So you’ve secured an interview for that project management position you recently applied for. Congratulations! Your next priority is to nail the interview — and we’re here to help by providing some project management interview tips in how to answer some of the most commonly asked junior or senior project management interview questions.
Of course, if you already have experience as a project manager, then you have an idea of what to expect from the interview, especially when it comes to behavioral or scenario-based interview questions. But even if you’re new to the project manager title, you still have some relevant experience that qualifies you for the role — otherwise, you wouldn’t have been selected to move on to the interview stage.
Before we get to the most common interview questions and how to prepare for them, we need to first talk about soft skills and how they apply.
The Role of Soft Skills in Project Management
In the complex world of project management, technical skills are undoubtedly important. However, soft skills have emerged as essential elements that every project manager should possess. These skills don't involve knowledge of specific project management tools or methodologies, but they're crucial for managing people and maintaining healthy team dynamics.
Among these, emotional intelligence is crucial. A project manager with high emotional intelligence can perceive, understand, and manage their own emotions and those of their team members. This ability is key to resolving conflicts, managing stress, and fostering a positive working environment.
Conflict resolution is another crucial soft skill. Projects often bring together diverse teams, and disagreements are inevitable. A project manager should be able to mediate disputes and find solutions that satisfy all parties involved.
Negotiation skills are also important. Whether it's negotiating deadlines with stakeholders, resources with other departments, or task assignments with team members, a project manager is often in the position of negotiating to ensure the project stays on track.
During your interview, you may be asked to provide examples of how you've used these soft skills in your previous roles. It's a good idea to prepare some scenarios in advance.
How to answer the most common project management interview questions
1. What are the most important skills and qualities to be successful?
Ultimately, the most important skill a project manager needs is the ability to drive a project to completion, on time and on budget. While that sounds simple enough, it actually entails multiple qualities, including:
- Effective communication
- Top-notch organizational skills
- Analytical and critical thinking
- Time management
- Leadership skills
Of course, a good interview response requires more than just rattling off a list of desirable traits. What’s most important is that you understand — and communicate to the interviewer — why these skills and attributes are important to the project management position.
For instance, communication skills are necessary in order for the project manager to effectively interact with all vested parties, from team members to managers to executives and everyone in between. Critical thinking, decision making, and adaptability are crucial for steering a project through challenges or disruptions that may arise during the project life cycle.
2. What’s your communication style and how does it differ between team members, stakeholders, vendors, etc.?
In order to effectively communicate with everyone involved in or affected by a project, project managers need to adapt both the message and the communication style to the individual’s needs. For example, stakeholders will want the broad strokes of the project and its timelines. Team members, on the other hand, will need much greater levels of detail.
No matter what style the situation calls for, all communication ultimately needs to be documented — preferably in a project management tool that all parties can access and receive notifications from regarding relevant updates. This not only provides visibility on a project’s chain of events but also allows information to be clarified or supplemented as necessary.
3. Tell me about a challenging project and how you managed it.
Because the interviewer expects you to anticipate this question, they’re also expecting you to have a well-thought-out response at the ready. In fact, the only way to get this question wrong is to fail to prepare for it.
Remember: Even if you’ve never held the title of project manager before, you have some relevant experience that you can frame in the context of the question. Once you’ve identified an appropriate situational example, construct your response using the following formula:
- The problem you faced (the challenging project or other problematic situation)
- Your solution
- The benefit to the project or situation (and, ultimately, your employer)
4. How do you know when a project is off-track, and what steps do you take to get it back on schedule?
As the project manager, it’s your responsibility to understand the project’s overarching purpose and specific goals, monitor the creation of deliverables, and ensure the project adheres to the timelines set forth in the planning phase. If an element of the project hits a delay, you should know exactly what the issue is, how it’s being handled, and when it will be completed.
With that said, you’ll know a project is off-track if you don’t have a grasp on where the various elements are at any given time within the project life cycle. Naturally, challenges are going to arise during the course of a project, but the project manager should know exactly what’s going on and be able to deliver an accurate status report upon request.
