Project managers are Superhuman. Yes, that’s right. Project management is hard, and sort of a master discipline of ‘all things work’ –– one that a project manager has to master. They say, ‘Good leaders are hard to find, but great project managers are rarer still.’
Even though an interview generally lasts no longer than an hour, and results from a survey of 2,000 hiring managers found that 33% knew whether they would hire someone in the first 90 seconds, it is hiring project managers that we’re talking about. So then, how do you fish out pearls in open seashells?
Here, I have laid out of few suggestions for questions that you could ask, but at the risk of repeating myself I’ll say that project management is tough and what a project manager does varies for every company, so maybe treat this list as just a – ‘serving suggestion’.
Personal questions, especially insightful ones reveal the life the candidate has lived & built, the experiences that have shaped and the way they react and handle situations at work, and whether they will fit into the corporate culture of your company or not.
1. What is your background(personal and professional)?
Get to know the candidate’s story, what parts of it they choose to tell, and what they leave out from this first question. This may devolve into more specific questions, but I find that keeping it this kind of a catchall question actually allows you to discern more about the candidate and their self-confidence.
2. What skills do you think you possess that make you fit for the job?
Ask the candidates what value they bring to the job. After all, they know themselves the best. This question will also let you know what the candidate feels about the company and what level of understanding they have for the role you’re offering.
3. How would your best friend, and how would your current boss describe you?
This is a particularly telling question cloaked as a fun, harmless one. Most of us operate in two different versions of ourselves with one version being our most authentic self that a best friend knows and the other version of yourself that our bosses deal with. The answer really offers an insight into how the person can switch versions or bring the best of both worlds to the job when it is required.
4. Do you have a story to share or an incident about yourself that changed your work ethic, or gave you a new perspective?
While it is essential to evaluate a candidate’s skills, it is equally important to ascertain whether their personal values are aligned to the company’s values. This question will also tell you how the candidate felt and reacted in certain situations and what wisdom they will bring to the project team.
5. What is your ideal job, and your ideal project?
The goal of this question is to know what the candidate prefers to work with and is an excellent indicator of whether they will enjoy working in your business domain, whether they will give their best and whether they will bring value to your projects in the long term.
6. How would you describe yourself in one word?
Candidates who know themselves the best would be able to assess other people and situations well too. The better candidates will take a while to answer and put some thought into it. You know, it is maybe not the best candidate who will blurt out the first thing off the top of their head.
Work Experience and Background
These questions are a must, of course. They are very cut and dry and give you an immediate and direct answer to whether this interview will go ahead at all or not.
1. Have you ever worked in this industry?
It is crucial to know whether the candidate has real-world experience of the same industry or not. Project managers have to know the project and what they’re doing well so if the candidate has no idea about the project they’re going to work for, the interview is at a dead end.
2. What challenges did you face while working on your last project, and how did you overcome them?
The guessing game is over with this question, and you come to the practical part of the interview where you get to know how a person has responded in a familiar situation within the context of project management.
3. Have you ever been a part of a failed project? Which project of yours are you the proudest of?
This is the question that tells you how a person measures success or failure and how they handle it. It also lets you know how much knowledge a candidate has about risk mitigation and failure management.
4. What led to that failure, and how did you and your team recover the losses after?
What went wrong? This question will let you know how a person will get up and lead a team after a setback. Project managers need to be expert planners. Most importantly, they need to be able to identify common potential risks and have an idea about making thorough risk mitigation plans.
5. Do you have experience of budget management or working on a tight budget & strict deadlines?
Some candidates may seem like the perfect project manager until they’re given a shoestring budget and a tight deadline. Project managers are very likely to be in high-pressure situations and how they handle stress and make-do with imperfect conditions is an excellent indicator of how good a manager they are. Plus budgeting is one of the core disciplines of project management. So it is nice to have someone who is experienced in thriving with suboptimal resources.
6. Have you had to manage remote teams and outsource resources or functions?
Managing in house teams and remote teams are very different experiences. You want someone who has handled remote teams and knows well how outsourcing some project functions works.
7. What is the one thing that you like about your current supervisor and one thing that you don’t particularly like?
The answer to this question will provide you all the insight you need into their communication style and their pattern of forming relationships with their teammates and managers.
These questions tell you what kind of a manager the person is and whether they are willing to adapt to fit your company’s culture and their team.
1. What is your preferred leadership style?
A good project manager is a great leader. A candidate will only be so good if they’re not a competent leader.
2. What is your communication style?
Communication is vital. It is the cement that holds together the project, and a good project manager is nothing if not an effective communicator. They should be able to expertly change strategies while communicating with different groups and deploy various techniques to get the best out of their teammates.
3. Is there a project management technique that you prefer?
The goal of this question is to find out whether the candidate has a working knowledge of project management techniques and will be able to change track depending on working situations and groups.
4. Do you use any tools to aid project management and help your team?
A good manager knows how to optimize work and is aware of how to harness technology for better project management and execution. They see the difference a project management tool can make.
5. What kind of people do you find it challenging to work with?
This question often tells you about the candidate’s people management skills and how they navigate their way around small problems like these that can quickly escalate and get out of hand.
6. How do you communicate failure to your teammates?
Proficient project managers instill optimism in teammates, encourage them to get back on their feet, and can put an optimistic spin to failure while painting a realistic picture.
7. How do you control changes in your project?
Any good manager worth their salt appreciates the importance of change control and change management and ensures certain constraints are put in place. A worthy candidate might not be experienced in leading a team directly, but should be able to envision how they could control or conquer change. +10 points if they would want to opt for tools to do so.
