How to Interview: Project Manager

By: Dona Dezube

The best project managers are like axles — they smoothly link management, clients and staff and keep projects rolling along.

To find the best applicant for your project manager job description, be sure you're familiar with how to interview candidates to explore their interpersonal skills, business methodology and technical competence.

Interview Questions to Ask: Technical Skills & Methodology
Technical skills make a great starting point for a project manager interview because they’re typically easy to answer, so they put the job candidate at ease.

Start by asking a softball question:

  • What software have you used to manage projects in the past?

Then try a harder-edge query:

  • If I gave you a laptop to plan your next project, what software would you want on it?

Once you’ve determined the candidate is technically competent, explore their methodology for handling projects, says Joseph Logan, author of Seven Simple Steps to Landing Your First Job.

Whether or not an applicant is a Project Management Professional (PMP), start by asking some general questions:

  • What’s your approach to managing a project?
  • What’s your school of thought on project management — are you an agile person?

Next, ask more specific interview questions about methodology:

  • How do you do your scheduling?
  • How do you allocate resources?
  • How do you do status updates? 

“They have to have a methodology,” says Donna Farrugia, executive director of The Creative Group, Menlo Park, California, a recruiting firm for interactive, design, and marketing professionals. “Maybe they use software, or a book, or they just have years of experience.”

Interview Questions to Ask: Interpersonal Skills
Great project managers possess interpersonal skills that help teammates get along, so it helps to know how to interview project managers to explore those areas.

Questions about interpersonal skills can be general:

  • How do you handle politics?

Or specific:

  • Tell me about a time when you had two key stakeholders with opposing views. How did you manage that?

The answers you’re looking for should speak to finding consensus and keeping the project focused on its original purpose, Logan says.

Interview Questions to Ask: Project Sponsorship
Saying, Tell me about how you work with project sponsors will reveal two things: First, how the person elicits information from project leadership, and second, how they define “project sponsor.”

Some job candidates will say the project sponsor is the person who reviews the project, while others will say it’s the person who holds the budget.

Hard-skills questions probe what project management-specific skills the applicant brings to your organization:

  • Are you trained in supply chain management? 
  • Do you manage people and projects or just projects? 
  • Are you responsible for delivery and financials or just the administration of the project? Tell me about your recent project’s goals and results.

If they’re PMP certified, discuss the process. When did you get your PMP? What was the hardest part for you? What did you like the most?

Questions about past performance can also reveal a potential project manager’s business skills:

  • What were the challenges on your last project? 
  • When the project didn’t go well, what happened? 
  • What happens when your projects fail? 
  • How do you do contingency planning? 
  • What is your favorite way to deliver and present results? 
  • What type of closure processes have you done? 
  • Do you typically revisit projects a few months after delivery?

Interview Questions to Ask: The Close
Finish your interview by asking some behavioral interview questions  related to the most common issues that arise for your organization’s project managers.

For example, if the candidate will be working with cross-cultural teams, you might ask:

  • Tell me about a time when your domestic team wanted to approach a project one way and your offshore team preferred a different approach.
  • What was the issue, and how did you resolve it?

By knowing how to interview project managers, you can help your organization identify job applicants with the best mix of people skills, business acumen and technical competence to expertly manage projects.