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Interviews can make even the most confident of us nervous. Especially, if it is for a responsible position as a project manager, then they are bound to make our heart rate speed up. But, don’t worry. You can help yourself and bring down your nerves by anticipating the questions and preparing for them beforehand.
The profile of project managers has evolved extensively over the years. Along with organizational and negotiation skills, communication capability, and leadership powers are some of the key attributes of an effective PM. Today, project managers play a crucial role even in digital transformation by facilitating digital initiatives in their respected organizations.
In a project management interview, the hiring manager will try to figure out whether your experience and management style are a good fit for the role by asking a variety of questions. To crack a project management role you must have an idea of the top project management interview questions and answers for preparing beforehand.
Below are the top 30 project management interview questions and sample answers to help you with this preparation:
The process of identifying the key stakeholders begins when a project starts.
To recognize the decision-makers, you ask the following questions:
Knowing about stakeholders and engaging them throughout the project lifecycle is crucial for project success. The reason being that the project is being undertaken to fulfill its objectives and expectations.
Stakeholder analysis involves preparing a list of all the potential stakeholders who will be associated with the project in some way or the other. A power-interest grid is used for categorizing stakeholders and prioritizing them based on significance and impact.
Stakeholder analysis and power-interest grid help in prioritizing the positions of the stakeholders in the project for developing relevant stakeholder engagement strategies for different groups.
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a. Business Case Document:
It acts as a reference point for the initiation of any internal project. This document offers a detailed financial analysis of the potential investments and benefits likely to come from the project along with the financial justification of whether the project should be done or not.
The agreement is one of the first documents a PM refers to understand more about the project. It is the contract signed with the client and outlines the scope, time, cost, and terms/conditions agreed between the performing and the requesting organization.
c. Project charter:
This document outlines the specific objectives of the project and establishes the formal authorization of the project. The project charter has the name of the PM and is signed by the sponsor.
d. Stakeholder register:
A stakeholder register includes the details about the interest and powers of different stakeholders, their current level of engagement. New stakeholders keep getting added to the register as they get identified during the project lifecycle.
Requirement collection and final concurrence happen with the project stakeholders with the help of functional experts and business analysts.
The crucial techniques used for requirement gathering are:
Gathered requirements can be classified into different categories such as transition, reliability, functional, non-functional, security, quality, and regulatory and user-interface-drive. They help the team in visualizing different aspects of the project requirements and addressing them accordingly.
The purpose of designing a requirement traceability matrix is to track each requirement at every stage of development. The end goal is to make sure that no phase gets closed till all the requirements are taken into account. Additionally, it helps the team to avoid missing any requirements.
A project plan is a blueprint that includes detailed information about how the project will be executed, monitored, and closed. It comprises the project scope, schedule, cost estimates, and budget constraints known as project baselines. A project plan is prepared by the PM with the help of inputs given by the core team members involved in designing various components of the plan.
WBS is referred to as Work breakdown structure which is a crucial technique for having a complete idea about the project scope. It entails breaking up the project work into smaller and manageable chunks known as work packages.
A well-thought WBS leads to the development of an accurate and robust project plan. WBS helps the PM and the team in refining and defining the specific project requirements and scope in detail for seamless execution and tracking of the project progress. The result is coherent project management.
Once the project manager starts assigning roles and responsibilities among various team members, it becomes extremely important for a PM to chart a RACI matrix.
In simplest terms, the RACI matrix is a responsibility assignment chart used to map out every task, milestone, and key decision required to complete a project. As there are many stakeholders and involved in a project having clarity about the duties of every member helps in removing doubts for which the RACI matrix is crucial.
It's one of the most popular responsibility based assignment charts with four possible roles “accountable”, “inform”, “responsible”, “consult”.
The critical path is crucial for effective project planning as it helps in determining the best possible timeline for completing the project by outlining the sequence of dependent tasks that forms the longest duration. Identifying, managing, and monitoring the critical path and ensuring all its activities aren’t delayed is vital for completing the project within the deadline.
Effective risk planning is central to the success of a project by minimizing threats and maximizing opportunities. The steps involved in risk planning are:
Risk planning compiles all the risk events, their probabilities, impact, and response plan that will serve as a reference point for establishing cost estimates and project schedules.
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Keeping the quality of project deliverables in check is highly important which is done using Quality Assurance (QA) and Quality Control (QC).
QA involves the principles and processes to do the project work and sticking to these processes ensures the final deliverables will meet the expectations of the project. QA is done through seamless execution and development.
QC includes analyzing the final deliverables based on the laid down guidelines and leveraging inspection to check whether the outcomes meet the expected standards.
