Good news: you have landed an interview for a project manager position. Maybe it’s the first step in a new career, or maybe you’re a seasoned PM looking for greener pastures. Either way, you’ve successfully gotten your resume out there and now you have a chance to talk to real people about your qualifications for this job.
Interviews can be a little nerve-wracking, so having an idea ahead of time of what you’ll be asked about is key to making a good impression. We spoke to a range of specialists and career coaches, as well as people who have supervised and hired project managers, to get some insight into the types of questions you can expect in a job interview. hiring with PM – and how you should prepare to meet them.
1. What do you know?
These will not be the most important questions, but you will be asked to demonstrate basic knowledge of project management and the specialty area in which you will work if hired. “If you’re in the IT space, you should be prepared to answer questions about software you know for project management,” says Sara Hutchison, an executive resume writer with experience working with IT professionals. IT and a CompTIA Project+ certification.
Even when faced with basic factual questions, you should seek to demonstrate some analytical skills. For example, says Hutchison when asked about project management software, “If you know of several software packages, can you talk about the pros and cons of each? You should also be prepared to explain how you keep up to date with the latest technologies in these areas. »
That said, this isn’t a pop quiz you have to score 100 on; how you handle a question that comes your way can be indicative of your character and abilities. Cynthia Davis, co-founder of recruiting platform Diversifying.io, says one thing she would look for in an interview would be if a candidate is “open enough to say, ‘I don’t know, but here’s how I can develop this.'”
2. What do you know about the company you are applying for?
When it comes to your potential new employer, Davis says you should be as informed as possible. “During an interview, the candidate will have to show that they understand the position for which they are applying and that they have taken the time to research the company and demonstrate that this is the position for them” , she says.
Remember, though, that an interview is a two-way street and an opportunity for you to ask questions as well. While you should know as much as possible about the company and the job you’re applying for, you’ll only be able to find out certain details – and how exactly you might fit the bill – by asking about them during the interview. maintenance. ; it shows that you are serious about the job.
“It’s important to find out the why of the job,” says Tushar Gadhia, director of consulting practice at Synoptek. “This will help you determine the appropriate mindset for the particular job. Do you need to step in as a change agent and undo things that the predecessor set in motion or couldn’t On the other hand, if things weren’t a problem, the business could hire a PM to step into the fold and get in tune with the processes already in place. a PM is essential to ensure that you are the right person for the job and to know what is expected of you.
3. What is your process?
Assuming you’ve gone through the filters to get an interview, your potential employers are likely confident that you know the basic facts – the What — that you will need to do the job. What they will want to hear from you is How? ‘Or’ What: your process as a manager to help teams carry out projects, and the mindset behind it.
For example, how you approach trade-offs is a key part of your work philosophy. Tim Bailey, Vice President of Global Consulting at Deltek, asked applicants, “When managing a project, how do you determine which of the three constraints – scope, schedule, cost – is most important?”
You should also be prepared to answer questions about your leadership style. Because you will be in charge of a team, this will be one of the most crucial parts of the interview. Dave Garrett, head of strategy and growth at the Project Management Institute (PMI), gives an example of the kinds of things a hiring manager will want to know:
- “How do you lead and influence people without authority? Because projects are often cross-functional, your team members have another “boss” and your project is not always the top priority for other stakeholders. »
- “Are you a quick study? Because projects can be on any topic, and you can be more effective if you can get to grips with the topic quickly and understand what’s important.
- “How do you decide which approach to use? Because project teams can apply many approaches: predictive, agile, design thinking, etc., depending on the challenges they face.
