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Project managers are the backbone for the day-to-day management of project work and must be competent in managing the scope, schedule, finance, risk and quality of any given project.

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Because project manager roles are usually highly pressured and deadline driven, interviews for this type of role can often be intimidating. Even though all interviews differ in some way or form, it’s likely that similar types of questions will be asked that focus on interpersonal skills, technical knowledge and examples from specific situations.

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

Tell me about yourself

Employer: A common question to begin most interviews, this question is a great way to learn more about a candidate’s background, previous experiences and skills they’ve picked up from other roles. This question can also be extended to try and learn more about the candidate on a personal level and begin to understand how they could fit in as a project manager at the company.

Candidate: There are several ways to approaching this question which leaves the interviewer satisfied. A simple and effective formula for structuring a response would be to start with your current role and what you do, then move on to past experiences relevant to the applied role and finish with what type of role you’re looking for next and why you’re interested in this vacancy.

What’s your prior experience in this industry?

Employer: It’s important to know if a candidate has experience in your industry because they might already possess the knowledge and understand the methods that your company uses to successfully manage projects. If they don’t, try to gauge if they have strong project management skills that can relate to your industry, such as utilising project management software or a keen knowledge of how the industry functions.

Candidate: Being prepared to talk about the industry is paramount. Make sure you can talk about any experiences you’ve had within the industry – from either a professional or academic standpoint. 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 on bringing to it. It may be worth mentioning any skills or knowledge that are transferable too.

What was your most successful project?

Employer: Scenario-based interview questions are a good way to understand how success has been attained by candidates through differing circumstances. This question will begin to identify a candidate’s passion for their work, any proven successes as a project manager and how they measure success.

Candidate: This question presents the ideal opportunity to demonstrate your strengths as a project manager. Focus on your role – what did you do to ensure the project remained 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 incorporated 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

Name a challenging project and how you managed it

Employer: The aim of this question is to assess how candidates learn from challenges. Setbacks are normal when managing projects, but you want to discover how they dealt with them in the past to understand how they respond to real-life problems. This question also gives a sense of what the person’s project management style is like, and how they lead teams and deal with conflicts that may arise.

Candidate: Dealing with unforeseen challenges is a core aspect of being a project manager, so ideally you’ll want to have a few examples to choose from. The best way to answer this question is to first describe the situation and what the challenge was. Then, outline how you identified a solution to solve the situation. Next, explain what you did, and how you did it. Finish by sharing the outcome and what you learned from the experience.

How do you prioritise tasks on a project?

Employer: Knowing exactly what to prioritise is key to any project. In order to be successful, a good project manager or project management office (PMO) is going to help manage small and large-scale projects that make 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 gaining an understanding of how the candidate would juggle multiple projects at once.

Candidate: When asked questions around prioritisation, providing examples of how you schedule your day, plan your workload and set deadlines reinforces to the interviewer that you’re able to track 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 ensure your answer includes an amalgamation of deadlines, stakeholder needs and business-crucial tasks.

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

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

Candidate: It would be beneficial to make a note of the project management tools you’ve used throughout previous roles, ranging from Trello to Basecamp to Asana. Mention what you like about the tools, and how they might be improved – it would be an added bonus to find out what tools the company uses and start a discussion on that.

Can you tell us about your experience with budget management?

Employer: Most projects, no matter the size, usually involve some form of budgeting, hence why it may be useful to ask questions specifically around budget management. Asking questions around 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 had to manage a budget during previous projects. Try to talk about situations when you’ve provided cost estimations, allocated funds, kept a record of money spent, and how you’ve planned for unexpected 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 support you in conducting the perfect interview.

Have you managed remote teams?

Employer: Because of the pandemic – and the sudden growth of digital project management tools – projects being executed and worked on remotely have grown exponentially. Knowing how the candidate has managed 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 effectively managed remote teams. Often, they will want to hear potential challenges faced when managing a remote workforce, and how you dealt with any issues quickly and efficiently. Showcasing 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 climate.

How would you deal with a difficult stakeholder?

Employer: This question aims to gain clarity into a candidate’s stakeholder management skills and how they handle concerns. How they respond to 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 dealing with this situation.

Candidate: Dealing with stakeholders is never easy, but it’s a crucial part of being a successful project manager. Being able to showcase your ability to manage stakeholder needs is crucial. Focus on a previous example, outlining the situation, before presenting your solution and the outcome 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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