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How to hire Top Program Managers


Hiring a Program Manager involves a comprehensive assessment of a candidate's experience, technical skills, organizational skills, interpersonal skills, software development skills, CRM (customer relationship management), leadership abilities, communication skills, strategic thinking, risk management capabilities, budget management expertise, problem-solving skills, and adaptability. This critical role requires someone who can handle multiple projects, teams, and departments simultaneously while aligning everyone's efforts towards the company's strategic goals.

When hiring for a startup versus a larger company, there are key differences to consider. In a startup, a Program Manager may need to wear multiple hats as a product manager or operations manager, taking on roles beyond the typical scope of program management due to resource limitations. They must be adaptable, entrepreneurial, and comfortable in a fast-paced, often ambiguous environment. Conversely, in a larger company, the role is typically more defined and structured, requiring in-depth expertise in managing complex, large-scale programs. Experience with specific project management methodologies or certification like PMP, Agile, or Scrum may be necessary.

In terms of compensation, Program Managers can be hired either full time, part-time, or on an hourly basis, depending on the organization's needs. Full-time Program Managers are typically salaried employees who work regular business hours, although overtime might be necessary during critical program phases. They usually have a more strategic role, overseeing multiple programs and focusing on long-term goals. They're often entitled to employee benefits such as health insurance, retirement contributions, and paid leave.

On the other hand, hourly or contract-based Program Managers are employed for a specific period or for a specific program. This arrangement is common when an organization requires extra help for a large-scale program or during peak periods. They are typically focused on the tactical execution of program tasks and might not be involved in long-term strategic planning. The benefits for hourly or contract positions vary based on the terms of the contract.

Regardless of the type of organization or the employment terms, hiring a Program Manager is a significant investment. It's crucial to take the time to thoroughly evaluate each candidate's capabilities, fit for the role, and alignment with the organization's initiative, culture, and values. The right Program Manager can drive the success of your programs, contribute to strategic objectives, and significantly enhance your organization's performance.

Communication Skills

Program managers need to communicate effectively with a wide range of stakeholders, including team members, senior executives, clients, and vendors. They should be able to articulate the program's vision, progress, and challenges clearly and persuasively. This includes written communication (e.g., writing clear project briefs, status reports), verbal communication (e.g., leading meetings, presenting to executives), and listening skills (e.g., understanding feedback, addressing concerns). Proficiency in communication tools like email, video conferencing software (e.g., Zoom, Microsoft Teams), and presentation software (e.g., PowerPoint, Keynote) is often required. Additionally, courses or qualifications in business communication can be a useful indicator of a candidate's communication skills.

Risk Management

Risk management is a critical aspect of program management. A competent program manager should be proficient at identifying potential risks and developing strategies to mitigate them. This includes understanding potential threats to the program, from market changes to internal risks such as project team capacity or resource allocation. They must also be able to prioritize risks based on their potential impact and devise preventive actions or contingency plans. This requires a strong analytical mindset, attention to detail, and the ability to think strategically under pressure. Tools that help in risk management include risk assessment software like RiskyProject or RiskRegister+. Familiarity with risk management frameworks, such as those defined by PMI or PRINCE2, can be extremely beneficial.

Budget Management

Program managers need to be proficient in managing budgets, as they are often responsible for significant financial resources. They should be able to develop accurate budget forecasts, track expenditures against this forecast, and adjust as necessary to ensure the program stays within budget. This requires strong numerical skills, a detail-oriented approach, and an understanding of financial management principles. They need to be familiar with financial management software like Quickbooks or Microsoft Dynamics and have experience with cost estimation tools and techniques. A background in finance or accounting can be an advantage.

Problem-Solving Skills

Problem-solving is a vital skill for any program manager. They need to be able to quickly identify problems that arise, determine the root cause, and implement effective solutions. This often requires creative thinking, decisiveness, and the ability to make difficult decisions under pressure. A strong problem-solver will also proactively identify potential issues and resolve them before they become major obstacles. They should be familiar with problem-solving methodologies like the 5 Whys, Fishbone Diagram, or Six Sigma’s DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) process. Experience with decision-making tools like Decision Matrix Analysis or Cost-Benefit Analysis can be beneficial.


