As you’re preparing for your project manager interview, you may wonder what kinds of questions you’ll encounter outside of the typical “What is your greatest strength?” question. While there’s no way to predict exactly which questions the interviewer will ask, here are 10 common project manager interview questions, along with some tips on how to answer them.
10 Common Interview Questions for Project Managers
1. Tell me about the last project you worked on.
In some respects, this question is similar to “Tell me about yourself.” The hiring manager wants to learn more about you as a professional. But when they ask you this project manager interview question, they’re trying to learn more about you as a project manager.
So, talk about the last project you managed, whether that was in a paid position, internship, or even a school project. Your answer should be detailed without rambling. And, when possible, explain what the outcome was.
The most recent project I worked on was overseeing the rollout of the new website. It was every page of the site, including the e-commerce side of things. There were a lot of moving parts, but I made sure everyone stayed on task and hit their due dates, so we were ready to go on launch day. We rolled the new site out on time, and it’s about a half-second faster (which is pretty noticeable!). And the e-commerce side has a new checkout page that’s far easier to navigate than the old one. Since launching, we’ve seen a 25% drop in abandoned carts.
2. Tell me about a time when something went wrong when you were managing a project.
While it would be nice if every project you managed ran perfectly, that’s unlikely to happen. The hiring manager is trying to figure out how you handle the inevitable roadblock, snag, or mistake. The trick is to explain what went wrong without placing blame and discuss how you course-corrected.
I was overseeing the build-out and redesign of a client’s office space. Initially, things went well. I got the permits with ease, and the workers were on time and did their job. Basically, things were rolling along. But as we approached the end of the build-out, there were supply chain issues. While that’s expected (especially these days), it messed up my timeline. I always build in extra time for the unexpected, but these were pretty significant delays, and it ate up more time than I would have liked.
I was able to call in a few favors with some suppliers to get what we needed sooner rather than later, and that helped the contractors get enough work done to pass inspection and open the office on time. That said, I did have to explain to the client that not everyone would have new chairs when they moved in, and a few people had to work off folding tables for a few weeks.
3. How do you prioritize tasks and set timelines for a project?
Prioritization and time management are highly desired soft skills, no matter the role you’re applying for. But if you’re applying for a project manager role, the interviewer isn’t asking about your general ability with these skills. They’re wondering how you’ll use them as a project manager.
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Your answer will consist of two parts. First, talk about how you measure the urgency or importance of individual tasks. Is one task more vital to the project than another? Does task X have to be completed before anyone can start task Y? You might meet with stakeholders or the people working on the project for their input.
The second part focuses on time management. Once you know the order of the tasks, how do you decide how much time to allot to each one? Do task timelines overlap? How do you know when it’s appropriate to overlap versus using a sprint where the team only focuses on one thing?
4. Describe a project plan.
This straightforward project manager interview question gets at whether or not you understand the basics of project management.
While the easy (and technically correct) answer is, “The project plan is the plan for the project,” the hiring manager is looking for a bit more information. In general, a project plan includes:
- Goals or objectives
- Milestones or deliverables
- Communication plan (frequency and method)
As you answer the question, you’ll want to mention each of these, but you’ll also want to include reasons why these are necessary for a successful project plan. For example, you might say,
A communication plan is essential for success because it outlines who is responsible for relaying what, as well as how they will communicate (Slack, email, or phone call), and how often (the project manager will give status updates every Monday and Thursday).
5. How would you encourage collaboration when some of the team is in-person, and some of the team is remote? How does this change when team members are in very different time zones?
Collaboration is another crucial skill for success as a project manager. And these days, it’s not uncommon for team members to work remotely and even live all over the world. It’s important to explain how you will ensure everyone on the team is communicating, collaborating, and staying on target, no matter where they are.
For example, when people live on different continents, it’s difficult to find a recurring time for synchronous meetings. So, talk about how you encourage asynchronous communications and set rules around response times.
6. What do you do when a project has gone completely off track?
This project manager interview question is similar to “What is your greatest weakness?” In this case, the hiring manager is assessing how honest you are with yourself about a failure and, more importantly, what you learned from it. Talk about what happened, how you identified where the failure was, and the action you took to remedy the situation:
I was working on a sprint where we were adding a new CTA block to all of the blog posts. It sounds easy enough, but somewhere along the way, the block design spiraled. Suddenly, it needed a new color and font, but no one could decide which colors and fonts were best. We spent three weeks redesigning the block when that wasn’t necessary, lost a lot of time, and were going to miss the deadline for rolling out the new block, which could potentially set back sales.
