When an organization has a key project on tap, finding the right project manager will help the team pull it off successfully. Whether the project manager is already on the team or needs hiring from outside the organization, it’s important to find the right person.
Asking the right project management interview questions will help your organization find the right manager for the project and keep the company on track.
What Are Project Management Interview Questions Anyway?
Project management interview questions are those a hiring manager would ask to potential project manager candidates. The hiring manager hopes to find a candidate with the best skills for managing a particular project through these questions.
Some of the interview questions will focus on specific information the candidate would need to handle this project. Some of the questions could be general in nature. Such broad questions may point to a project manager’s skills that would translate to any type of project. They may include questions about:
- Leadership qualities
- Planning abilities
- Communication skills
- Ability to handle multiple tasks
- Motivational capabilities
- Ability to collaborate and work with team members effectively
- Ability to track progress
Those preparing to select a project manager will want to have a wide range of questions available that help them find the right candidate.
How Project Management Interview Questions Work
Organizations will use project management interviews to narrow the list of candidates. Hiring just the right person as the manager can make or break a project. Consequently, the questions the hiring manager selects for candidates are important in helping discover the best candidate.
More than likely, the hiring manager already eliminated the majority of unqualified candidates through resume screening. This means that the remaining candidates who will receive an interview probably will have a robust collection of skills. Using the right interview questions can narrow the list further, pointing out the perfect candidate.
Hiring managers will want to put together the list of project management interview questions ahead of time. They want to be able to ask the same set of questions to each candidate, making it easier to compare them directly to determine the best fit.
The majority of project management interview questions will fall into five categories. We’ll discuss those categories and include some potential sample questions the hiring manager could use.
Example #1: Experience With Projects
When seeking a strong candidate for managing projects, hiring managers will want to measure the candidate’s experience level. Candidates who have shown success with project management in the past should have a better chance of running this project successfully versus someone without specific PM experience.
When considering a potential project manager from outside the organization, finding someone with experience is especially important.
When considering internal candidates, experience with actual project management may not be quite as important. The hiring manager will have a better idea of the skills and abilities of the internal candidate by having seen them work for the organization. The internal candidate may have been a key assistant on a past project for the team, and they may now be ready to become a project manager.
Keeping the Candidate Focused on Project Experience
Some interviewers may phrase a query in this category in a way that’s too generic, such as: Tell me about yourself. Unfortunately, this type of request may cause the candidate to focus on things other than project management.
Instead, ask the candidate to expand on a topic: Please describe your past successes with projects. This more specific question keeps the candidate focused on items related to the job. This also allows candidates who may have no experience leading a project to describe projects where they served as part of the project team or worked closely with the PM.
During this interview segment, it can be advantageous to ask follow-up questions on the past successes the candidate has had with managing projects. Allowing the candidate to discuss success can put the candidate at ease early in the interview process, hopefully leading to better, more honest answers.
Example #2: Preferred Organizational Method for a Project
Project managers need to have excellent organizational skills. They need to track multiple subtasks at once while quickly answering questions from various people.
Some project managers prefer to use a tried-and-true organizational method that they know well. Others may be adaptable to whatever organizational structure the team prefers to use or that a particular project demands.
When asking a question in this project manager interview category, the hiring manager may want to ask: Do you prefer one organizational style, or do you adapt the organizational style to the project?
Familiarity With Multiple Project Methods
Some teams need a project manager who can handle a wide range of projects. In this case, the hiring manager may ask the candidates which project methodologies they have experience in.
Some of the most popular project management organizational methodologies include:
- Agile: Those projects that must move toward a quick deadline work well with agile project management. This style is suitable for projects that must sometimes change direction in the middle of the project.
- CPM: The critical path method (CPM) requires extensive research about the project ahead of time. With this information in hand, the project manager can determine the best path to take. It also allows for precise estimation of the time required.
- Kanban: The Kanban methodology involves setting up multiple tasks for the project. When paired with Kanban project management software like Asana, it’s easy to visualize the project’s progress with this style. This is a very common project methodology.
- Lean: A lean project focuses on the value the project will provide. These projects rely on the end user and customer feedback to guide the project forward. This method works nicely for the rapid development of products.
- PMI: The Project Management Institute (PMI) publishes guidelines for project management, and these represent industry standards. They work for a wide range of projects.
- Scrum: Scrum, or sprint, projects go extremely fast with small teams. Project managers need to be highly organized with an ability to pivot quickly in a scrum project.
- Six Sigma: A Six Sigma project has a focus on improving quality. Team members focus on figuring out what is and isn’t working during the project, pivoting as needed to ensure the final product delivers excellent quality.
- Waterfall: The waterfall method requires extensive research before starting the project, laying out all aspects of what should happen. It works well for software and app development.
The hiring manager should have familiarity with the various project methodologies before the interview. This allows the hiring manager to ask intelligent questions and to fully understand the candidate’s answers.
Example #3: Professional Interests
When asking about the candidate’s professional interests, the answer can give the hiring manager an idea of whether this project’s scope matches the candidate. Some interviewers will expand this line of questioning to include any personal interests the candidate may have.
When the project manager finds the topic of the project to be of interest, they are more likely to enjoy the work and invest the time required.
Certain projects are extremely narrow in scope. They may require a significant depth of knowledge about one particular topic. These kinds of projects may have better results when the manager is fully interested and invested.
