You have an interview scheduled for a project management role you’re super pumped about. While you’re excited to be moving onto the next step in hopefully landing the job of your dreams, you also have those inevitable pre-interview jitters.
What should you wear? What if you get lost on the way to the office? And—perhaps the most nerve-wracking question of all—what the heck are they going to ask you?
Of course, you should prepare for those inevitable, standard interview questions—you know, the ones like, “What’s your biggest weakness?” and “Why do you want this job?”
But, you also know that there will be plenty of questions related specifically to the position, such as your relevant skills and experience. The thought of answering those in a way that impresses your interviewer? Well, that makes your stomach drop to your shoes and your heart start racing.
Hey, there’s no need to start huffing and puffing into a paper bag quite yet. We’ve pulled together seven common project manager interview questions—as well as some quality answers—that you can use to prepare for your upcoming project management interview. You’ve got this!
7 project manager interview questions and answers
1. Tell me about your favorite project that you’ve managed and what you enjoyed about it
What they’re asking: Expect a fair share of behavioral interview questions—these are questions that ask you to recall and explain specific examples and experiences—during your project manager interview. This question in particular is a way for the interviewer to gauge what sort of project management experience you have under your belt, what sorts of projects you excel at managing and how much passion you have for the role.
How to answer: With any sort of behavioral interview question, you want to be as specific as possible. You don’t need to go into painstaking detail, but you should be prepared to elaborate with real situations and explanations. Try something like this:
"I really enjoyed managing the implementation of [new software program] at my last company. It gave me an opportunity to evaluate and refine any processes that weren’t really working for us. Additionally, I enjoyed being able to collaborate with every department in our office to ensure their needs were being met. It was challenging, but definitely rewarding!"
2. What communication style do you use with a team that you’re managing?
What they’re asking: Being a strong communicator is one of the most important skills a project manager can possess, and that’s exactly what this question is getting at. At the center of everything a project manager does, there’s communication. From formal presentations and casual brainstorming sessions to in-person discussions and online collaboration, successful project managers need to know how to tailor their communication to effectively get a point across.
How to answer: This can be a tricky question to answer, especially when different circumstances require different communication styles. Start by recognizing that you understand the importance of successful communication, as well as how different styles are beneficial in different situations. For example:
"I think strong communication skills is one of the most critical qualities of a project manager. My communication style can vary greatly depending on the situation. During a conflict, for example, I tend to be more direct and assertive. But, during a team meeting, I prefer to sit back and be more of a facilitator of collaboration. I believe a strong project manager is able to adjust his or her communication style when necessary, and that’s something I excel at."
3. How do you set project goals? How do you monitor progress of those goals?
What they’re asking: A project won’t get done without clear goals. And, typically, it’s up to the project manager to establish those objectives and keep a finger on the pulse of progress as well. This question is pretty straightforward. The interviewer wants to know how you handle those two important tasks -- setting SMART goals and monitoring progress toward those goals.
How to answer: As mentioned above, questions like this -- that relate directly to what skills and qualifications you bring to the table -- deserve a thoughtful, detailed and tactical response. Don’t just skate over your approach. Dive into any frameworks or tools you use to make this process more streamlined for you and your project team. Try something like this:
"I’m a big believer in setting SMART goals. Ensuring that the project team’s goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound helps to confirm that we’re setting ourselves up for success. I also make sure to sit down with the project team when setting goals in order to incorporate their own thoughts and opinions on where we should be headed. I find that’s important for increasing excitement around the goal while also maintaining realistic objectives. As far as monitoring progress, I use a combination of smaller milestones to keep an eye on progress, regular check-ins, and the always helpful Gantt Chart to ensure we’re moving in the right direction."
4. How do you deal with team conflict?
What they’re asking: Like it or not, conflict is pretty much inevitable on a project team. And, it’s the project manager’s job to make sure things get resolved in an efficient and effective manner. Understandably, the interviewer wants to know how you’ll fix the issue—and that you won’t just sweep things under the rug.
