You’ve memorized answers to the “Tell me about a time when…” questions. You’ve practiced your STAR stories. And if anyone asks about your spirit animal, you’ll be ready for that too.
And so have the other candidates. If you want to stand out from the competition, you need to prepare for the curveballs and the PM-specific questions.
We asked recruiters, hiring managers, and talent acquisition specialists for their go-to project manager interview questions. Take note of what they’re asking and what they’re looking for in a response, and you’ll be ready to ace your next interview.
What do you do when you realize a project is off deadline?
“This question will be 90 percent of my evaluation. I want candidates to walk me through, in detail, the steps they take to alert the stakeholder and make a plan to get the project back on track. Hitting deadlines is the most important issue in my industry. In fact, it’s the first, second, third, fourth, and fifth most important thing.”
Cody Swann, CEO of Gunner Technology
The project team is clearly not working well together. What are three different ways to address this?
“Every project is full of the unexpected. A critical skill for project managers is the ability to solve problems flexibly and with agility. Thus, asking project managers to present multiple solutions to a challenge is a great interview question!”
Eve MacKnight, Lead Consultant at littleowl.us
Tell me something you have never told anyone else.
“When recruiting for project managers, I’m looking for sound communication skills. Asking this fun question and hearing the candidate’s response allows me to recognize what the person in front of me is actually like.
If the interviewee comes up with an interesting answer, I know they are creative and can communicate well. Their response obviously shouldn’t be negative, but needs to be something honest and interesting enough to remember.
It also allows me to see if the candidate is a quick thinker, which is another important skill required from a project manager. As this is not a particularly common question a candidate would expect to be asked, it’s fascinating to see what they come up with.”
Steve Pritchard, HR Consultant for Cuuver
What do you do when you are overwhelmed by all the moving parts in any given project?
“I love this question because it allows the candidate to show if they are aware when they are overwhelmed. You can learn if the candidate gravitates toward being tight (follow the blueprint, no matter what) or loose (wait too long to address their own confusion). Lastly, it shows whether the person knows how to ask for help, whether that’s for coaching or resources.”
Joyce Wilson-Sanford, Executive Coach and Author
Who would you put on your personal Mount Rushmore?
“It always gets a laugh and creates a comfortable mood in the room. It’s also enlightening to hear who they choose and why they value them enough to have their heads immortalized on a mountain.”
How many stacked pennies would it take to equal the height of the Empire State Building?
“The candidates that use critical thinking as opposed to dismissing the question as silly are the ones you want to keep around. I once had a candidate jump up to the whiteboard and mathematically find his way to an answer that was within 100 feet. Needless to say, he was the type of person that we wanted on our team.”
Sean Killian, People Operations Lead at Enola Labs Software
What’s the most critical or difficult issue you’ve had to deal with while managing a project? How did you solve it?
“I ask this question all the time because it allows me to understand what kind of problems the candidate feels are critical. What is difficult for one person might be all in a day’s work for another. It also demonstrates their thought process, creativity, and sense of urgency.”
Karla Pooley, Head of Talent Acquisition, Blue Spurs
If the rest of the members of our PMO were in a bus accident tomorrow, what would you do? How would you handle it?
“I think this gives us insight into two key areas. First, the candidate’s ability to think on their feet. Very few candidates expect a question like this, especially junior candidates. Second, it gives us a little bit of insight into what kind of leader they are. Would they start by collecting data? Would they immediately take action? Would they delegate or try to do it all on their own? There are a million possibilities in this kind of hypothetical.”
Jonathan D. Rogers, Operations Director and a Certified Scrum Master at AndPlus
What do you do when your project is in trouble?
“Most project managers will say they’ve never failed on a project, and they easily steer things back on course. But, in reality, a lot of projects fail based upon original estimates in budget, time, resources, market conditions, and stakeholder time/expectations.
This question allows for further investigation and probing. I like to hear how a project manager adapts and deals with tough situations; their thought process and level of humility; dealing with difficult and unreasonable stakeholders. All these are part and parcel with being a project manager.”
Ken Kwan, Founder of Career Prophets
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