Project management is an exciting and incredibly challenging career path, and job opportunities abound in many different industries around the globe. Whether you decided to become a project manager while in school, or worked your way up through other roles in your field, landing a PM job requires an impressive set of skills and experience.
Constructing the perfect CV will hopefully land you an interview with your chosen company, but your work doesn't end there. Proper preparation before the interview will assure you've got all the right answers and are confident in presenting them. To help you test yourself, we've put together a helpful list of the 10 most commonly asked questions in a project manager interview, as well as tips on how to answer them.
1. 'Can you tell us a bit about your background?'
This is one of the most common interview questions out there, no matter what job you're applying for. Prepare a response ahead of time, focusing on highlights like any degrees, previous employment and important career accomplishments. Pick the elements of your experience that are most relevant to the job you're applying for, like managing projects in different industries or successfully tackling an assignment that required coordinating 50 people from six different departments
Open-ended queries like these can tempt you to overshare. They've seen your resume, so you don't need to go over every single job you've had since high school. Employers are typically looking for more of a personal angle on this question, so touch on why you got into this field, where you learned the most, and why you're so excited about working for this company.
2. 'What would you say are the most important project manager skills and why?'
Working as a project manager requires many important job skills like communication, time management and leadership. You may also choose to discuss skills related to the industry you're applying to, like graphic design, coding or marketing. While the detail of your response is more important than choosing the 'correct' skill, you might want to first address the big picture of project management.
Interview expert Richard McMunn suggests discussing planning and execution as the primary project manager skills. Having a proper plan in place and being able to execute each step of that plan is the only way to get the project done by the deadline and within budget.
3. 'How would you describe your communication style?'
With so many moving parts to a project, it's no surprise that this is a commonly asked project manager interview question. While effective communication can be valuable in every job, being able to communicate clearly and effectively is essential for completing a project on time and up to standard.
You'll want to explain your communication style and why it's successful. For example: 'When communicating with staff, I prefer to be direct and get straight to the point. It saves time when working on a tight deadline and helps eliminate confusion on goals and assignments.' Depending on who you'll interact with in your role, you may want to elaborate on how you tailor your style – offering a more relaxed, big-picture approach to clients and a more authoritative, detailed communication to team members.
4. 'When you receive a new project, how do you begin?'
It's one thing to talk about skills, work style and your CV, but that doesn't necessarily indicate you'll know what to do when you get handed your first project. The interviewers want to know what your immediate plan of action is, like who you'll consult with first and what processes you'll put into place. Any company and industry research you did during your job search can assist you in being more specific in your response, including correct department names and important managers.
Madhavi Bodepudi, a project management expert with a background in organisation psychology, suggests a strategy for your answer that appeals to employers: 'A good manager would try to understand the "what" of the project before the "how". What it means is that you first try to understand what the objective or purpose of the project is, before diving into how to achieve the goals of the project.'
5. 'Describe how you motivate your team to meet goals and deadlines.'
The ways you motivate team members is often similar to the ways you motivate yourself at work. This can include breaking up large tasks into smaller, more manageable ones, asking for input and feedback, and taking regular breaks to de-stress during intense work. As you discuss your motivational techniques, remember that you may have to coordinate with a variety of people as a project manager, including departments and executives, you have no authority over in the hierarchy of things.
To address that issue, career coach Alina Campos recommends showing your interviewers that you're willing to do your share of the work on a project. 'Really good project managers, they get in there and they get their hands dirty. What I mean by that is they are right there along with their team making sure things are happening.' Be ready with an example of how you shared tasks and collaborated with others on the project, taking their ideas, workload and concerns into account.
6. 'How have you dealt with a team member that is underperforming on the project?'
This is a common project manager interview question because planning and organising can only be successful if you can manage all the people involved. On some projects, you may not even get to choose your own team, but even if you do land the best people for the assignment, inevitably there's always someone who is not pulling their weight.
You should already have experience dealing with a difficult employee, so explain your process with examples from your previous work. Be sure to address how you evaluate 'underperforming'. Do they consistently miss task deadlines? Do the quality checks uncover repeated mistakes in their work? Are they missing project meetings or ignoring emails? Your prospective employers will want to see what you value in employee performance as well as how you deal with any teamwork issues that affect the project.
7. 'Tell us about your most challenging project and what you learned from it.'
This is one of the most common behavioural questions you'll be asked in a project manager interview. Your prospective employer may also frame this as a question about a time you failed, or the interview panel might present you with a difficult scenario they want you to solve. No one expects every project to go smoothly, so don't worry if this question has a more negative angle to it.
The best way to tackle this question is to employ the STAR method to craft your answer: briefly describe the situation, explain the task you were assigned, talk about what actions you took to complete that task, and arrive at the results. The ultimate goal is to illustrate to the interviewer how you approached problems, collaborated with your team, used creative thinking, controlled stress and learned from your mistakes.
If possible, choose a project with unforeseeable problems, like weather-related supply chain issues. Avoid putting too much blame on other team members or complaining about critical stakeholders. The bulk of your answer should be about what you learned to do better moving forward.
8. 'What project management tools do you use and why?'
Technology is an integral part of most jobs these days and being knowledgeable about the array of tools available is essential to acing any interview. Whatever your preference is for management tools like Asana, Trello or Basecamp, be ready to talk about any specific software mentioned in the job listing. Address both strengths and weaknesses of the tools you've worked with.
As suggested by recruiting firm Robert Half, explain how these technical tools are beneficial to the business. This includes tracking progress, improving communication, and allowing easy collaboration between staff regardless of their location.
9. 'How many bottles of shampoo are used in hotels around the world?'
Yes, this was an actual project manager interview question reported on Glassdoor. While it may seem strange to be asked about something so irrelevant to the job listing, these weird interview questions are commonly used to test your approach to a problem. The exact answer is irrelevant. Just start explaining your process, like what data you would need, how you would find it, and your potential calculations.
It's a good idea to practice answering these types of problem-solving queries ahead of time, especially if you're applying for a project management job in a technical field.
10. 'What is the most difficult aspect of project management?'
Be careful with this question. Like many of the tougher queries interviewers will throw at you, there's a potential trap in how you respond. While 'Dealing with unreasonable clients.' or 'Having an unproductive team.' might be honest responses, to your prospective employers, these answers alone may look like management failings on your part.
The best way to answer this question is to weave in a proven solution. If you have a lot of experience with getting conflicting instructions from two different bosses, for instance, give an example of how you resolved that issue. Consider this sample answer for instance:
'While developing a new email newsletter campaign for the company, my manager instructed me to collaborate regularly with marketing to make sure our messaging and timing coordinated with other campaigns. On my first attempt, the marketing director informed me they were way too busy with other projects and to show her the finished newsletter before it went out. I was scheduled to meet my manager that afternoon for an update, so I asked the marketing director if she could join us to discuss the issue briefly. She agreed, and it only took a few minutes to establish a regular timetable for checking in with marketing that made both her and my manager happy.'
While it is impossible to know every question, you might get asked in a project manager interview, preparing for these commonly asked queries will help you evaluate all your project manager skills and experience. Practising your responses will help you tackle any question that gets thrown your way with enough confidence, detail, and relevance to impress your prospective employers.
What questions have you been asked when applying for a project management job? Which were the toughest? Join the discussion below and let us know!