Popular Project Management Interview Questions and How to Answer Them

Thaisa Fernandes
Feb 12, 2019 · 11 min read

I keep seeing more and more open project manager (PM) positions. It feels like everyone has realized they need a PM to run their projects more efficiently, which is awesome. I’m really excited about this, and I can’t wait to see more and more PMs working with cross-functional teams and kicking ass.

I know this territory is still confusing for some people. They don’t know what the project manager role actually does, and they sometimes think we’re designers who also code. A-ha! There are different types of project managers, and it’s important to understand these differences to take advantage of your skills and experience during the interview process. This exercise will definitely help you to have a leg up during the interview process.

It doesn’t matter whether the interview is in person, on screen, or on the phone, you really need to be prepared since the beginning of the hiring process. It’s important to understand the hiring process since the beginning with its phases, and milestones. If you have a good sense of the hiring process, it’ll be much easier for you to take advantage of the interview flow. I don’t believe in absolute right’s or wrong’s, I believe there are different approaches depending on the situation, your level of experience, and the project priority.

Last, but not least, sometimes it’s more about whether or not you are a fit. However, I believe even without formal project management experience, you can showcase your experience and aspirations in a brilliant way. For example, I’m super interested to know about what the candidate is studying, what they’re reading, and what project management work she does in her current job. In addition, personal projects can be really interesting and a great opportunity to show your abilities, experience, and thinking.

▪️ Over the phone/ screen share interview

Normally for the first interview, you’ll have either a phone or a on-site/in-person interview. The first phase usually happens over the phone or screen share. They tend to be a little bit easier, because you can have your browser open with your resume and the job description. At the same time, keep in mind that you’ll have only one way to showcase your work, through the tone of your voice, and it can be tricky especially if you’re not in a quiet place. In the case of a screen share interview, your internet needs to have a good signal so that the interview can proceed smoothly without interruption.

I truly recommend you dress for success even if the interviewer is not going to see you. Find a quiet place. Check your internet and surroundings to ensure everything is in place. Pets can be really distracting and noisy, so don’t forget to confine them so that they can’t disturb you during the interview process. My dog snores when he’s sleeping, and my cat is always playing with his toys, so they definitely stay out of the room when I’m interviewing.

  • Make sure you have a good internet connection.
  • Select a quiet space.
  • No pets allowed.
  • No kids allowed.
  • Choose a minimalist environment, or display what can benefit you in the process, for example, you can display PM books and certifications on the wall can show how engaged and smart you are.
  • Show that you care, dress appropriately, so no pajamas for you.
  • Always show positivity, when you smile your mood changes, and the interviewer will sense that.

I’m not sure if you’ve already heard about it, but psychologist Amy Cuddy talks about this during her TED Talk about empowerment. She mentions the relationship between your body posture and power. She specifically talks about “superhero posing,” and how this can help you be more confident and deal with stress. Try it out!

▪️ On-site interview

On-site interviews usually take place after the initial phone interview, typically during the second or third interview phase, and sometimes even during fourth or fifth, so keep that in mind. You can definitely take advantage of on-site interviews since you can shake hands and establish a visual connection with the interviewer.

I am a great believer in the power of body language. This is the time to take advantage of your body language. Nothing substitutes for eye contact, so be strategic about it, and also take advantage of the opportunity to check the company facilities and overall environment.

  • Show your best self, but be true to who you are.
  • Of course, dress professionally and appropriately.
  • Always show positivity, when you smile your mood changes, and the interviewer will sense that.
  • Make eye contact.

▪️ Common questions

I have a bunch of lists with possible interview questions so I tried to categorize them, and showcase some I consider really important. I’ll also explain the thinking behind them and how you can take advantage of this to really make an impact during your interview.

Tell me a little about yourself and your background

I know, how many times will we hear this question? I don’t know, but I know your answer to this question can tell the interviewer a lot about you and even how eager you are, so let’s prepare an amazing answer that will leave the interviewer out of breath. It’s important to show enthusiasm and appreciation for and ability to learn new things. What I most appreciate in someone is their willingness to learn new things, their positivity, and their problem-solving capabilities.

First things first, think properly about what you want to highlight, and try to tailor your answer based on the job description provided, their expectations, and some nice-to-have skills. For example, walk them through your resume highlighting your accomplishments, education, and experience, and also show them why you’re the best candidate for the position. Mention what made you apply for the specific job. Show positivity and enthusiasm. If you don’t have the experience they seek, try to showcase similar prior experience and how engaged you are.

  • Always show enthusiasm and positivity.
  • Engage your audience and make eye contact.
  • Be concise, if they want more information, they’ll ask.
  • Be confident and try to stay calm.
  • Highlight your best self, tailored to what they’re looking for.

What are your strengths?

This question again. How can we find a balance of showcasing your experience without appearing to brag? First of all, you need to be sincere and at the same time highlight the strengths that can be beneficial to the company and its products. Always try to show examples, and talk briefly. If they need clarification, they’ll ask questions.

  • Don’t brag.
  • Stay true to who you are and your strengths.
  • Tailor your answer to the job description.

What are your weaknesses?

If they asked about your strengths, they also might ask about your weakness. Be extra prepared to answer this question. Your answer can tell a lot about yourself and your aspirations. It can be a great opportunity to show how great you are and how you’re overcoming your weaknesses. Think carefully about what you’re going to answer and how your answer is relevant to the job. It doesn’t matter if one of your weaknesses is that you don’t know how to swim, and be a perfectionist is a really bad example — sorry!

