One of the most common interview formats is the competency-based interview, which involves enquiring candidates about past experiences. As many professional roles require some degree of project management experience, it’s a good idea to prepare for commonly asked competency-based interview questions — like “Describe a project you have worked on”.
To help you out, we’ve put together this handy guide, which walks you through the process of crafting an effective response, what hiring managers hope to glean from your answer, plus useful examples for inspiration.
Let’s get started.
Why hiring managers ask this question
Even if you’re not applying for a project management position, a wide variety of other roles also require skills in project management. However, hiring managers don’t only ask this question to assess your ability to manage projects, but also to learn about your general working style.
Through describing a project that you’ve worked on in the past, you’re also revealing how well you work with others, how you respond to challenges, and whether you’re organized and can meet deadlines.
Steps to crafting a response
As “describe a project you have worked on” is such a common interview question, it’s a good idea to ensure you’re ready and prepared to respond effectively. Below are five steps to crafting the perfect response.
1. Prepare ahead of time
When you’re in the hot seat during an interview, it can be challenging to recall the details of past experiences and tell a concise and compelling story. So, this is why it’s best practice to prepare for interview questions in advance. Prior to the interview, think back in detail on previous projects you had worked on, and write down key information and points you want to address in your response.
2. Use the STAR method
The most effective way to answer competency-based interview questions is through the STAR method. This interview technique involves responding to the question with a structure comprised of four elements: Situation, Task, Action and Result.
When answering this question, begin by describing the situation, such as the scope and objectives of the project. Then, describe your specific task in the project. Next, you’ll share what action you took that made an impact. Finally, you’ll share the result of the project, which was achieved by your action.
3. Stay positive
When you get asked during an interview about your project management skills, the interviewers aren’t only assessing your technical skills, but also your attitude. So, even if you worked on a project with difficult coworkers who didn’t pull their weight, it’s best to keep a positive attitude and focus on your strengths and ability to learn from challenges and mistakes. After all, an interview is not the place to air grievances about former employers or coworkers.
4. Be concise
One of the fastest ways to lose the attention of your interviewers is to ramble. So, if you want to keep your interviewers engaged, ensure your response is concise and to the point. If the project you worked on was complicated, try to think of a way to remove any information that isn’t necessary. Since the ideal length of your response should be 2–3 minutes long, it’s a good idea to practice your response in advance while timing yourself.
5. Quantify your success
One of the most effective ways to make your response more impactful and memorable is to quantify your success. As opposed to just stating the project you worked on was successful, provide specific stats or figures. For example, you could say: “The project led to a 15% reduction in client churn”. This will paint a clearer picture in the interviewers’ minds and, ultimately, make for a more compelling response.
Want some inspiration? Check out these example answers to guide you in preparing your own response:
Sales development representative
While I was working as a sales development representative in my last role, we were in the process of launching a new product. During this time, my manager approached me and three of my colleagues and asked us to work on a project researching prospective clients that we could target for the new product.
My role in this project was to determine the outreach strategy we would use to approach these prospects. In order to accomplish this, I collaborated closely with the product development team to better understand how the product could add value to prospective clients. I then created several email templates and outreaches tailored to the new product and shared them with my team.
My manager and team implemented the strategy, and it led to a 15% increase in new business during that quarter. Shortly after, I was promoted to senior sales development representative.
While I was working in my last job as office manager, my company relocated to a new office space. As I was responsible for all office logistics, I was also responsible for managing the relocation. In order to ensure the move went as smoothly and efficiently as possible, I started planning two months in advance.
The first step was creating a plan to make sure all boxes were ticked. I planned out the employee communications regarding the move, the logistics, and the finances. Since we would have to close the office for two days, I also collaborated closely with the department heads to ensure that the planned dates of the move would not impact any crucial business functions.
Following the move, I was formally recognized with the quarterly Star Performer award for my role in smoothly facilitating the relocation.
In my last role as marketing coordinator, I was responsible for managing a lead-generating webinar. My tasks in this project included recruiting internal speakers, creating the slide deck, managing the promotion, and setting up the webinar broadcasting technology.
In order to stay organized, I used an Excel spreadsheet with a list of the tasks and their respective deadlines. I used my advanced Excel skills to set the deadlines to automatically turn red when they were getting close. This way, I didn’t miss any important tasks.
The webinar was a success, with the attendance rate being 30% higher than initially expected. Due to this outcome, my team decided to begin broadcasting two webinars per quarter, for which I was responsible for project managing.
When you’re in an interview and asked to describe a project that you worked on, this is a great opportunity to display your competencies for the role. When responding it’s important to remember to:
- Prepare your response in advance, as it may be challenging to think of past experiences on the spot during the interview.
- Use the STAR technique to strengthen your response. It can be effective in ensuring you stay organized and concise.
- Keep your answer positive. Even if the project included difficult coworkers, it’s best to not speak poorly about others and instead highlight your resiliency to challenges.
- Respond concisely by keeping your answer between 2 and 3 minutes in length.
- Utilize stats and figures to quantify your success so that your response is more memorable and relatable to the interviewers.
By following the above steps, you can ensure you’re prepared to nail this interview question — and wow your prospective employer.
Got a question about crafting a response for “describe a project you have worked on” or want to share your own tips? Let us know in the comments section below.
Originally published on June 21, 2014.