I have been fortunate to work for truly exceptional leaders at major organizations — exceptional because these men and women have been passionate, driven, and relentless in their line of work.
Nick Samurkas is one such exceptional leader who gave me my first “break” at building a PMO and deeply modelled how I think. He coached me on recognizing business patterns, synaptic thinking, making correlations, leading teams, and dealing with politics. Riet Verheggen coached me on staying “true to the course” and holding one’s fort despite wrenches, obstacles, and curves coming in the way. Jamie Boyda mentors me on building alliances, dealing with obscurity, and emphasizing value proposition. All three have taught me the value of a loyal, superstar team. And such a team can only be built with the right people in your camp.
Building and leading global Project Management Offices for various organizations has connected me with truly amazing individuals. Running a PMO means constantly recruiting. It means keeping your ears to the ground, and your sights at the sky. Over the last 15 years, I have interviewed about 800 candidates… here are some questions that I ask to get to know them better (in no particular order or weight):
- How do you make a cup of coffee? This question raises eyebrows, and elicits chuckles (sometimes hesitant ones). What I look for is clarity in a seemingly simple exercise that everyone knows (for the most part). I’ve seen elaborate workflows, C++ code, Disney-quality drawings, to 30 minute rants as responses. What I look for is the candidate’s ability to communicate a simple concept.
- What was the toughest [professional] decision you ever had to make?No answer is wrong but it gives me an understanding of the candidate’s exposure upto that time in her lifetime.
- Who has inspired you in your life and why? From dads to Greek Gods, the responses are warm to off-the-beaten path (a Business Analyst once told me ‘Mickey Mouse’).
- What was the last time you were in a high pressure situation? I look for the ‘process’ to manage the stress than the situation itself.
- What is the most interesting project you have worked on till date?This gives me an understanding of the ‘interesting’ barometer for the candidate — and what excites him or her. Interesting projects don’t have to be pompous or large-scale.
- What type of office environment/eco-system do you thrive in?Some people like to be at the centre of the action; some like to retreat to a “working corner”. Calculate the candidate’s propensity to work in your current environment and see if it’s a match. If your work has cafeteria-style seating and this person prefers to work alone, ensure that the right structure is available.
- Tell me about a time you failed at something. A fundamental question that lets me assess a) that failure is acceptable, b) what the candidate did, and c) his/her learnings. A few candidates I have interviewed in the past bragged that they had no failures. That means no risks. Which means no learning. Next.
- What would you want to do if you didn’t have to work? The ultimate question — this basically is to provoke a raw, unfiltered, uncensored response to what the candidate truly would want to do if all factors and circumstances were in favour. The industry, perspective, energy, passion, and planning could help assess a potential fit. I have received all kinds of responses — from astronaut and ballerina, to chef and firewoman — and so on. Eliminate self – fraud. It does not mean they are not a good fit — it just gives me an understanding to support their current assignment — and help them in any way to achieve their long-term as well.
About the author: Director, PMO. Red Bull fan. Mobile Evangelist. Technocrat. Passionate about technology, project management, mobile payments, startups, leadership, great travel wonders, gourmet food, and human psychology. Visit my blog for more stories.
This March Break (mid March 2015), I visited the campuses of Google, Apple, Facebook, and Tesla — as well as touched upon the offices of Pinterest, Uber, Square, Yelp and Airbnb. My family (patient wife + 2 energetic boys — six and two years old) also joined me in my 3G — “Great Geek Getaway”. Here are 10 thoughts and beliefs that I confirmed as I strolled through Cupertino, Palo Alto, Mountain View and San Francisco:
There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.
Julius Caesar Act 4, scene 3, 218–224
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
1. Unfinished business: Free yourself from the past by identifying and cleaning up your unfinished business. Call an end to whatever you started – a project, a diet, a feud, a commitment – by dumping it, delegating it, or doing it.
2. Ignoring the Present: Today is a result of all the Today’s that came before it. A well lived present will naturally produce wonderful future. Save a dollar today, and you’ll have a dollar tomorrow. Eat 500 calories less today, and you’ll lose weight tomorrow. Only what you do TODAY can affect tomorrow.
3. No Priorities: Never trade what you want at the moment for what you want most. If you just react to the next thing that gets your attention, you’ll never have enough time for what is important. Don’t schedule your time around your priorities. Schedule your priorities around your time.
4. Betraying yourself: Telling lies to yourself is the most hurtful form of disrespect. Write out the ways in which you have been untruthful to yourself, and how you can change that. “I will no longer pretend that what I put into my mouth doesn’t matter.” “I will no longer pretend that overspending my budget is ok.”
5. People Pleasing: If you always say yes even when you want to say no, you will find yourself unhappily going through the motions of living, giving control of your time, energy, and spirit to anyone who asks for it. Free yourself by learning to quietly assert your boundaries.
6. Accepting Energy Drainers: Everyday crisis and problems ARE NOT “just the way it is”. Choose to put life on your schedule. Make a conscious choice to simplify your tasks, organize your environment, and set up your life to support how you want to live.
7. Complaining Instead Of Asking: You will only get as much as you ask for. Complaining is passive, not active. Choose to consciously educate people on what you need by making a request instead of complaining.
8. Low Reserves: Without reserves to back you up, you will make decisions based on your LACK…lack of money, lack of time, lack of energy. And that will cause you to make mistakes, and miss opportunities. Systematically eliminate things from your life until you have a built-in reserve of time and money; then build from there.
9. Hiding your weakness: Let your weakness help you be more truthful. Educate people. “I’m really impatient; please let me know if I skip over something you don’t understand.” “I’m not good with secrets; please don’t tell me anything that you don’t want me to repeat.”
10. Wishing Instead of Planning: START! Do something! If you just sit around *wishing* that things would be better, it’s not likely that they ever will be. As my mother used to say, “wish in one hand, pour peas in the other…see which fills up faster.” Create a plan, and get into action.