Before you can plan, execute and successfully complete a project, you must hire a project manager to manage it. A project manager is a difficult position to fill. They need a wide swath of skills, from a knowledge of methodologies to a mastery of communication.
It’s hard to find a person who is both comfortable with process and adept at motivating teams to do their best. It feels as if you might have to employ a battery of workers to handle every aspect of the project manager role. But, there are individuals who have the breadth of knowledge and experience necessary to successfully lead projects. They’re experts in many things but not arrogantly so, in that they know the power of collaboration and can delegate work to focus on where their attention is needed most.
So, how do you find that person who fits both the criteria of the job and the culture of your organization? Ask specific project manager interview questions to narrow your options to a handful of great candidates.
1. What’s your background, personally and professionally?
It’s important to get a snapshot of the applicant to bring their project manager resume into sharper focus. Knowing a bit about their life story can inform how they might respond to issues at work, and whether they will fit into the corporate culture. The same goes for their professional history. Staying at a single job for a long time can be either bad or good, but you won’t know until you put their choice into context.
2. Have you worked in this industry before?
Does the candidate have experience in your industry? If they don’t, it’s not a game-closer. Much of project management is the same from industry to industry. Perhaps they have strong skills that relate to your industry, even if they don’t have direct experience. However, if they do have experience in your field, that’s a plus, so ask how those relevant projects panned out. Note how confidently they answer. You want an authentic person who is comfortable in the position.
3. What was a challenging project, and how did you manage it?
This takes the conversation from the theoretical to the practical. You can see how the person responded to real-life problems, which helps you determine how they would manage projects at your organization. This question also provides a sense of the person, such as how they lead teams and deal with conflicts. By asking about a challenging project, you can see how they act when pushed to their limits and beyond.
4. What’s your leadership style?
Talking about managing a project will inevitably lead to a discussion of leadership style. There are many ways to lead, and all have their pluses and minuses. Depending on the project, a project manager might have to pick and choose how they lead, ranging from a top-down approach to servant leadership. See how well-versed they are on leadership techniques.
5. What’s your communication style?
This is another classic question that directly stems from asking about managing projects and leadership. A project manager is nothing if not an effective communicator. They need to be able to speak to team members, stakeholders, vendors, etc. Each group will need a slightly different approach. Stakeholders want the broad strokes, while teams will need more detail. If a project manager can’t clearly communicate, the project is doomed before it has begun.
6. When do you know the project is off-track?
Every project hits a snag along the way, but not every project manager is aware of that delay until it’s more pronounced or even beyond repair. The ability to monitor and track the progress of a project and tell immediately when it’s not meeting the benchmarks you set in the planning phase is perhaps the most important duty of a project manager.
7. If the project is not adhering to schedule, how do you get it back on track?
Knowing that a project is not keeping to its schedule is only as important as being able to get the project back on track. Once a project manager is aware of the discrepancy between the actual progress and the planned progress, what steps do they take to get the project back on time without jeopardizing the enterprise? Any project manager worth hiring will be able to answer this with practical specifics. On these types of questions, it’s best to answer with the STAR method.
8. What’s your ideal project?
The ideal project is the one that you’re hiring for of course! But seriously, try to get them to answer honestly. It will let you know what sort of projects they prefer to work on. In doing so you’ll get a better feel for what kind of work excites them and maybe even what they excel at. This can help you place the project manager with the right project, or help them adapt to the project you’re hiring them to manage.
9. Do you have budget management experience?
It helps to drill down into specific experience. Naturally, if the candidate has specific skills they’ll be briefly sketched in the resume, but here’s your opportunity to get a deeper sense of where they stand in terms of budget management. Project managers are known as planners. They schedule and lead teams to success. But there’s often money involved, so they better know how to handle a budget.
10. Have you managed remote teams and outsourced resources?
Not all projects are executed under one roof. With more dynamic project management tools and a global workforce to choose from, many project managers might never meet the members of their team, at least in the real world. Then there are the necessary resources that will be outsourced, which involves a different management technique than when working with employees. Knowing how they would manage people and resources can be a crucial point in your decision to hire or not to hire.
