Project Management

How To Answer Project Management Interview Questions

By | 15 min read | Published ; Updated on

A good project manager has excellent communication, organization, and problem solving skills. Here’s how to put all of that on display during an interview.

As a project management job candidate, you already know what type of bad interview answers to avoid from a mile away. (“My biggest weakness is that I’m a perfectionist!”)

But it can be a little harder to prepare for some of the curveball questions hiring managers like to throw at candidates just to see how good they are on their toes. As a project manager job candidate preparing for your next big interview, it’s imperative that you’re prepared to show hiring managers that you communicate well, possess exceptional organizational and problem solving skills, can negotiate and mediate, and that you’re a natural leader.

To be clear, hiring managers don’t want to stump candidate after candidate with their clever questions. In fact, our 2021 Recruiting Strategy survey (methodology below) found that more than half of the recruiters surveyed are finding that it takes more time than usual to fill job openings, and that a lack of qualified job seekers is their biggest obstacle to hiring. Don’t you think that they’d much rather find someone who can answer their project management interview questions successfully so that they can hire that qualified candidate (you!) and then move on to filling the next opening?

However, it’s not only a laborious, time consuming process for hiring managers. According to Indeed, the average job seeker spends between five to 10 hours preparing for a single job interview. In this article, we’ll help you make the most of that preparation time so that you’re ready to ace the interview and get hired.

How to answer 7 common project management interview questions

It takes essentially a full day of work (on top of the full time job that you may already have) just to prepare for something that may not even lead to a new job. And assuming that you’ll go through multiple interviews before landing your next job, that extra time can really add up and become a drain on your resources. That’s why it’s so important to prepare for multiple project management interviews in the most efficient way possible.

Your interview shouldn’t be an oral version of the PMP exam. After all, our 2021 Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace survey (methodology below) found that less than 10% of the more than 500 full-time project managers surveyed were not certified and did not plan to get certified.

What is the PMP?

The PMP, or Project Management Professional, is a leading project management certification offered by the Project Management Institute. It ensures that candidates are highly skilled with project management people (soft) skills, process (technical) skills, and business environment (organizational) skills. Learn more about the PMP and the PMP exam here.

That means that proving your certification bona fides and technical skills is more of a checklist item to get into the interview in the first place rather than a way to differentiate yourself from the other candidates.

That’s why a good project manager interview is more about exhibiting your soft skills—how well you can lead and work within a project team, communicate, and mediate—than it is about proving your budgeting and scheduling skills or waxing poetic about agile project management.

“In general, (a candidate’s) replies should indicate that (they’re) a problem solver, and ethical person, and handle people well,” says Ferenc Csizmás, a PMP in Budapest.

In other words, you want to show the decision-maker sitting across the table from you that you work well with others while leading successful projects. (No sweat, right?)

Don’t worry: These seven project management interview questions—along with specific guidelines on what to touch on in your answer—will help you stand out from the crowd and get a call back after your next project management interview.

Let’s get started.

1

Can you tell me about your organizational skills?

Other versions of this interview question:

  • How do you prioritize your workload?
  • When have your organizational skills helped keep a project on track?
  • How do you organize an average workweek?

There’s no such thing as a disorganized, successful project. You might get lucky and have a project that manages to be a success despite running into a bunch of issues, but at some point every project needs someone to take charge of timelines, budget, and scope.

It’s not so important exactly which system you use to stay organized, as long as you show the interviewer(s) that you have a system to stay organized in the first place. Mobile task management app? Desktop software? Spreadsheet? Notepad? A combination of all of the above?

Any system is fine, as long as you can make a strong case that it has worked and it will continue to work in the environment you’ll be working in moving forward. Bonus points if you can illustrate this with real-world examples: “I check my project management app on the train every morning to see which tasks need to be completed that day. In fact, last month I saved a project from falling behind schedule with this system.”

The last thing you want to do is to tell the hiring manager that you just sit back and wait for problems to arise and then try to put out the fires.

