10 Smart Project Manager Interview Questions and Answers

Discover the most effective interview questions for hiring a project manager or preparing for your own interview in this role.

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Are you looking to hire a project manager? That's great news! Whether it's your first time or you've done it before, adding a project manager to your team is an essential step toward improving your organization's overall health.

Project management, as a discipline, enables organizations to align cross-functional teams with strategic goals, hold stakeholders accountable for their commitments, and achieve operational excellence. To ensure high-quality project management, bringing top talent on board is crucial.

But how can you be sure you're asking the right questions to identify the best candidates (especially if you're not a project manager yourself)? Not a problem!

We've compiled a list of 10 sample interview questions (along with answers) to help you make the most of your conversations with potential project managers.

Skills to look for during interviews

Before delving into the specific interview questions, let's first look at the bigger picture. The goal of an interview is to gain insight into whether the candidate possesses the necessary skills for the role.

Here are some essential skills to look for in a project manager:

  1. Effective communication: Can the candidate effectively communicate with diverse audiences on various topics and through different formats?
  2. Emotional intelligence: Can the candidate adapt their communication style and work approach to accommodate diverse perspectives?
  3. Critical thinking: Can a candidate apply their experience and knowledge to unfamiliar situations or emerging problems?
  4. Sense of ownership/leadership: Does the candidate show a willingness to tackle problems, even if they fall outside their immediate responsibilities? Can they lead teams, including leading without authority?
  5. Intellectual curiosity and a desire to learn new things: Project managers need to bring people together to solve problems, which requires quickly understanding new issues and bridging gaps between teams. Project managers who aren't interested in learning are less likely to succeed.
  6. Flexibility and adaptability: Working with people means dealing with change. Project managers must adapt to shifting stakeholder needs, evolving project scopes, and leading others through change.

Now that we've outlined the skills to assess let's dive into 10 sample interview questions. Use these questions to gauge whether your candidate has the qualities needed for success in project management.

10 sample interview questions to ask and what to look for in the answers

Below are 10 great questions—plus a bonus question!—to ask prospective project managers during an interview what qualities you might expect to find in a good answer.

Remember that if a candidate responds differently than you’d expect, it doesn’t mean they should be dismissed outright. Focus on whether their response highlights the skills they’ll need to succeed in the position.

1. One executive says Project A is more important, and another says Project B is more important. How do you choose which one to implement?

What to look for: Critical thinking skills, prioritization abilities, communication of trade-offs to stakeholders, and relationship management with both the winner and the loser. A candidate who can find a solution benefiting both parties would be particularly impressive.

Example response:

"I would speak with both executives to understand their viewpoints and the rationale behind them. Then, I would evaluate their perspectives against the business strategy, performance metrics, the required level of effort, available resources, stakeholder level of influence, and expected outcomes to make my own recommendation about which project to pursue.

I would identify a decision maker within the organization to help make the case. I would also work to persuade both executives of my recommendation and smooth over any potential ill will with the executive whose project was not selected."

2. Can you tell me about a time when you've made a process more efficient?

What to look for: Problem-solving skills, creativity, pragmatism. It's helpful to see how a candidate measures efficiency gains and shares their success with stakeholders to create further opportunities for improvement.

Example response:

"We didn't have a straightforward process for managing content creation requests with an external vendor. As a result, keeping track of the requests sent and their status was challenging. I collaborated with the team to establish a streamlined process, including an intake workflow for handling new requests.

After implementing the new process, we eliminated status meetings and shifted to entirely asynchronous communication, reducing meeting time by one hour per week. Our stakeholders were so pleased with the improvement that we began expanding the process to other vendors."

3. Can you tell me about something you've read lately and how you'll apply that idea to this position?

What to look for: This unconventional question is excellent for assessing a candidate's authenticity and ability to respond under pressure. An interest in reading and applying new ideas demonstrates intellectual curiosity and their approach to problem-solving (two essential skills you're evaluating). Plus, it's a great way to gather reading recommendations!

Example response:

"I regularly read X, Y, and Z blogs on project management to stay up-to-date with my knowledge. In preparation for this role, I've started listening to industry podcasts A and B. I particularly enjoyed a recent episode that helped me understand some of the challenges in this field. Is there anything else you'd recommend I read?"

