The dawn of a new age has brought with it a wide range of relatively new career paths. Being a project manager is one of them. As the name implies, project managers are expected to oversee a project by setting specific objectives and coming up with creative tactics that would yield desired results. Many reputable companies across various industries are hoping to secure excellent project managers to help better achieve their organizational goals. Considering the various skills expected of a project manager, it seems like a team should be hired instead of just one person to accomplish all the tasks. However, if you think you are qualified for this role and are looking to land this post in your next job, your first order of business, alongside writing a kickass resume, should be to prepare for that nerve-wracking job interview. To help you out, here are the top 25 project manager interview questions to look out for, including knowledge-based, experience-based, and personal questions.
1) What’s your personal background?
This is always a good jump-off point. Don’t expect the first of the many project manager interview questions to immediately be about project management. Your possible future employer would want to get as much information about you as they can. Although the focus would of course be on your professional background, they would also take this as a chance to get a glimpse of your life and your interests.
Additionally, this is a chance for them to gauge how well you do under pressure. If you’re already shaky and stuttering while answering this question, then you’re not really giving a great first impression.
So, in answering this, start by telling them your name and how you wish to be addressed. Then, briefly tell them about your professional background. If the situation permits, you can tell them one slightly personal thing about you (a favorite hobby, for instance) to show a bit of personality.
2) What is your understanding of project management?
To answer this question, it’s important that you brush up on essential information, including a concise definition of project management, its 6Ps, and its life cycle:
Aside from the definition included previously, you could also say that project management is different from management because it involves a strict timetable and a specific set of deliverables.
6 Ps of Project Management
A good understanding of project management includes the 6 Ps: “proper planning prevents poor project performance.”
Project Management Life Cycle
Finally, anyone who claims to be an experienced project manager must be familiar with its life cycle, which includes four basic stages: initiation, planning, executing, and closure.
3) What are knowledge areas and why are they significant to project management?
Granted, your interviewers may not ask about something so specific. However, this could be a good bit of information to add to your arsenal if you want to show off your knowledge of project management.
Essentially, knowledge areas make up the technical processes of effective project management. You could learn more about them by checking out the Project Management Book of Knowledge. Read about them in detail and try to paraphrase what you learn in your own words.
4) What is the Pareto principle analysis?
To answer another knowledge-based question that may come up in your interview, you should be familiar with the Pareto principle analysis. It is basically a statistical method for decision-making that pinpoints the smallest number of tasks that can bring about the most significant results for your project. Also called the 80/20 rule, the Pareto principle states that 80% of your results should come from 20% of your team’s actions. This principle is useful in prioritizing to-dos, especially in complex projects.
Since this is a well-known practice among project managers, it may not be enough to just mention that you know about it. If you have practiced the Pareto principle in your work before, go ahead and tell your interviewers about that experience. It shows them that you can practically apply your know-how.
5) What are the most important skills that a project manager should have?
This is the point where the project manager interview questions become a bit more specific. You can have a more personal answer to this question, depending on your own experiences. The general rule for this, however, is to be concise with your answer. Try to list no more than five skills. For each one that you mention, briefly explain how practicing it helped you become a better project manager.
For instance, you could say that being proactive is an essential ingredient for a project manager. It allows you to more closely monitor the situation to keep track of possible risks and be better prepared to mitigate them. Now, there are other essential skills that you could mention, including skills in communication, leadership, organization, and negotiation.
6) What’s your leadership and communication styles?
The only way to give an impressive answer to this is to really take the time to reflect on your experiences as a project manager. Just like in the previous question, there isn’t an exact answer to this because it’s all relative. The same rules also apply here: don’t be too general and support your answers with real-world situations.
If you don’t already know it, you could determine your leadership style by looking at your relationships with team members and how you handle the team’s tasks. For instance, a leader who delegates and supports usually assigns tasks to the team but then lets them decide how to accomplish them.
As for your communication style, you could say that it would always depend on the type of project and team that you currently have. In any case, your style could be face-to-face, written, or electronic.
7) What are your experiences working as a project manager?
At this point onwards, the project manager interview questions will focus more on what you can specifically contribute to the role and the company. In answering this, keep in mind that they’re looking for significant experiences. You don’t have to list off every project you’ve ever handled. It’s enough to highlight the ones where you gained a pivotal skill or reached a surprisingly high level of success.