WHAT TO DISPLAY
Specific stories that demonstrate how you keep projects on track, whether it’s with a specific project management system or your own hybrid of separate apps (task management, collaboration, etc.) If you’re struggling to come up with these examples, ask a senior coworker or manager/mentor for ideas. It’s easy to get so caught up in your work routine that you don’t even notice your own highlights.
2

Tell me about a time when your stakeholders didn’t agree on a project. How did you proceed?

Other versions of this interview question:

  • Tell me about your experience managing up to senior stakeholders.
  • How do you encourage cooperation on your teams?
  • Which soft skills are most important for a good project manager to have?

Monster.com notes that companies are interested in project managers who can inspire cooperation between all parties.

Interviewers are likely to ask you this question to draw out stories that will reveal whether you have the necessary soft skills to deal with friction on the job. Past work experience foreshadows future work behaviors, so come armed with examples that show how your personality, priorities, and skills help resolve conflict and move a project forward.

Try to recall stories from your previous project management experience that underscore your mediation skills, making sure to provide the context and outline the actions you took in response, and how those actions helped ensure the success of the project.

“One of my favorite questions is ‘Tell me about the most challenging project you’ve ever lead and how you overcame challenges (and) issues?’ Then let them talk. I’ll jot down a couple follow-up questions, but that question has uncovered a lot for me,” says Jason Orloske, a VP of operations in Fargo, ND.

Try to avoid vague, evasive answers, or talking about how you had to get tough with a stakeholder to resolve a conflict. Remember, yelling at someone isn’t a soft skill.

WHAT TO DISPLAY
Evidence of a soft touch that can be used to resolve conflicts and mediate between parties. Start by thinking of projects you worked on that didn’t go as planned where miscommunication led to that project failure. Talk about how you acted as an intermediary and the approach you took to bridge communication gaps, even if the project still ultimately failed. You’re not trying to prove that you can save every single project (because you can’t); you’re trying to demonstrate the actions you took as a project manager to give your projects the best chance to succeed.
3

Have you ever experienced project failure? What happened?

Other versions of this interview question:

  • Tell me about a time you failed.
  • What’s a challenging situation you experienced while working on a project? How did you deal with it? What did you learn?
  • Can you think of a time where you learned from your mistakes?

It happens to everyone: A project went too far out of scope, became too expensive, or was behind on delivery—and ultimately failed. And if this hasn’t happened to you yet, it probably just means that you haven’t worked on enough projects.

The important thing is that you don’t look at project failures on your watch as something to hide or be ashamed of, but as an opportunity to illustrate how you learn and grow from mistakes. Interviewers generally ask this question to see how you respond to setbacks, not to find out if you have a 100% project success rate.

Lily Zhang of The Muse suggests that if you can’t give a realistic answer (“I’ve actually never experienced project failure!”), the interviewer is unlikely to trust you enough to bring you into their organization.

Come to the interview equipped with a couple stories of how you dealt with project setbacks or outright failures, and be straightforward about what happened, even if it was partly your fault. Avoid trying to downplay your responsibility or shifting blame, and explain what you learned from the experience and how you’ve applied it to future projects.

WHAT TO DISPLAY
Evidence of how you respond positively to adversity and failure, along with the lessons you learned from those situations. The Project Management Institute found that only around 70% of projects met their original goals, while more than 10% of projects were deemed complete failures. Discuss project failures as evidence of your experience, using the lessons you learned as badges of honor.
4

What projects do you not want to work on?

Other versions of this interview question:

  • What kinds of projects interest you the most? Why?
  • Do you work better with introverted or extroverted people?
  • Tell us about a project that you didn’t find enjoyable.

Every project manager would like to believe they can handle any type of project, from agriculture to aerospace, working with every type of person. But the reality is that most project managers have strengths and weaknesses, with preferred industries and types of projects they excel at.

If you tell an interviewer that you love managing projects in any setting and you’re an ace at every type of project, they’ll mentally move on to their next interview.

Good candidates are honest. Are you more of a software development project manager, or have you thrived with creative media campaigns? If you’ve never worked on a manufacturing floor, let the interviewer know that, even if the job might involve that type of work. If you’re honest, and the interview goes well, those experience gaps might not be so important.

Be comfortable telling the interviewer what you like and dislike; that way when you’re hired, your new manager will know where your strengths lie and how they can help you build experience in other areas.

