As we see in many emerging media industries, how to hire and develop the right production talent has always been a question. But the talent question does not have to be a quandary. Over decades in this ever-evolving business, we have come to appreciate that hiring mastery comes down to three surprisingly simple principles. And these apply whether you are the company founder, the director of production, or simply the lead project manager looking to establish the right team and production resources.
Heed the simple things
In the heat of working to build a world-class team, sometimes the obvious is overlooked. We tend to over-think the quest, and forget the basics. When interviewing production folks -- both leads and team resources -- just think how much you can learn from the following quick examinations of talent:
How diverse is their work, and how much depth is there?
Candidates may have worked in a lot of places, which potentially is a positive, but how robust were their roles at each stop along the way? Were they entrusted with numerous projects -- not just one -- before they moved along? We like to see at least one production cycle (4-6 months), if not several.
What about the level of comfort with the development?
In considering talent for a lead role, for example, candidates don't necessarily need to code, but they must know how everything works. They must be versed in how the work gets done -- not distant from it.
Similarly, in that key lead role, they must understand pricing.
They will be intimately involved in scoping projects. If they don't know how the work gets done, by whose hand, task by task, and how much time things take, how can they possibly own projects and price them accurately for you?
When vetting resources, listen when they rattle off their skills.
As a hiring project manager, anyone you are considering to join your team should know one or two things really well -- and be versed in others. But if presented a litany of skills, listen very closely, because certain blends just won't make sense. If they reveal their coding chops or knack for non-linear video editing but then express a love of studying formats, animation design, and graphical user interface, the mix is out of whack and potentially not legitimate.
If you are looking at freelancers, some key basics to uncover include asking how many other projects they have, and whether they have scheduled upcoming vacations -- and a working internet connection and cell phone. Don't be caught flat-footed and don't forget to ask.
As a final point on the simple things, no matter what level we're talking about on the team, seriously check all references. Too many people in a hurry skip this. Do not take this step for granted. Ideally, we suggest talking to a direct manager, a lead developer who worked over the candidate, a client or account manager, and even a sales person, who would have a regard for the candidate's proficiency. Ask these references many of the same questions you ask in the interview itself to get a sense for style. And of course, pose the all-important question in considering any production lead: how much did the candidate sit in the seat versus move around? You want people who can command, collaborate, and thrive in the mix -- people whose love for what they do shows in how they manage the room.
Visualize them in the room
When considering bringing a new production lead into the fold and into your shop, you have to be able to literally picture the person in the environment. At our company, when interviewing, we visualize the new project manager coming from there to here. So we ask interviewees lots of questions about how they run projects, their processes, and their styles of checking in with people and escalating issues. How far ahead do they think? How do they communicate with developers? Do they micromanage or have a looser management style? What is their approach to timelines and project tracking? How much do they walk around versus sit at a desk? Be skeptical of the Excel "power user." They may be desk sitters and not in touch enough with the team. Ask for real scenarios. You can tell by the examples they give and stories they tell whether you have someone who will play well in your environment.
In the end, trust your environment
At our company, we're willing to hire those with light experience -- who have the right profile -- and bring them up the ranks through experience. We are OK pulling the trigger and growing talent up through the ranks. We believe this openness has been one key to our innovative, collaborative, and very productive culture. To a certain extent, after we have done our diligence, as described above, we absolutely are willing to take a leap.
In such a fluid, ever-changing marketplace, there is no set of golden keys to building the perfect team. We learned our way through years of experience and in building our most recent company and deciding we wanted to spend very little time fixing things. We wanted to get it right from the beginning. So we stay mindful of the simple things. We look at how people play in our culture, and sometimes take well vetted leaps to achieve the right talent mix.
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