The crucial types of bid documents that can be used for procurement management are:
There are three types of contracts used for engaging with contractors and suppliers:
Effectively handling project execution requires the PM to act as a leader and work in collaboration with project stakeholders, sponsors, and peers by demonstrating excellent communication and interpersonal skills.
Resource acquisition ideally happens first from internal sources and then from external resources. If the organization is functional or matrix it will happen internally as the resources will be by default a part of other groups. For a project manager, this can become daunting.
If it is a strong-matrix organization the PM will have more say in resource allocation. In the case of a weak-matrix organization, the same won’t be the case. However, in project-based organizations, most of the resources are hired from outside so the PM has a lot of authority in selecting them.
Manpower and physical resources are acquired from within the organizations, common resource pools, or various functional groups. A PM should be involved in proactive negotiations and work closely with the procurement departments for hiring these resources from within the organization or outside agencies.
One of the core responsibilities of a project manager is to ensure that the entire team is constantly motivated. For the project success, motivational theories include:
The role of the PM is to understand the fundamentals of these theories and leverage them. Satisfying the needs of team members, offering them a challenging environment to function, and rewarding them timely keeps the team motivated.
Conflicts in a project are a result of disagreements between stakeholders and team members. They are common and the PM must tactfully intervene and resolve them to create an environment of trust and respect.
Conflict management techniques for a project manager include:
A project manager’s role involves being a leader. The responsibility of the planning, procurement, and execution of the project necessitates guiding the team members, showing them the right direction, and motivating them. Leadership helps in project management to develop team spirit and support the team in case of adversity.
There are different leadership styles for a project manager are:
A PM must keep a close observation of the performance of every team member to get a thorough idea of what is going on in the team.
Ways in which a PM should try to deal with an underperforming team member are:
Ultimately, the project manager should strike a balance between the project success and supporting the underperforming team member to raise the bar of their performance.
Gold plating is one of the most common phenomena perceived during project execution. The underlying notion is that customers will feel happy as the development team is delivering more than what is expected.
However, a PM should be completely aware of the idea, the tendency of the team and try to avoid gold plating with the help of the following guidelines:
Change requests are also referred to as “CR” are quite common in any project baseline. This involves tweaking any aspect of the project plan such as the timeline, resources, technology, scope, and requirements. These requests can be raised from the client or any other stakeholder, even the team members or the PM.
There are many reasons why CR comes in a project such as:
The key steps included while implementing change management are as follows:
The challenges in handling CR are:
Handling change requests is one of the most common responsibilities of a PM that require dealing in a formal and disciplined manner.
Monitoring includes determining differences between real project performances against the project baseline. Controlling comprises detecting repair for handling the variances and suggesting corrective measures.
Both project monitoring and controlling assist in keeping projects on track and are done from the beginning to the end of the project. These processes need to be planned as a part of the project management plan for the seamless functioning of the project lifecycle.
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Performance reports are created to demonstrate the status of the project and its actual performance in comparison to the established baselines. While monitoring and controlling the project the team prepares different performance reports such as:
A progress report highlights the work completed in the project so far but a status report is focused on the discrepancies in the project performance to date.
EVM is a project management methodology for computing the schedule and cost differences with the help of schedule and cost performance index. It helps in creating new performance and cost predictions in a project.
EVM is a pragmatic technique for determining the discrepancies and performance of a project numerically to help the team in making forecasts and planning relevant preventive measures for handling the variances.
A PM should know how to implement EVM by maintaining a project schedule listing all the project tasks along with their start/end dates and budget. This schedule will act as a reference point to measure the project progress.
Fast-tracking and crashing techniques are leveraged to shorten the project duration while keeping the project scope intact. They are applied in case there is a discrepancy noticed.
Crashing may add extra cost to the project by adding resources but fast-tracking can add additional risk as the tasks are performed in parallel.
The closing phase is quite crucial and is the introspection span for the team by consolidating all the lessons learned.
The activities that help in making the process hassle-free are:
Precise project closing gives an orderly end to the project and helps in moving on to the next step seamlessly.
Variance analysis is done regularly and is a method for computing the variance between the actual performance and the planned numbers that's the project baseline. It helps in tracking discrepancies so preventive measures can be taken before any risk arises.
Trend analysis determines if any patterns or variances are cropping up during the project and understanding the cause to design corrective measures. Trend analysis is done regularly but not as frequent as variance analysis.
Corrective action is taken to remove the cause of an existing defect. For instance, a corrective measure in a case when a project is lagging behind the schedule is to accelerate the remaining work to compensate for the delay.
Preventing action is taken to eliminate the occurrence of potential variance. Let’s take the same case of a project lagging behind the schedule. The team figured out that it happened due to a lack of effective management. The preventive action is to provide clear guidance to the team for avoiding any such events in the future.
