversight style?

Finally, what is the PMO director’s management style? Is he a micro-manager? Those types of situations can make people very uncomfortable – especially experienced project leaders who like some job autonomy in how they managing their customers and lead their projects. I’m not one who likes to have my hand held or to be micro managed so those situations can make me very dissatisfied. Again, this may be one that will be hard to answer before actually taking the position, but perhaps some well-directed questions of an HR representative will shed some light on this.