Even for seasoned project managers who themselves have interviewed several candidates, sitting in the interviewee chair can be daunting.

Since project management can make or break a project, companies pay extra attention when hiring project managers. Project managers are the navigators of the ship and without an efficient navigator the ship cannot reach its destination.  So, if you’re new to the field of project management or even if you’ve got some experience under your belt, interviews can bring about some serious nerves. One of the best ways to overcome these nerves, however, is through preparation. That’s why we’ve created this guide of the most common project management interview questions for you.

Practice these questions before your interview, and you’ll feel so much more confident moving forward.  

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Can you tell us a little bit about your background?

Almost all interviews, no matter what you’re interviewing for, begin with this question. This may seem like an icebreaker, but it’s actually an opportunity to promote yourself. Take this opportunity to highlight your experience and education. You  can tell them a bit about your personal background like where you grew  up, but make sure to stay focused on relevant information related to the specific job position. Here’s an example for you:

“I  graduated high school in LA, and then I finished my bachelor’s in computer science from the LA technical college. For the past 6 years I’ve been working as a project manager with Cvent where I oversaw 10 + projects. The biggest project I worked on was building an online banking portal for ADFC bank.“

Can you elaborate a little more on the projects you just mentioned?

This is a follow up to the previous question. As you’re interviewing for a project manager role, the interviewer wants to know what skills you’ve acquired during your career. This is your opportunity to demonstrate your capabilities as a project manager. Use your experiences to highlight your expertise. Another major thing to keep in mind is to customize your answer to suit the company’s requirements which you'll find by reading the job description. Here’s an example:

“In my role as the project manager, I monitored the execution of the biggest online banking portal. I would constantly be in touch with the clients to understand their requirements. I, along with the other team members, worked on a tight schedule to deliver this project. We developed milestones, mapped out a timeline, and conceived a communication plan and a risk management plan to successfully finish the project. This project was challenging as it was a high-stake project, where even a slight delay would have cost the company $67,000 per day. It involved working with 40+ team members comprising of engineers and banking professionals, so it was all about teamwork and collaboration.”

What is your project management style?

A project manager must be aware of the various project management styles and which ones need to be adopted depending on the situation. Here, the interviewer wants to see if you’re self-aware, what your leadership style is and how approachable you are. To answer this, share a success story of how your leadership style proved beneficial for a project. For example:

“I have a flexible approach. I vary my leadership style depending on my team; some people lead by example while others require more persuasion. In one of my projects, we were working with a strict deadline, but the team members were overwhelmed with so much work already. Adding a heavier workload would have only slowed them down, so I decided to join the team and worked along with them to complete the project. The team really felt inspired and everyone put in a tremendous effort to pull through with the project.”

Do you have any experience with project management tools?

All organizations use some sort of project management software and tools. So, it becomes important that a candidate is familiar with using them. You don’t need to know all of them, but you should have a solid understanding of a few. Elaborate on what you do know to help the interviewers understand how proficient you are in certain skills. All job descriptions mention the tools they use, so make sure you’re aware of what they’re looking for. If you're familiar with the tools used, great! If not, show your eagerness to learn the software and tools they use. Here’s an example:

“I have experience using ProofHub. I particularly like it as it eliminates the need to have too many tools. I've also had the chance to work in EasyProject. What I like the most about EasyProject is that it can be integrated with Outlook, Project, Excel, and Redmine. Basecamp is one another tool that I’m familiar with, and I consider it to be great for collaboration. I’m also open and eager to learn any other necessary tools for future projects.”

What steps have you taken to cope with a project that has massively deviated from its blueprint?

Despite doing the best planning possible, most projects tend to deviate from their initial target. But at the end of the day, what matters is how the project manager deals with problems to deliver the projects on time and in budget. Here the interviewer’s looking for qualities like problem-solving, accountability, creativity, and adaptability. So, it’s essential to demonstrate your skills by sharing tales and anecdotes about when you helped a project out of a tough situation successfully. For example:

“I once worked on a project that required developing a website, but the client’s requirements kept changing. Because of this, the project was deviating from its set schedule. So, I decided to invest more time with the client to understand their requirements. Once all the roadblocks were cleared, we roped in some freelancers to cope with the time lost. With great time management and teamwork, we were able to pull off the website construction within the allotted time.”

How do you deal with under-performers?

Here the interviewer’s trying to assess if you’re capable of motivating others to achieve the project goals. You can point out that every team has one or two underperformers and it’s important to understand the issues they’re facing to enable them to reach their full potential. You can answer the question in the following manner:

“I worked on a project once that had a Japanese client. We had to upgrade our software and despite giving them ample time, the developers weren’t able to finish it on time. So, the technical head, the developers, and I sat down to understand what the issue was. It turned out that the documentation was in Japanese and translation software wasn’t able to translate the contents effectively. So, I decided to hire a Japanese translator to translate all documents. Finally, the developers were able to move ahead and the project was completed successfully”

Have you made any mistakes while handling a project and what did you learn from them?

Interviewers know that mistakes can happen and nobody’s perfect. We learn our biggest lessons from our mistakes. So, just be honest and own up to the mistakes you've made in the past and talk about how they’ve helped you mature as a project manager. For instance, you could say something like:

“Once in a project, we had finalized all things including project scope, documents, project plans, and deliverables. Initially, we had communication about all of this, and I assumed that everybody would be aware of their duties, so communication and meetings were occurring less frequently than normal. A few months into the project I realized that the project had gone off the rails. That’s when I realized that communication should be a continuous process and not something initiated when the mood suits you. After this experience, we have regular meetings and communicate openly to discuss everybody’s status on the project. It’s been very effective to keep projects on track.”

Tips for Project Management Newbies

It’s important to do your research and find out the company’s ideologies, values, and goals. This can help you tailor your answers accordingly. You can do this by reading the job description thoroughly to see what the company’s looking for, and then research what the company does, their size, and anything else you can find. It’s also useful to go on websites like Glassdoor.com where you’ll be able to see reviews from others who have gone through the interview process before you.  

Remember  that your people skills are super important as a project manager. So,  go into the interview confidently. Interviews are not the time to shy  away and hide your greatness, they’re your time to shine and show your value. Lastly, remember to also dress professionally and show up a little bit early. You never want to be late for an interview because that’s usually an immediate loss of a potential job.

If you’re new in the field, you may benefit from our Technical Project Management Bootcamp which includes one-on-one career counselling to help you land a job even easier. If you’re not but you still want some more tips on how to land your dream job, our YouTube and blog are full of information about cover letters, resumes, and more. Best of luck in your search!

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