18 Project Manager Interview Questions
- Please describe yourself, your background briefly.
- What was the biggest or most challenging project you managed?
- Do you have budget management experience?
- Have you ever failed in a project? Do you have any experience of handling failures?
- How do you monitor projects whether it is going on track?
- Can you tell me an example of how you communicated a failure to your team, manager and customer?
- How do you motivate project team?
- Do you have outsource personnel or supplier management experience?
- Do you have international project team management experience?
- How do you deal with gold plating in your project?
- You managed the project work as per requirements. However, customer is not happy with the result and does not accept the project. How would you convince the customer?
- How do you deal with underperforming project team members?
- How do you resolve conflicts in your projects?
- What are the three words that describe you best?
- Why should we hire you?
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
- What is your current salary and compensaion package?
- What is your salary expectation?
We have gathered the eighteen project manager interview questions that you will be asked, most probably, during your job interview. Is that it? No, we also provided guidance on how you should answer these project manager interview questions.
Let’s go over the questions one-by-one.
Question #1: Please describe yourself, your background briefly.
Actually, this is a typical job interview question. You can face this question not only in a project manager interview, but also in any job interview.
Consider this question as a self-promotion opportunity. Because, you will be telling about your background, your education, work experience and projects you have completed. If you are a new graduate, you can tell about your university projects. If you are an experienced professional, job interviewer will look for the keywords in your background that will match with the requirements of the job.
For instance, if you are a 5+ years of professional looking for a project manager position, you should not start from your primary school when answering this project manager interview question. Briefly, describe your place of birth, where you grew up and your university education. These should not be more than two or three sentences. Then, you should highlight the critical points in your background that is relevant with the position you applied for.
For instance, let’s consider that a software analyst working in a software vendor has applied to a project manager position. He has not any project management experience. However, he wants to get this project manager position and the employer invited him to the project manager interview.
What should this guy answer to this question?
Sample answer for this project manager interview question can be as below.
I was born in 1991 in New Jersey. I grew up in New Jersey and went to high school there. I have completed my university education in Georgia Institute of Technology in the field of computer science. After I graduated from university in 2013, I applied for the software analyst position of Accenture in Plano, Texas. After a couple of interviews, I got the job and since 2013, I am working at Accenture as Software Analyst. I have worked in eight projects until now and the biggest one was shopping cart customization project of Walmart website. Project took eight months to complete. There were four software analysts and I worked as the lead analyst and supervised the other three analysts. There were 11 software developers and 6 test engineers. In total, project team had over 20 members. Last year, I got a promotion from the employer and my title has changed as Lead Analyst. This is my background in brief.
This will not take more than two minutes if you speak it in a project manager interview session. As highlighted, the project manager candidate gives the critical points in his background that can qualify him for the project manager position he applied to. He highlights that he worked as the lead analyst in a project. This shows that he has people management skills, which is crucial for a project manager position. He also adds that, he got promotion, which shows that his current employer appreciates and treasures him.
Question #2: What was the biggest or most challenging project you managed?
You have to be prepared for this project manager interview question. Because, your answer to this question will show your limits about your experience. Note that, this question might come with additional questions asking about how many people there were in the team, who you were reporting to, and how many projects in total you were managing at the same time.
Before sitting in your project manager interview session, go through your experience. Choose the most challenging project that you were involved.
Following can be a good answer to this project manager interview question.
The most challenging project I was involved was Golden Gate Bridge Construction Program. I was managing the project of construction of the towers that will carry the bridge. There were three architects, six civil engineers and 47 construction workers in my team. In total, I managed 56 project team members during this project. The most challenging part of the project was meeting the deadlines. Because, several other projects were dependent on my project. Any delay in my project was causing delays on the rest of the project. For instance, a one-day delay in my project was causing 200 hundred construction workers to wait for our work to be completed. And the cost of one-day delay was around $80,000. This was causing a big pressure in executive management of the company and therefore it was a big challenge for me as well.
First highlighted part in this answer shows the size of the project team that this project manager managed. Second highlighted part stresses the challenge of the project financially. Provide numbers, budgets and statistics if you have any. These will make your answers stronger.
