Starting a project manager interview journey? Get ready to tackle the tough but vital questions that will highlight your skills and fit for the position. In this blog, we’ve gathered the top 20 project manager interview questions and provided insightful answers to assist you in excelling at your upcoming interview. Covering crucial areas like strategic thinking and problem-solving skills, we address the fundamental qualities hiring managers commonly look for in project management candidates. Join us as we explore these key questions, arming you with the expertise to make a lasting impression and triumph in your project manager interview questions.
The Project Manager Interview Questions
Let’s assume that you have been called for the position of a “Project Manager” in an organization and the JD (Job description) mentions the following:
- Produce the results as expected by stakeholders
- Measure and report the performance on a periodic basis as defined by stakeholders
- Meet the profit objectives
- Comply with the necessary compliances that affect the project
- Build and lead a high-performance team
- Negotiate with relevant stakeholders toward the successful completion of the project
- Be a servant leader who leads from the front.
- Resolve conflicts within and outside the team
- Have an in-depth knowledge and experience in the domain under consideration
- Proven track record in project management with previous organizations
- Continuously improve the project management processes and enhance self-skills through continuous learning and adaptation.
- A good relationship builder and manager
- Must be aware of what to do in case the projects fail.
- Must be proactively anticipate the risks
- And many more……
Project Manager Interview Questions – Facing Common Expectations with Confidence and Expertise
Do you get nervous and break down looking at these statements?
Is it fair to expect a project manager to fulfill such high expectations?
Are you feeling like you are unable to do these tasks?
If so, please think again. These are common expectations. Every organization and sponsor wants the BEST OF BREED project management qualities.
Hence, you face the situation-oriented project manager interview questions when you go for an interview to quench the thrust from these demanding stakeholders and if you really do well, you are the master of your own profession and ultimately become a champion in the organization over a period of time by proving your mettle.
We all live in the 21st Century and it is very common across the different sectors (Aerospace, Defense, Construction, IT/ITES, Telecom, Manufacturing, BFSI, Pharma, Healthcare, Textile, and so on) to see some of the questions very strategic, some are tactical, some are challenging and some are easy. If you were me, then I wouldn’t worry about any type of questions being asked as long as I am committed to myself, confident, well prepared, experienced enough, and self-sufficient enough to tackle any questions related to the Job Descriptions mentioned above, and beyond.
Q.1 Tell us something about the kind of projects that you have worked on in your past organizations
Ans: “In my role as a project manager for ABC consulting, I frequently work simultaneously on multiple long-term design projects for Residential and commercial buildings with a budget of up to USD 100. I’m not only in constant contact with the internal team but also coordinating ongoing communication with clients and ensuring that everyone is on the same page in terms of timelines and expectations. In my previous project management role for a professional services firm, I worked very closely with a team of SMEs possessing cross-functional skills. So I’m acutely familiar with the pressures that come with big-budget projects and the nuances of interfacing with both clients and my SMEs —and I’d be excited to put that experience to good use working with your esteemed clients and the team.
Q.2 Can you walk us through the specific project that you worked on, and what your role and stakeholders were?
Ans: This question is specific to the BEST project that you worked on. You will always cherish the memories. Be honest while responding to this and if you haven’t worked on something, say you haven’t worked on that having said that given a chance I can always learn and try my best to do it. This is your opportunity to make a difference and impress the interviewers with all your Project management basics and knowledge, especially the situation-based. Be direct, and don’t beat around the bush (a lot of people have this habit of taking interviewers into boring zones through their long discussions, be short, straight, to the point, and assertive )
Q.3 Tell us something about three challenges that you faced in your project life cycle for the project mentioned above
Ans: be careful, even if you would have stated the best project of your career, this is a cross-testing question that cross-validates if your response to the “Best project” question was proper or not. I have not seen the BEST project in my career without any challenges. For me top 3 challenges that I found in my best projects were
- Stakeholder engagement at the right level, at the right time, and with the right impact
- Shared Resources across projects hence the crucial challenge was to have their balancing across the demands from various projects and their availability as per the requirement of the project schedule. (apart from their emergency leaves and even planned leaves not available in calendars)
- Pressure on timelines from all directions on the delivery as per timelines even at the cost of 100% over leveling of resources.