WHAT TO DISPLAY
The industries and project types you have experience with (IT? Creative? Construction?) as well as a willingness to admit where you lack experience and want to grow. Another way to frame this answer is to discuss types of projects that you want to work on but haven’t yet had the opportunity. Don’t dodge the question by avoiding discussing project types that you don’t like, but transition into projects that you do want to work on to display your versatility and willingness to learn and grow.
5

Are you familiar with project management software?

Other versions of this interview question:

  • Which project management tools have you worked with? Do you have a software preference?
  • How do you like to document your project progress?
  • Do you have an IT background? Can you code?

Project management software is used everywhere. And it’s not just for highly technical organizations. Our research shows that every industry from marketing to healthcare (and everything in-between) uses project management software.

More importantly, 92% of those organizations are happy with their project management tool. So if you have actual experience with a company’s project management tool of choice, you could be putting yourself at the head of the class of candidates.

Come prepared with a list of the project management software you’ve used in the past, what you like and dislike about different project management systems, and how you plan to use project management software to manage projects at the company you’re interviewing with.

WHAT TO DISPLAY
Your experience with various project management software and technology, and how you plan to apply that experience to the system that your prospective employer is already using. Our buyers guide can help you get up to speed with all the basics of project management software, from common features to recent trends, and our project management software shortlist can help you familiarize yourself with the top options in the market.
6

How do you deal with difficult team members?

Other versions of this interview question:

  • What do you do as a project leader when team members struggle to complete their project tasks on time?
  • How do you handle insubordination, team infighting, and/or poor team communication?
  • How do you deal with rude clients?

Project management flows a lot smoother when everyone is meeting deadlines and producing quality results. Unfortunately, there will always be times when some individuals struggle to deliver. Hiring managers want to know how you plan to deal with these interpersonal and personnel issues before they’re comfortable adding you to their team.

You’ll want to display that you have an innate understanding of the proper approach to dealing with difficult team members who communicate poorly, miss deadlines, produce low-quality work, or all of the above. You can score bonus points by providing examples of how you helped improve the work processes of team members in previous roles.

“Most good PM [interview] questions will be scenario questions (e.g., What would you do in this situation?) and better yet, would be role plays requiring the candidate to pitch a recommendation,” says Kiron Bondale, PMP and Agile coach.

WHAT TO DISPLAY
How you would use your soft skills to deal with difficult situations and difficult project team members to save a project. For bonus points, talk about how you approach these difficult situations in a remote environment—for example, when to use a video call instead of a direct message in your collaboration tool—since so many project teams are now dispersed. It’s also a good idea to include some strategies that you’ve used in the past to bridge a communication gap or resolve a conflict.
7

How many gas stations are in New York City?

Other versions of this interview question (sourced from Glassdoor interview accounts):

  • How many grand pianos do you think there are in Austin, and tell me how you arrived at that number?
  • How have you defied complacency?
  • Your project sponsor walks into your office on Monday morning and tells you that you can double your budget because she’s leaving the company to join the circus and she doesn’t care what you do with the money. What do you do next?

Good project managers will be able to thoughtfully answer questions that seemingly come out of nowhere. But your interviewer isn’t just trying to catch you off guard to make you uncomfortable and watch you squirm.

They’re trying to assess your business acumen and problem-solving skills with a disguised case study question. Don’t waste time or energy trying to memorize exact answers to questions like these—that’s not the point. Just be prepared to ask follow-up questions (Do private gas stations count? Marine gas stations? Should the number include closed gas stations or gas stations that are under construction?) and attempt to reason out a ballpark guess.

Take notes, ask questions, stay calm, use logic and creativity, and come up with a reasonable estimate. You’re not trying to guess the exact number of jellybeans in the jar, you’re trying to show that you’re capable of taking on an unexpected challenge.

WHAT TO DISPLAY
The ability to stay composed in an unexpected situation, along with the ability to apply past experience to a unique problem on the fly. If you have enough time, come prepared with a few brain teasers of your own. This serves two purposes: You might be able to remove the element of surprise that your interviewer is trying to spring on you, but you can also share some of your favorites to break the ice and show that you enjoy thinking critically through problems.