Question #3: Do you have budget management experience?
Budget management is a crucial aspect of project management. Therefore, this question is very important in a project manager interview, if the candidate will be managing a budget if he is selected for the position. Depending on the roles and responsibilities of the project manager in a company, budget management might not be required from project manager. Especially, in vendors, budget management is required while it might not be required from project managers working in service providers.
If you are applying for a project manager position that requires budget management, this project manager interview question will be an elective one.
Assuming that you have budget management experience, you can answer this interview question as below:
I have managed the project budgets in my projects as well. I managed up to 35 million dollar project budget. I was in charge of approving expenses and procurements in my projects. I was contacting directly with the vendors during procurement and managing the communication with finance department of the company. In case any additional funding needed, I was organizing meeting with the project sponsor to express the reasons of additional funding. I was responsible for finding additional funding for the project when needed.
First highlighted part of this answer shows that the candidate has a good level of budget management experience. Second highlighted part makes the answer even stronger. He adds that he was also responsible for convincing executive management for additional funding when needed.
Question #4: Have you ever failed in a project? Do you have any experience of handling failures?
Success and failures, these are inevitable facts of life and your professional career as well. Do not even think to answer “No, I never failed in a project”. This will not be counting a positive mark in your evaluation believe me.
Actually, this project manager interview question assesses your risk management experience. Therefore, think of an event, meeting, activity or a moment in project where you had trouble. Then, answer this question accordingly.
Following can be a good sample answer for this question.
When I was managing a telecommunication project, after our software package deployment, subscribers of the telecom operator could not make calls from a specific region. This was the biggest failure I had in my projects.
Actually, we did all post deployment tests and everything was green. Next morning, I woke up with the phone call of my customer. He was so angry and complaining that 87 subscribers reported that they could not originate a call from their phone. I tried to calm down the customer on the phone and told him that we, as whole project team, will be arriving on site in one hour to investigate the problem and fix it.
Right after my customer phone call, I called the software developers and test engineers to come back at office to investigate this issue.
We were in the office, whole project team, in 45 minutes. Our software engineers investigated the problem. However, they could not find any hint regarding the problem. Majority of the subscribers were able to do calls without any problem. Customer was getting angrier each minute because as the time passes, number of complaints started to increase.
All reported incidents were from Louisville, Kentucky. We thought that this is a local problem affecting only a part of the subscribers. We contacted with three of the subscribers who reported this problem and asked them to re-initiate a call. In the meantime, our software and test engineers collected logs of the failing calls. After analysis, they found that a customized routing for Louisville city was not updated by customer during deployments. After defining the routing, problem was resolved. It was a long six hours of my life. Customer was on my neck and asking the situation each minute while we were trying to fix the issue.
If you look at the answer, first part reflects that the candidate did his responsibility by post deployment tests to avoid any failures. Second part highlights the emergency of this issue. Third and the last part highlights how he handled the failure.
Question #5: How do you monitor projects whether it is going on track?
This project manager interview question will assess your monitoring and controlling skills and your familiarity with project management tools. The primary responsibility of the project manager is completing a project scope on time and on budget in the agree quality levels. To do this, a project manager must use his or her skills and project management tools.
Following can be a good sample answer for this project manager interview question.
After I completed the initial project planning, I take a baseline. I use this baseline to compare the progress of the project and actual values against the baseline. Each week or in every two weeks, I forecast the duration and cost of remaining project activities with my team to determine whether the negotiated deadline and budget will be met. I use Microsoft Excel to keep track of issue log. I assign an open issue to a project resource or any external resource in project issue log. I set a deadline for the issue and I follow the issue until it is resolved. I use Microsoft Project for creating project plan. However, I have used Jira software tracking tool as well. When I am using Microsoft Project, I compare the actual values of the tasks with the baseline values. This helps me to see whether a task is on track, behind schedule or ahead of schedule. When I am using Jira, I create my own dashboards for late tasks or open tasks. I report these tasks to the assignees each week or more frequently if they are urgent.
This answer shows the technical knowledge of project manager candidate. Because, he uses “baseline” and “issue log” terms. Answer also provides solid samples on how to monitor and control a project like taking baseline and comparing actual values against baseline.
