10 Killer Interview Questions and Answers for Project Management Interviews
Senior executives and HR managers recognize project management as indispensable to business success. They know that skilled and credentialed Project Managers are among their most valuable resources. The Project Management Institute report that US$122 million is wasted for every US$1 billion invested due to poor project performance.
But when it comes to hiring qualified 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 found it valuable to review each candidate in a number of ways. 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 on time?
Recruiting is both an art and a science. There are a lot of unknowns, but in my experience, focusing on key competencies and asking the right questions in the interview helps to select the right candidate. So, which competencies should we assess for during interviews? And which questions will best reveal these competencies? Here are ten interview questions that will help you evaluate candidates for project management roles in your team and find the right fit.
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Competency: Domain Knowledge and Skills
Question: What are the three key challenges for our industry today and how can these be tackled effectively?
This question enables the candidate think about the top challenges of the industry in which your organization operates. The response from the candidate reveals his understanding of the industry, the market, current challenges, and possible solutions. This knowledge is critical for the success of any Project Manager as they will be tackling these challenges inside the organization if they get hired. So this question helps the hiring managers assess whether the candidate has the domain knowledge that makes them fit for the role.
Competency: Clear Communication
One of the most important skills for Project Managers is communication. Without this everything else fails. Communication is the life and blood of any project. It’s claimed that about 90% of a Project Manager’s time is spent communicating. In today's siloed organizations, communication happens between various groups and levels, including internal as well as external groups of stakeholders. I ask two communication-related questions.
Question: What were the communication challenges on your last project?
Question: What is your communication style with your team?
The first question helps you assess how effectively the candidate handles communication in challenging situations. The second question helps you understand how the candidate engages with others and assess whether they demonstrate good sense and judgement and are able to use language effectively.
Competency: Consistency and 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 employees, customers, and vendors. They are role models for their team members. Any 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 have you handled disgruntled employees?
Question: What are some examples of times you’ve kept your promise even when that might have been difficult?
Competency: Customer Orientation
Project Managers are responsible for understanding the need of the customer, and responding in a timely, efficient manner in ways that 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 some best practices you’ve used to develop excellent customer relationships?
Competency: Developing Others
A Project Manager relies on their team to execute activities in order to achieve the desired results. It is important that a Project Manager can assess talent, contribute actively towards developing team members, offer constructive feedback, and mentor and coach their team members. Responses to the following questions will reveal if the candidate is someone able to motivate the members of a team.
Question: How do you go about managing the performance of your team?
Question: How do you motivate team members?
Question: What are some of the tools and resources you’ve used to develop your team?
Competency: Effective Delegation
One of the key success factors for a Project Manager is effective delegation. How effectively do they get work done through others? Delegation must happen through empowerment without interference or loss of control. The following questions will 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 goals is absolutely essential for Project Managers. They need a clear focus to succeed. 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 and project goals for the next six months?
Question: How do you set goals for your team? And how do you track these goals?
Competency: Managing Ambiguity and Risks
A Project Manager has to deal with uncertainty. It is important that they can identify and prioritize risks and take appropriate action in ambiguous situations. It is equally important to manage others’ concerns in changing environments. To assess competency in this area, it is best to ask scenario-based questions.
Question: Describe two areas in your current project where there is a high level of uncertainty. How do you tackle these uncertainties?
Question: How do you control changes to your project?
Competency: Prioritizing & Time Management
A Project Manager must tackle multiple tasks and issues. To be successful, the Project Manager has to choose their battles wisely. Since resources are always limited, they need to be prioritized. 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
A Project Manager needs to identify and prevent issues from impacting the project adversely. It is important that the candidate demonstrates they are able to take proactive steps, avoid procrastination, and 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 made proactive decisions. Here are a few such questions:
Question: Give a few examples of proactive decision making past projects and in your life in general.
Question: Can you give me a few examples of a time when you made a tough decision and it backfired?
The second question is a tough one for candidates to handle. It tells you how honest they are with themselves and compels them to talk about an instance when they failed. It shows how the candidate handles failure and learns from it.
I hope that this list of competencies and related questions will help hiring managers recruit the right candidates. These 10 areas are not an exhaustive list, but will structure an interview in a way that covers the most important project management skills a candidate will need to succeed.
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