Digital project manager interview questions and answers: The ultimate guide
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Over the past 7 years I’ve hired more than 70 digital project managers and interviewed hundreds of project manager candidates. I’ve made loads of great hires (thanks team!) and probably more than my fair share of bad hires too.
I’d rather you didn’t have to make the mistake of mis-hiring or being a bad hire, so this guide lifts the lid on digital project manager interviews and interviewing and explores some project manager interview questions and answers to help you prepare, whether you’re hosting or going for an interview for a digital project manager.
Introducing project manager interview questions and answers
I wanted to create this guide to interviews and interviewing for project managers because the process can often be a confusing one. Interviews for project managers can take a long time, often with a few rounds of interviews. But it’s really worth taking the time to hire the right people. I’ve been guilty, too many times, in panic hiring — and ending up hiring someone who turns out to be totally unsuitable.
As an interviewer, I’d really recommend not trying to short-cut this process. Start by working out whether or not the chemistry is right with a candidate — ask yourself, can you see yourself and your team working well with this person? Then dive deeper into character — is this someone who can be trusted to lead teams and represent the agency well? Finally, do a deep dive into competence to establish someone’s level — have they got the right experience to do the job that we need them to do?
And as an interviewer going through the ‘interview wringer’ — it’s going to take some time to get through all this, so good luck!
Digital project manager interview goals
In a digital project manager interview, there are a few things that need to established:
- What are their motivations for moving?
- Are they nice and will they fit into the agency/team?
- Are they passionate about digital?
- Have they got the right experience?
- Have they got a good work ethic?
- Are they good digital project manager and good at what they do?
As an interviewer, trying to establish whether or not someone’s good enough for a digital project manager role, or if you’re sitting on the other side of the table, trying to convince someone you’re a great digital project management candidate is a tough gig. It’s worth doing your homework before you find yourself having a total mind blank, being tongue tied, or wondering what to say.
I’ve previously explored what makes a good project manager; the right experience combined with strong character, competence and chemistry. So as an interviewer, what are the things you should be asking to uncover this, and as an interviewee, what should you be prepared to answer?
Project manager interview questions to explore motivations:
- Why are we talking? Why are you leaving your current role?
- How did you get into project management? Why digital?
- What do you enjoy about being a digital project manager?
- What don’t you enjoy about being a digital project manager?
- What are you looking to achieve in your next role?
- What’s your long-term plan — where are you going to be in 5 years?
As an interviewer, this is often an interesting part of the discussion, as an interviewer asking interview questions, it’s important to try and work out if you might have a bit of a problem child on your hands! I always get concerned if people talk about money being the primary motivator for moving as it’s likely they’ll keep hopping around and you won’t have a keeper. Similarly, alarm bells ring if someone talks about them leaving because they didn’t get on well with their boss/team.
As an interviewee, think about selling your story, show that you’re cultivating your interest in digital project management. And even if money is the primary motivator for moving on, think about some more valid reasons; that you’re looking to take on more responsibility, looking for specific experience or a different type of work, or a new challenge.
Project manager interview questions to explore ethics, like-ability, and chemistry:
- Tell me about yourself. What would you like me to know about you? What’s unique about you?
- What was your most important contribution to your last team? And your employer?
- How will you improve the agency or business?
- How would you deal with a situation where your project is running behind because the resource you’ve booked is being used by another urgent project?
- How do you like to manage a team? How do you motivate them?
- How do you manage a project that’s under-resourced?
- What would you do in a scenario where you’ve estimated for a project, and you’re told you need to cut the costs?
- What was your biggest mistake? What did you learn from this? How did you make sure it wouldn’t happen again?
As an interviewer, you’ll need to assess in the project manager interview questions you ask, their response to being asked a more difficult scenario question where they have to think on their feet, and put under a bit of stress. I’d be looking for creative responses, and a presentation of different options and ideas on how to resolve a problem or situation. Obviously, the extent to which you warm to them is important too!
As an interviewee, don’t be afraid to pause for a moment to think about a good response. When you’re given scenario questions, try and provide a range of solutions to overcome a problem, and if you need clarification, ask for it! Where you’re given an impossible scenario, don’t be afraid to be confident in knowing that you can’t have it all; costs, timings or scope have to change sometimes!
Project manager interview questions to explore digital passion:
- What the coolest digital thing you’ve seen recently?
- What’s are people talking about in the world of SEO/Analytics/UX/Coding/Design?
- What was the last bit of tech you bought? What’s good about it? What would you change?
- What is your favourite app? Tell me what you would change about this app?
- How do you personally make sure that you continuously improve?
- What’s your approach to learning and sharing knowledge?
As an interviewer, give the interviewee some slack here — they’re probably a bit nervous and some might be a bit of a mind blank. It can be helpful if you prime the conversation with lots of examples to see if they can reciprocate.
As an interviewee, make sure you do some reading. If you’re good at your job you’ll be doing it anyway, but be clear that demonstrating some passion for the industry that you’re trying to work in is important. This is an opportunity to talk about any side projects you might have, or volunteer work you do that demonstate you’re not just a 9–5 kind of guy.
Project manager interview questions to explore working style and character:
- What makes a good PM? What makes you a good PM?
- How would your co-workers or subordinates describe you professionally?
- How would you describe your approach to managing projects? How do you manage people and projects?
