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10 Killer Project Management Interview Questions + Free Interview Template

Coworkers discussing ethics tips for project managers

Interviewing for project management jobs is something I have had to do but I don’t find it easy.

How do you know what to ask? And how do you use what is normally a really short period of time to let the candidate show themselves in the best possible light?

Added to that is the fact that it’s easy for candidates to come up with answers to many of the standard questions because there are so many books about recruiting and interviewing.

They have plenty of time to rehearse their answers, so the whole thing can feel like a box ticking exercise.

Get a free template for conducting an interview. It’s an interviewer’s Cheat Sheet and it’s got all the questions pre-populated and it’s fully editable so you can customise with your own questions too.

Then simply fill in the candidates answers during the interview. Using the same format for every candidate is important so you can more easily compare candidates and prove you have had a fair interview process.

Send Me The Interview Template

Structure your interviews easily with this Word document with pre-populated questions. You'll also get a weekly newsletter from GirlsGuideToPM.com

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I’ve put together my 10 killer project management interview questions for hiring managers.

(The bad responses below are to be taken lightly! They give you an idea of what subtext to look for — I’m not suggesting anyone would say these things to your face, even if that’s what they are thinking.)

Next time you have to recruit someone for your project team, why not try some of these? And if you are a project manager looking for work, use these questions to prepare.

1. What don’t you want to work on?

Good because: There are always bits of jobs we don’t like, but project managers typically work on the projects that they are assigned.

It’s fine to have preferences, but you’re looking for someone who can respond to business needs even if that isn’t their top choice of project.

Bad response: “I like to choose the projects I work on, and I only really want to do the digital media ones. That’s OK, isn’t it?”

Yes, I really have met a project manager who thought it was OK for them to choose their own assignments.

Elizabeth Harrin working together

2. If you had to rate project management as a career, from 1-10 how would you rate it?

Use this as part of your arsenal of junior project manager interview questions. It’s a simple one to ask, and you’ll hopefully get enthusiastic responses!

Good because: This will show you how they value their career and whether they see themselves progressing in a PM role. Ask them why they chose that rating.

Bad response: “I’d score it a 1 because I’m only doing this to fill in time before I can get a proper job.”

Follow up: Make sure they tell you why they give it the score they do.

3. What’s the most important thing for a project manager to do?

What you should look for when hiring a project manager is someone who understands the processes but also shares the same work ethic and values as your company.

This question is a great way to see if you think they’d be a fit for your company culture.

Good because: It will show you their priorities and whether they have actually thought about what a project manager does.

It will also demonstrate whether they are a good cultural fit for your team.

If you have a strong focus on process and they think the most important thing is to be flexible and adapt processes as you go, then you probably won’t get on.

Bad response: “Well, it’s mainly admin, isn’t it?”

Project management interview questions template
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4. What do you spend the most time doing each day?

This is great to include in your technical project manager interview questions list because the answer will give you an idea of how much technical work the candidate does compared to how much project management work they do.

You might be OK with them doing hands on techie jobs, but if you need a pure PM and they seem super excited about keeping the technical tasks in their job, they might not be a good fit.

Good because: This gives you an indication of how they do their job. Someone who spends all day at the PC may suit your environment, or you might be looking for a project manager who gets out and visits clients most days of the week.

Remember that they might be prepared to do something other than what they do now, so if you hear something that doesn’t fit with the post you are recruiting for, don’t rule them out before exploring this further.

Bad response: “Facebook.”

Here are 10 fantastic interview questions to ask when hiring a project manager for your team #projectmanagement

5. How do you work with sponsors? How do you manage up?

Managing up is a topic I’d expect to see covered in your list of senior project manager interview questions, but it’s appropriate to ask for any level.

Good because: Managing up means working well with people more senior than you. Project managers do this all the time, so it’s good to find out how they make those relationships work.

Bad response: “I prefer not to get my sponsor involved. They’re typically a figurehead, so I don’t bother them.”

6. When was the last time you didn’t delegate and what happened?

I don’t like being asked this question because I have too many examples of poor delegating!

In the interview itself, how to ‘pass’ the interview is probably the priority in the candidate’s mind. But as a candidate, you still need to be open and honest about your mistakes.

Good because: This will help you work out if they are happy to be honest and tell you about a time that something went wrong. This shows their capacity to learn from mistakes and how they deal with information overload.

Knowing how to delegate work packages is key to project work and you’ll want to hire someone who understands that.

Bad response: “I never delegate – it’s easier to do it all myself.”

Equally bad response: “I always delegate and it’s never gone wrong so I don’t have an example to tell you.”

7. What was the most difficult ethical decision you’ve had to make on a project?

This is one of those behavioural interview questions that will help you see how the candidate responds to tricky situations.

Good because: It can demonstrate their awareness of the PMI Code of Ethics (or the equivalent common code of practice where you are or for your industry) and even if they aren’t aware of that, their general approach to work.

You can also use it to open up an interesting discussion and allow you to judge how they will fit into your business culture.

Bad response: “I awarded a contract to my cousin once, even though he was the most expensive. I did get a good holiday out of the kickback though.”

Remember: not everyone will have been placed in a position of ethical dilemma, so this question might be best kept for senior project manager interviews where your candidate is more likely to have been exposed to this kind of choice.

Need to brush up your ethics? Here are 7 ethics tips for project managers.

8. What criteria are you using to find your next job?

This is not a common project management interview question but I think it should be. You want to know what the candidate is looking for in a company, so you should ask them.