4. Do you have a personal productivity system?

What to look for: It's essential to know if they have a system in place. Project managers need to manage numerous competing priorities, and having a method to stay organized is crucial. Extra points if they describe how they apply these techniques outside of work, indicating a genuine passion for the process.

Example response:

"I use Tool X at work because it allows me to track tactical progress and report high-level outcomes to executive stakeholders, ensuring nothing is overlooked. It's also user-friendly, which encourages stakeholder adoption.

In my personal life, I use Tool Y because it's a freemium product that helps me visualize progress toward my long-term goals."

5. Tell me about a time you took over a project from another program manager. How did you handle the transition?

What to look for: Avoid candidates who criticize the previous program manager. Look for those who explain how they utilized their limited transition time to gain insights that directly benefited the project and how they applied those learnings. Bonus points if they explain how their contributions improved upon the existing foundation.

Example response:

"I maximized my available time with the outgoing program manager to understand the project background, context, history, and stakeholder landscape, focusing on those details that are not readily found in project management documentation.

I also gathered information on the program manager's pain points, allowing me to identify quick wins to implement for my stakeholders during the first 90 days of my tenure."



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6. What are the challenges with driving goals when working across time zones?

What to look for: Assess the candidate's ability to engage with diverse stakeholder groups, design and implement scalable processes, and drive consensus. Emotional intelligence, effective communication, and a sense of ownership are vital.

Example response:

"Working across time zones emphasizes the need for asynchronous communication, as spending too much time in meetings is impractical. It can also sometimes introduce cultural communication differences, depending on the stakeholders' location and cultural norms.

I overcame these challenges by codifying team communication protocols, including ground rules for behavior and a description of which communication tools to use in various circumstances. We also adopted a practice of documenting our work so that others could see the project progress outside of synchronous gatherings."

7. Can you think of a time when you were wrong and how that changed your opinion about a project or issue?

What to look for: This question helps assess critical thinking skills, flexibility, and adaptability. Extra credit if their description of their learning demonstrates emotional intelligence and intellectual curiosity.

Example response:

"I worked with a stakeholder who challenged me to tailor my leadership style to meet their communication needs. I hadn't previously considered the need for adaptability, but their feedback helped me realize that different team members respond differently, and what worked for one person might not work for someone else.

Now, when I work with someone new, I make it a point to ask them how they like to be managed, their preferred communication method, and how they like to give and receive feedback."

8. How do you balance short-term deadlines with long-term objectives?

What to look for: Critical thinking skills to differentiate between big-picture strategy and tactical execution and the ability to communicate these nuances to stakeholders in a compelling way that drives results.

Example response:

"I translate the business strategy into a set of project goals and then design and communicate a project schedule that translates those goals into a roadmap for tactical execution.

Tying the schedule back to the goals helps the team understand that we're not inventing deadlines for the sake of deadlines, but rather grounding them in the shared goals we're trying to achieve."

9. How have you been influential in fostering cross-company collaboration? What challenges have you faced?

What to look for: In this case, you're screening for effective communication, emotional intelligence, flexibility, and adaptability. Be cautious of candidates who describe difficult stakeholders with excessive negativity.

Example response:

"One of our most significant pain points was a lack of visibility as to how different stakeholder groups were working towards project goals, sometimes resulting in duplicate efforts. We developed a light touch process for teams to report on project progress and share that information across the company.

We faced challenges getting some stakeholders to buy in, so we started small with a pilot group and then gradually expanded, taking advantage of team members who were change champions to help us evangelize the benefits."

10. How do you know when to cut corners to get a project out the door?

What to look for: Critical thinking skills, pragmatism, sense of ownership to make decisions, effective communication in messaging to stakeholders.

Example response:

"I weigh long-term desired outcomes with the feasibility of implementation in the short term. Striving for perfection can sometimes be the enemy of progress and lead to analysis paralysis in driving project outcomes.

Therefore, I look for ways to make incremental changes that contribute to a long-term solution, focusing on building strong stakeholder relationships."

Bonus question for senior project manager hires

What is your program management philosophy?

What to look for: Do they have one? If your prospective hire is experienced, it might be concerning if this question throws them for a loop. A significant part of the role is evangelizing the benefits of program management in an organization. If the candidate can't articulate their value proposition in an interview, they may struggle to convince stakeholders.

Example response:

"I believe program managers are responsible for promoting alignment across diverse stakeholder groups, holding stakeholders accountable for desired outcomes, and enabling teams to do their best work through high-quality execution."



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