I met with the team to find out what was happening and learned that what had started as a fix to deal with a code conflict snowballed into something bigger, and the team didn’t realize how much time they had lost. I asked them to dump the other changes and focus on fixing the conflict, then move on. And I learned to adjust my check-ins with that team to make sure something like that never happened again.
7. How do you handle conflict on the team?
Teamwork means working together to achieve a common goal. But the path to getting there isn’t always as smooth as you might like. Conflicts may arise around the best way to achieve the goal. As project manager, it’s your job to rally the team and minimize conflicts.
Explain how you use your interpersonal skills to overcome differing opinions. For example, you could say that you’ve learned that not everyone has to agree on the exact solution, but once there is a solution that most agree is correct, you’re able to persuade the holdouts to buy into it.
8. How do you motivate your team?
As the project manager, you oversee the project and the people working on it. But, in general, you aren’t a supervisor. Your job is to oversee the day-to-day tasks of the project and make sure people are pulling their weight. And since you don’t manage the people working on the project, you may find that getting people to do their share of the job isn’t as easy as it could be if you were managing the individual contributors.
And that’s what’s at the heart of this project manager interview question. When you aren’t someone’s supervisor, how do you motivate them to get the job done? Do you explain how and why their part is critical to the rest of the project? Talk to them to see if they’re struggling in some way and don’t know how to ask for help? How do you support the individual contributors when they need it most?
9. How do you deal with (and avoid) scope creep?
The project plan often includes the project scope: what the project is and what you’re delivering. For example, the project scope might say that you’ll design three original buttons for a website, and the stakeholder picks one. The scope might also say that the stakeholder gets a total of two edits on the buttons.
Scope creep happens when the stakeholders start asking for things outside of the original project scope. Using the above example, when you present the three buttons, the stakeholder might ask you to design a fourth button using elements from the first two buttons. They may think that since you’re using elements you already created, it’s not really a fourth button.
You might agree, so you create the fourth button, which could also count as one of the edits, but the new button requires additional edits, and the next thing you know, you’ve created six buttons and edited them a total of 32 times. That’s scope creep!
The hiring manager is trying to figure out how you’ll stop this from happening. How do you say “no” without upsetting the stakeholders?
10. What do you think the difference between a project manager and a product manager is?
You might think this is a trick question, but it isn’t. There is a distinct difference between a project manager and a product manager.
In short, a project manager is responsible for managing the day-to-day tasks of a project. And that project could be anything from constructing a new building to designing a new curriculum. A product manager, however, is responsible for the specifics of a product, usually from its inception to retirement.
Where people sometimes get confused is that a product manager may project manage certain aspects of the product. For example, if the product is software, the product manager may decide the software needs an upgrade, and they project manage the creation and implementation of that upgrade. A project manager, though, doesn’t come up with new product ideas. They manage the individual tasks that go into creating or updating the product.
Here’s how you might explain the difference in an interview:
A product manager “owns” a product. They might help create it, figure out how to improve it, and keep improving it until the product is retired. While a project manager might have ideas on how to improve a product, it’s not their primary role. A project manager oversees the day-to-day of a project, ensuring everyone is meeting their deadlines and turning in their deliverables. Project managers and product managers often work closely, as the product manager comes up with the ideas and the project manager shepherds that idea along from start to finish.
How to Prepare for Project Manager Interview Questions
You may have noticed that many of these project manager interview questions are strikingly similar to behavioral interview questions. And that’s likely because many of the situations a project manager faces require excellent problem-solving skills that you’ll use on the fly. You may have to figure out how to make something happen while getting buy-in from a team that’s in disagreement while also communicating as positively as possible with stakeholders about project progress.
Needless to say, you need a deep skill set of hard and soft skills to be successful as a project manager!
To help you answer these kinds of project manager interview questions, start your interview prep by reviewing which hard and soft skills you possess. Then, think of the times you were project managing and used those skills. Take it a step further, and use the STAR method to come up with different situations when you used your skills to face the project manager challenges you encountered.
Get prepped for more interview questions:
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- 10 Common Leadership Interview Questions and Answers
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- How to Answer: ‘What Motivates You?’ in a Job Interview
- How to Answer: ‘What Are Your Reasons for Leaving a Job?’
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