9 project management interview questions for your next hire

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A qualified project manager with the proper skill set, experience, and attitude is critical for successful project management.

Project managers oversee the entire project lifecycle, from planning and scheduling to execution and delivery, ensuring projects are completed on time, within budget, and to the agreed-upon quality standards. They are also responsible for risk management, stakeholder management, and resource allocation.

So when it’s time to hire your next project manager, how do you identify the right candidate from a pool of promising job applicants? By interviewing them, of course!

Project management interview questions are designed to assess the applicant’s experience, skill set, and attitude toward project management. You want to understand how they approach project planning and problem-solving and their leadership skills.

Here are nine effective interview questions to help you assess a potential project manager.

1. Can you describe a project you managed from start to finish? What were the challenges, and how did you overcome them?

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Project management is a complex role that requires the ability to juggle multiple tasks and collaborate with team members and other stakeholders to ensure successful completion.

Asking the candidate to walk you through a project they managed from start to finish gives you insight into their project management skills and approaches. It also demonstrates their problem-solving skills, collaborative abilities, and overall attitude toward project management.

Example of a good answer

“I managed a project for my previous employer that involved setting up a new software system. I led my project team to create an action plan, breaking the deliverables into smaller milestones and assigning individual responsibilities. 

During the implementation phase, we encountered some budgetary issues. However, we were able to resolve them by working closely with stakeholders and providing clear explanations about why certain costs were necessary for the project’s success. 

Ultimately, we met all our deadlines on time and within budget, resulting in improved efficiency across departments and higher customer satisfaction ratings overall.”

Example of a bad answer

“I managed a project that was completed on time and within budget. We didn’t have any problems along the way. Everything went according to plan, and there was nothing I could’ve done differently.”

2. How do you handle changes to a project’s scope, especially when they occur in the middle of a project?

No project is ever set in stone — changes to the scope of a project can occur throughout its lifecycle as stakeholders identify new needs or objectives. This question demonstrates how the candidate responds to unexpected changes and how they handle pressure. 

Do they revert to the original plan or take a proactive approach to finding solutions? Do they stay focused and organized, or do they allow chaos to spiral out of control?

Example of a good answer

“I welcome changes to project scope, as they often lead to improved outcomes. I focus on understanding the new objectives and take a step-by-step approach to evaluate the impact on the overall project plan. 

I work closely with stakeholders throughout this process, identifying risk areas or potential challenges arising from the changes. I keep my team in the loop with any changes and adjust our timeline and resources accordingly.”

Example of a bad answer

“Changes to project scope are challenging to manage and often throw the timeline off track. I don’t like making adjustments and try to stick to the original plan as much as possible. This way, I can avoid unnecessary delays and overspending that affect the project schedule and budget.”

3. Can you provide an example of a project that did not go as planned? What did you learn from this experience?

Research shows that 65% of projects fail due to poor planning, lack of resources, or inadequate risk management. However, project failure doesn’t necessarily mean failure as a project manager. The most successful project managers are the ones who learn from their mistakes and use them to improve future project plans.

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This question assesses a candidate’s ability to identify and learn from mistakes. You want to know how they responded when a project went off track, what measures they took to rectify the situation, and what they took away from the experience. Were their project management methodologies effective? Was their prioritization on point? Or was budget management the problem?

Example of a good answer

“I once managed a project that ran over budget and missed the deadline by two months. After careful assessment, I identified the root cause of the failure: poor resource allocation and inadequate risk management. 

There was too much focus on speed and not enough on quality assurance. We had also failed to account for potential risks and setbacks, leading us into a firefighting cycle. 

This experience taught me the importance of developing a comprehensive plan with clear objectives, timelines, resources, dependencies, budgets, and contingencies. I now use a structured agile project management methodology that considers all these aspects and assesses risks at different project stages.”

Example of a bad answer

“I recently managed a project that didn’t go as planned. It wasn’t really my fault, though, as it was out of my control. The budget got cut, and the deadline was pushed back, so there wasn’t much I could do to salvage it. I think that’s just how projects can be sometimes.”

4. How do you ensure all team members are aligned and understand the project’s objectives and key deliverables?

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Project success relies on the unified efforts of a cohesive, collaborative, and motivated team. Everyone in your project team must understand the project’s objectives, key deliverables, and individual responsibilities.

This question helps you assess a candidate’s communication style, leadership skills, and ability to motivate a team. How do they ensure everyone is on the same page? Do they take an authoritative approach or promote a culture of openness and collaboration? How do they handle disagreements and conflict resolution?

Example of a good answer

“I believe open and effective communication is vital to ensuring everyone understands the project’s objectives and deliverables. Throughout the planning process, I involve team members in decision-making, gathering their feedback and suggestions. 

During the execution phase, I proactively update team members on progress and provide timely feedback. I also hold regular team meetings where we discuss any issues or challenges that arise. This encourages the team to be open and honest with each other, while fostering a sense of camaraderie and collaboration.”

Example of a bad answer

“I communicate the project’s objectives and deliverables at the start of the project. Then I assign tasks and set deadlines for each team member. Everyone is expected to adhere to these tasks and deliverables — failure to do so will result in disciplinary action. This approach eliminates the back-and-forth of unnecessary discussions, ensuring everyone knows what to do and when it needs to be done.”

5. How do you manage and prioritize multiple projects with similar deadlines?

Project managers are often tasked with juggling multiple projects with overlapping deadlines. Asking candidates how they manage and prioritize multiple projects simultaneously will give you insight into their multitasking skills, organizational prowess, decision-making abilities, and prioritization techniques.