Especially technical projects can be tedious for some people. In a case like this, it helps when the project manager has a passion for the work.
Working on Less Interesting Projects
As a follow-up question, the interviewer may ask: What projects do not interest you? This type of question can give the interviewer an idea about whether candidates will be willing to work hard on projects in which they have no professional interest.
Maintaining a focus and ability to handle projects that some may consider boring shows a high level of professionalism. The organization may want someone in the project manager role that it can trust with any kind of project at any time.
Example #4: Leadership and Communication Skills
No project can have success without excellent communication between the project manager and the rest of the team. Project management software can aid in communication among team members.
During an interview with project manager candidates, the hiring manager may make a request like: Describe your preferred method of communicating. Some project managers may prefer face-to-face meetings. Others may be willing to use a wide range of communications options.
For a team that has members spread among different offices or locations, a project manager will need to know how to use technology to keep everyone engaged. For a small team or a team working out of one location, in-person meetings or a combination of technology and meetings may work better.
Experience With Overcoming Problems
Part of exhibiting strong leadership is being able to solve problems as they arise in the project. Potential problems can include:
- Underperforming team members
- Project creep, where team members take on tasks beyond the project’s focus
- Ethical dilemmas
- Technical problems
- Day-to-day issues that arise
Hiring managers may want to ask a candidate to expand on this topic: Describe a problem from a past project that you were able to solve. The answer may help the hiring manager determine whether the project manager candidate is good at identifying problems and solving them. Does the project manager know how to use technology to help with solving problems?
Exhibiting patience, changing tactics, and achieving success when under the pressure of problems is a crucial skill for any project manager to possess.
Example #5: Experience With Project Software
Making full use of the best project management software is important for any project manager candidate. Hiring managers will want to ask candidates: What project management software tools do you prefer? Options like Asana, Basecamp, Trello, and Wrike will fit the needs of many teams.
Some teams will allow the project manager to bring in and implement their favorite software package. However, if the team already uses particular software, it’s preferable if the new project manager has experience with that software.
Matching Organizational Style to the Project Management Software Brand
Along those same lines, hiring managers may want to ask questions about how the project manager candidate will mesh software into the organizational methodology in use. Some of those are:
- Task-based: When wanting to build the project on a series of subtasks, project managers can maintain a visual representation of the flow of the project with a Kanban interface. It’s easy to see the order in which the teams need to complete each task.
- Deadline-based: Some projects work better when the team focuses on the deadlines it is facing. For a project that has an inflexible end date, using a calendar-based interface in the project management software provides a helpful organizational structure.
- Multiple interfaces: Project management software that offers a wide range of interfaces and organizational options may work better for some managers. They then can adapt their preferred organizational methodology to whatever each project demands.
- Customizable: Some software allows the project manager to customize the build of certain aspects of the interface. This ensures a perfect fit between the preferred organizational method and the structure of the software. If this is important to a team, the hiring manager may want to ask: Are you (the project manager candidate) willing to put in the time to customize the software to match each project?
A project manager who locks into one type of project management organization style may balk at using software or structure that doesn’t match that style. This could be a deal-breaker for a team that needs a versatile project manager who can handle a wide range of projects.
How to Get Started With Project Management Interview Questions
After narrowing the list of potential project manager candidates, it’s time for interviews. Hiring managers should begin by putting together a list of project management interview questions.
Although each case has its unique aspects, here are some general steps to help hiring managers put together a list of questions.
Step 1: Determine the Proper Number of Questions
Finding the correct number of questions to ask each candidate is not quite as challenging as settling on the right questions. However, it does require some thought.
Many of these interview questions will generate longer answers as the candidate goes into detail about experiences. If the hiring manager has too many questions, the interview process may take far too long, or some questions won’t get asked.
However, asking too few questions may make it difficult to find the right person for the position.
Anywhere from five to 10 questions should deliver the desired results. Plan on a couple of minutes for the candidate to answer each question. Leave time for follow-up questions from the interviewer that aren’t part of the original list.
Step 2: Select the General Questions to Ask
Come up with a list of general-nature questions to ask the job candidate. These questions should give the interviewer an idea of the candidate’s personality and basic problem-solving skills.
These questions can help the hiring manager feel confident that the candidate will fit in with the team and the organization. Some of the other traits these general questions can reveal for candidates include:
- Ability to bounce back from difficult results
- Ability to plan ahead
- Ethics for doing the job properly
- Experience with various situations related to managing people
- Leadership skills
- Motivation for doing a good job
- Problem-solving skills
Step 3: Select the Project-Specific Questions to Ask
Finally, add in some questions that allow the candidate to show off any skills that fit this project.
A hiring manager may only want to have one or two project-specific questions. By relying more on general questions, it’s easier to find a project manager who can handle any type of subject.
On the other hand, a hiring manager may prefer mainly asking questions related to the specific project during the interview for the project manager candidates. A project in this instance may require a manager who has particular knowledge about specific techniques or industry niches.
Questions specific to a project can help a hiring manager find a project manager with skills including:
- Deep knowledge of the industry
- Ability to decipher technical jargon
- Specific experience with certain project management software tools
- Ability to explain projects and concepts in simple language to supervisors and stakeholders
- Expertise with sprint project campaigns and scrum teams
- Expertise with waterfall project designs