​How to ask and respond to common project manager interview questions

Looking for a project manager to take your business forward? Or are you looking for a role in project management? We outline some of the common interview questions associated with project manager roles and how to respond to them as a jobseeker.

7 mins read
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7 months ago

Project managers are responsible for the daily management of project work and need to have the skills to handle the scope, schedule, budget, risk and quality of any project.

Project manager roles can be very stressful and time-sensitive, so interviews for this kind of role can be challenging. Although every interview is different, it is likely that similar questions will be asked that focus on interpersonal skills, technical knowledge and examples from specific situations.

Here are some common project manager interview questions that you can ask as an employer and how to answer them as a candidate.

Tell me about yourself

Employer:This is a common question to start most interviews, and it is a good way to learn more about a candidate’s background, previous experiences and skills they have learned from other roles. This question can also be used to try and learn more about the candidate’s personality and how they would fit in as a project manager at the company.

Candidate:There are several ways to approach this question that will satisfy the interviewer. A simple and effective way to structure a response is to start with your current role and what you do, then move on to past experiences that are relevant to the role you applied for and finish with what kind of role you are looking for next and why you are interested in this opportunity.

What’s your prior experience in this industry?

Employer:It’s important to know if a candidate has experience in your industry because they may already have the knowledge and understand the methods that your company uses to manage projects successfully. If they don’t, try to assess if they have strong project management skills that can apply to your industry, such as using project management software or having a good knowledge of how the industry works.

Candidate:Being prepared to talk about the industry is essential. Make sure you can talk about any experiences you have had in the industry - from either a professional or academic perspective. If you don’t have any direct experience, talk about what you know from market research, what interests you about the industry and what you plan to bring to it. It may be helpful to mention any skills or knowledge that are transferable as well.

What was your most successful project?

Employer:Scenario-based interview questions are a good way to understand how candidates have achieved success in different situations. This question will help to identify a candidate’s passion for their work, any proven successes as a project manager and how they measure success.

Candidate:This question gives you a great opportunity to show your strengths as a project manager. Focus on your role - what did you do to make sure the project stayed on track to meet the deadline? Think about the key decisions you and the team made that led to its success. Remember, projects can be successful not only for meeting goals and deadlines, but also if they introduced change and developed new strategies.

"Although you may be concerned about a career decision, or some possible skill gaps a candidate might have, be mindful to not rule anyone out or make any snap judgements before the end of the interview so you can get the full picture and give the candidate a fair chance."

Scott Nevett- Recruitment Director, Reed

Describe a difficult project and how you handled it

Employer: The purpose of this question is to evaluate how candidates cope with challenges. Obstacles are common when managing projects, but you want to find out how they solved them in the past to understand how they deal with real-life situations. This question also gives an insight into the person’s project management style, and how they lead teams and resolve conflicts that may occur.

Candidate: Facing unexpected challenges is a key part of being a project manager, so ideally you’ll have a few examples to pick from. The best way to answer this question is to first explain the situation and what the challenge was. Then, describe how you found a solution to overcome the situation. Next, tell what you did, and how you did it. Finish by sharing the result and what you learned from the experience.

How do you prioritise tasks on a project?

Employer: Knowing exactly what to prioritise is essential for any project. To be successful, a good project manager or project management office (PMO) is going to help manage small and large-scale projects that have an impact on the business and customers. This question will explore the candidate’s thought process and how they make time and task management decisions. It’s also worth finding out how the candidate would handle multiple projects at once.

Candidate: When asked questions about prioritisation, providing examples of how you organise your day, plan your work and set deadlines shows the interviewer that you’re able to monitor and keep on top of work. According to the 2021 Project Management Report, 59% of project managers run between two and five projects at any given time, so make sure your answer includes a combination of deadlines, stakeholder needs and business-critical tasks.

What tools/software do you like to use to help plan, track and evaluate a project?

Employer: A project manager will use tools to plan, track and evaluate their work. Take the time to get a sense of how well the candidate knows different project management tools and how they use them.

Candidate: It would be helpful to list the project management tools you’ve used in previous roles, from Trello to Basecamp to Asana. Mention what you enjoy about the tools, and how they could be improved – it would be a great bonus to find out what tools the company uses and start a conversation on that.

How do you manage budgets for your projects?

Employer: Most projects, regardless of the size, usually require some budgeting, which is why it may be useful to ask questions specifically about budget management. Asking questions about budgets allows employers to gain a deeper understanding of what experience the candidate has with project management processes.

Candidate: The employer, more often than not, will want to hear examples of when you’ve managed a budget for previous projects. Try to talk about situations when you’ve given cost estimates, allocated funds, kept track of money spent, and how you’ve planned for unforeseen costs. If you don’t have much experience, share what you know about budget planning, or, if relevant, talk about budgeting in your personal life. Our specialist recruiters can help you conduct the perfect interview.

Have you worked with remote teams?

Employer: Because of the pandemic – and the rapid growth of digital project management tools – projects being done and worked on remotely have increased significantly. Knowing how the candidate has worked with people and resources remotely can show you how they adapt to changes in working conditions, and provides valuable insight into their leadership style.

Candidate: Employers will want to know how you’ve successfully worked with remote teams. Often, they will want to hear possible challenges faced when working with a remote workforce, and how you dealt with any issues quickly and effectively. Showing how you’ve been flexible and adaptable to changes in working conditions – such as using communication software like Microsoft Teams – is also a huge positive for businesses in the current situation.

How would you handle a difficult stakeholder?

Employer: This question aims to gain clarity into a candidate’s stakeholder management skills and how they deal with issues. How they communicate with executives, project sponsors and stakeholders requires a different tone than what is used with team members – use this question to understand what approach they’d take to handle this situation.

Candidate: Working with stakeholders is never easy, but it’s a vital part of being a successful project manager. Being able to showcase your ability to manage stakeholder needs is crucial. Focus on a previous example, describing the situation, before presenting your solution and the result will stand you in good stead. Your communication and negotiation skills will be an important part of your answer.

If you are looking for the next top professional for your business or looking for your next role, get in touch with one of our expert consultants today.

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