7 Things Project Managers Should Never Say in a Job Interview

No matter how much experience they have, or how many job interviews they’ve been through, some project managers unknowingly say things that hurt their chances of landing a job offer.

When the pressure is on, they make off-the-cuff remarks or answer questions in ways that send up a huge red flag. To help you avoid making an unfortunate “slip of the tongue,” here are seven things that PMs should never say during a job interview.

“How do I go about creating a project plan? I start by gathering the requirements, then I analyze product feasibility and user needs…”

“It raises a red flag when a candidate uses lifecycle terms to describe their approach to projects, rather than using project management terms such as scope, budgeting, scheduling, communication and so forth,” explained Tom Mochal, PMP, PgMP, PfMP, TSPM, president of TenStep, Inc., a provider of project consulting and training.

Why is using the wrong terminology a deal breaker? Because it shows they don’t understand the difference between being a project contributor and a project manager, Mochal added.

“Every project I’ve managed has come in on time and under-budget. After all, I have five certifications, so I’m bound to be successful.”

Literally every research study shows that a significant percentage of projects fail. Yet every day, Yad Senapathy PMP, founder & CEO of the Project Management Training Institute, receives résumés from PMs that make startling claims about project success rate.

“It’s more realistic to say that the majority of your projects have been successful,” he said. Have there been hiccups along the way? Of course; those always happen. But explain that, no matter what the outcome of a particular project or initiative, you will always do your best to figure out a solution.

Also, possessing certifications isn’t a guarantee that you’ll be a perfect fit for the position. While it’s okay to mention your certifications (which should already be listed on your CV, by the way), make more of an effort to emphasize how you keep up with new ideas, platforms, and techniques.

“The most complex project I have managed had a schedule comprised of three to four activities.”

That’s not going to cut it. Complex projects have schedules comprised of 300 or more activities, Mochal explained. If you don’t have deep experience in scheduling, consider taking a training course or spending some time in a complex environment. That way, you can show that you’re ready to handle bigger projects.

My last project failed because the company had bad processes.”

Laying the blame on bad teams, bad processes and lousy sponsors is sure to lose you the position. “Take ownership,” Senapathy said. It’s a project manager’s job to educate, persuade and lobby for the right team, system and methodology to increase the chances of a successful project.

“I usually hand off final issues such as bugs, integration problems or emerging regulatory issues to another team once a project is completed or begins the closing phase.”

Closing a project is not like flipping a switch. Unexpected problems frequently arise, and when they do, the PM needs to take responsibility and make an effort to resolve them.

“If the CIO personally selected me to manage an important new project, I would say ‘yes’ no matter how many projects are on my plate.”

The best project managers don’t buckle under pressure, and they certainly wouldn’t jeopardize another project just to appease an executive or an important stakeholder. Instead, demonstrate the hallmarks of great PMs such as integrity, good judgment and workload management by stating that you will review team member utilization, available resources and so forth to see if you and your teammates have time to take on additional tasks.

“If one member is dragging down the team’s performance, I would compare their performance to the stated goals and expectations and possibly put them on a performance improvement plan.”

Demonstrate must-have competencies such as emotional intelligence and empathy by stating that you wouldn’t jump to conclusions, especially if team members are working hard. Instead, say that you would look to identify possible roadblocks, staffing levels, processes or constraints that are affecting the team’s productivity. After all, truly effective project managers are willing to do everything they possibly can to help individual team members contribute to project success.

4 Responses to “7 Things Project Managers Should Never Say in a Job Interview”

  1. Hannah Griffiths

    Smart article. It points out the 5 major flaws I currently see with project managers’ mindset – say yes to everything, don’t bother for help or assume you can handle the world.
    Reach out to your team for help and resources, that’s why they’re there. If you plan on conquering everything yourself you risk loosing valuable insight from other team members as well!
    This common problem with performance measures results in PM’s blindly equalizing performance with how well someone is fitting within your metrics rather than personalizing an empathetic plan towards the individual to work towards improvement – what works for some won’t work for others. Empathy is a strongly lacking concept with management but it’s so core to the understanding of a team and their dynamics.

    Taking ownership of your mistakes isn’t an embarrassment – we all make them – it’s owning up to the fact that you made a mistake and seeing how now there is an opportunity to learn from it and grow rather than blaming another team and never growing.