Prepping to interview a candidate for your Project Manager position, but unsure of what questions to ask to ensure you’re finding someone who can bring that “extra something” to your company? We’ve got what you need. Use these sample questions to help you determine which candidate is more than merely skilled and experienced in the basics—someone who will bring the acumen that can help elevate your company and support its needs above and beyond the usual. Not only will that help make the interview process easier, it will also help you uncover the tech professionals who are deep-thinkers, high-performers, and all-around true standouts.
Interviewing another position? Check out Dice’s library of interview questions.
Question: What was a challenging project, and how did you manage it?
Why you should ask: Once you’ve finished working through the basics of your Project Manager candidate’s background and history, it’s time to get into the nitty gritty of what the job entails—and how they would handle complicated issues. Asking this question gives your candidate the opportunity to show how they respond to challenges, offer insight into some of their management skill sets, how they work within a team, and their capability to handle conflict. Plus, you can learn more about how they react under the pressure of a hectic delivery schedule and managing the team tasked with that delivery.
An answer you’d hear from a standout candidate: At one of the companies I worked with, we had a project that came to a halt when funding fell through, so that created a lot of chaos. First, I connected with the department heads to determine whether or not the pause was going to be temporary or permanent, then communicated to the team to ensure they could reallocate their resources accordingly—or save room in case the project started back up. In that instance, the halt was temporary so I was able to keep the team on track with delivery, but keep them busy in the interim with other deliverables—and effectively support management’s needs. It was a challenging situation, but it taught me the value of communication and working with the team to navigate the issues and create new opportunities for us to thrive.
Question: What is your leadership and communication style?
Why you should ask: A big part of the Project Manager Role is the ability to lead a team—and one that is spread across multiple departments. Plus, certain projects may require different leadership styles, depending on the deliverables. Because a key part of leadership is communication, learning more about your candidate’s ability to convey information and support their team will help you understand what their capabilities will be once they’re part of the team. And this is especially important if their role requires them to act as a liaison between upper management and developers, creatives and other departments.
An answer you’d hear from a standout candidate: I’ve had the opportunity to hone my leadership skills through every role I’ve had, and one of the most important things I’ve learned is that different people respond to different styles of leadership. Some need to take a directive and go off on their own to work, while others require more check-ins and support throughout the project lifecycle.
Once I determine which team members respond to which approach, I employ it as necessary…but in general, I believe in supporting others to do their best work and doing what I can to help them make that happen. I also believe in communicating project requirements and deliverables as clearly as possible, with as much information as I have available, to every member of the team from the top down—and that includes delays, switches in direction, and anything else that may affect the progress and delivery of a project.
Question: How do you keep your team motivated through difficult projects?
Why you should ask: As much as it’s a Project Manager’s job to keep things running smoothly, it’s inevitable that challenges will arise—and sometimes those challenges can affect team morale. Asking your candidate how they keep people motivated will give you another window into their communication and management skills, but also into their ability to keep things moving forward in the face of issues that could affect a team’s output.
An answer you’d hear from a stand-out candidate: As a Project Manager, I believe collaboration is the key to ensuring a team has everything they need to complete a project, so if someone is lagging behind or having issues, I immediately work with them to determine what it is they need to get back on track. Sometimes it’s just more clarity on a deliverable, sometimes it’s feedback to help point them in a better direction, sometimes it can help them to collaborate with another member of the team, or speak with someone from a related department to determine their needs within the same project… whatever it is, I aim to create an environment where team members know they can rely on me if they hit a rough spot, and bounce ideas off me to help them get back on track.
Question: How can you tell when a project has gone off-track…and how do you get it back on-track?
Why you should ask: Even with all the planning, organizing, and collaborating with multiple teams, the most organized project can sometimes lose its way—and it’s not only a Project Manager’s job to determine when and how that’s happened, but also how to get things going in the right direction again. Asking your candidate about how they identify this issue, and how they address it, will help you understand more about their organizational skills and how they address issues that can affect completion dates and deliverables.
An answer you’d hear from a standout candidate: I know that a big part of being a Project Manager is about managing a team, but it’s also about managing the project, so I’m constantly watching its progression to make sure all the working parts are working together. I also make sure I’m constantly communicating with the team about their progress and ability to meet deadlines. Because of this, I’m able to see when and where delays occur, and address those issues directly with the teammates involved. Then I can work directly with them to determine what they need to move forward, ensuring that things don’t go too far off the rails. If necessary, I also collaborate with associated departments or team members to determine whether the delay will affect their deliverables, and coordinate with team members accordingly so we can do our best to meet deadlines as requested.
Question: How do you address management or customer dissatisfaction with a project, and communicate those issues to your team?
Why you should ask: Sometimes even the best efforts don’t produce the results a department or customer is looking for, and with the Project Manager at the center of the project, they often become one of the focal points of a project’s failures. Asking your candidate how they’d handle the pressure of a project that didn’t meet expectations can help you understand how they handle conflict resolution, their ability to accept and work with negative feedback, and how they work with the team through similar issues.
An answer you’d hear from a standout candidate: While it’s important to deliver what management or clients ask for in a project, as a Project Manager, I recognize there are times where communication issues or changing needs may complicate things, which can result in dissatisfaction with the final product. Whoever the client may be, I do my best to be communicative with them throughout the life of a project to ensure we’re delivering what they ask for. But in the event that we don’t, I make sure to value their feedback and determine what steps, if any, we can take to fix the outcome to their liking.
Once I have their guidance, I go back to the team to explain where we’ve succeeded in delivery, and the areas where we need to make some changes or modifications to better meet the requirements and goals of the project, and work with them to ensure they have what they need to make that happen. While I don’t want to gloss over negative feedback, I do believe it’s important to be constructive in finding solutions to make the client happy and support the team in achieving that goal.