- You have a team member who is not meeting his commitments, what do you do?
- How do you deal with people who aren’t working fast enough, or the quality of their work isn’t good enough?
- What type of performance problems have you encountered in people who report to you, and how did you motivate them to improve?
- How do you manage to keep your documentation up to date throughout a project?
- What gets you stressed out on a project?
As an interviewer, establish what type of leadership style (if any) the PM has; are they the type of person that just leaves people to get on with it? Or do they take responsibility, get stuck in and shape and lead the project, carrying with them the mantle of responsibility for delivering it? Do they seem like someone who’d lead by example? It’s useful to dig into someone’s approach and work out whether they like taking responsibility and taking charge of stressful situations, or whether or not they shy away from it.
As an interviewee, make sure the interviewer is going to have every confidence in your care, thoroughness, level-headedness, and attention to detail. Offer to show examples of your work and documentation, or better still, bring it with you so you inspire confidence that you know the detail of what you’re presenting. When asked questions about working with tricky people or stressful situations, focus on the solution that you came to, anticipating issues, being proactive, and escalating early, rather than just berating people or blaming it on other people.
Project manager interview questions to explore project management experience:
- Talk me through your experience and the types of projects you’ve managed
- Describe a typical day as a digital project manager.
- What digital project management tools do you like to use?
- Describe your dream project process or way of working from start to finish?
- Talk me through the most complex budget, timeline and project you’ve managed.
- Talk me through the documentation you use in a project — how did you manage it?
- What types of projects have you worked on in the last year that you enjoyed? Why did you enjoy them?
- What kind of projects don’t you like? What gets you stressed out?
- Give me an example of a project that went well? Why was it a success?
- Give me an example of a project that didn’t go well? Why didn’t it go well? What did you do to get it back on track?
- How do you create the right conditions for project delivery?
- What does leadership mean to you? What’s your leadership style? How do you manage and motivate your teams?
- How do you manage risk?
- What are your weaknesses? What digital project manager skills do you need to improve?
As an interviewer try and work out the extent to which the interviewee actually worked on the project they’re talking about; question them on the detail; what was the budget? What were the timelines? What were the deliverables? How big was the team? Try and work out if they’ve actually got the experience they’re claiming to have. Defining someone’s level of experience can be a bit difficult; it’s obviously very easy to write that you’re worked on a project or ‘managed’ something that you haven’t! Establish the depth of their experience and see if they’re stretching the truth at all.
This is possibly the hardest part of a project manager interview. Trying to establish someone’s level of experience is really tough — people can lie pretty easily. It’s worth doing a thorough LinkedIn trawl, checking references and asking for sample documentation before you interview a candidate to make sure they’re legit. Additionally, I think it’s worth giving candidates a competency assessment in the form of a statement of work exercise to assess their ability to pull together a plan for a project, create basic project documentation and it can be a great tool to use as a follow-up interview to ask questions on their approach.
As an interviewee, be very careful with what you put on your CV in terms of experience! It’s important to be able to talk in depth about projects you’ve claimed to have delivered, and be totally comfortable with the detail; knowing what language it was written in, the history of a project, the challenges you came up against, and how you overcame them. Make sure you’ve got good examples of projects that were successes and those that were failures; the valuable thing is the awareness of why they went wrong, and what you’d do differently next time. When talking through your experience, if it is broad, make sure you let the interviewer know that, and also be clear about what you enjoy doing; you don’t want to be offered a job for the type of work you don’t really enjoy.
Before you finish…
- What music do you listen to? What books do you read? What movies do you like?
- What startup would you work on if I gave you money to do so? If money wasn’t a factor, what job would you do all day?
- What did you do over the weekend?
- What haven’t I asked you about, that you wished I had?
- Anything you’ve said that you wished you hadn’t?
- Why do you want to work for us?
- Questions for me?
As an interviewer we need to check that they’re not totally weird — that’s why it’s worth asking them about themselves outside of work. Don’t get me wrong, a bit bonkers is good. You need to be a bit crazy to want to be a digital project manager. But finding out what they’re interested in outside of work is important. You need to see what they might be like if they were having some banter with a client. And it’s important to give them an opportunity to share anything that they want to — I’ve been pleasantly surprised on many occasions when people have brought something to share but not mentioned it earlier in the interview.
As an interviewee don’t let your guard down too far — remember that while you might just be ‘chatting’ you’re still in an interview. Be professional. Avoid stories about drunken craziness where you ended up in the clink.
Further digital project manager interview questions
For more excellent digital project manager interview questions (where you’ll also see a few interview questions we’ve borrowed above — thanks all!), check out:
- PM Hut’s incredible 300 project manager interview questions
- Andy Tabberer’s brilliant post on How do I find a good DPM?
- Sam Barnes’ excellent post on questions to ask web project managers
- Elizabeth Harrin’s 10 Killer Interview Questions for Hiring Project Managers
- Orchard’s 10 Expert Questions For Interviewing A Digital Project Manager
What do you think?
What do you think? What have you asked or been asked in digital project management interviews? What were good project manager interview questions, and what questions do you think are a waste of time? I’d love to hear if you’ve got any thoughts on great questions for digital project manager interviews. Join the conversation below and let us know what you’re thinking!
This article originally appeared on The Digital Project Manager.