How to answer: Chances are, you have some experience dealing with conflict already. Think about how you’ve approached those situations in the past, and then use that to inform your answer:
"I’ve heard that there are three main approaches to conflict resolution: avoidance, defusion and confrontation. Typically, I utilize a combination of defusion and confrontation. First and foremost, I limit the interaction between the conflicting parties in order to get some separation, and identify the root cause. Then, I facilitate one-on-one conversations in order to identify if there’s a certain task or stressor that’s causing the issue. At this point, the confrontation comes into play. I’ll facilitate a problem-solving meeting where the conflicting members can talk about the issues, reach a compromise, and move forward. I also make sure to continuously check in on that matter moving forward, to ensure that the root issue has been addressed, resentment has been eradicated and a new conflict isn’t brewing."
5. How do you ensure that your project is on schedule to meet the deadline?
What they’re asking: You need to live and breathe deadlines—you know that much. The employer’s goal with this question is simple: They want to confirm that you’re someone who can deliver a project on time and on budget.
How to answer: Start by recognizing that even the best laid plans experience a curveball every now and then—every realistic project manager knows that. Then, explain in detail your typical approach to ensure that projects run smoothly. Try something like this:
"Meeting deadlines involves a balance of scope management and schedule management. First and foremost, I ensure that the team has a solid grasp on the scope of the project. Everybody needs to understand what needs to be done, before it can be done on time. Then, I move on to schedule management, including time management processes required to complete the project by the deadline. I think it’s important to make sure these processes and a detailed schedule are somewhere that the entire project team can easily access, so there’s no confusion or question about when pieces need to be delivered. Of course, this schedule is flexible and will likely change as circumstances arise. But, that’s why I also think it’s important to frequently check in on progress and roadblocks to make sure things are coming together in accordance with the process and timeline."
6. Tell me about a recent challenge you encountered and how you overcame it
What they’re asking: Even the best, most thoughtful project managers will admit that sometimes things get sticky. Problems and surprises are inevitable, and the employer wants to be sure that they find someone who can roll with the punches and continue leading the team forward.
How to answer: This pesky behavioral interview question requires you to detail a real-world example. No project is flawless, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to think of a time when you ran into an issue. Ideally, you’ll want to talk about a challenge that resulted in a big win because of your clever self. Your answer could look something like this:
"I was tasked with overseeing the entire redesign and redevelopment of our company website. The engineering team and the design team were at a standstill about how to layout a specific page on the website, and it was slowing down the entire project. To shut down the various personal conversations and back-and-forth emails, I facilitated an entire team sit-down where everybody could voice their suggestions. We reached a compromise, and moved forward with the project, delivering it before deadline."
7. What three skills do you think are most important to be an effective project manager?
What it’s asking: Of course, the employer has specific skills that they’re looking for in their next project manager. But, they want to hear from you about what you think are the most important competencies that you bring to the table.
How to answer: As you might suspect, you’re going to want to pick skills that are not only important to being a project manager, but also skills that you actually possess. You don’t want to plant seeds that undermine your qualifications, after all. You can even mention the “Talent Triangle” -- which are three skills required to get your PM certification -- to demonstrate your knowledge of the area.
"Of course, strong communication skills, excellent organization capabilities, and a keen ability to manage time are all crucial for being an effective and respected project manager. But, when looking at the overarching qualities that are necessary to be a strong project manager, I think the ‘Talent Triangle’ is the perfect breakdown. The combination of technical project management, leadership, and strategic and business management makes for a well-rounded project manager who’s willing to work and manage in a variety of business functions."
Wouldn’t it be nice if you had a crystal ball that would tell you exactly what you’ll be asked in your project manager interview? Unfortunately, you aren’t quite that lucky. The good news is you can use these project manager interview questions and answers to prepare, and knock your interview out of the park. Good luck!