Question #6: Can you tell me an example of how you communicated a failure to your team, manager and customer?
This project manager interview question will assess your risk management and communication management experience together. Bear in your mind that, failures, emergencies or critical points about a project must be communicated face to face. If face-to-face communication is not possible, then, you should choose teleconference meeting or phone call.
Following can be a good sample answer for this project manager interview question.
We were working on an online learning portal project of an oil company. Deadline of the project was Feb 15, 2016. Although we completed our development tasks and internal tasks on time, customer could not complete their acceptance test on time.
Executive management of the customer was pushing to deliver the project on time. However, since customer could not complete their acceptance tests, it was risky.
First, I called my manager. I wish we could have spoken face-to-face but she was in a business trip at that time. I told her the situation. She agreed with me to speak about the risk of the situation with the customer.
Then, I organized a meeting with the project team. I told the team that they did all they have to do. I added in the meeting that, we, as project team, met our deadlines and objectives. However, customer could not complete their acceptance tests on time. Therefore, we will be postponing the project launch for one month. This made some of the project team members upset because we were working hard to complete the project on time but the project was postponed because of a customer-sourced delay.
Finally, I organized a meeting with executive management of the customer. During the meeting, I told to the project sponsor and executive managers of the customer that, customer acceptance tests are not complete yet. In addition, if we launch the project, we might face critical problems on live environment and this can cause dissatisfaction and lose of reputation. At the end of the meeting, executive managers were agreed to wait till customer acceptance tests completion.
This answer shows that the project manager approaches to the failure communication in a systematic way. First, he reports to his manager. If his manager would not accept the situation or propose alternative ways with the project team and customer, he could have changed the approach to the team and customer respectively.
After getting the approval of the manager, he speaks with the team first and then communicates to the customer respectively.
Question #7: How do you motivate project team?
Project team motivation is crucial for the success of a project. If a project team is not motivated, it will be impossible to reach project objectives. Or, even if you reach your project objectives, project quality will suffer.
This project manager interview question is critical to get insights about the people management skills of the candidate.
Following is a sample answer for this question.
After I create the project baseline, I mark the milestones of the project. Then, I send this project plan to all project team members. Whenever we pass a milestone successfully, I organize an event to celebrate this. This can be a picnic, a weekend trip or a dinner depending on the project budget or amount of the allowance provided by the company for these celebrations.
Additionally, I try to celebrate birthday of each project team member. I organize a 30 minutes break for celebration and invite all project team members to this break.
Moreover, if a project team member over performed during the project, I send a special email to his manager to appreciate his efforts. I know that these kinds of emails will be important for the line managers of project team members when they are doing annual performance evaluation of the employees. My appreciations will bring additional points and opportunities for promotion or bonuses for the project team member respectively.
This answer shows that, project manager candidate does not do only regular celebration activities like milestone and birthday celebrations. He can also speak or contact to the functional managers of the project team members to appreciate project resources for promotion or better annual performance evaluation.
Question #8: Do you have outsource personnel or supplier management experience?
Managing outsource personnel or supplier is a different project management skill. If you are applying to a company that works with outsource personnel or suppliers, this project manager interview question will be an elective one.
If you have a project management experience in a vendor, most probably, you will have outsource and supplier management experience as well.
Let us first define what outsource and supplier is. Outsource personnel is hired or acquired by a company only for a limited time or for a specific project. For instance, assume that you are installing a database for a utility service provider in scope of your project. You need a database administrator for this work. However, your company does not have a full time database administrator. You have to hire or outsource the database administrator for a limited time to work for your project.
Suppliers are material, equipment, tools etc. providers of your project. In your project, if you need database servers, and if these servers will be provided by a 3rd party company, this company is supplier of your project.
After defining outsource and supplier management, let’s go through a sample answer for this project manager interview question.
I was working for a billing system project for a telecom operator. One of the products we had to install was Ericsson’s SDP product. Our company was not having a SDP product expert. Therefore, we had to outsource two SDP product experts for three months to work in our project. I managed the communication with Ericsson to outsource these two consultants and planned their start and end dates in the project. Moreover, we had to install 24 servers of the SDP product in three different locations across UK. To do this, we have negotiated with a server installation company, Servus. I was in the process of negotiation with this supplier. I managed the SDP consultants and Servus, server installation company, throughout the project.
