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. If you are try to hire a project or program manager, read Hiring Geeks That Fit.

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10 Comments

  1. hvanleer

    Great. … This can also be used to prepare for your annual performance appraisal

    Reply
    • johanna

      You are right. When you prepare for a performance appraisal (or “review”), think back so you can define something of value that you did each month.

      Can you define the details of that value with numbers? Now, we’re talking! You are much better prepared for your review.

      If you give this to your manager in advance, he or she will write a better review, too. It’s based on fact, what you accomplished.

      Reply
  2. BanuSrini

    i agree that these behavious-description way of intrepreting the questions and forming answers are fundamental to any job interviews at any level. thanks for this Johanna

    Reply
    • johanna

      Hi Banu. You are welcome. Whether you are hiring project/program managers, or looking for a job, you need behavior-description questions.

      Reply
  3. Navneet Raorane

    The behavior-description way that you described is an excellent way of answering the questions. Thanks for great tips.

    Reply
    • johanna

      Navneet, you are welcome.

      Reply
  4. Aruna Krishnan

    Hi Johanna
    Can you please provide few more examples of behavior descriptions ?

    Reply
    • johanna

      Hi Aruna, I added a link to Four Tips to Defining Your Value in the post. That might help in getting ready to answer a behavior description question. You have to know what you have done.

      The key is to think back to your experience. Make it recent experience, if you can. Now, take the interviewer question, and answer it. One question might be, “How have you brought a project in on time?” That’s a terrible question, because project managers don’t bring projects in on time, project teams bring projects in on time. I digress. Now, explain, from your experience, what you have done.

      Does this help? If so, do you want another post? Tell me the questions you get, and I will help you learn how to answer them. It’s all about your experience.

      I talk about this a lot more in Manage Your Job Search

      Reply
  5. Ellis Addo

    Please what are the two key delievarables of project management

    Reply
    • johanna

      Ellis, I can think of many deliverables for project managers. What do you think two key deliverables are?

      When I manage projects, here are some deliverables I use:
      – A project charter, and I often develop that with the project team. That includes the product vision and the release criteria. (See Manage It! for more information.)
      – Measurements that fit the context, so we know where things are as a team. (See Manage It! for a whole chapter on measurement. I also have posts on this blog.)
      – Obstacle or impediment removal on an ongoing basis for the team.

      It really depends on your context. Look back at your experience and ask yourself, “As a project manager, what have I delivered to my teams and to my management that changed the course of our project?” That’s really the question I think your interviewers have.

      Reply

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