It’s certainly helpful to prepare for a project management interview by anticipating the questions you might be asked and practicing your answers. However, there are hundreds of questions that your interviewers may ask, and there is no way you can cover them all.
That’s why the first thing you should do is thoroughly research the job that you are applying for as well as the company. Going into an interview without doing your due diligence could be your biggest mistake.
This article explains how to research a company and dives into why it is so important to do so. You’ll also learn about the types of project manager interview questions you might face, get examples of questions and answers, and get a sense of how best to respond.
By researching your potential role with a new employer, you get a much clearer picture of what tasks you will assume if you land the job and what skills are most important for that job. Is managing teams the most significant skill to have, or is a certain technical ability a non-negotiable for a good project manager? Once you have a more precise idea of what the hiring manager is looking for, you can narrow down the type of questions you might be asked.
By researching the company, you can better understand the company culture and whether you would fit that organization. For example, if the company is new and dynamic, it might have a flatter structure with less top-down interaction. It might have open-plan workspaces and a focus on collaboration and teams.
The questions your interviewers will ask will be designed to find out if you have the required skills, management approach, and work style that will fit. If you know what skills, approaches, and work style they need, you will not only be able to anticipate the right questions, but you will also be able to deliver the answers that will land you the job.
The role of a project manager is different in every company. The job description will provide some information, but it can be difficult to read between the lines and envisage what you will do.
A visit to the company website might help you to glean some insights, but you will have hit the jackpot if you can find someone within the organization who can tell you what your role will be.
Try visiting the company’s LinkedIn page and see if you can reach out to an existing employee for information. Alternatively, your HR contact might be able to put you in touch with another project manager who can give you the low-down from an insider's perspective.
Generally, the interviewer is likely to ask questions that fall into three categories:
Questions designed to find out about your working style.
Questions to assess your project management skills.
Questions to assess your technical skills.
Many questions will be in the form of behavioral questions, which will ask you to describe an actual event from your work history,
Let’s look at some examples of each type of question and possible ways to answer them.
The interviewer wants to know your preferred working style to ensure that you fit with the company culture. That’s why an understanding of the culture will guide you in answering these types of questions. You shouldn’t pretend to be something that you are not—you want to find the right fit too— but at least you can answer in a way that emphasizes where your preferences align with those of the company.
This is a sneaky way to ask what you are like to work with and whether you like to work as part of a team or independently. Your answer might also reveal how good a listener you are. You might answer with "someone who is resourceful," "someone who keeps everyone positive," "someone that pays attention to every detail," or "someone who gets a job done fast." Use your best judgment for this one. Choose two that show your versatility as a manager.
You might not consider yourself creative, but as a project manager, you do solve problems. Use a real example of how you solved a problem for a specific project in the past and consider using the STAR method to structure your answer when describing a past event.
STAR stands for Situation (the context of the event you are describing), Task (what the problem was), Action (what you did to solve the problem, Result (what the result was).
Your answer should include all of these components.
Example answer. My last product was not the ideal project. It ran into difficulties in the last mile, and we ultimately had to decide whether to kill or continue the project (Situation). We needed to find out in which scenario our losses would be greater (Task). We did a cost-benefit analysis based on competitor data to solve the problem, but we also pulled in some customers to help us brainstorm other factors, such as consumer sentiment (Action). Ultimately, we decided to kill the project, and it turned out to be the right one because we would have been second to market with a substandard product (Result).
We tend to do what we prefer if we have the opportunity. So, this question is trying to determine where your preferences lie. If you know what your potential new job will entail, you can emphasize those components. For example, if your new role will involve a significant amount of client interaction, your answer should show your expertise and commitment in that area.
Example answer: A lot of my time is spent dealing with clients. I believe in keeping clients informed with regular updates as a project progresses. That keeps them happy and can alert the project team if the client is thinking about requesting something that we were not expecting. If the tasks are delegated effectively, client contact can ensure a successful project is wrapped up according to the budget and the timeline.
This question can reveal how open you are to admitting when you are in over your head, and whether your ego will allow you to seek help. Many managers think they are invincible, which can be their downfall. Being resourceful is a much better quality in any employee.
Example answer: For all my projects, I seek advice from a mentor or other sources to make sure I am confident with my approach. So, if I think I need help with something, I am the first to seek out someone with a more objective view. Even then, I know that I will make mistakes, but then I will try to learn from them.
Some people use simple lists, and some use complex digital solutions to prioritize tasks based on resources and deadlines. Whatever your style, demonstrate that you can manage a project and all its moving parts.
Example answer: For overall project management, I use a combination of manual notes and software like Google Suite or Trello. To prioritize time for engineers and other key staff, we have proprietary software that considers factors such as available staffing, project plan deadlines, and the returns on projects to determine who should be working on what project and when.
These types of questions are designed to find out whether your management style fits with the company. The way that you answer should be based on what you have learned about the company and its culture from your due diligence combined with how you have navigated management positions in the past.
This question is really assessing your management abilities rather than your communication skills. Consider what you know about the company culture when you prepare your answer. Does the organization have a flat structure and a collaborative approach? Then, emphasize collaboration tools like Slack, Trello, and Asana. Also, address how you communicate one-on-one with team members. Most importantly, show that you “listen” to your team members because the best managers value and apply feedback.
