Red Flags When Interviewing Project Managers for a Position

No matter how much experience they have, or how many job interviews they’ve been through, some project managers answer interview questions in ways that should send up a huge red flag. If you’re interviewing candidates for a project management role, be cautious if they say the following things:

“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 project managers should explain that, no matter what the outcome of a particular project or initiative, they’ll always do their best to figure out a solution.

Also, possessing certifications isn’t a guarantee that an individual will be a perfect fit for the position. While it’s okay to mention certifications (which should already be listed on the CV, by the way), project managers should make more of an effort to emphasize how they 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 the project manager doesn’t have deep experience in scheduling, they should consider taking a training course or spending some time in a complex environment. That way, they can show that they’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 any candidate 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, they should demonstrate the hallmarks of great PMs such as integrity, good judgment and workload management by stating that they will review team member utilization, available resources and so forth to see if there’s 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.”

Project managers should demonstrate must-have competencies such as emotional intelligence and empathy by stating they wouldn’t jump to conclusions, especially if team members are working hard. Instead, they should say that they 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.