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Project Manager Interview Questions (And How to Answer Them Successfully)

Introduction

Project managers play an important role across the financial and professional services sectors in Scotland.

It is an extremely competitive arena. Knowing how to steer your way through an interview, and present your skills and experience in the best possible light, will help you stand out.

In this article we look at the most common project manager interview questions and explain how to answer them successfully.

A structure for success

There are endless variations of project manager interview questions. And at the end of this article is a list of them which covers all the essential points and angles.

But rather than going through each one in turn – a tiresome and exhausting task – we thought it more helpful to provide a structure for answering based on what employers are looking for.

The focus will be more on contract work than permanent roles. When it comes to project manager vacancies in financial services, project management contractors tend to be greater in number.

Your responses should fall into three main categories: craft, experience and behaviour.

We will take each one in turn.

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1. Craft

Craft relates to the tools, methodology and theory behind your approach to project management.

The interviewer will be looking to explore how you approach projects, the framework you employ and the software you prefer.

Whether you have a background in Prince II, Sigma, Waterfall or Agile, be prepared to back up your qualifications by outlining your methodology and demonstrating your implementation methods.

Qualifications alone are not enough, however. You need to show what you know and what you’ve learned. Articulate this. And use examples.

Life-long ‘careerist’ project managers will have a lot to draw on here.

Professionals who have moved into project management from another route may choose to emphasise more ‘hands on’ experience.

In general terms, if it is a permanent role the interviewer will be more interested in the craft than the experience.

For contract work it is often more about experience and projects with relatable experience.

2. Experience

This area looks at the number and types of projects you have been involved in.

The employer will be assessing what specific challenges you faced in each project and how you overcame them.

The key phrase here is ‘relatable experience’.

For a contract role, the chances are you are being hired with a particular project in mind. The interviewer will be trying to establish if you’ve done this type of project before and can you do it again.

Whether you’ve been asked to talk through your CV or you are answering a specific question, highlight your experience and relate it directly to the employer’s situation.

By talking through past projects of a similar scale and type, you can demonstrate your suitability in solving the employer’s current problem. This will show yourself in the strongest possible light.

It will also highlight you’ve taken the time and care to research the role, the company and the challenges it faces.

3. Behaviours

Traditionally the reserve of permanent positions, behavioural fit is becoming an increasingly important factor within contract recruitment.

Large scale projects – particularly those relating to technology or regulations – are vital to the future success of financial services companies. And the budgets involved can be significant.

How project managers behave can sometimes be critical in the success of a key project.

As a result, employers are keener than ever before to explore behaviours at interview.

Here, the interviewer will want you to demonstrate – theoretically and through the use of examples – how you:

  • Build and sustain relationships across a business
  • Adapt your working style to different people and different situations
  • Keep a cool head in times of stress
  • Win respect
  • Inspire others
  • Act with integrity

Depending on the culture of the company and/or scale and duration of the project, a poor behavioural fit can be a deciding factor in whether or not you are hired.

Achieving a successful balance

Like most things in life, securing a successful outcome relies on striking the right balance.

When it comes to project manager interviews often the biggest pitfall is the candidate thinking that their toolkit and professional qualifications are enough to be offered the role.

But if you spend too much time focusing on the higher, strategic aspects of project management and not enough on relatable experience, the employer can be left with the impression you are overqualified and won’t be ‘hands on’ enough throughout the project.

Other unsuccessful candidates might overemphasis their ability to ‘get the job done’ but not articulate well enough their methodology and approach. This can sow a seed in the employer’s mind that the candidate’s past success may not be repeatable.

To be successful you need to have a foot planted firmly in each camp – craft and experience. Otherwise another candidate will have both and you will lose out.

In short, you need to ‘talk the talk’ and ‘walk the walk’.

Common project manager interview questions

Q. In your opinion, what’s a project manager’s most important skill and why?

Q. Which project management software do you prefer using? Why?

Q. What project management methodologies are you familiar with? What’s your preference?

Q. Tell me about a full project life cycle that you managed and what was included in this project.

Q. How do you schedule projects and establish timelines for a project?

Q. How do you allocate resources?

Q. What general metrics do you use to determine if a project is progressing on track?

Q. If the project is not adhering to schedule, how do you get it back on track?

Q. How do you manage uncertainty in a project?

Q. How do you control changes to your project?

Q. What is your preference for providing status updates?

Q. How do you monitor and manage risks when working on a project?

Q. How do you close a project?

Q. How would you describe your leadership and communication style?

Q. How do you help your team prioritise simultaneously urgent tasks?

Q. What is the best way to set up and manage an interdepartmental team?

Q. When was the last time you didn’t delegate? What was the consequence?

Q. How do you keep team members motivated throughout a project?

Q. How do you ensure you and your team meet or exceed stakeholder expectations?

Q. Have you managed remote teams and outsourced resources?

Q. Do you seek help outside of the project team?

Q. How would you describe the outcome of your last project?

Q. What was the most challenging aspect of your last project? What did you learn from it?

Q. What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made on a project?

Q. What was the least challenging aspect of your last project?

Q. What was your most successful project?

Q. What’s your ideal project?

Q. Have you worked on a project that failed? Tell me what happened.

Q. What is the largest number of projects you have handled at the same time?

Q. Do you prefer working on a single project or multiple projects at the same time?

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Mike Stirton
Director – Interim, Temporary & Contract
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