A program manager's ability to respond to changes and adapt plans and strategies accordingly is paramount. They should be able to reassess priorities and resources, reallocate tasks, and modify plans in response to changes in the business environment, team capacity, or project requirements. This requires resilience, flexibility, and strong decision-making skills. Familiarity with Agile methodologies, which are designed to accommodate change, can be an asset. They should also be adept at using project management software that allows for easy updating and modification of project plans, such as Asana, Trello, or Jira.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does it cost to hire a Program Manager?

The cost of hiring a Program Manager varies greatly depending on several factors such as the industry, geographical location, the complexity and scale of the programs they'll be managing, and their level of experience. In 2021, the median annual salary for a Program Manager in the United States was approximately $105,000. However, in large metropolitan areas or high-demand industries, this figure could be significantly higher. This doesn't include additional costs such as benefits, bonuses, and potential equity in the case of startups. The costs of the recruitment process, including job advertisements and potentially recruitment agency fees, should also be factored into the total cost.

Where can I hire a Program Manager?

There are numerous platforms and strategies you can use when hiring Program Managers as an equal opportunity employer. Online job boards such as Braintrust is a good place to start. Braintrust allows you to headhunt potential candidates directly, but also offers recommendations to our talent network that would fit your project best. Networking events and industry conferences can also be a good way to meet potential candidates.

How do I recruit a Program Manager?

The recruitment process for a high-quality Program Manager should start with a clear job title and comprehensive job description, outlining the responsibilities, required skills and experience, and the goals of the role. Once the role is advertised and applications start coming in, screen job seeker resumes against your criteria, and then ask initial phone or video interview questions to assess their suitability. In-depth interviews, ideally with a panel that includes key stakeholders, can then be used to assess the candidates' skills, experience, and cultural fit in more detail. Behavioral and scenario-based questions are particularly effective. It's also beneficial to check references and potentially conduct background checks, particularly for senior roles before onboarding.

How much does a Program Manager charge per hour?

The hourly rate for Program Manager jobs varies depending on their years of experience, management experience, business needs, industry, whether they have a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree, geographical location, and the complexity of the programs they'll be managing. A Program Manager in the United States might charge anywhere from $50 to over $100 per hour as a freelancer or contractor, and this can vary over time. For salaried positions, dividing the annual salary by the typical number of work hours in a year can give a rough estimate of an hourly rate, but it's important to note that salaried roles also typically come with benefits and job security that contract roles might not provide.

Is program manager the same as PMO?

No, a Program Manager and a Project Management Office (PMO) are not the same. A Program Manager is responsible for overseeing and coordinating a group of related projects that together achieve a strategic objective. On the other hand, a PMO is an organizational structure or department within a company that standardizes project-related governance processes and facilitates the sharing of resources, methodologies, tools, and techniques. The PMO can also be involved in strategic project management planning and aligning project goals with the company's business objectives.

Is a program manager higher than a project manager?

In most organizational structures, a Program Manager is a role that's generally considered higher than a Project Manager. This is because program management encompasses the oversight of a portfolio of projects, each of which may have its own Project Manager. Therefore, Program Managers usually have broader responsibilities, including coordinating multiple teams, strategic planning, and ensuring that all projects under their purview align with and contribute to the organization's objectives.

Is a program manager a good job?

A Program Manager position can be a rewarding job for those who enjoy strategic planning, leading and managing teams, and have the ability to oversee multiple projects. It often offers the opportunity to influence an organization's strategic direction and make a significant impact. However, the role can also be challenging and high-pressure, with responsibility for multiple projects and teams, and the need to constantly solve problems and make decisions. The satisfaction and suitability of the role really depend on the individual's skills, temperament, and career aspirations.

What is a program manager level?

The term "program manager level" usually refers to the seniority or rank of a program manager within an organization. This can vary greatly between companies, but typically, entry-level program managers might be responsible for smaller or less complex programs, while senior or executive program managers would handle larger, more strategic, and complex programs. Some organizations may also use specific titles such as Program Manager I, II, or III, or Junior Program Manager, Senior Program Manager, and Program Director, to denote different levels. The level often correlates with the experience required, the complexity and scope of the responsibilities, and the degree of leadership and strategic input required.

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