Q.4 Let’s turn to interaction with partners and their roles on different projects. Other agencies don’t report to you and yet you have to lead them. How do you manage that interaction?
- Stakeholder engagement and management is the only response here. First of all, identifying the right kind of stakeholders and their engagement at various levels when needed is important.
- Training the partners in the project technologies is an essential component of the success of partner relationship
- Trust, confidence, and building relationship beyond the transaction levels is another important success factor so that in case you need a resource immediately the next day
- This is also a test of the project manager’s leadership ability and negotiation tactics with the partners.
Q.5 Are you aware of your organization’s vision and mission and how is your project aligned with them
Ans: This is a very strategic question in nature and tests your ability to have a broader view and understanding of your organization. You can’t bluff here. If you aren’t aware, please say so. However, I would presume you should at least know the vision and mission of the organization since they are the most commonly available across. On that note, take a small task and ask your team if they are aware of the organization’s vision and mission and how it is aligned with the project that they are working on. If you want to do a further deep dive, ask: If yes, how, and if not, why not?
Q.6 What does the “people first” philosophy look like in your daily work?
Ans: It starts with putting attention on the individual person. For example, I look for subtleties in personality and preferences. I might have a creative professional on the project who knows how to prioritize and doesn’t want to be micromanaged. Alternatively, you might have a person who cannot prioritize saving his or her life. In that case, the person needs constant attention to be successful. A high level of EQ [emotional intelligence] for the project team you’re working with is important. The ability to observe and adjust as a project manager also comes in handy here.
Q.7 What is the best approach of yours towards leadership
Ans: Honestly there is no single best approach. It’s always “Situational based”
My starting point is that I listen to everyone involved in the project. Next, I try to understand where each person is coming from. As I have moved up in my organization, my success comes from listening and helping the people I work with. I also start from a place of trust. The people in this industry tend to overdramatize problems or get overly sensitive to disagreements. Our primary goal is to assist the client. Let’s remember this, especially when we have disagreements about processes or methods. If you know what you’re doing, you need to trust your teammates to get their work done and trust their ideas.
Q.8 Hoping you are aware of the difference between Listening and hearing: Listening is sometimes underappreciated as a skill. Let’s say you’re in a meeting with two other people: X is listening well to you and Y is not. What are some of the differences that you observe in their behavior?
Ans: You may have many different answers for this: One of these: My style is usually to defuse a situation with a joke or with humor. If someone is not listening to me, I’ll probably call attention to it in a joking way. If the lack of listening continues, I will ask about it directly: if you have somewhere else to be, please head out and we’ll catch up with you later. Thus, my assumption is always that a person’s behavior is not a personal insult to me.
Moreover, they probably have eight other concerns going through their mind. By taking that approach, people don’t feel attacked. Empathy is a tremendously important part of effective listening and successful project management.
It’s unlikely that X would walk into the meeting thinking, “I’m going to show “A” how much I disagree with her. I’m just not going to listen to her today.” X probably has a million other concerns on her plate right now. I’ll make a bid to get her to pay attention. But if that doesn’t work out, I’ll encourage her to step out of the meeting so she can attend to her other concerns.
Q.9 How do you handle the conflict between two or more stakeholders
Ans: This is a very common question and very practical in our real life too. I am sure you are aware of the five types of conflict resolution techniques.
- Avoiding, smoothing, Forcing, Collaborating, Compromising.