Answer clearly shows the outsource and supplier management of the project manager interview participant.
Question #9: Do you have international project team management experience?
If the company you applied for is a multinational company, international project team management will be a critical evaluation factor. You might not have this experience. In this case, say no honestly.
This question might be followed by additional questions asking about how the experience was and whether you have any strange story about your international project team management experience.
Following can be a good answer for this project manager interview question.
I have managed a team of 15 project team members from five different nations. We were working in a natural gas implementation project in Brazil. There were natural gas engineers, environmental engineers and civil engineers in the project team. Five members were from Brazil, three members were from UK, three members were from Spain, two members were from India and two members were from Qatar. It was a great experience to learn from different cultures when working with them.
It was the first time for me to work with project resources coming from a Muslim country, Qatar. While most of the project team members were having Monday syndrome, engineers from Qatar were performing better than other project team members on Mondays! After some time, I asked these engineers why they are more willing to work on Mondays. I learnt that, their official weekends are on Friday and Saturday. Therefore, Sunday is their first weekday. Therefore, they were performing better on Mondays in our project since it is 2nd day of their workweek. It was a strange experience for me to see people better motivated on Mondays.
Project manager candidate answers the question with numbers through a real project he managed. Besides, he gives a strange experience he faced with his international project team management experience.
Question #10: How do you deal with gold plating in your project?
This project manager interview question assess your technical knowledge and scope management skills. Gold plating is a technical term in project management. Gold plating is delivering more than what is required in the scope. If the project team performs an extra activity and delivers extra work, which is not in the scope of the project, this is called gold plating.
A good project manager must prevent gold plating in a project. Because gold plating can cause delays and extra cost in project.
Following is a good answer for this project manager interview question.
When I am assigning a task to a project team member, I clearly define the KPIs, requirements and scope of the task. Then, I work closely with the technical leaders of the project whether the project team member is doing gold plating. We were working for an e-commerce website development project in US. The requirement of the customer was loading the homepage in less than three seconds across US. Developer of the homepage was a very skilled resource. Although he completed the homepage development before the deadline of the task and with a loading time less than three seconds, he was trying to lower the homepage loading time. Project technical noticed this during a weekly meeting and notified me about the situation.
Developer was a skilled and motivated resource. I had to speak with him but not demotivate him. I called him for a coffee in a break. First, I appreciated his efforts in the project. Then, I explained him what the gold plating is. After that, I have expressed him that, we have a project scope to finish first and we have to deliver what is required first. I told him that, If we deliver a website project with missing web pages, this will be unacceptable. However, if we deliver a homepage with a loading time less than three seconds, this will be accepted. Therefore, we need to deliver what is required first before diving into optimizations. He understood me very well and when he was performing his other activities; he did only the scope of his task and then asked to get a new task.
This answer shows the knowledge of project manager candidate about gold plating term. He also gives an example of gold plating in the project, and how he handled gold plating in the project.
Question #11: You managed the project work as per requirements. However, customer is not happy with the result and does not accept the product. How would you convince the customer?
This is a very common and tough to deal situation in project management. Although you delivered the project scope as you agreed with the customer in the beginning of the project, customer may not accept the product at the end of the project.
This project manager interview question assesses your convincing and justification skills.
In case you receive this kind of question, you have to demonstrate the agreed scope and how your end product fits with the agreed scope. Note that, final stop of a disagreement like this is courts. However, never mention this during your project manager interview. Because, you have to fix conflicts with communication and companies do not wish to go courts in these cases since it will take years to reach a conclusion.
Following is a sample answer for this question.
At the end of my website development project, customer was not happy with the delivered results. Therefore, they did not accept the project. Our initial scope was delivering an ecommerce shopping website with five different pages:
We have delivered this agreed project scope at the end of the project. After customer acceptance tests, they agreed that the features of these pages meet their initial requirements. However, the customer was telling that, their competitor has a referral program that boosts sales. They need to have same program feature as well.