Example of a good answer

“I use a mix of project prioritization techniques to manage multiple projects with similar deadlines. I evaluate each project’s scope, budget, timeline, and potential impact to determine its priority. I focus on the highest-priority tasks first and use a mix of Gantt charts and Kanban boards to assign tasks, track progress, and adjust timelines when needed. 

Breaking down the projects into smaller, achievable goals helps me stay organized and efficient. I also have a risk management plan to help me anticipate and mitigate potential risks that could derail the projects.”

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Example of a bad answer

“I prioritize projects based on the deadline — whichever has to be completed first takes precedence. It doesn’t matter if some projects are more complex or have a greater budget. I focus on the ones with the most immediate deadline first. 

This ensures that I stay on track and don’t miss any deadlines. However, this approach doesn’t leave room for contingencies if something unexpected happens, so I try to leave some buffer time in my schedule.” 

6. Describe your approach to risk management in project planning. Can you provide an example of a risk you successfully mitigated?

A question about risk management helps you gauge a candidate’s ability to recognize, anticipate, and mitigate risks in the planning phase. You want to know how your potential hire assesses and evaluates potential risks, how they incorporate contingencies into their plans, and how they respond when risks materialize.

Example of a good answer

“Risks are bound to arise at some point in any project, so it’s important to plan for them. When I create a project plan, I always include a risk management plan that identifies potential risks, assesses their likelihood of occurrence, and outlines the steps to mitigate or eliminate them.

For example, our budget was nearly depleted on a recent project I managed. To mitigate this risk, I created a cost-benefit analysis and identified areas where we could make cuts without compromising the quality of the project. I renegotiated contracts with vendors, cut back on unnecessary resources, and found ways to streamline our processes.”

Example of a bad answer

“Whenever I encounter a risk, I try to devise a solution on the spot. I think it’s important to be proactive and take action immediately, so that you don’t waste time and resources trying to fix something that’s already gone wrong. I don’t have a specific approach to risk management — I try to think on my feet and come up with a solution that works.”

7. Can you discuss a time when you had to manage a difficult client? How did you handle the situation?

Managing difficult clients is a challenge that even the most experienced project manager can struggle with. Scope creep, unreasonable demands, and unrealistic expectations can make working with difficult clients an uphill battle. This question helps assess a candidate’s conflict resolution and negotiation skills and their ability to stay professional and diplomatic in tough situations.

Example of a good answer

“I recently managed a project with a client who had very specific requirements and wanted to micromanage every detail of the project. It was difficult to make any progress when there were so many changes being made. 

To handle the situation, I had a series of in-person meetings with the client to discuss their needs and expectations. I also explained why certain changes were not feasible and worked to find solutions to meet their goals while staying within the project’s scope. In the end, we were able to come to a compromise that satisfied both parties.”

Example of a bad answer

“In my last project, I had a client who was constantly changing their mind and asking for last-minute changes. I tried to be patient and explain why certain changes weren’t feasible, but they wouldn’t listen. I eventually gave in to their demands and did whatever they wanted, even though it wasn’t the best solution. It was the only way to get the project finished on time.”

8. What project management tools and software are you most comfortable using, and how have they helped you in managing projects?

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Project management software and tools help streamline planning, resource allocation, collaboration, and communication. Recruiters ask this question to evaluate a candidate’s technical proficiency and familiarity with various project management software and tools.

Example of a good answer

“I’m comfortable using project management tools like Teamwork, Trello, and JIRA. I use these tools to create project timelines and track progress, assign tasks and resources, set milestones, collaborate with team members, and store documentation. These tools have helped me manage projects more efficiently and effectively by automating many administrative tasks that would otherwise take up a lot of time.”

Example of a bad answer

“I’m unfamiliar with project management tools and software, but I am a fast learner and can quickly pick up new concepts. I usually use basic spreadsheets to keep track of tasks and resources when needed.”

9. Can you tell me about a time when you successfully managed a project under a tight budget? How did you ensure the project was completed without exceeding the budget?

Projects with tight budgets require careful planning and cost-saving techniques to stay on track. This question tests a candidate’s ability to manage resources effectively, set realistic goals, and prioritize tasks.

Example of a good answer

“I managed an online marketing project with a very limited budget. The client wanted a comprehensive campaign that included SEO, PPC, email marketing, and social media. To stay within the budget, I identified the most cost-effective tactics for each channel and prioritized tasks based on their potential value. 

I created a detailed budget breakdown to stay on track throughout the project. Each step of the way, I monitored costs and adjusted my plans as needed. I managed to hit the project goals within budget, and the client was delighted with the results.”

Example of a bad answer

“My past experience managing projects under tight budgets has taught me to be frugal and careful with my allocations. I try to find the cheapest vendors and resources and often skip steps that I think are unnecessary or don’t offer much value. I’ve had success with this approach and have completed projects under budget.”

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A project manager is an integral part of any agency. They provide the technical, leadership, and organizational skills to ensure consistently successful projects. Asking the right questions is critical to finding the perfect fit for your project manager role. 

Hiring managers should assess a candidate’s experience with project management tools, risk assessment, conflict resolution initiatives, and budget control. Taking the time to properly vet candidates will ensure you have the right person for the job — one who will help your projects run smoothly. 

But make sure you give your project manager the tools they need. Teamwork.com can help streamline and simplify your project management processes. Our comprehensive suite of tools makes it easy to assign tasks, track progress, collaborate with team members, monitor budgets, and more. 

Start your free trial today and make project management a breeze!

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