Before that, however, you may also mention the significant companies that you’ve worked with and how long you worked for them. When you tell your employers about a significant project or two, include the following: objectives, main tactics, results, and most importantly, your role in the entire process.
8) Tell us about a challenging project that you managed. How did you handle it?
This is where they’re trying to get a sense of your character and leadership skills when you’re under fire. So, to answer this question, start by giving them a short summary of the project by stating its objectives, the tactics you employed, the budget and timetable you had to stick to, and the results. And then, give an honest assessment of strengths and weaknesses, both the project’s and yours as a project manager. Avoid hyping yourself up too much, as that can easily be interpreted as arrogance.
9) What’s the biggest challenge you’ve encountered while handling a project?
The biggest mistake you can make when answering this question is implicating that you fell short on performing core project management skills. This is why it’s better to focus instead on the external factors which caused the challenges. For instance, instead of saying that you had trouble dealing with your team members, you could focus on how the project’s funding was abruptly suspended. Finish off your answer by saying how you handled the challenge and what lessons you gained from it.
10) How do you begin newly assigned projects?
Through this question, your interviewer is trying to get a sense of how targeted and organized your intentions are when going into a new project. An effective project manager knows that one of the first things to do before starting a project is to understand its specific objectives. This step also involves understanding the client’s needs and wants.
Your next course of action should be getting to know your team and their personalities. This is a great way to devise the best techniques to manage them and to learn how to build rapport later on. Finally, you should take stock of other company resources that may help your project further down the road.
Now, those are just the basic steps to take before starting a project. If your experiences tell you to add or remove a few things, then feel free to do so!
11) What are your priorities in a project?
Prioritization is an essential skill for project managers, especially when it comes to handling a demanding project. Again, the Pareto principle tells us that in prioritizing tasks, you should place the ones with the highest expected yield on top of the list. Another technique that you may have employed in the past is listing all the tasks and categorizing them in terms of urgency and importance.
12) How would you know if a project is off-track?
The ability to detect when a project is going south is high on your interviewer’s list of project manager qualifications. In general, they look for three things in the answers to this question: a strong understanding of your objectives, accountability, and creativity.
Before anything else, you must have a good grasp of your project’s goals, mainly including its scope, budget, and timetable. This allows you to feel more comfortable in being accountable for them should anything go wrong. Finally, they want to see how creative you were in your problem-solving skills. Include a real example in your answer to up your experience score.
13) How would you get a project back on track?
Being the logical follow-up to the previous question, this is another one of the project manager interview questions that tests how you do under pressure. You could go ahead and answer this with how you actually solved the real experience you discussed previously. Keep in mind, however, that your interviewers are looking for answers that support your communication and leadership skills, especially how well you perform under pressure.
14) Do you have an ideal project?
Your gut may be telling you that the ideal project would be the one you’re applying for. There’s nothing wrong with that. However, before you make this claim, be sure that it really does have all you’re looking for in a project. To ruminate on this point, you could ask yourself the following questions:
- What type of work brings out the best in you as a project manager?
- What qualities do you look for in your team?
- How open are you to try new things in a project?
- How free or strict do you prefer your deadlines and budgets to be?
15) Have you managed remote teams and outsourced resources?
As the world becomes more globalized, it becomes safer to assume that not all projects are accomplished in just one geographical area. In some cases, project managers may never meet their members and may have to outsource other resources. If these are things you’ve dealt with before, then try to highlight your biggest learnings from the experiences.
If you haven’t experienced this yet, what you could answer instead is how you would handle these types of situations when you do encounter them. The best thing to highlight here is your overall communication strategy, since you’ll essentially be working with teams from overseas.
16) Do you seek help outside the project team?
You might think that, as a project manager, you’re expected to always have the answers and to be entirely independent. To be blunt, that’s an obsolete mentality. Nowadays, recruiters are looking for someone who knows when they are in over their heads and aren’t afraid to ask for help and, more importantly, learn from other professionals. Keep this in mind when thinking of an answer.
17) Do you delegate tasks?
This is sort of like a trick question among the other, relatively more straightforward project manager interview questions, since it’s looking for a different answer altogether. All project managers are expected to delegate tasks. The last thing any company wants is a micromanager who puts everything on their own shoulders.