8. How do you monitor and review work that you have delegated?
Monitoring and tracking responsibility is one thing that managers absolutely have to do. This question helps you understand whether the candidate will have a comfortable grasp over project execution or will be a micro-manager. Even though it is super difficult to answer this question without knowing anything about the processes and dynamics of the project team, a capable candidate will recognize the complexity of keeping an eye on the entire project execution and wisely suggest making use of project management software to do so.
9. What do you do when you’re off your game?
No one is built to function in top form all the time. Everyone knows there are highs and lows. Here candidates should be able to steer the conversation from how they could be off their game to how they will respond proactively, fall back on their team and harness the team’s collective expertise to get back up.
Many candidates, especially the ones that are looking to fill the position you’re offering have most likely conducted interviews themselves, or have had many interview experiences to expect certain questions and have prepared answers for them.
But isn’t that really not what project management is like? Project managers face unexpected problems every other day. They’re supposed to suck it up, take the bull by the horns and put out fires. No one prepares them for that.
So when you sneak in an unexpected question that may force candidates to think on their feet, you get to know how they may respond to curveballs and uncharted waters. Project managers must have confidence in their decisions.
Think out of the box to come up with these questions. It can almost be the whackiest question you can think of. These need not even have an answer to them.
Some good ones I have heard that made me chuckle as well as think a little are:
1. How tall are the pyramids?
2. How many normal-sized rubber duckies do you think can you fit in this office?
3. Is there something you don’t usually tell prospective employers?
4. Do you think you are a good liar?
5. What is your spirit animal?
Situational and Domain Knowledge questions
With some candidates, it is advisable to cut the chase and instead of postulating how specific answers indicate what they may do, directly ask them what they plan to do in specific commonly occurring situations.
These questions should be tweaked to fit the scenarios a project manager in your company would commonly face or be about a particular quality you’re looking for.
1. The client is being difficult and is not happy with the end result of your project. How do you deal with this?
Here, the right answer must cover a through approach that suggests repeated and careful communication with the stakeholders and clients, strong SLAs and then, keeping in mind the old adage “The customer is always right”, a strategy to appease and maintain a long-lasting relationship with the customer, without burning both ends of candle.
2. What are the key challenges in the industry today, and how can you deal with them?
This is one of my favorite questions. Direct and to the point. The candidate usually has an answer prepared for this question which gives you an insight into their strategy coming into this interview, their level of preparedness along with domain knowledge.
3. What do you do when a project is off-track?
Any candidate worth hiring should be able to answer this question since it is a fairly common scenario. The answer should include an action plan which goes something like this: Asses, Identify, Communicate, Train for recovery, Reallocate, Execute, and Reassess.
It is also important for a project manager to consider a situation that goes out of hand, and know when to cut their losses on a failing project.
4. Have you ever had to adapt to and manage change?
The corporate landscape is changing faster than a speeding bullet. Good project managers anticipate, acknowledge, and lead change. Even if you don’t get an exact answer with specifics, but a positive and accommodating attitude shines through, it is proof enough that the candidate will lead and manage change to take the company to greater heights.
5. What would you like to ask me?
Many a time, the questions asked by candidates to prospective employers are more telling than the answers they give employers. Asking pertinent questions shows an ability to think on their feet and turn an unexpected situation into a win.
What should you look for in a project management candidate?
It is hard to tell whether a person will be the best ever project manager you have had. But, what you can look for is a killer attitude and the three Cs as devised by author and businessman Glenn Llopis.
“Chemistry, Conviction, and Courage”
These are the people that will bring the following, coveted skills to your business.
1. Effective communication
2. Ability to lead and inspire
3. Decision-making skills
4. Passion and enthusiasm
6. Ability to grasp and harness technical expertise
If you’re appearing for a project management interview –
Project management interviews go well if you go in with the approach of selling yourself rather than relying on the scorecard of your experience or your domain knowledge, given the nature of the role.
Here are a few tips and common mistakes to avoid:
Avoid ‘winging’ it:
Make sure you take time to prepare for interviews, do your research, and take time to think before you articulate a response.
Avoid giving non-tailored responses:
Make it as relevant and tailored to fit the company and domain you’re interviewing for as you can. This is something to take care of if your previous job was very different from the one that you’re applying for.
Avoid going off-topic:
This is a classic mistake that many of us make. Perhaps it is your nerves, the vibe of the room or the friendly front of the interviewer, the best of us sometimes tend to overshare and get off-topic.
Avoid adopting extremes:
Steer clear of Machiavellian solutions in an attempt to demonstrate control over your team or showing off that you are a result-driven perfectionist.
Give credit to your team while talking about your achievements:
Show that you’re a modest team player and that you’re not fond of being hailed as the sole hero.
If you’re an employer hiring project managers ––
Focus on the person, not the persona. Craft such questions that will give you an insight into what the person is like, instead of dwelling on the persona they’re presenting. Expect imperfections and be ready to train. Here is a beautiful Chinese proverb that sums this up perfectly
“Gold cannot be pure, and people cannot be perfect.”
Once you do hire a kickass project manager, the one thing you should do is make sure they thrive in the company and build great projects, by providing them with the top tools and resources to do so.
You know, it is not for nothing a whopping 77% of high performing projects use project management software
Xebrio is a cloud-based project management software that eases every function of project management and goes where no (read as most) project management software goes, starting right from requirements management, all the way to release management.