Most project management job interviews start with this question. ‘Be relevant’ is the mantra to do well in this question. Give a brief introduction of your background and educational qualifications. If you are an experienced manager, emphasize the projects that you have done that are relevant to the job you applied for. If you are a fresh graduate, you can tell them about any college projects that you have done. Treat this question as an opportunity for self-promotion to show the employer why you are fit for the job.
Well, if you are a project manager you might already be thinking that there can’t be one skill that is enough to be successful. And, you are right. Your answer could be leadership skills, communication skills, or time management skills. What the interviewer is looking for is the justification for the answer. So, before you blurt out anything, have your reasons ready.
Through this question, the interviewer is essentially trying to check your clarity of thought. He/she wants you to describe the important first steps you need to take to ensure the success of a project. A good manager would try to understand ‘what’ of the project before ‘how’. What it means is your first try to understand what is the objective or purpose of the project before diving into how to achieve the goals of the project. Hence, anything on the above lines would get you some brownie points.
This is a top project manager interview question. The answer shows whether you have realistic expectations from the job you are applying for. It helps the interviewer check if your personal goals align with that of the company.
If you are applying for an entry-level position, it might be too ambitious to say ‘I want to be the CEO of this company’. It helps to research the employment growth in the company and estimate where you could reach with your best performance in the next 5 years. On the other hand, if you are applying for a senior position, you can talk about how you wish to take the company forward and what your contribution towards that would be.
By very nature, projects are unpredictable. Hence, it is essential that a manager anticipates problems that can occur and plans ahead. Your answer then has to reflect the importance you attach to proactive project management. Show the interviewer that you can handle risks and rise to the challenges that can occur during the course of the project.
They don’t want the entire list. Pick some examples based on the following criteria:
How recently have you worked on it? (Don’t talk about a project that happened years ago)
Has it been successful? (Don’t talk about the one in which failed. For obvious reasons, it doesn’t help)
Is it relevant to the job you are applying for?
The whole point of this question is to test your approach and your work ethic. So, make sure that the answer reflects those. Most people get carried away by this question and rattle off a lot of details. Please be concise and give only relevant details.
This is a kind of question for which you need to have the answer ready. PMBOK guide describes 10 knowledge areas. Read about them in detail and try to paraphrase in your own words.
The best answer to this question would be scenario-based. Sometimes, the interviewers themselves give a hypothetical project and ask you how you would handle it.
For each stage phase the project follows, briefly mention the following:
The main objective of that phase
The key people involved
Your role in each of those phases
This question is different from the one in which you are asked to name only one skill. Apart from technical skills, mention leadership skills, time management skills, decision-making skills, prioritization skills, risk management skills, etc. The follow-up question can be about how a certain skill helps. So, do prepare a justification for each of the skills you talked about.
Many people think that it’s better to say ‘no’ to this question and move on to the next. But, disagreements in projects are quite common. So, it is extremely unlikely nobody disagreed with your decisions (Especially, if you are a senior project manager). So, it’s better to say yes and go on to describe how you handled the situation. Show that you are a person who can take feedback constructively and can take everybody along with you in a collaborative manner.
A sample answer can be ‘I clearly communicate what the expectations are before the team starts to work on the task. I regularly take updates on the progress and if there is a lag anywhere I make myself approachable for the team members to discuss their problems. Also, I appreciate and give feedback once the project is completed to keep them motivated’
This is again a knowledge-based question. The Pareto principle states that 80% of the results come from 20% of the actions. This is a statistical analysis that is used by project managers to prioritize work. If you have enough experience as a project manager, most likely you have used this principle or at least a variation of it. Apart from explaining what it is, talk about how you used it in your previous job (if you did)
Of course, you have to say ‘yes’. Go on to describe why it is so. Any company wants an employee who shares the values and principles of the company. If you are in a responsible position such as a project manager, you are expected to show the way for others to follow. Earning the respect of your team members and the trust of your bosses can only happen when you are ethically upright.
Keeping customers happy is important for companies. Hence, your answer should showcase that you value customers as well. You can start by explaining that during the course of the project you regularly interact with the customers so that they are on the same page as the project team. Despite this, if the customers are unhappy with the result, say that you will try to clearly understand what modifications they want and try to incorporate them. In case the changes cannot be made, you will try to convince and explain to the customer that the project fits in with the agreed scope.
A good project manager is optimistic. The way you handle failure reflects the true leader in you. If your team worked on a project and it ultimately failed, they are bound to be unhappy. But as a manager, it is your duty to ensure that failures don’t affect the morale of the team. You can tell the interviewer that instead of blaming a particular person or a group, you make it a collective responsibility. Also, mention that you communicate with the team members to learn from the mistakes they made in this project and not repeat them in the future.