Example answer: For real-time team collaboration, I like to use software like Slack to keep everyone on track and the project moving. If I have a sensitive issue with a staff member, I prefer to talk to them in person, if possible, rather than distract other team members. I make sure I make time for feedback from the team or individuals so that I can incorporate their ideas and concerns into work processes.
There are many leadership styles from a traditional top-down approach to the newer servant leadership style. Your leadership style is a reflection of your personality but also the culture within an organization and the type of projects it develops. Try to convey that your style and leadership skills fit those of the hiring company.
Example Answer: I like to think I’m more of a servant leader because I feel that is the best way to motivate teams and to understand what they are experiencing. However, there are times and projects where a more direct top-down approach is needed to execute a project quickly and efficiently.
You should answer this truthfully but bearing in mind what you have gleaned through your research and due diligence. If the company uses a waterfall, agile, scrum, or hybrid method, speak to those methods. If they are not your preferred project management processes, state why, but also consider that they might be the best methods to avoid problems like scope creep in that particular context. Be diplomatic here, but also give your honest opinion.
Example answer: My preference is to use a hybrid method because it works for my current projects. I noticed that this company uses agile, and that could be the best option for projects that need constant iterations because the end-point is not well-defined.
This question is an example of a behavioral-type question. It asks you to describe how you navigated a real event from your work history because past behavior is considered a strong indicator of future behavior. In this case, the interviewer wants to know how you respond in a stressful situation. It could be one that involved conflict resolution skills or even persuasive communicator skills with management or clients.
It’s a good plan to prepare some real scenarios of different project outcomes and past experiences and to use the STAR method to structure your answer.
Example answer: Our team had promised delivery of a product to a client, but the product needed quite a bit of tweaking. We weren’t sure how long we would need to get the product ready. (Situation). At the last moment, we found a serious glitch that we had to fix (Task). I immediately informed the client that we needed more time, but they were unwilling to compromise on the deadline. One option was to completely re-engineer the product, which would need additional engineering resources and would be costly on our end. I persuaded management that our company should bear the extra development cost for the client because we had not met the specs in time. (Action). Management agreed to pay for the re-engineering, and that product has now become one of the company’s mainstays. (Result).
This question is less about judging the success of your projects but more about judging whether you can learn from experience. If your last project sucked—fantastic! Here’s how to respond.
Sample answer: So, our last project was killed at the final stage. The project life cycle had progressed on budget and according to plan, but we realized at the last minute that taking it to market was a bad idea because a competitor was one step ahead of us with a better quality product. That taught me to really step up my game when it comes to the consumer space and what products should ultimately be killed or completed. In this case, we lost money in software development, but we would have damaged our reputation too if we had gone to market with a substandard product.
The technical abilities that an employer might look for could be project-management-oriented, but they could also be industry-related. For example, suppose the employer is in the payments sector. In that case, you might need to demonstrate that you understand the different payment solutions that companies can choose and which ones are better suited to which organizations. Your knowledge of the hiring company should guide you here.
This is an industry-related question to find out your depth of knowledge in a particular industry that the company is involved with. Your research will tell you what industry knowledge you might be asked to demonstrate.
If you’ve done your research, you will have a good idea of which project management tools are used at the hiring company. Obviously, if you have experience with time management and project management tools the company uses, focus on those. Also list any industry-standard project management and communication tools that you have experience with, for example, Microsoft Project, Trello, or Basecamp. It doesn’t hurt to show your willingness to learn by saying, “I’m also open and eager to learn new tools for future projects.”
This is your opportunity to demonstrate your project manager and organizational skills and to show your industry knowledge. Use your experiences to highlight your expertise, and try to align the examples you give with the needs of the company.
Example answer: The last project I managed was the execution of a payments solution for a large client. It involved understanding both their operations and products, their customers, and their technical infrastructure. We created a team that was composed of our software engineers, IT personnel from the client, client managers, and paying customers to make sure the product met everyone’s needs. We developed milestones and a timeline. Once up and running, the company reported increased conversions because the technology was so easy to use. This project is going to feature as best practice going forward.
This question is testing your project management knowledge. The Pareto principle states that 80% of the results come from 20% of the actions and is used by managers to prioritize work. If you have experience as a project manager using this theory, talk about that experience. Otherwise, give your best explanation of how you would apply it.
You might be asked other questions that test your knowledge of project management theories and concepts. Here are some you might want to brush up on.
Stakeholder analysis and the power-Interest grid
Business documentation: business case document; agreement; project charter; stakeholder register
WBS or work breakdown structure
The RACI (responsible, accountable, consulted, informed)
The critical path
Procurement documents: procurement statement of work (SOW); request for information (RFI); invitation for bid (IFB); request for proposal (RFP); invitation for quote (IFQ); purchase order (PO)
Contracts: fixed-price; cost reimbursable; time and materials
Motivational theories: McGregor’s theory; Vroom’s expectancy theory; McClelland’s theory; Hertzberg’s theory; Maslow’s theory
Don’t feel overwhelmed by the seemingly limitless range of job interview questions you might be asked in a project manager interview. You can be confident that your answers will be top-notch provided you do your research on the company, the project manager deliverables, and basic project management theories and concepts.