Project manager interview questions can turn tricky, and your answers will obviously weigh heavily in whether or not a company decides to hire you. It’s important to focus on explaining how your skills and experience all help you manage the most complex projects—no matter what kind of unforeseen complications may arise.
According to Burning Glass, which collects and analyzes millions of job postings from across the country, project managers are in high and continuing demand, with projected growth of 8 percent over the next ten years. The average time-to-fill for a position is 34 days, likewise a strong indicator of demand, and the median project manager salary is $85,418.
Here’s a quick breakdown of the skills that, according to Burning Glass, pop up most in project manager job postings. Project manager interview questions will often focus on how well you know many (or all) of these:
In addition to skill-sets, there’s also the small matter of project manager certifications. The Project Management Institute, for instance, offers the well-known and highly regarded Project Management Professional (PMP) certification;
- Certified ScrumMaster
- Master Project Manager (MPM)
- Certified Project Manager (IAPM)
- Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)
- Certified Project Director
- CompTIA Project+
Given that project-management positions usually involve intense knowledge of methodologies such as Agile and Scrum, having an Agile Certified Practitioner certificate can also prove attractive to many recruiters and hiring managers.
Before heading into any project manager interview, though, make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into. Heather Paunet, VP of Product Management at Untangle, told Dice: “It is important for candidates to take the time to research the company. Knowing what they are saying outwardly to their industry peers and their position within the industry can set the tone for how candidates can understand the trajectory of the company and where this role fits into this roadmap.”
When prepping for potential project manager interview questions, for example, make sure to read through a company’s ‘newsroom’ page on its website, which can help you understand exactly where its energy is centered. Similarly, searching the web for bylines attributed to company executives can help you understand the ‘big picture’ thinking, and why the company may be interviewing you.
What should project manager candidates know about the job?
“You should spend a significant amount of time studying the job description and the specific items you would be responsible for,” Paunet said. “Map your past experiences to the job description. You do not need to have done all the specific items they are looking for, but you do need to demonstrate that you have the knowledge and ability to do them.”
This speaks to familiarity with best practices. Maybe you’ve never worked in an Agile framework—but deep understanding of the topic can win an interviewer over.
That experience doesn’t even have to relate to your previous paid positions. “This can be demonstrated by having a specific past experience in a similar role, or perhaps you have experience in your personal life as a volunteer or at an organization you are a member of. Experience comes from more than just your work, so leverage those experiences if they are relevant,” Paunet added.
How should candidates prepare for an interview for the role?
“When preparing for an interview as a project manager, there are two primary categories of information you need to prepare for,” Paunet said. “First, there is business-specific information. You should be familiar with… the mission and vision of the business, what the main products/services [are], and what has been the latest developments, releases, news, industry events—that sort of thing.”
Those are big-picture, consumer-facing things each company will have that is unique to its mission. But getting past that happens quickly during the actual project manager interview questions.
“The other category to prepare for is role-specific information,” Paunet added. “You will want to have a full understanding of the job description and the specific needs in the role. Map each of these needs to your personal experience and capabilities. If you review this information in these categories prior to an interview, you will be prepared to talk about the business and specifically how you can contribute to the role they are hiring for.”
How do you answer project manager interview questions that deal with strategy?
Make no mistake: Every project manager must have a strategic mindset, and the exploration of your mindset is a key goal of the project manager interview questions. In addition to planning a roadmap for the product or service, project managers often have to loop in several other teammates or PMs elsewhere in the company. Solving conflicts and moving past internal team debates is often key.
“If a candidate is asked to develop a sample strategy, it is best to understand the pain points many of the target customers are encountering,” according to Paunet. “When you can identify this pain point, use the business and their products or technologies as a solution, supporting your strategy with a variety of tactics (marketing, research, or formula-based) to bring the solution story to customers in a variety of value-added touch-points.”
That’s especially useful information when considering the larger point about involving others. Many on the team—whether data analysts or software engineers—might not encounter the actual end-user, or talk to senior management. It’s the project manager’s job to make sure everyone understands concerns largely outside their purview. Demonstrating your understanding of the ‘big picture’ related to the project management workflow is critical.
Why should someone want a job as a project manager?
For many, the role of project manager is the ‘next step’ in their career trajectory. Keep in mind that a project manager’s role is largely managerial; if you’re still enamored with getting your hands dirty with writing code day-to-day, being a project manager likely isn’t for you.
Stepping up is also stepping back. Project managers must have a holistic view of whatever project they’re leading. They must understand what’s happening, what needs to happen for the project to be successful, and where there may be issues that impede progress. It’s thinking ahead while making sure the existing work is being done on-time (and on-budget).
Those most interested in the broader implications of their current work will also make great project manager. Considering what happens beyond a closed JIRA ticket is critical for success in the role, as is juggling multiple projects.
A project manager may be tasked with leading several projects and various teams, and ensuring the work on one project meshes (or at least doesn’t interfere) with what’s happening elsewhere. In light of that, expect a certain number of project manager interview questions to focus on your ability to multitask and handle several deliverables simultaneously.
If you can engage stakeholders and encourage them to move in the same direction when their current path may not be the one you’re on, you’d make a great project manager. “Candidates who use inclusive language such as ‘we’ or ‘our team’ showcase that they have already visualized working with those they are interviewing with, and understand that a team environment is more important when considering a candidate’s full potential,” Paunet pointed out.
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