I organized a meeting with the project sponsor and customer testing team as well. I asked my manager to join the meeting as well. During that meeting, I have gone through the agreed project scope and showed how our deliverables meet the initial scope. Then, I explained that customer referral program was not mentioned anywhere in the requirements list, agreed project scope and in contract as well.
Project sponsor told that this is a critical requirement and they have to get it before launching the website. At this point, I told that we can deliver this as a change request in one month. Customer did not want to pay any additional cost for the project. After some discussions, my manager proposed a revised cost for this additional feature. Customer accepted the proposal and we fixed this conflict. After delivering the customer referral program feature one month later, customer was happy with the final product.
Project manager candidate approaches to the conflict with documents and rationally. After convincing the customer that the new requirement was not in the project scope, he proposes that they can deliver this feature in one month as a change request. Therefore, he creates alternatives and approaches in a result driven way.
Question #12: How do you deal with underperforming project team members?
If you are an experienced professional, you might have worked with a demotivated or underperforming colleague. The critical point for the project manager is, he or she has to motivate all project resources to produce the most out of their capacity. Project manager must motivate underperforming resources in a project.
This project manager interview question assesses your people management skills. This question will show how you motivate your underperforming resources.
Following is a sample answer for this question.
When I see an underperforming resource, first, I observe him whether it is a one-time issue or occurring frequently. Because, depending on the daily life, each person can have fluctuating motivation level. If the project team member is underperforming for a couple of weeks, I invite him to a coffee break. First, I ask him how does he feel about the project, whether he is happy to work in the project. Then, I ask him whether there is anything demotivating him about the project, work or company. If there is a problem with the project, work or company, I will try to find the root cause of the problem and then I try to resolve the issue that is causing demotivation. In some cases, demotivation can be because of the problems in daily life of the project team members. In that case, if the team member tells about the problem, I will do my best to help him.
A software developer in my banking project was performing very well. All of a sudden, I noticed a decent drop in his performance. After one week passed, I talked to him. I was thinking that he was demotivated because of recent promotion and bonus announcements in the company. However, I learned that, he just broke up with his long lasting girlfriend. It was a personal issue, however, I tried my best to motivate him. I organized a couple of team lunches that all project team attends to change his mood. After two or three weeks, he was performing well again.
Project manager candidate describes how he approaches to a demotivated project team member step-by-step. Then, he gives an example from his project, which makes his experience stronger in this project manager interview question.
Question #13: How do you resolve conflicts in your projects?
Conflicts are inevitable in a project. A good project manager must be able to resolve conflicts without hampering the motivation and relationship in the project team. By its nature, conflicts seem to be resolved in favor of one side over another. However, with good communication and conflict resolution skills, you can resolve the conflicts in a win-win situation.
This project manager interview question assesses your conflict resolution and communication management skills.
Following can be a good sample answer for this question.
I experienced several conflicts arising in my projects during my career. First thing to look when a conflict arises is the source of conflict. Conflicts can be between two project team members, between the team member and his lead, between two stakeholders etc. After knowing the source of conflict, I look at the alternative solutions to resolve the conflict. The best option to resolve a conflict is collaborating where all parties are happy. Of course, I try to find a win-win situation first. If this is not possible, then, I try to analyze the pros and cons of different alternatives for resolving the conflict. I try to demonstrate the pros and cons of each resolution alternative analytically because numbers, figures, statistics and mathematical approach is the best way to convince people for a solution. After showing the alternative solutions, I guide people to rethink about the conflict. I expect them to reach a consensus. If this is not possible again, I try to solve the conflict with democracy. For instance, if the cause of the conflict is a how to solve a technical issue in a software project, I show the options to the project team and expect the software developers to vote for the best option to resolve the conflict.
Project manager candidate approaches to solve the conflict in a win-win situation. Then, he approaches to demonstrate different alternatives in a mathematical approach. This is great. Because, if you can describe a solution mathematically with statistics, numbers, figures etc. you will eliminate most of the arguments about the topic. Then, he opens the conflict to voting. By this way, he ensures that the majority will decide what will be the solution. He is not forcing or directing on what needs to be done in the project.
