X factor, competence and maths - in selecting the right candidate

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As an employer of project managers what is one looking for in interviews to offer a candidate a position or to promote existing staff or select them for a particular post or project?

As an interviewee or employee what are the bosses looking for so one can press their buttons and secure the position / promotion / post / project?

And can this be expressed as a concise mathematical formula?

Currently a key phrase appears to be “individual and aggregated project management competence” – in three groups with nearly fifty topics – focussed on knowledge and experience in each and overall.

So the formula might be:

Knowledge + Experience = Competence
K + E = Cmp

It is accepted that early in a PM career knowledge or formal learning will probably outweigh experience. Although learning-on-the-job provides both aspects; and what is life from the very beginning but a giant project? Later on experience will increase – but is insufficient on its own. The “experienced” manager who has never read a PM book, or been on a PM course, or attended a PM conference or exhibition is probably limited. Fortunately qualifications are available to measure PM knowledge, experience and competence.

But are interviewers looking for candidates to demonstrate something else beyond beyond competence? Are they looking for how such knowledge and experience might be applied in practice – with relevance, with intelligence, with pragmatism? 

This might result in a further formula of:

(Knowledge + Experience) x Application = Capability
(K + E) x App = Cpb

Are capable people expected to be competent as well?

However many project management positions are quite pressurised; there is a lot to do; multi-tasking within projects and across multiple projects are required. Project Management is about “getting things done” and may include “doing what it takes”. This seems to imply a certain amount of self-time and project-time management and industriousness.

So should the formula change to:

(Knowledge + Experience) x Application x Time Management = Capacity
(K + E) x App xT1 = Cap

Is this all getting too complicated?

Will such matters as competence, capability and capacity all have been addressed in the prequalification stage? Are we now at the sharp end and decision time? Will the interviewer “know what they want when they see it”? Will the applicant “give it their best shot”? Have the criteria been set out in the job description? Are they still appropriate for the final selection? Are they being used by both parties, or by one, or neither?

Or will it come down to a single feature, a simple characteristics, a particular issue?

Could it be that the candidate has:

confidence or enthusiasm or connections or initiative or strong references or recommendations or no competition or potential or immediate availability or sector knowledge or something else – or something special; a sort of X Factor?

The problem here is that the “x” in X Factor looks similar to the multiplication symbol! Is it really about measurement and maths; or is about reactions, relationships and …. chemistry?

We should be told.


Posted by Tom Taylor on 5th Sep 2011

About the Author

Tom Taylor is a vice-president of APM, joint founder of Buro Four, principal at dashdot.

Previously a Certificated Project Manager he is currently a RPP.

He is an Honorary Member or Fellow of International Project Management Association (IPMA), PMAN (Nepal), PRY (Finland), APOGEP (Portugal), AIEPRO (Spain) and APM (UK).

He is a reciprient of the  Sir Monty Finneston 2009 and the APM President's Medal.

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