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Submitted by tcomeau on


I've been asked to hire a technical person (Project Coordinator) for another manager. I'm the hiring manager, but the new hire will report to another manager. Has anybody else done this? Anything in particular I should be thinking about?

I rather fell into doing this, and it is complicated in a bunch of ways that make my life more interesting.

I manage the System Engineering Branch, which is part of the Operations and Engineering Division. I have 12 in my Branch, my boss runs the Division of about 140. We are the largest of five Divisions.

We build systems for two major Missions -- Hubble and the new James Webb. Each Mission has a Mission Office with a small staff (the Hubble Mission Office is down to 5 people, JWST is a couple dozen) that sets objectives, provides some mission-level science expertise, provides funding, and does the management-level interface to NASA. Sometimes we matrix people to the Mission Office. More often we get funded to do some work, and deliver some product, managing the work and the people ourselves.

The position I'm filling opened up because one of my staff moved on to better work. It really was better for him, and I encouraged him to apply for his new position. He's very happy with the work, and his new boss.

Initially I expected to just re-fill his position with a similar person, and had identified somebody "in the building" who could move into my group and pick up the work with a little training. She had interviewed with me, talked the guy leaving the position, and talked to the guy she'd be matrixed to half-time. My boss was on-board with transferring her into my Branch, and brought it up in a regular meeting with the deputy head of the Mission Office.

We got surprised.

That person was not acceptable to the Mission. They need different skills. The goals from NASA have changed, we need more details, the schedule is shorter, and other unexpected changes.

After several more discussions, including a very helpful meeting with the Mission Head (her deputy has been my main internal customer for this work). I did some analysis of the work, defined the skills, experience and behaviors we need for the position, and wrote a job description.

After getting agreement with the job description, and verifying that we thought we could recruit a person with those qualifications, my boss and the Mission Office agreed that the new hire would not report to me. Instead, the new hire will work in the Mission Office under the Development Manager for the Mission. ("Manager" is something of a misnomer, because what he really does is track nontechnical coordination issues -- schedule, spending, and some external programmatic issues.)

However, because the Mission Office rarely does hiring, they don't want to do it themselves. They asked, and my boss agreed, that I would go hire somebody who would work for the Development Manager.

The most bizarre complication is that the Development Manager is my ex-boss, who was "reorganized into a position with less responsibility than his previous role" about a year ago. My relationship with him is civil, but not without tension.

I started writing the new job description just to get agreement on the position, and it did clarify what the Mission Office wanted. We even agreed that, given the change in work, the position belonged in the Mission Office. When I suggested that the Mission Office should do the hiring, everybody in the room insisted that I was the best person to do the picking, since I'd done such a great job to this point. Since one of the people in the room was my boss, and I've learned the hard way not to manage up, I just asked what charge number I should use for recruiting.

So have any of you been in this situation yourself? Were you successful, and if so do you know why? If it blew up, do you have any thoughts on how to contain the damage?

And while I'm at it, does anybody know a real expert in Microsoft Project who has done some project management, and would like to explore working on the premiere space-based observatory of the next 20 years?



wendii's picture
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I wrote you a really long reply this morning and my computer ate it... I'll try again after work.


drinkcoffee's picture
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Hi Tom,

My company hires technical staff in a different department than mine and I am often asked to help interview, because:

1. I've been here a while and can sniff out cultural fit pretty well
2. I'm more technical than the hiring managers, so I can gauge their technical experience better
3. Due to Manager Tools, I'm really good at interviewing :D

So even though these potential hires wouldn't report directly to me, my input is seen as valuable. However, usually I'm part of an overall group interview strategy and the hiring manager interviews them as well. That's not clear from your post -- will the Mission Office head meet with all the candidates? Who has final approval for hiring and making the offer?

For us it works out well to have people from different departments interview and offer feedback to the hiring manager, as long as the hiring manager also meets the candidate at some point before the offer is made.

Hope that helps,


tcomeau's picture
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My company hires technical staff in a different department than mine and I am often asked to help interview,...

I do too, for about the same reasons. "Quick and Dirty Interview" was a nice refinement to my process.

...will the Mission Office head meet with all the candidates? Who has final approval for hiring and making the offer?

Kathy (the Mission Head) certainly won't participate. Her deputy might, and I expect the Development Manager will. (The new person will work for the Development Manager.)

I'm actually not sure who will have final approval, or who will make the offer. I'm certainly not going to select somebody who the Development Manager doesn't like, but I'm not sure I'd get to say "no" to somebody he did like. I think that's a question I should try to settle Real Soon Now, though.

I hadn't thought that far ahead, so thanks for mentioning it!


wendii's picture
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Ok, try two.

It may be natural cyniscm or the politics of the organisation I work in, but I have fears about hiring for other people. After all, if it doesn't work out, who will they blame?

I never, ever make a decision for a hiring manager. And some have gone against my advice in the past, and suffered for it. But at the end of the day, it's their team, their customers, their speciality, their job. They are best placed to make the decision.

If you're being forced into it, and it sounds like you are, then you could

*Screen CVs and pick the shortlist according to some agreed criteria,
*First round interview the candidates
*Second round interview the candidates with the hiring manager
*Be part of the hiring decision.

From the things you've written in the past, I think your organisation is much more closely related than mine, and the politics might be completely different, but I'd still be careful.


tcomeau's picture
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[quote="wendii"]Ok, try two.
Wendii, thanks for the second effort!

I am stuck doing this, unless I want to start giving people above my pay grade feedback.

I have the same concern about them blaming me for a bad hire, but if the lower the bar they'll do it over my formal, written, butt-covering objection.

I like your four-step process, and I'll certainly at least phone interview for the first round. I can "force" the development manager to participate in interviews, though I can't make him use my interview plan. (But I'll supply him with it.) I probably can't get the deputy Mission Head, but I think I'll try.

Again, thanks.


juliahhavener's picture
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As usual - excellent point. When someone in my company does not perform to expectations, one of the first things you hear is, "Mary hired her." I occassionally do second interviews for the other half of my department. When I do, I take very clear notes and I discuss my findings with at least one (usually two) of my peers before making a determination. If there is ANY question of fit, I ask one of them to perform a follow up telephone interview.

tcomeau's picture
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[quote="juliahdoyle"]...When someone in my company does not perform to expectations, one of the first things you hear is, "Mary hired her." ... [/quote]

I tried to get some clarity from my boss on just this issue, and got an unhelpful response. I also talked to his deputy, who is a bit more helpful, and he feels that as long as the Development Manager interviews and agrees, I'll be off the hook.

I suspect I'm setting the bar higher than the Development Manager, and that is more likely to be a source of ... tension than anything else.

And thanks again for the comments!


tcomeau's picture
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Long story short: They changed their minds, and we're not going to fill that position.

Slightly longer version:

I got what I thought was a very good understanding of what they felt they needed, and worked with a couple of people who had good leads, including the on-site manager for the services company and an HR recruiter.

I got a big stack of resumes, including a few very good candidates with the right qualifications. We interviewed just one of them, and in my view he was the right guy. Just as we were about to make an offer, Things Changed.

I don't know if this was a bargaining chip, or if we were on a fishing expedition, or if the Mission Head is still getting a better understanding of her role in our organization. It's clear that she is working on new arrangements with the government, trying to change the government's view of how we should manage our internal development practices. In any case, she decided not to move forward, and eliminated the position, subject to further negotiations with the government.

So I'm off the hook, though I'm still very much looking for a fairly junior software engineer.

Thanks again to everyone who offered suggestions.


jhack's picture

Thanks for the update.