Utilizing a project management solution that allows real-time work visibility, efficient resource management, and customizable automated workflows will empower you as the project manager and help you easily stay on top of multiple projects from beginning to end.
5. How do you manage team members who aren’t working to their full potential?
Oftentimes, team members who aren’t meeting their full potential simply don’t feel a sense of ownership over their work. In these instances, it’s critical to empower the individual and give them a chance to prove you wrong — or, better yet, prove themselves right.
This can often be achieved through guided conversation in which you pose specific questions and allow the person to come to a solution on their own rather than simply giving directives and issuing demands. Even if you know the answer to the problem or have a vision for the deliverable in question, team members are typically much more enthusiastic to execute on ideas they feel they own rather than those being imposed upon them.
Remember: The project manager’s job is not to be the shining star but to lift the entire team up and drive it to a collective win.
6. What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made while managing a project?
Here again, it’s important to have an honest answer prepared for this question. Every project manager has made a mistake at some point along the way. To say anything different not only seems disingenuous but also reflects an inflated ego. Your interviewer wants to see that you have the ability to self-reflect and assess mistakes or weaknesses and that you have the integrity to own and admit them.
One common project management mistake is not spending enough time in the planning phase. Sometimes, upper management and/or executives can get hyper-focused on execution and rush through planning. In these instances, it’s critical for the project manager to hold the line and ensure they are crystal clear on the plan for every aspect of the project. As the project manager, you’re setting yourself up for failure if you lack clarity coming out of the planning phase and into the execution and monitoring stages.
7. What project management tools and software do you prefer and why?
Without an effective system or suite of tools to help you plan, monitor, and report on projects, you’ll struggle as a project manager. With this question, the interviewer will get an idea of your familiarity with project management software as well as your processes and workflows.
Most project management tools will include a Gantt chart to help you map and plan every phase of a project, as well as scheduling, reporting, and document sharing functions. If you’re able to find out the specific project management systems and tools the company you’re interviewing with uses, it doesn’t hurt to study up on them and discuss how they compare with others you’ve used.
The Importance of Certification in Project Management
Certifications such as Project Management Professional (PMP), Certified Scrum Master (CSM), or PRINCE2 Practitioner demonstrate a commitment to the profession and a mastery of its core principles. They set certified project managers apart and often lead to higher earnings and more opportunities.
In interviews, you may be asked about any project management certifications you hold. Interviewers are interested not just in the fact that you are certified, but also in how the knowledge and skills you gained from your certification have helped you in real-world project management scenarios.
For example, you might be asked how the PMP certification's emphasis on the five project management process groups - initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing - has influenced your approach to managing projects. Alternatively, if you hold a CSM certification, you might be asked how the principles of Scrum have helped you manage complex projects more effectively.
If you're pursuing a certification, that's also worth mentioning in your interview. It shows that you're committed to continuous learning and staying updated in your field.
Dealing with Remote Teams in Project Management
The shift to remote work has added a new dimension to project management. With teams spread across different locations and time zones, project managers now face challenges related to communication, collaboration, and maintaining team cohesion.
In your interview, you might be asked about your strategies for keeping remote teams engaged and productive. This could include your approach to virtual meetings, your methods for tracking progress, or your tactics for building team rapport in a virtual environment.
You may also be asked about your experience with tools for remote project management, such as Slack for communication, Trello for task management, or Zoom for virtual meetings. If you've used Wrike in a remote work setting, be sure to mention that. Discuss how you've used its features to keep your projects on track, even when your team is working remotely.
Finally, you could be asked about your strategies for managing the challenges of remote work, such as time zone differences, communication misunderstandings, or lack of face-to-face interaction. Be prepared with examples of how you've navigated these challenges in your previous roles.
Now you’re ready to nail your next project management interview
As with any job interview, the key to a successful project management interview is preparation. You give yourself the best chance to impress your interviewer and land that new gig when you:
- Research and familiarize yourself with the company for which you’re interviewing.
- Prepare your responses to the most-common project management interview questions.
- Study up on the latest industry trends and offer a fresh perspective on the challenges the company may be facing.