You may also have the opportunity to talk about how you approach PM work in a meta sense. Debra Wheatman, president of Careers Done Write, explains that these questions could be phrased as follows: “Have you improved the project management processes in your company? What did you recommend or implement? What were the results ? »
David Ciccarelli, tech entrepreneur and CEO of Voices, gets a little more cerebral when interviewing PM candidates. “I try to understand candidates through the process or get a sense of their mental models that they rely on to make faster, smarter decisions,” he says. “A question might be, ‘Are there any mental frameworks that you use to speed up your decision-making process?’ Mental models are simply frameworks that identify patterns and help a person work through a difficult situation in a predictable way. Knowing that a candidate has a toolkit is a sign that they will quickly catch on and start making a positive impact. »
4. What did you do?
It can be difficult to predict the type of questions you will get in a PM interview. But there’s one that’s almost guaranteed: “Tell me about a recent project.”
This is “a natural icebreaker question,” says Alan Zucker, founding director of Project Management Essentials. “Be prepared to describe the project, your role, the things that went well and the challenges encountered. Your first response should be less than two minutes. Practice. Stay focused and high level.
And be prepared to be specific on this one. “Project managers should be prepared to answer questions centered on real experiences and challenges and how they overcame them,” says PMI’s Garrett. “Avoid hypothetical answers that don’t prove how you reacted and handled your situation.”
Part of the details you provide should be honest about when things went less well. You might receive specific questions about this: “Tell me about a time when you felt overwhelmed by your workload” and “Can you describe a time when you missed a deadline?” are two examples offered by Mandy Bennett, Director of Creative Development at Scorpion. You should use questions like these as an opportunity to talk about how you overcame adversity.
“A PM who feels during an interview or appraisal that every project or assignment they’ve worked on went perfectly 100% of the time could be a red flag,” Hutchison says. “Not only is this highly unlikely, but it also fails the hiring manager to understand how you learn from past experiences, resolve issues, and build on what has been done to prevent them from happening again. Use these examples passed as opportunities for you to explain how you accepted criticism, took charge of a problem, and documented appropriate actions.
5. What can you tell us about yourself?
In the end, keep one thing in mind about a job interview: it’s the only chance you and your potential employers have to assess each other as people. Don’t get too personal, but don’t feel like you have to spend all your time on numbers and software proficiency either: interviewers will want to know how your personality will fit in with the rest of the team. “The key is to show that you are authentic,” says Maziar Adl, CTO of Gocious. “You want to be able to articulate your accomplishments, not just by stating a series of data points and facts, but rather by showing how these elements have contributed to the growth of the business. Explain how you worked with your team and across the organization to achieve these metrics. »
“Employers want people who are caring, have character, integrity and fit well with the culture of the company,” adds Mr. Bailey of Deltek. “We like to see how candidates align with our core values. Two good questions to be prepared for would be, “What is important to you outside of work?” and ‘What do you enjoy?’
As we’ve said before, an interview is a two-way conversation, and it’s also your chance to ask similar questions of your interviewer. “As we see more and more in the ‘big quit,’ one of the biggest reasons people quit their jobs is because of a toxic culture or boss,” says Tracy Podell, partner and executive coach at Evolution, a professional coaching and leadership development company. “You want to ask specific behavioral questions about the team you’ll be working with to better understand if it’s a culture that’s right for you. For example, you can ask about company values and get examples of how they translate into company processes. You can ask for an example of how the team handled a recent conflict, etc.
In the end, what you want is an employer who is invested in your career and doesn’t just see you as a replaceable cog. “I would ask the person where they want to go and what they want from their job,” says Lovisa Stenbäcken Stjernlöf, head of identity and governance at Advania Sweden. “I want an idea of what you want to explore further in your career. I want to see some aspiration.
But to get that respect, you have to earn it, and that means showing respect during the interview process. Davis of Diversifying.io warns of blunders to avoid: “Saying the wrong company name, calling the interviewer by the wrong name, and not answering questions. Some things are specific to interviews that take place over video. Not looking at the camera makes you feel disinterested, as does checking your phone or taking a phone call. It gives the impression that you are not present and focused on the interview. Tripping in this way definitely says something about you to the person you’re talking to – not something they’ll want to hear.