Good because: It will show you what’s important to them at work: green credentials, career progression, work/life balance, working for a big brand etc.

It will also tell you if they are actively job hunting or whether they saw your ad and couldn’t resist (either is fine — there is no right or wrong answer to this question).

Bad response: “Salary, expense policy and the chance to travel abroad.”

As a candidate, if this doesn’t come up from the interviewer, feel free to tell them what you are looking for in a new job. There’s no point in wasting everyone’s time if you value remote working and they refuse to provide it.

9. How have you improved project management processes at your current firm?

Good because: Not everyone has the chance to work on business critical, exciting projects that make for a great CV, but everyone has the chance to offer some suggestions for improvements (even if they aren’t taken up).

Look for someone who has ideas and who isn’t afraid to put them forward. Even if their company then decided not to go ahead with the change proposed.

Bad response: “It’s all pretty rubbish there but I haven’t bothered to do anything about it as there’s no point.”

10. What creative problem solving techniques do you use?

Good because: It’s worth probing the technical skills of candidates. Can they talk knowledgeably about fishbone diagrams, De Bono’s thinking hats, role play? Branch out to talk about the last project issue they resolved with creative thinking.

Bad response: “I tend to solve problems myself without involving the team.”

Project management scenario based questions and answers for interview

Once you’ve gone through your ‘standard’ questions that probe skills, you’ll want to ask scenario based questions.

These are relatively easy to come up with by yourself. For example:

  • Give the candidate information about a recent project and ask them to advise on what the next steps should be.
  • Give the candidate a list of tasks and ask them to create a project schedule.
  • Ask the candidate to do a short presentation on how they would tackle a project challenge — use an example of a tricky situation you have had recently.
  • Provide a brief on a recent project towards the point of closure and ask the candidate to give you an overview of how they would close the project.

The benefit of using examples you are familiar with from your own business instead of made-up examples you found online is that you can compare what the candidate says with what actually happened.

Are they close? Could their plans be a realistic way to take the project to the next step?

Take It Further

You can also download my Interviewer’s Cheat Sheet: an editable Word document that you can use in your interviews to record responses from candidates. Enter your email below and get the file to save you time preparing for an interview.

Pin for later reading:

Send Me The Interview Template

Structure your interviews easily with this Word document with pre-populated questions. You'll also get a weekly newsletter from GirlsGuideToPM.com

You can read my privacy policy here.

On the next screen you'll also have the option to subscribe to the GirlsGuideToPM.com newsletter with weekly(ish) project management tips. Unsubscribe at any time. Powered by ConvertKit

About Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth HarrinElizabeth Harrin FAPM is a professional project manager and award-winning blogger behind A Girl's Guide To Project Management. She's passionate about demystifying project management and making tools and techniques work in the real world. She's also the author of several books including the PMI bestseller, Collaboration Tools for Project Managers.
Elizabeth lives in the UK with her family. She uses her organisation and project management skills at home, and also to help other bloggers at Totally Organised Blogging.

Comments

  1. Thanks for these valuable questions answers. Here I want to add two more questions i.e. what is the next step in the process? when do you think you will be making a decision? In the recent past, how has the company acknowledged and rewarded outstanding performance?

  2. Great Questions! Not only does it help the interviewer to know about the candidate’s working style and what they value, but also gives the candidate an idea of what the company values and the work culture of the place they are intending to work.

  3. I don’t like the questions very much, because from my experience they do not really focus on the right things. And the example answers are ridicolous. Nobody would answer “facebook”. I addtion, what is a useful question and what is not differs from project to project, and also what is a good answer.
    If you would like to provide more or less general questions, I would like to suggest to focus on something else than processes, career etc. Frankly, the topics from that questions do not relate to the challenges of our times, like fast moving targets, short-term thinking, constantly raising complexity, difference between project success and project management success, black swans etc.
    Questions should much more focus on the goals instead of tools and methodology. Example: what does mean to you beeing succesful and how doe you know if you are succesful? How do you deal with known unknowns vs. unknown unknowns? What is a complex project, how do you measure complexity and how do you approach it?

    • I agree that no one would answer “Facebook” – that’s me being a bit flippant and using that as shorthand for any number of “wrong” answers in an attempt to be humorous, which obviously fell a bit flat.
      Questions and answers are specific to the role. It sounds as if they wouldn’t be suitable in your environment, and that’s fine. There are loads of alternatives on the internet and you have your own too.

    • Thanks – I keep meaning to check out Medium more for publishing and haven’t quite got round to it yet. I appreciate you sharing your questions – the more prepared candidates are, the better!

  4. Yes, great questions thanks. Along with ‘What’s the most important thing for a project manager to do?’ perhaps something along the lines of: ‘What shouldn’t project managers spend time doing?’ As I find that they often spend too much time on the wrong things.

  5. These are brilliant interview questions! No,. 6 is an especially smart way to get insight into someone, as well as an intriguing question for the interviewee. I’m definitely going to use #8, too. Thanks for these!

  6. Smart questions. With a project management candidate,
    so many personality and work style details need to be brought to the surface,
    and quickly. Pertinent, probing, non-tricky questions make for a good
    interview.

    • These questions also make it easier to evaluate candidates as a group and rank them in order to who would be the best fit for the business. If you end up chatting about different things with each person it becomes difficult to assess them objectively. A standard list makes the interview more ‘clinical’ but it’s better and fairer for everyone.

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