10 Killer Interview Questions and Answers for Project Management Interviews
Today, senior executives and HR managers recognize project management as a strategic component that is indispensable to business success. They know that skilled and credentialed Project Managers are among their most valuable resources.
But when it comes to hiring the right Project Managers, things get a little tricky. Having worked at senior management levels for several global organizations, I have often been on the recruitment panel for project management positions. I always looked at the following aspects – will this person fit into the culture of the organization? Will this person get along with other team members and lead them effectively? Will this person deliver on the project goals and on time?
There are a lot of unknowns, but in my experience, focusing on the key competency and asking the right questions in the interview can help us select the right candidate. So, how do we assess these during interviews?
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Competency: Domain Knowledge & Skills
Question to ask: What are the 3 key challenges for the industry today and how can these be tackled effectively?
This question makes the candidate think about the top challenges of the industry in which the potential employer operates. The response from the candidate reveals his understanding of the industry, market, current challenges, and possible solutions. Knowing this is critical for the success of any project manager as they will be tackling those same or similar challenges inside the organization if they get hired. So this question helps the hiring managers assess whether the candidate is the right fit for the role.
Competency: Clear Communication
One of the most important skills for Project Managers is communication. Without communication, everything else fails. In today's matrix organizations, communication happens between various groups and levels, including internal as well as external groups of stakeholders. The key questions I usually ask are as follows.
Question: What are\were the communication challenges on your current\last project?
Question: What is your communication style with your team?
The first question helps you assess the candidate on how effectively he handles communication, including in challenging situations. The second question helps you understand how the candidate engages in a two-way exchange with others using available media and information, and assess whether he demonstrates good sense and judgement in timing the communication, and is able to use language effectively.
Competency: Consistency & Integrity
Honesty and trustworthiness are of utmost importance in the world of business. Project Managers manage critical responsibilities and resources such as material, money, and human resources. They also represent the organization to its employees, customers, and vendors. They are role models for their team members. Their lack of consistency and integrity can cost the organization a lot more than money. Therefore, the key questions to ask the candidate are:
Question: How do you communicate bad news?
Question: How do you handle disgruntled employees?
Question: How do you keep your promise even when it is difficult to keep?
Competency: Customer Orientation
Project Managers are responsible for understanding the need of the customer, and responding in a timely, efficient manner to meet customer expectations. They are also responsible for establishing and maintaining effective relationships, and gaining the trust and respect of customers. Here are a couple of questions I usually ask to gauge the candidate's customer orientation.
Question: How do you ensure you and your team deliver or exceed customer expectations?
Question: What are the best practices to develop excellent customer relationship?
Competency: Developing Others
A Project Manager relies on his team to get the project activities carried out to achieve the desired results. It is an important competency for a project manager to assess talent proactively, contribute actively towards developing team members, offer constructive feedback, and mentor and coach his team members. Responses to the following questions will reveal if the candidate is a Team-oriented individual and would be able to motivate his team members to excel.
Question: How do you go about performance management of your team?
Question: How do you motivate different team members?
Question: What tools and resources do you use to develop your team?
Competency: Effective Delegation
One of the key success factors for a project manager is effective delegation. How effectively does he get work done? Delegation must happen through empowerment without interference and/or losing control. I often ask the following questions to determine if the candidate is good at delegating.
Question: What is your delegation style?
Question: How easily do you delegate responsibility?
Question: How do you monitor and review the delegated responsibilities?
Competency: Goals Focus
Being focused on project goals is absolutely essential for project managers. They should have a clear focus and clarity of thought. It is important to assess if the candidate has demonstrated the ability to align resources to achieve key objectives, to plan and identify ways to improve and achieve greater efficiency, and to monitor and fine tune execution with agility, hard work, perseverance, and good judgement. Key questions to ask in this area are:
Question: What are your career / project goals for the next 6 months?
Question: How do you set goals for your team? And how do you track these goals?
Competency: Managing Ambiguity & Risks
As a project manager one has to deal with uncertainties all the time. It is thus important for a project manager to identify and prioritize critical risks and appropriate mitigation actions required in fuzzy environments, and communicate adequately and appropriately. It is equally important to manage others’ concerns in changing environments and enable change. To assess competency in this area, it is best to ask scenario based questions.
Question: Describe 2 areas in your current project where there is a high level of uncertainty. How do you tackle these uncertainties?
Question: How do you control big changes to your project?
Competency: Prioritizing & Time Management
At any point in time there are multiple tasks and issues to tackle for a project manager. To be successful, the project manager has to choose his battles wisely. Also, resources available for the project are always limited, and need to be utilized in a wise manner. That is prioritization in action. Time is a valuable resource for the project because once lost it cannot be recovered easily. As a result, Time Management is one of the key skills for a project manager. The Project Manager is responsible for creating efficient ways to execute tasks.
Question: How do you ensure that your project is always on track?
Question: What tools do you use as a manager to plan your activities as well as that of your team?
Competency: Proactive Decision Making
The Project Manager needs to identify and prevent issues from impacting the project adversely. Hence, it is important that the candidate demonstrates competence and the eagerness to take proactive actions, avoids procrastination, and does not shy away from making tough decisions. I usually ask candidates to share examples and real life scenarios from their projects and life where they took proactive actions. Here are a few such questions:
Question: Give a few examples of proactive decision making in your project. Also, in your life.
Question: Can you give me a few examples of where you made a tough decision and it backfired?
The second question is a tough one to handle for candidates and it reveals their honesty and compels them to talk about an instance when they failed. It's also important to see how the candidate handles failure and learns from it.
I sincerely hope that the list of important competencies and related questions will help hiring managers hire the right candidates. I am quite confident that it will also help aspiring candidates prepare well for interviews for the role of Project Manager.
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