‘I didn’t have the right team’. ‘I don’t deal well with changes’. ‘My boss wasn’t very supportive’. These would be bad answers to give your future employer. As a project manager, you are expected to manage people and handle risks. So, don’t tell your interviewer that you fall short in those two areas. Give an example of a situation in which the challenge was due to external factors. It can be about when the project was abruptly shelved or when the funding for it has been stopped. Don’t forget to mention how you handled the situation and what you learned from it.
The one word that you need to focus on for this pm interview question is ‘relevance’. Do your research about the company and the role you are applying for. Your answer to this should be about the kind of projects that the company can offer.
When the interviewer asks this question, it is to know whether you can use Lean, Kanban, Agile, etc. If the company uses particular project management software, read up on it. Further, do mention how your knowledge of a specific project management tool can help their company.
This is a potential trap. ‘I get along with everyone’. Say this and you will open a floodgate of questions. Focus on why you are being asked this question. They want to check your people management skills. You can talk about how you are strictly professional and do not let your emotions get the better of you while working with people. Bring out your maturity, emotional quotient while answering this question.
If you say you are fine with any project, it might imply that you do not know yourself enough to answer this question. Instead, it is better, to be honest, and communicate your preferences. But, if you are applying for a software project manager position and say you hate software development, a slight chance you will get the job. So, be a little smart.
One of the important roles of a leader is to keep the morale of the team members high. Show the interviewer that you are a team player and work collaboratively. Tell the interviewer that you would like your team members to look up to you for advice. Also, they should feel free to share their ideas and suggestions with you. Instead of imposing decisions, you allow the team members to contribute and make it a collective effort.
This is an extension of the question of how you ensure that your team members meet deadlines. Talk about clearly defining the responsibilities, arranging regular meetings, empowering the team members to approach if there are any concerns, and constant updates on the progress of the work.
The answer varies from person to person. But responses can be ‘I like to be out of my comfort zone and hence love challenging projects’. ‘Projects which help me learn and evolve, pushing my potential’. ‘I am attracted to success and achievement. The thought of reaching the project goals within the stipulated time motivates me’. Think about the answer that you want beforehand so as to justify your statements with real-life examples.
Changes and modifications are a part and parcel of most projects. An employer wants a project manager who is flexible and adaptable to changes. The best answer can be about how you actually put in place a change management process even before the changes occur. At the same time, showcase that you are not a person shy to say ‘no’ when you feel that a certain change is not suitable for the project.
Project managers need to have good communication skills. So, don’t be too honest and say that communication skills are your weakest area. The answer has to either ‘good’ or ‘excellent’. But, don’t sound overconfident while saying so. If they ask for examples, be ready with two or three examples in different settings to justify your point.
It is another question to check if you fit in with the company’s culture. It also indicates whether you are self-aware to communicate your work style. Though it sounds vague, this question provides an opportunity to show how you can be an asset to the company. You could talk about your emphasis on speed and efficiency, how you like to work collaboratively, your way of communication, etc. Further, you can mention how you organize your day and how many hours you work.
Companies want their employees to be fully invested in the jobs that they are applying for. There are many software tools coming up and many processes being invented regularly in the project management landscape. Hence, project managers need to continually upgrade their skills to be relevant. Basically, tell your interviewer about what you are doing to grow in your field. It could be certification courses you are taking or workshops/courses you are attending. Also, you can talk about your interactions with project managers and people in the field to stay up-to-date with the latest.
You need to go prepared for this interview question. If their working style suits yours, you can discuss it. If the job you are applying for is the next logical step for your current job, tell them that. Or, even something like you being attracted to their work culture or vision, can be a good response. Better yet, you can say how the job and the company align with your personal growth. This shows that you are looking for a long-term collaboration with the company.
You might or you might not have faced issues with your former colleagues. But, if you mention that you did, don’t be too negative. You can discuss the problem. However, put your emphasis on what you did to resolve the problem. Give it a happy ending. You can also talk about what has been the learning and how you would handle a similar kind of people in the future. It shows your leadership skills.
Most of the applicants will say ‘no’ to this answer. But, by asking questions you can stand out from the crowd. It also shows your interest in the company. Your questions can indicate that you want to know a little more about the job you applied for. Or, you can ask them some questions about the organization itself.
A project management interview need not be dreaded. The above sample project management interview questions and answers should help you face the interviewer confidently. However, there can’t be a single right answer for any of the questions. Use the answers as guiding tools but make sure you take into consideration your own experiences, background, strengths, and weaknesses while answering the PM interview questions. Good luck with your job hunt.
Have you attended a project management interview recently? Do share your experiences with us in the comments section.
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