Six Tips for Answering Project and Program Manager Interview Questions

I have two very popular posts on this site: Interview Questions for Program Managers, and Interview Questions for Project Managers. Several of you have asked how to answer these questions. Here are the tips to answer these questions.

Before the Interview:

Before the interview, review your resume. You want to articulate the value of your experience, and be able to share the stories of your experience.

Your stories are real. They are not made up. They are not lies. They are the details of how you have worked throughout the years.

For every project and program on your resume, starting with the most recent, ask yourself these questions:

  1. What decisions did I make?
  2. What decisions did I facilitate?
  3. What impact did those decisions have?
  4. Can I articulate that effect in terms of cost, schedule, or customer experience?

You can’t know what the project or program would have done without you. But you can talk about what the program did with you.

Now that you have the details, yes the details, of every project or program on your resume, you are ready for the interview.

During the Interview:

Not every interviewer asks behavior-description questions. When you answer questions, answer them, every one of them, in a behavior-description way, so you show your value.

If an interviewer asks, “How would you bring a team together?” you can answer, with an answer that says what you did. Did you bring a team together during the charter or the retrospective? If so, you can say something like this, if you did it:

“I’ve brought teams together with a project charter during the kickoff part of the project. I’ve also brought teams together with interim retrospectives during the project. I’ve had different results from these activities. Which one would you like to discuss in more detail?”

Notice that the interviewer’s question is a hypothetical question. You’ve answered in a behavior-description way, and you haven’t offended the interviewer. You’ve provided interesting information, and you’re ready to provide more.

If you didn’t do that, don’t answer the question this way. Answer it with something you did do.

In an interviewer asks, “How have you organized projects or programs?” you have plenty of possible answers. If you have a mandated process, you can explain how you use that. If you are agile, explain what your brand of agile is. Use the details you defined in the first part, Before the Interview, to be specific. Do not assume the interviewer knows what you mean by anything.

Tip Summary

I embedded the tips, so here they are:

  1. Define your value in advance of the interview. What actions did I take that affected the project? How do I describe the details of those actions in a way that helps articulate the value of how I worked?
  2. Create these stories by asking yourself several questions. See if you can relate the answers to cost, schedule, or customer experience. Why? Because that’s what management cares about.
  3. Never lie. Never. Never.
  4. Use this value to create the stories of how you worked.
  5. In the interview, answer every question as if it is a behavior-description question.
  6. Do not assume the interviewer knows what you mean. Especially explain your project management approach.

Do this, and you will be prepared for project and program manager interview questions. Or, any other kind of interview questions.

If you’re looking for a job, look at Manage Your Job Search.

About Johanna Rothman

I help managers and leaders do reasonable things that work.
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