A project manager interview can be intimidating, especially if you don’t know what to expect. The good news is that going through some common questions can help a lot to be (and feel) prepared. Though all interviews are different, it’s likely that you’ll encounter questions that ask about your people skills, technical knowledge, and specific situations.
What is a project manager?
A project manager is a professional who organizes, plans, and executes projects while working within restraints like budgets and schedules. Project managers are in charge of leading teams, defining goals, communicating with stakeholders, and seeing a project through to its closure. Whether running a marketing campaign, constructing a building, developing a computer system, or launching a new product, the project manager is responsible for the success or failure of the project.
The project manager role is in demand in just about every industry. Let’s take a closer look at what project managers do, why you should consider a career in project management, and how you can get started.
What does a project manager do? Tasks and responsibilities
A project is typically divided into five different phases: initiation, planning, execution, and closure.
Throughout the lifecycle of a project, the project manager is responsible for:
- Defining the scope of the project
- Staying on schedule
- Planning a project’s cost and sticking to a budget
- Managing project resources (including teams and workers)
- Documenting the progress of the project
- Communicating with stakeholders
- Assessing risks
- Leading quality assurance
The sheer variety of tasks means no two days on the job (or two projects) are quite the same. On any given day, you might be interviewing and hiring new talent, managing team meetings, reallocating resources to cover an unexpected expense, or updating stakeholders on the progress of the project.
Learn more about the lifecycle of a project in this video.
Project management interview questions
Here are a few common interview questions you’ll encounter as a project manager. You can use this list as a starting off point to prepare stories about your past experiences.
Tell me about yourself.
A common question to open any type of interview, this statement is a chance for you to describe yourself and your story in your own words.
How to answer: There are several ways you can approach this question. One effective way is to start with the present, then go into your past, and finish with your future. Describe what your role is, and what you do. Then describe past experiences relevant to the role you’re applying to. Finally, talk about what kind of work you’re hoping to do next, and why you’re interested in the role you’ve applied to.
Can you tell us about the last project you worked on?
An interview might ask you about your last project to get a sense of what types of projects you’re used to, what project management approaches you’ve used, the number of people on your team, and other details.
How to answer: Describe the important information about the project, like the overall goal, team size, and how you approached it. Speak candidly about what went well, and be sure to mention something you might have improved or that you learned. Having some metrics on hand to show the results of the project can be useful here.
Tell us about a time something went wrong in a project you were managing.
Setbacks are normal in managing projects. Hiring managers will want to know how you’ve dealt with them in the past to understand what you do when things don’t go according to plan.
How to answer: Since dealing with unforeseen challenges is a core part of project management, you’ll want to have a few examples to point to for your interview. You can also mention how you would implement change processes in your project.
Consider using the STAR method when asked for specific examples from your past. Here’s how to put the method into action:
- Situation: Start by describing the facts of the situation and why it happened—in this case, what had gone wrong.
- Task: Go on to describe what task you were expected to do to solve the situation.
- Action: Next, explain what you did, and how you did it.
- Result: Finish by sharing the outcome. Also describe what you learned from the experience.
How do you prioritize tasks in a project?
Knowing what to prioritize is key to a project. There’s a chance you’ll receive a question asking what you decide to prioritize, and why. You might also be asked how you would juggle working on multiple projects at once.
How to answer: Tie your answer back to the interest of the project. Your answer might include some combination of deadlines, stakeholder needs, or determining tasks that make up a critical path. You can pull from some examples in the past, or work your way through some hypothetical situations.
What was your most successful project?
This question can demonstrate to recruiters what you consider a success. Projects can be successful for meeting goals, deadlines, and budgets, but successes can also mean being able to incorporate change.
How to answer: Take this opportunity to demonstrate your strengths. Modesty is a great asset, but don’t undersell yourself. If your team pulled out a success, what did you do to keep the project on track or be more efficient? Think about the key elements you and the team took that led to success.
What’s your experience with budget management?
Hiring managers might ask questions specifically about various skills like budget management. It’s probably not a deal breaker if you have no experience in most cases—they may just be trying to get a better sense of where you stand.
How to answer: Managing a budget includes cost estimation, deciding how to allocate funds, keeping a record of how money was spent, and planning for unexpected expenses. It’s great if you can point to some examples in the past. If you don’t have much experience, you can share what you know about budget planning, or talk about budgeting experience you have in your personal life, if it’s relevant. It’s also good to show that you’re able to pick up new skills.
How would you describe a project plan?
An interviewer can try to gauge your technical knowledge of basic project management concepts.
How to answer: Start by answering the question—describe what elements you know to be an important part of a project plan (like tasks, milestones, and team members). You can then go into an example of how you’ve typically implemented them in the past.
How would you create an environment of collaboration on your team?
Knowing how to motivate team members and make them feel like they can surface any questions and concerns is often central to a project’s success.
How to answer: In this situation, it can be helpful to point to an example of when you were able to foster good communication in your team. Think about any processes or methods you rely on to get people feeling like they are working toward a common goal. This might include simple methods like incorporating ice breakers in kickoff meetings, or building in communication structures within a project.
What tools do you use to plan a project?
Interviewers might want to get a sense of how familiar you are with different project management tools.
How to answer: In preparing for your interview, make a list of all the project management tools you’ve used before. These can include common project management tools like RACI charts, or collaboration software like Asana or Trello. Mention what you like about them, and how they might be improved.
Do some research to see if you can find what kind of tools you’ll be expected to use. You can try to familiarize yourself with the tool, or see if you’ve used any similar tools. These Guided Projects on Coursera are free, can be completed in two hours or less, and can introduce you to some common project management tools:
Describe your experience in this industry.
Familiarize yourself as much as you can with the company’s industry before the interview. Learn what the top issues are by reading news articles and listening to podcasts, or reaching out to project managers in similar roles and asking about their experiences.
How to answer: Come prepared to talk about any experience you’ve had in the industry. Academic or professional background is great. If you don’t have these, you can talk about what you’ve learned about the industry, and why you want to work in it. Mention any skills or knowledge that are transferable as well.
What if I don’t have any formal project management experience?
Project management is a field where people skills can make or break a candidate. If you’re less familiar with the technical side of project management, emphasize people skills you have like leadership, communication, and organization. Even if you’re not a formal project manager yet, chances are good that you’ve done some elements of project management in the past. Go through your experiences and find moments when you’ve helped to improve, plan, or execute new processes.
And don’t worry—if you’ve landed an interview, your interviewer probably already knows that you don’t have formal experience but sees potential in you. Convey your enthusiasm for the job and willingness to learn.
One of your team members is asking for more time to complete a task. How would you handle this situation?
Situational questions like these are common in project management interviews. This is a chance for hiring managers to see your thought process and gauge how you think on your feet.
How to answer: As a project manager, you’ll be expected to help team members that haven’t been able to complete tasks on schedule in the interest of the project. You’ll want to know why the issue arose in the first place, and apply an appropriate fix. You might talk about adding another member if the team is feeling overloaded, implementing time buffers in the planning phase for certain tasks, or negotiating with a stakeholder for more time or resources.
How would you deal with a difficult stakeholder?
This situational question aims to get clarity into your people skills, a crucial part of being a successful project manager.
How to answer: Communication and negotiation are likely to be an important part of your answer here. Knowing your team’s needs, capacity, and the project’s available resources might also influence your answer.
For more ideas on preparing answers this question, see the video below, a preview of the Google Project Management Professional Certificate.
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