Get up to speed for your new project manager job

Now that you’ve used these questions to nail the project manager interview and secure your great new project management job, make sure you have all the resources you need to thrive and contribute to the success of your new organization.

We’ve got you covered on our project management blog. Start here:


Methodology

Capterra conducted the Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace Survey in December 2021 of 528 U.S.-based professionals who manage projects at their small to midsize business. Respondents were screened for employment status (full-time), size of business (two to 500 employees), and involvement in project management (extremely involved).

The Capterra Recruiting Strategy Survey was conducted in July 2021. We collected 300 responses from workers with recruiting responsibilities at U.S. employers. The goal of this survey was to learn how much companies are struggling with recruiting and hiring, and what solutions they’ve considered to improve recruiting and hiring outcomes.


Looking for Project Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Project Management software solutions.

About the Author

Andrew Conrad

Andrew Conrad

Andrew Conrad is a senior content writer at Capterra, covering business intelligence, retail, and construction, among other markets. As a seven-time award winner in the Maryland, Delaware, D.C. and Suburban Newspapers of America editorial contests, Andrew’s work has been featured in the Baltimore Sun and PSFK. He lives in Austin with his wife, son, and their rescue dog, Piper.

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Comments

Avatar

Comment by Yamin Kamboh on

Hi Rachel Burger

I stop for anwer the question that you asked is If you were to pick one skill for a project manager to have, what would it be and why?

My short answer is – The Stakeholders Engagement. This will define the success & failure being a Project Manager.

Comment by Jon on

BPMN is a real good thing to know as this was asked in my Interview.

Comment by Ms user on

One of the Best Project Management Software which I know are
1. Basecamp
2. Slack
3. Freedcamp
4. Teamwork Projects
5. Producteev

Comment by Leankor on

Well explained dear. Thanks for sharing. Find more stuff here: http://www.leankor.com/

Comment by Sarah Wayne on

Hi Buse,

I was in same position exactly as you are. I was looking for PM interview questions and I came across with this PM interview simulation product of Master of Project Academy: https://masterofproject.com/p/project-manager-interview-simulation

It was a great realistic PM interview simulation. I enrolled in this simulation and had a detailed assessment report of my strengths and improvement areas during the interview. I could perform better during the real interview after this simulation and I got the job.

You can check this post which has several PM interview questions with sample answers to provide as well: https://blog.masterofproject.com/18-project-manager-interview-questions

Comment by Buse on

Great resource for PM candicates. Thanks for sharing. I am working as PM since 2015 and I want to make a switch. I don’t have a huge experience in PM field. I got this title two years ago when our PM left company. I was working as software architect engineer and know the all details of project. My current company needs PM asap and I became PM.

Since then I learned a lot about PM and I’m very unhappy my current job. I was looking for new opportunities and applied a compelling PM job. First interview with HR was okay and I got a call for second interview in next week. Since I don’t have many job interview experience I’m excited about it and don’t know how to act. I worked all of questions and answers but still feeling bad. What do you guys recommend me to do? I’m looking forward to hear you some helpful things.

Avatar

Comment by Kyle Winters on

It really can be quite the advantage to have an idea of what employers are looking for when hiring project management. After all, if you want to set yourself apart from the crowd, you need to make yourself unique in how you answer questions. Of course, you also want to make sure that the answers you give are respectful and relevant as well.

Comment by Michael Hanigan on

Thanks for this article, very helpful. Look forward to your next post.

Pingback by Top 15 Interview Questions for Project Managers (with Answers!) – Hiretrail on

[…] They must be excellent communicators, promptly address problems, persistent in achieving goals, and familiar with all project requirements. Whether you are entrusted with hiring the most qualified project managers, or a prospective applicant for a position, here are 15 important interview questions for project managers. […]

Comment by Papunay on

Hi, Very good post. Keep posting..Thank you..

Avatar

Comment by Tiberiu Ghioca on

Dazza, not necessarily. It depends on the type of projects you will be managing…

Comment by Dazza on

Hello, I’m applying for a project manager role do I need to be Prince2 certified?

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