Question #14: What are the three words that describes you best?
This is actually a cliché interview question generally asked by human resources personnel. This shows hints about your personality and how your colleagues think about you in work environment.
When answering this project manager interview question, try to remember your positive attitudes and what your colleagues say about your work behavior.
Following can be a good sample answer for this interview question.
The best three words that would describe me can be discipline, result-driven and analytical thinker.
My colleagues call me German. I am not a German you know it J. They tell that I am working in a very well discipline, record every detail and approach in a systematic way to the problems in the project.
When I am working on a project or task, I always keep in mind that “what is the expected result?” Sometimes, if you forget what you are trying to achieve, you can deviate from your targets. Therefore, keeping in mind the expected results help me to focus on what needs to be done during the project.
I try to rationalize status, progress and alternative solutions to a problem. I do this by approaching analytically to a problem. For instance, I create dashboards for waiting issues, waiting time, assignee etc in a project to monitor how well the project team is resolving issues. Similarly, I record the number of codes each developer produces a day to forecast remaining activities in the project.
Project manager candidate answers the three words that describe him best first. Then, he gives examples and justifications for each word.
Question #15: Why should we hire you?
This question is not special for a project manager interview. Most of the human resources personnel ask this question to evaluate a candidate during job interviews.
There can be hundreds of other applicants that you have to surpass to get a project manager job. Your background, skills, and resume should be impressive and matching the requirements of the job description. This is obvious. However, you have to be unique when providing answer to this question. Interviewer must say, “Wow, he knows what we exactly look for”.
For the best answer to this project manager interview question, you can search about the recent news of the company before the interview. A recent financial report, investment, research and development project news that the company is launching can be good information to place in your answer for this question.
Following can be a good answer for this interview question.
When I saw that Apple is looking for a project manager, I was very excited. Because, Apple is my dream company that I would love to work for. I went through the position details and saw that you are looking for a 5+ years of IT project management experience with a special focus on screen touch sensors. I have over seven years of project management experience in software development projects. I worked for Elo for three years and managed their last inductive led screen development project. I’ve heard from the recent news that, Apple is planning to remove “home” button from IPhone and move the features of the “home” button to the screen. My software project management experience in a screen company will be very much beneficial for the projects in Apple. I will learn a lot from Apple culture as well.
Project manager candidate highlights how he saw the position vacancy and why he applied. Then, he clarifies why he matches to the position requirements. He also adds that while he will be providing benefits to the company, he will learn a lot from Apple as well.
Question #16: Where do you see yourself in five years?
A typical human resources interview question! This interview question assesses whether you have a career plan and if it fits with the position.
For a project manager interview, you have to draw a career plan that fits to a project management path.
Following can be a good answer for this interview question.
I have over nine years of experience. Last four years is project management experience. I want to proceed my career as a project manager for the following three years. Then, I would like to evaluate the further level of management position opportunities, such as program manager or project manager opportunities, that will be arising in the company.
I have PMP certification. I am planning to take ITIL foundation certification to improve my IT service management skills and PSM-1 certification to improve my agile project management skills.
I am pretty sure that project management experience in this company will add a lot to my professional background.
Project manager candidate highlights that he will be proceeding his career as project manager for the following three years. This is critical for an employer, because each employer expects a candidate to stay in the position for at least two years. Then, the project manager candidate adds that he is planning to get relevant professional certifications to improve his project management skills.
Question #17: What is your current salary and compensation package?
Be honest when you are responding to this question. Note that, human resources departments of companies are very well aware of industry salary benchmarks. Therefore, they will be able to estimate your salary and compensation package.
If you say a salary that is too much above the benchmark, you can even lose the job opportunity. Because, there will be a limit of what the company can pay for this position.
Briefly, tell what you earn and compensation package, when this question is asked in your project manager interview.
Question #18: What is your salary expectation?
This is one of the last questions that you will be asked in your project manager interview session. There is not a concrete answer for this question. However, the common practice is, aim to increase your salary at least 20% in your next job.
Considering your current salary and compensation package, you should tell your expectations. You should not say a salary and compensation expectation that is too much above your current package.