11. How do you manage team members that are not working to their full potential?
Sometimes, no matter how much due diligence you put into assembling a skilled and experienced team for the project, someone underperforms or creates conflicts. While the project is rolling, you don’t have time to stop and tweak your team. Rather, the project manager must deal with the problem and resolve it. This comes up with even the best team, so any capable project manager would know how to nip underperformance in the bud.
12. How do you deal when you’re overwhelmed or underperforming?
It’s easy to forget that project managers are people, too. They are hired to perform and lead a project to success, but they can suffer the same setbacks as anyone on the team. The difference between a good and great project manager is the ability to monitor oneself and respond proactively to any drop offs in performance.
13. How do you work with customers, sponsors and stakeholders?
Even project managers have to answer to someone. Responding to executives and stakeholders requires a different approach than the one they would use with teams and vendors. Part of their duties includes managing stakeholders who hold a position of authority over the project manager. That takes a subtle touch.
14. How tall are the pyramids in Egypt?
Talk about not being prepared. Who is going into a job interview with this information in their head? You don’t really want an accurate answer to this question, but you do want to see how the project manager deals critically and seriously with the question. Because, during the project they will be sidelined with unexpected challenges and questions.
15. Do you seek help outside of the project team?
This is an telling project manager interview question. Some project managers are going to think you want a person who is wholly independent and pulls from an inner-reservoir. Fair enough. But more resourceful is the project manager who knows when they’re over their head and asks for help from a mentor or a network of professionals.
16. Do you delegate?
They better! The last thing you want is a project manager who carries everything on their shoulders. That’s nuts. But this is a bit of a trick question, or at least one that has an implicit question embedded in it. What you really want to know is not whether they delegate, but how they delegate. This is a great way to weed out the micromanagers.
17. What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made on a project?
Everyone makes mistakes; character is defined by how you deal with them. This question will allow you to first gauge the candidate’s honesty. If they say that they’ve never made a mistake, you can rest assured that they’re not being truthful and their resume can go into the circular file. However, when they tell you about the mistake they’ve made, note if they take responsibility for it (that will reveal their level of maturity) and, of course, how they resolved it.
18. How did your last project end?
This question is about discovering any lessons they learned from that project. Everything is a learning experience, and each project offers lessons from which a good project manager grows.
19. How do you prioritize tasks on a project?
Prioritization is important. There’s going to be more work in a day than can be accomplished, so any good project manager is going to have to determine what is crucial and what could be left undone if necessary. It will prove interesting and informative to see how the candidate makes these decisions.
20. What project management software do you prefer?
A project manager needs tools to plan, monitor and report on the project. There are many, from simple to more complex. This question reveals first how up-to-date the candidate is regarding software and project management tools. Additionally, it provides a picture of what tools and processes they use to manage a project.
21. What’s your preferred project management methodology?
There are almost as many ways to manage a project as there are projects. From traditional methods like waterfall to hybrid methodologies, you want a project manager who understands the many ways to work. And more importantly, can they use the project management methodology that best suits the work at hand?
22. How do you gain agreement with teams?
Where there are people, there are conflicts, and even the best projects have people problems. Good teams collaborate and trust one another. If there’s a problem between two or more team members, it must be resolved quickly. But this can also apply to stakeholders, vendors, etc. A project manager is a bit of a psychologist who must know how to resolve conflicts quickly.
23. What’s something you don’t want us to know?
Ouch. Yes, you need to go there and make the candidate uncomfortable. It’s not that you want to learn some secret or catch them in an unethical act. Less important than the content of their answer is the way they deal with the question. You’ll get a better picture of the person instead of the persona they’re presenting. It also shows their communication skills while under pressure. It might seem cruel, but it’ll help you get to the heart of the person that you’re going to trust with the management of your project.
One you’ve gotten through the project manager interview process and a job offer has been made, then it’s up to you to provide them with the best tools to manage the project. ProjectManager.com is a cloud-based project management software with real-time dashboards, online Gantt charts and a collaborative platform for your team. There’s no question, this is what your project manager will want. Try our award-winning software for free with this 30-day trial.