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The 10 Most Common Project Management Interview Questions

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Update 6/5/2017: The past year has seen a renewed interest in project management. We’ve updated this post to reflect the latest project management interview questions and trends for 2017.

As most project managers who have interviewed directly for a project management position know, most generic interview questions lists don’t cut it.

Sure, many offices might ask you to “tell me about yourself” or “what are your greatest strengths,” but there are many more questions specific to project managers that you should expect in your upcoming interview.

project management interview questions

Project management interview questions

I’ve reached out to a number of hiring managers and scoured through Glassdoor and LinkedIn data to bring you the most popular project manager interview questions—and tell you how to answer them.

In general, hiring managers want to know if you have a project manager personality. For example, Nat Wilkes, a Senior Project Manager for Wildebeest, says,

Since PM candidates tend to work with everyone, we do our best to have everyone sit with candidates before making a final decision. As a project manager who has gone through the interview process a number of times, my recommendation is to show your ability at diplomacy as well as your versatility in interviews. Showing you’re a candidate that makes the impossible possible, while making even the most difficult clients happy, is what you need to get across.

In other words, get along with everyone and show that you’ll make the company’s projects successful.

I’ve listed what are, in my experience, the ten most common project management interview questions, along with specific guidelines on how to give a strong answer for each.

1. Why are you interested in this role?

project management interview questions

Other versions of this question:

  • Tell me about why you’re interviewing here today.
  • Why did you apply to this position?
  • Tell me about yourself.

According to Inc., “Tell me about yourself” and “Tell me about your interest in this position” questions are common for any interview, so they’re both worth preparing for. The interviewer wants to get a quick overview of who you are, and why you might be a good fit for their company.

Consider this question to be a request to walk through your resume. Briefly outline what attracted you to the role that you’re interviewing for, and then follow up with a few details about previous work and what makes you, you.

You don’t need to explain your divorce or why you left your hometown, but your interviewer should come away from this question understanding why you think this job is a good fit for you, what fuels your decision-making, and an overview of you as a candidate.

2. Tell me about your organizational skills.

Other versions of this question:

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

Evan Harris, the CEO of SD Equity Partners, stresses that emphasizing your organization skills is absolutely key in a PM interview. He says,

One question you can expect to get is regarding the tactics you use to stay organized. Since you already have specific practices in place, this shouldn’t be a difficult question, but it certainly helps to have your answer prepared so that you can give a clear picture of how you stay organized.

He elaborates on how project manager candidates can execute on questions about organization, as well:

Think of examples of when your organizational skills helped to keep a project on track or helped you to easily change course when an issue arose. By sharing real examples of your organizational skills, you will demonstrate to the interviewer that your organizational tactics are effective.

In other words, use specific stories to demonstrate how you keep your projects on track, be it with PM tools or paper. The interviewers just want to know that you can stay apprised of all of your project’s moving parts.

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

Other versions of this question:

  • Tell me about your ability to “manage up.”
  • How do you encourage cooperation between your stakeholders?
  • What soft skills are most important to a project manager?

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

Interviewers asking this question are looking for stories that will prove you have these necessary soft skills for the job. BMake sure to brainstorm stories about your former project management roles in anticipation of this question and use them as a confirmation that you have the mediation skills that these hiring managers are looking for.

4. Have you ever experienced project failure? What happened?

project management interview questions

Other versions of this question:

  • Tell me about a time you failed.
  • Share a challenging situation that 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? What happened?

It’s happened to the best of us: A project went too far out of scope, or became too expensive, or was behind on delivery, and it ultimately failed. The situation is always unsettling, but even more so when inquired about in an interview.

The fortunate truth is that your interviewer is less interested in the actual failure than they are about learning how you deal with stressful situations. Set up the story with what happened. Be as brief as possible and try to pick a story from something that happened a long time ago. Then, detail what you did in the situation.

As Lily Zhang writes for The Muse: “Do not try to cover up the fact that things didn’t all go as planned. It’s impossible to do well in an interview if the interviewer doesn’t believe what you’re saying, so don’t try to sugar coat things.”

Be as straight as possible when explaining the situation and what you did. Then, give the interviewer what they’re really looking forwhat you learned from the failure. Demonstrate how you’ve grown as a person and learned to handle similar challenges better.

5. What projects do you not want to work on?

Other versions of this 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 was not enjoyable to you.

Everyone wants to believe they can handle every project, but the reality is that most project managers are best suited for a narrow project management role.

If you tell your future employer that you love working on everything, that communicates that:

  1. You might not know what you’re talking about OR
  2. You’re unwilling to communicate weaknesses.

Neither of these traits reflects well on you.

