During a job interview for a project manager position, hiring managers will focus on whether the candidate can deliver projects on deadline and within a set budget. In light of that, project manager interview questions could focus on everything from how you interact with other stakeholders to your ability to analyze and solve challenges.
If you want to “win” the interview, you should craft answers in advance that demonstrate your care with budgets, your techniques for overcoming even the messiest problems, and how you finesse team members so everyone’s doing their best work. Keep your focus on telling a story, balanced with information on project size, budget, tech tools and outcomes; a story will stick in the interviewer’s mind far longer than a litany of facts and figures.
“Tell me about yourself” is an icebreaker that pops up repeatedly in interviews, according to Patrick Ryan, senior IT delivery manager for Kelly: “When someone asks you that big broad question, I say turn around and ask them: ‘Where would you like me to start? Because that way we're going to zero in on what the person really wants to learn about you.’”
This gets the interviewer to hone in on what they really want to know about you. Ryan added that hiring managers will also want to know about your capacity for conflict resolution.
“As a project manager, you must work with a variety of stakeholders throughout the organization, people who have a variety of personalities. Some are easygoing and some are [more challenging to work with],” he said. “They want to know how you work with difficult stakeholders.”
That may involve being asked to tell a story about working with a difficult stakeholder. How did you manage them? What was the best way to convey information to this stakeholder? What were the results?
“How did you have to deal with that stakeholder being upset with you?” Ryan added. “That's one of the main issues these companies are looking for--conflict resolution with difficult stakeholders.”
Other project manager interview questions may depend on whether the role is for a more functional or technical project manager.
Sample Questions: Technologies
- What are some of the types of projects that you've managed?
- What kinds of technologies did you use with these projects?
“If [the role is for] a technical project manager, you might be asked to describe your background, the kind of things you work on, so that the company or the client can get a sense of [how] this project manager is working with developers,” Ryan explained.
The question also allows hiring managers to determine if a candidate fully understands the technologies involved. “Would a technical project manager understand the development process enough because they have a background in this field?” Ryan asked.
Sample Questions: Certifications
- “Have you kept up on your certifications?”
- “Are you still actively PMP certified?”
Many recruiters and hiring managers place great emphasis on project managers’ certifications. For those interviewers and executives who don’t have much project management experience, certifications are a good way (they believe) to determine a project manager’s skills.
The PMP is one of the most widely sought-after certifications for project managers, and the interviewer may ask about it. If the PMP (or other certifications) were listed in the original job posting, prepare accordingly (and list the certifications you have on your resume).
“If the answer is ‘no,’ then that kind of tells you a little bit about project manager,” Ryan said. “Maybe they're a good project manager, but maybe they're not the best because they're not keeping up on the latest and greatest techniques.”
Sample Question: People Management
- “Tell me about a time a project went off-course and how you fixed it.”
Sriram Ramakrishnan, senior vice president of Experis Practices, said project manager candidates can also expect questions related to past work experience and how they resolved issues with projects going off-track.
“These could include questions on the most successful projects that you’ve handled and an example of a complex program that you’ve handled,” he said. “Be prepared to talk about the constant challenges you would typically face in a project or program and how do you handle those challenges.”
Sample Questions: Soft Skills
- “How do you maintain timelines?”
- “How do you follow up?”
Ramakrishnan said questions regarding “soft skills” are likely to focus on your techniques for resource attrition management and team culture improvement. You may also have to describe your approach to stakeholder management and best practices for client relationships. Come prepared with stories about tricky negotiations or finding consensus on a tight deadline.
Sample Questions: Team Members and Stakeholders
- “How do you motivate team members?”
- “How do you manage stakeholders?”
Throughout the interview, make sure you’re telling a story that demonstrates your project-management approach and your work habits, with an emphasis on how that benefitted the company overall.
“Talk about how you mitigate issues. Talk about how you manage stakeholders. Talk about how you saved money or increased sales for that company based on some project that you managed,” Ramakrishnan said. “The main point as a project manager is to talk about your successes.”
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