- Depending on the situation you would use one of these 5, none of these is “Best”
- For example: Santosh reports to his project manager Amit. Santosh calls Amit one fine morning and tells him that he isn’t doing well today, down with health. Depending on Amit’s style of leading, Amit might be the taskmaster and much aligned with the success of the project being task-oriented. Hence he tells Santosh, I understand that you aren’t keeping well (when he says he understands, actually he doesn’t many times) however the task for you today is on a critical path and no one else can do this. Please see if you could work remotely from home and save us from the potential delays. What Amit is doing, kind of forcing Santosh to work, in spite of Santosh not keeping well
- Now let’s reverse the same situation. Amit and Santosh have the same relationship Santosh reports to Amit. Santosh one fine morning calls Amit and tells him that he isn’t doing well today, I am down with health. Amit is a person who accommodates these kinds of situations, Amit responds back, oh that’s sad to hear. You take a rest at home, I will try to see if I can get some replacement for you today, leave it to me I will work it out internally, I do understand that this activity is on a critical path. Amit is into smoothing the situation thereby maintaining the relationship with his team colleague.
Q.10 What’s your approach to starting a new project in the first few days
- If you are PMP certified, this is a great opportunity for you to take the whole lifecycle of the project with a live example of the project that you would have done in the past or you are currently doing.
- Take the interviewers through the project management knowledge areas and 5 process groups of the Project Management Body of Knowledge.
- Explain how you kick off the project from the business case business benefits plan and project charter.
- Try and understand the project objectives and how they are aligned with the organization’s vision and mission.
- Why is your organization doing this project, what pain areas will this project solve?
- How will you create value upon finishing this project or during the project life cycle?
- How will you build a high-performance cross-functional team
Q.11 An interviewer asks, do you have any questions?” And then wait a few seconds for a response and keep moving. OR at the end of the interview, question: Do you have any questions for us?
Ans: This is another opportunity for you to clarify your thoughts and queries. Please don’t hesitate to ask questions. Upon asking this question at the end of the interview, feel free and ask about the organization, its management structure, its products and services, the department, and the business in which you are getting hired.
Q.12 How does prior experience working at organizations have an impact on project manager success in your context
Ans: Prior experience is critical. Prior experience is especially important in certain areas, such as photo and video production. The project manager may not personally know how to do each step of the production process, but they will know the steps of the process and the teams you need to interface with to get things done.
Q.13 How did you manage the projects where the teams were geographically spread and not collocated?
- Schedule daily stand-ups
- Took advantage of technology to connect
- Made the groups of teams using corporate social media applications
- Established rules of engagement and encouraged the teams to set up their own norms
- Managing their expectations in terms of expected performance and outcomes
- Focussed on outcomes and not activities
- Ensured that the team has been always provided with the resources required
- Helped remove the obstacles impediments and blockers
- Encouraged remote social interactions especially every Friday 5-6 pm social event where participation is mandatory, and everyone has to be on video.
Q.14 Explain one situation where you had tough, demanding stakeholders and their expectations to manage
Ans: Facing a critical data center outage at 12:24 am, I responded swiftly, involving my team, but the issue persisted. After escalating within the organization, including reaching out to my manager and cross-functional leaders, the problem extended beyond our control. With customer escalations escalating, constant communication through a live conference bridge helped manage tension. The CEO intervened, and with support from a colleague in Sydney, we resolved the issue after 6 hours. Despite potential penalties, our strong relationship and past performance saved us, maintaining a positive rapport with the customer.
Q.15 What are your futuristic goals for the next 3-5 years, where do you want to be
Ans: This type of question tests you on your ambitions, aspirations in the future, and also your stability within the organization. If your ambitions are something too high and this organization doesn’t offer that kind of scalability and growth, then based on your response the organization will presume that you might not stick much and apply for this position as a changeover. So be careful, be thoroughly prepared, and ready to answer these questions in a smart manner.
Q.16 Let’s assume that there are 5 FTEs (Company’s own Full-time employees) and 10 contractors (External) on the project and all report to their vertical manager and you are an independent contributor on the project. How will you lead this team that doesn’t report to you directly?
Ans: This relates to the Matrix organization structure whereby one team member can have two bosses ( One PM and another functional/vertical manager) The matrix is a complex organizational form and will not automatically work. The number of things that can go wrong is endless, but the most usual reason for the failure of the matrix results from either foot-dragging or downright sabotage on the part of functional management and even by lower-level supervision.