  • Stay true to who you are.
  • Always show how you’re overcoming your weaknesses.
  • Give the right amount of details.
  • Finish with positivity.

How do you keep yourself updated?

This is one of my favorite questions. You can use it to show how badass you are and what you know about your industry, to show enthusiasm, and examples in a concise way. The interviewer can learn a lot about you from your answer to this question, so think wisely about what you’re going to reply. We’re in a era where things are changing so fast, it’s important to know how eager the candidate I’m interviewing is and how diverse are the channels by which they look for information. It can also showcase how ambitious you are and how you surround yourself with relevant information and people. After all, they say we are what we surround ourselves with, right?

  • Show how eager you are.
  • Mention examples.
  • Showcase how you surround yourself with great people and resources.

PM questions

The interviewer basically wants to know how you keep the team focused on the right things so that you can deliver on time. What’s your style? How do you adapt? Try to explain this by showing examples. The most important thing is to show how prepared you are and how you react when things go in a different direction. Last, but not least, show how organized you are and what magic tricks you use to make sure everything is in place.

  • This is the time to shine and show how prepared you’re.
  • Mention examples.
  • Show your secret tips and lessons learned.
  • Demonstrate your ability to prioritize.
  • Don’t forget to talk about your organization skills.
  • Talk about how you work collaboratively.

I believe a PM should always be looking for process improvements. I love to do that, and I believe there are always new ways to optimize. With this question, they want to know how knowledgeable you are of new technologies, tools, and frameworks/methodologies. This can show a lot of how much initiative you have even if you’re a junior PM. Again, provide examples, and don’t be shy. Sometimes the most significant impacts are made by tiny changes. For example, if you implemented a daily stand-up meeting and reduced the overall meetings by 10%, dude, this is awesome, and you should be proud!

  • Explain your process and show examples.
  • Be proud of yourself.
  • Always show numbers and the impact you made.

Another tough question, I know. This is hard, but you need to keep in mind that if you’re senior enough, you probably also have a collection of failures. This reminds me of a great book called Lean Startup. Author Eric Ries created an amazing framework and this book after a collection of validated learnings and failures. Don’t feel bad, try to be true to yourself and explain what happened, what you learned, and how you prevent that failure from happening again. This is a great opportunity to show problem-solving oriented you’re and also how creative you can be. Don’t forget that PMs are no more than problem solvers. Answer this question with positivity and a team collaboration mindset.

  • Stay true to who you are.
  • Show positivity.
  • Think strategically about what you want to highlight.
  • Show your experience.
  • Give the right amount of details.
  • Demonstrate how you prevent failure.

This question sounds tricky, but in fact, it’s not. When I ask this question I’m really curious to learn about your experience with different software and tools. I know it’s tricky because as a PM you don’t always have the option to choose the tools you and your team will be using, especially if your company is multinational. They will also be interested to see how attached you are to certain tools and how creative you are. There are a hundred different PM tools on the market right now, and it’s always good to know all of them and their strengths. Of course, it’s impossible to know all the tools and test them all, but you can show how interested you are and how you are continuously learning.

  • Always check out the new tools.
  • Show how interested you are.
  • Demonstrate how tech savvy you are (it’s always helpful).
  • Be open-minded.
  • Don’t get attached to certain tools and softwares.
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Behavioral questions

Behavioral questions are basically about your past experience and work. They want to get to know more about you and your style. The interviewer wants to know if you have the skills necessary for the job and if you are a good fit. These types of questions can help interviewers evaluate how you can handle work situations. Read the questions below and try to formulate your answers.

  1. How do you stay motivated?
  2. Have you experienced making an unpopular decision? Tell me a little bit more about that.
  3. How do you handle having to do repetitive work?
  4. Are you independent, or team-oriented? What kind of work environment do you most enjoy?
  5. How do you go above and beyond your duties to resolve a problem?
  6. Talk about an important written document that you were required to complete.
  7. How do you motivate your team?
  8. Talk about a time when you anticipated potential problems and developed preventive measures.
  9. Describe a time when you were able to successfully persuade someone to see things your way.
  10. How do you handle stressful situations? Talk about the techniques you use to reduce stress and help your team.

Questions to ask the interviewer

The famous, do you have any questions for me? Do you have any other questions? I know, sometimes it’s hard to come up with smart questions, especially when you’re nervous or when the meeting was so helpful that all your questions were clarified already. Because of that, you need to be extra prepared, you need to have some extra questions to ask in case you run out of ideas and want to show your interest in the company and job. Here are some questions you can ask:

  1. What do you enjoy most about working at [the name of the company]?
  2. What’s the most important thing I should accomplish in the first 30 days?
  3. How does [the name of the company] measure and define success?
  4. Am I going to be mentored or will I be a mentor?
  5. Which PM softwares do you use?

Don’t forget to:

  • Send a thank you note after the interview.
  • If you don’t get an answer after the deadline they mentioned, don’t forget to follow up to confirm if they need any additional information.

I hope you find this blog post helpful, and that you can find your dream PM job and embark on awesome projects soon! Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any feedback or questions.

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Thaisa Fernandes

Written by

Problem solver and perfectionist in recovery willing to stretch myself and risk making mistakes to achieve innovative solutions and validate my learnings

PM101

PM101

Sharing Product and Program Management content.

Thaisa Fernandes

Written by

Problem solver and perfectionist in recovery willing to stretch myself and risk making mistakes to achieve innovative solutions and validate my learnings

PM101

PM101

Sharing Product and Program Management content.

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