So, it’s not about whether you do this or not; it’s about how you do it. Don’t forget that before you delegate, you must first understand your tasks and your team members. Only then can you match the tasks to the person who is best qualified to carry them out.
18) How would you know if your team members aren’t working to their full potential?
No project ever unfolds exactly the way it was planned. Even if you do your best in assembling a winning team, sometimes a team member still underperforms. Since you can’t afford to postpone the project until you can find a better replacement, your best move would be to smartly deal with that team member.
In answering this, show your professionalism by focusing on the person’s actions and how they negatively affected your project, instead of attacking their personal attributes. Then, highlight your problem-solving skills by laying out the creative solutions you employed. Finish off your answer with the results of your efforts and how you eventually moved on with the project.
19) How do you motivate your team members when morale is low?
Your role as a project manager includes overseeing the general well-being of your team. That said, it’s important that you know not only when they’re not as motivated as they can be, but also how to give them that much-needed morale boost. In answering this, you need to show that you have an open yet professional relationship with your team.
Only by getting to know them will you discover the best ways to lift their spirits. Whether it’s through a wholesome after-work karaoke sesh or an over-the-weekend camping trip, your techniques should, at the end of the day, help your team find their groove and be more productive than ever before.
20) How would you resolve conflict among team members?
Add conflict resolution to the exhaustive list of skills that a project manager should master. Don’t feel disheartened if you’ve encountered conflicts during projects before; it’s a natural part of working with teams. What’s more important is how you resolve them. Answering this question is another chance to showcase your communication skills, since any good project manager would know that the first step in conflict resolution is to get to the root cause of the problem.
Once you’re in touch with the problem, you can proceed with coming up with solutions. In doing this, focus on keeping all involved parties satisfied while still factoring in what’s best for the project. Follow this general format in formulating your answer and you’ll be good to go.
21) How do you measure your team’s performance?
Knowing how each team member is performing is an essential aspect of keeping your project on track. Keep your answer to this question straight to the point. Start with the exact technique that you use and simply follow that up with a brief explanation as to why you use it.
Additionally, don’t forget that your team members aren’t the only ones that should be monitored in terms of performance. This is a good time to include how you monitor and manage your own performance.
22) How do you work with your different stakeholders?
Your potential future employers expect a project manager who knows how to work well with people outside their team. Not only does this help in accomplishing the project’s tasks, but it also opens doors to more projects in the future. So, you must be able to work well with different stakeholders, including higher-ups, partners, and customers.
Each group requires a different approach. However, what you can emphasize in your answer is how you specifically deal with those who have a certain degree of power over your project. Managing them while still maintaining your own authority shows a special type of skill.
23) How do you manage feelings of being overwhelmed?
Even your recruiters understand that you’re human, too, and that you can get overwhelmed sometimes. However, they mainly ask this to see just how much you let your emotions affect your job. Still, it’s always best to be honest.
For instance, you can tell them about that time when you had to step away during a particularly stressful moment to go have a quick smoke. This is acceptable as long as you emphasize the fact that you returned to working on the project. It’s better to take occasional, small breaks than to work non-stop and eventually abandon the project due to burn out.
24) What’s your expected salary?
Now that they have a clear picture of the extent of your skills and experiences, your interviewers are ready to wrap up the interview. Naturally, they ask this question to have an idea of your expectations for compensation. As a general rule of thumb, you should aim to increase your salary by 20% in your next job. Try to be realistic with your answer by asking yourself if you’d be willing to pay someone else that amount to do the same job.
25) Do you have any questions?
The last of these 25 project manager interview questions is really just to wrap-up the interview. A lot of aspiring project managers tend to neglect this question, so most of them usually just answer, “no.” However, asking questions shows that you’re genuinely interested in the position and the company. It’s also the perfect opportunity to clear up any possible misconceptions during the interview.
The Bottom Line
The answers to the project manager interview questions outlined above should only be used as a general guide for when you go to your actual interview. Keep in mind that your answers should still be tailored to your own skills, strengths, and areas for improvement. Some recruiters can get turned off by picture-perfect candidates, since they no longer show potential for growth and improvement.
Also, try to be prepared for anything during your interview. The questions above are only the ones that are most likely to appear during your interview. You never know when an interviewer will ask you that random question, like “Where do bubbles go when they pop?”
Finally, never try to answer with a fabricated situation that’s supposed to make you look better in front of your interviewers. The best experiences are still your own experiences.