I would need to ensure that the matrix will work by thoroughly selling the concept to top management and to all involved functional management. If everyone involved in the matrix is “a believer,” and every effort is expended to make it work, the matrix will work and will result in outstanding project accomplishment. It only takes one uncooperative disciplinary manager dragging his feet to make the whole project fail. However, active, enthusiastic, and aggressive support by top management will counteract even the most recalcitrant functional manager.
I would also ensure that we have a clear R&R (Roles and Responsibilities) defined as part of the RACI Matrix and also build a great relationship with the team members and their respective functional managers to help my project further.
Q.17 Let’s assume you have to lead a team of 8 experienced SMEs and out of them 3 are more than your experience! How will you build trust and lead this team towards a successful outcome?
Ans: Here are my few practical tips
- Take all informal communication approaches, formal communication will not work here.
- Have a great deal of Emotional Quotient towards your fellow colleagues
- Trust, respect and honor their technical expertise
- Make them feel important in front of others
- Nothing works like frequent appreciation
- Make them mentor/guide to the relevant teams/sub-teams
- Provide them with the most difficult and challenging tasks, generally, they love to solve these
- Take their feedback and opinions about the other team colleagues and yourself.
- Spend time with them over breakfast/lunch in the office
- Occasionally call them up without any agenda in the evening and have a freewheeling chat.
Q.18 What’s the approach in creating schedule, cost, and resource estimation
- It’s important to state realistic expectations upfront. When we did projects for clients, my view was to fix money and time. Therefore, scope became the variable factor. We would always hit the budget and schedule because we had flexibility regarding scope.
- I would ask clients, “What do you want to do?” On hearing their request, I would often respond with, “I don’t think we can do all of that in the time we have. However, I think we can do the following…”
- Slowly I learnt If you want more scope, we can increase the time and money. We kept money and time fixed. Without that, there’s no end. Without an end, it’s difficult to make decisions. Of course, the project could end when you run out of money.
- However, that’s a problem because the project is in limbo and the client is probably unhappy with the “result.” My feeling is that you should always have something that is finished. If we get to the end and we don’t deliver what we promised, that’s on us as the project manager.
- So, follow the change control process, analyze the added scope, and re-baseline schedule and cost estimates for accurate progress tracking.
Q.19 Assume a situation whereby the client project that you are working on, has cost overrun and schedule underrun. How will you control the cost of the resources used in the project activities are all FTE (full-time employees with fixed salaries)
Ans: More often than not, the concept of Earned Value Management comes very handy here whereby the impact of the schedule and cost together can be made. EVM reveals the project is ahead of schedule but over budget, implying potential resource additions for schedule compression and extra costs. If you rigorously follow the EVM, you will get to know the schedule performance index which is greater than one, and the cost performance index lesser than one meaning the integrated performance in terms of CR (critical ratio)=SPI*CPI most likely will come around 1. And if that’s the case, you can negotiate with the sponsor saying that we can always defer the schedule to allow the resources to work on other projects thereby controlling the costs OR else we finish earlier than planned and save the costs at the end. This is where we literally used the power of Earned Value.
Q.20 Have you done your own SWOT analysis? If so, please let us know your strengths and improvement areas
Ans: This is a relative question that you need to answer honestly. Embrace your areas for improvement; as professionals committed to lifelong learning, we all have them. Additionally, ensure fairness in your assessments. If you haven’t done your SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats analysis) then this is the right time to do so immediately post reading this blog, since this is extremely crucial for your personal career. Believe in yourself and assertively communicate your strengths which can be further leveraged and made stronger by the day.
Offering valuable perspectives on the top 20 project manager interview questions and their corresponding answers, this blog equips you with the confidence to handle your interview. As you navigate this process, highlight not just your technical expertise but also your strategic thinking and leadership capabilities. I wish you the best of luck in your project manager interview may it pave the way for a prosperous and fulfilling journey in project management!