Instead, be honest. Are you more of a software development person? Do you do well with creative media campaigns? Would you rather lie down and die than work on a construction project? Let your interviewer know; both they and your future self will thank you for it.

6. Are you familiar with project management software?

Other versions of this question:

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

Project management software is currently a massive part of the project management industry. Interviewers don’t just want to know that you’ve used formal project management frameworks such as Lean, Kanban, and Agile, but that you can apply these skills to project management software.

Try to figure out what project management software the company uses before interviewing. (Here’s an infographic of the most popular project management software; many products are similar in application.) Detail what project management software you’ve used in the past, and explain how that skill set can translate over to their system.

7. Describe your project management process.

project management interview questions

Other versions of this question:

  • Describe a project you’ve completed and the steps you took to see it through.
  • What is your experience with Agile, Lean, Kanban, and/or Waterfall project management methods?
  • How would you rank these in terms of importance: people, process, and product?

Here, interviewers are gauging two things:

  1. Are you familiar with the process they use at their company?
  2. Are you a good communicator?

Detail what project management processes you’ve used in the past and why that system works well for you and for your team members.

Make sure to emphasize collaboration in your description of your process—oftentimes, interviewers are looking for servant leaders instead of one-man shows to bring into their company. Stressing your team and how you interact with them shows that you’re interested in group success instead of solely personal success.

8. How do you deal with difficult team members?

Other versions of this question:

  • Have you ever encountered team members who struggled to complete their tasks? Explain how you handled that situation.
  • 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 with quality results. Unfortunately, you’re likely to work with some individuals who have trouble delivering. Your interviewer wants to know how you deal with these interpersonal and personnel issues.

First, look up proper approaches to dealing with difficult team members so that you’re ready to respond with the best possible answers. Provide examples of how you helped improve work processes of team members at your previous jobs. You can always ask your interviewer to give a “for instance”; they might also have someone specific in mind.

9. If you were to pick one skill for a project manager to have, what would it be and why?

Other versions of this question:

  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • What questions haven’t I asked you?
  • What are the characteristics of your perfect role?

This question is really asking if you understand the job description and have the skills to match it. It also allows the interviewer to peek into what your project management career has been thus far, and what is important to you as a manager.

Answer genuinely. Regardless of whether your answer is communication, risk management, PM process, or another project management skill, this is your chance to demonstrate that you’re a good culture fit for the company and share the same values your future team will have. Take time to answer this question and give detail about why that skill is important to you.

10. How many gas stations are in New York City?

project management interview questions

Other versions of this question (all taken 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?
  • What experience in your past has prepared you for this opportunity?

Like any other interview, project managers may find themselves answering behavioral and case study interview questions.

If you encounter a behavioral question in a project manager interview, your interviewer is likely asking you to describe past events. They are trying to deduce insights about your personality, priorities, and skills. The idea behind these questions is that past work experience tends to foreshadow future work behaviors.

Interviewers can also analyze your business acumen with case study interview questions—which are commonly asked at companies with more than 1,000 employees on Glassdoor. The interviewer will ask you a question that you likely don’t know the answer to—like the gas station question—and be available to answer your questions as you try to figure out a ballpark guess.

With both types of questions, preparation is key. While you can’t know what behavioral questions you might encounter, consider employing this formula with your responses:

  • Set the situation so that your interviewer has context for your story
  • Explain the actions that you took in that situation
  • Detail the outcomes and results from your actions
  • Tie that story back to the original interview question

As for case study interview questions, there are a huge number of books and resources available to teach you how to respond to them well. As a disclaimer, I wouldn’t spend too much time worrying about them unless there’s evidence that a company uses them in their interview process or the company has over 1,000 employees.

To summarize an incredibly complicated system, you should take on case study questions with the following system:

  • Listen to the case setup and jot down notes
  • Ask the interviewer clarifying questions
  • Talk through your approach to solving the presented problem
  • Pay attention to your interviewer’s nonverbal feedback—they can give away hints as to whether or not you’re headed in the right direction
  • Don’t shy away from running numbers
  • Produce an answer and summarize it for your interviewer

How did your project manager interview go?

If you’ve already gone through the project management hiring process, do you have tips for your fellow PMs? What did you wish you knew before your last interview?

If you’re prepping for an interview, what other tips have you encountered?

Help us out in the comments below, and check out these related articles to finding and keeping a project management job:

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

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About the Author

Rachel Burger

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Rachel is a content manager for Capterra, a free online resource that quickly matches businesses to their software needs. She specializes in project management tips, tools, and tricks . She also runs her own blog on content marketing. On the rare occasion Rachel isn't writing, she's reading, hiking, jogging, or spending time with her friends and family.

Comments

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

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

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

[…] 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. […]

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

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.

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.

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

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

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

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