Interview Questions for Project Managers

If you are looking for a project manager, what questions might you ask? Well, it might depend if you are agile, or geographically distributed, or how large a project or program you have. All of those pieces of your context are going to feed into your question development. I hope you ask behavior-description questions. That way you offer the candidate the best opportunity to explain how he or she has worked in the past.

A behavior-description question is open-ended, and is of the form of “Tell me about a time when” or “Give me an example of.” You might like this oldie-but-goodie post, Hiring Tip #5: Ask Behavior-Description Interview Questions. There are also some great questions in  Behavior-Description Questions from Agile 2006.

So here are some questions you might use for a facilitative project manager. Sorry, I don’t do command-and-control project managers.

  • How do you know what’s driving the project in your most recent project?
  • How do you know what “done” means for your current project?
  • Have you ever been on a death-march project? If so, were you able to change it? If not, what would you do to change it? (Yes, this is hypothetical, and goes to the potential project manager’s knowledge of lifecycles)
  • Give me an example of a time some manager wanted to take a person off your project and move that person to another project. What did you do?
  • Give me an example of a time some manager wanted to give you more people. What did you do?
  • Give me an example of a time you thought the product was not ready for release and the team thought it was. What did you do?

If you are agile, here are some specifically agile questions:

  • Give me an example of a time when the product owner was not available so there was no ranked backlog, but the management team wanted you to move ahead with the project. Have you encountered that problem? If so, what did you do?
  • Have you worked on a geographically distributed agile team? How did you build the product with people distributed? (If you are the project manager, make sure you are specific with how many time zones you managed, where the people were, all that. This could be a very long answer. Include the lifecycle and how you managed the standups.)
  • As an agile project manager, how are you different from a Scrum Master?

These are just behavior-description questions. They are the starting point for a conversation with a potential project manager. They are one way to assess a candidate’s experience and to see if the candidate will fit your culture.

Remember, the candidate will be listening to see if your questions and the way you ask these questions fit his or her idea of the culture he or she wants. Because, no matter how I frame the questions, you are going to ask the questions the way they make sense to you. That’s because your culture puts its stamp on everything we say and do. Read more about hiring for your culture in Hiring Geeks That Fit.

P.S. Are you a Project Manager looking for a job? I have a post about Six Tips for Answering Project Manager and Program Manager Interview Questions. And, read Manage Your Job Search for how to find your next best job, using pragmatic project management approaches.

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6 Comments

  1. Jon Rogers

    Good article!

    A good starter question to ask a PM is “Take me through the typical lifecycle of projects you’ve run.”

    An experienced PM will usually take you through each phase of a properly run project in detail, from intiating the project through closing it down. If they’re able to explain this wll, you’re probably off to a good start.

    Reply
    • johanna

      Jon, nice… A versatile PM will even explain, “In this project I used this approach because speed was a factor. In this approach, we needed to iterate more, because the requirements changed so much….”

      Reply
  2. Joe Sanchez

    Hi Johanna

    I also like to figure out if someone is flexible in the method they use for different projects. Some PM only want to use waterfall but scrum and kanban have their place and can be better alternatives. I work with a lot of technical PMs so I find it frustrating when everything looks like a nail when all you have is a hammer!

    Good article!

    Reply
    • johanna

      Hi Joe, yes! That’s the question I was trying to get at with my answer to Jon, but I guess I wasn’t clear. Oh well. Yes, I agree with you!

      Everyone works in a different context. You have to work with the lifecycles you know, and within your organization’s context. But if you only know waterfall, or if you’re a Scrum bigot, that won’t serve you well. You need a multitude of approaches. Even my favorite non-agile approach, staged delivery doesn’t work all the time. Sometimes a more iterative approach works better. If I’m a project manager, I’d better be flexible in my approach, and know what works.

      Reply
  3. Paul wanaye

    Please may you deleat off my request for interview guidance. it is denying me more opportunities please

    Reply
    • johanna

      Done. Let me know if you would like me to delete this one also.

      Reply

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