Project Managers are responsible for the successful completion of key projects. A strong candidate will bring proven experience as a project manager combined with a solid grasp of business concepts, strong leadership skills, extensive technical knowledge, and highly effective multitasking capabilities.
When hiring a Project Manager, look for someone who will quickly assess project scope and objectives, and efficiently utilize all available resources to research, formulate, execute and evaluate an appropriate course of action for project completion. Your candidate must be prepared to be the go-to person for all inquiries related to project matters, and fully appreciate the importance of their duties to the overall smooth operations of the organization.
General interview questions (such as “Can you tell me about yourself?” and “Why are you looking for another job?”) are a great way to get to know your candidate’s personal history, interests and goals. However, be sure to add inquiries specific to the role they’re interviewing for, so you can gain valuable insights into their likelihood of success in that position.
Below are Project Manager interview questions to help you get started:
1. Describe the categories and types of projects you have managed in the past.
What you want to hear: A qualified candidate will jump at the opportunity to put past projects on display. They should explain if their focus has been primarily on industrial, manufacturing, or management projects, or some combination of those categories. Listen for details about scope and budget, plan design and implementation, available financial and human resources, and outcomes of their efforts. Do their experiences match well with your needs?
2. How do you know when a project is off-track?
What you want to hear: Unfortunately even the best laid plans can go awry. It is a central responsibility of the Project Manager to be on top of progress and issues at all times. Look for a candidate who can clearly articulate their methodologies for project monitoring, and who details their experience with project management software such as Microsoft Project or ProjectManager.com.
Red flag: Failures in project monitoring will result in bigger or fatal problems. A candidate who cannot convince you of their diligence in monitoring progress is a high risk to your project and business.
3. What is the largest project budget you have managed? Did you stay within budget?
What you want to hear: A measure of success for any project is whether it was completed within the established budget. Your candidate should provide you with the initially established budget number, and the final cost of completion. If there were overages, were they due to failures such as operational inefficiencies, or acceptable factors such as change requests involving scope or schedule?
Red flag: If the largest budget the candidate has managed is significantly smaller than the anticipated budgets of your projects, they may not yet be prepared for the role with your organization. Also, if you suspect a lack of candor as to why the project they described went over budget, that could be a red flag.
4. How much would you make washing every car in San Francisco?
What you want to hear: This unconventional question can seem daunting for some candidates, but the purpose is to observe your candidate’s thought process when solving an unfamiliar problem. Focus less on the answer and more on the candidate’s problem-solving skills. For example, they might offer “If San Francisco has 5,000 city blocks, and each block has 10 homes with 2 cars, that’s 100,000 cars. I would charge $15 per car and earn $1,500,000.”
5. Let’s say you were assigned a manufacturing project. In your opinion the product design is in fact functional but there is one element you believe could be improved. What would you do?
What you want to hear: The purpose of this question is to see how inquisitive the candidate is when managing a project, how assertive they would be to make their opinions known, and the manner in which they would communicate their suggestions. A strong candidate will always be looking for ways to add value to the project under their control. Listen for someone who will back up their opinion with research and facts, and then be able to present their findings in an organized and professional way.
Red flag: A Project Manager who doesn’t challenge every aspect of what they’re working on, or who is too meek to offer up unsolicited opinions or suggestions, will fail to achieve the best project outcomes possible.
6. What does ethics in project management mean to you?
What you want to hear: A qualified candidate should not hesitate when responding to this question. They should explain that Project Managers have a responsibility to conduct themselves with honesty and fairness under all circumstances. There should be a reference to the Project Management Institute’s (PMI) Code of Ethics governing best practices concerning people, resources and environment. The candidate should cite situations when ethical guidelines must govern, such as acting within the scope of their authority, producing accurate project status reports, and using only objective criteria when awarding contracts to third parties.
Red flag: Any candidate who cannot demonstrate a full command of the PMI Code of Ethics may put your project outcomes at risk, cause potential legal liability, or damage your organization’s reputation.
Every interview question can help get you closer to the right fit for your Project Manager position.
Be sure to keep an eye out for candidates who:
- Have managed projects similar in scope and budget to your assignments
- Bring superior leadership and team management skills
- Are honest and ethical operators
Need help writing a Project Manager job description? Check out our Project Manager job description template.
What system do you use to prioritize tasks at the start of new project?
What two qualities do you feel every Project Manager must have to be successful? Why?
What system do you use to communicate project status updates to interested parties in the company? What about to third parties who need to know?
A key member of your team has taken ill and will be out for a week. How do you handle their responsibilities during the absence?
Describe your strategy for risk management on a project.
Tell me what you know about our company and the projects you anticipate managing.
In your opinion, what challenges arise from ineffective delegation of duties by a Project Manager?
What is the value of contingency planning? Have you ever had to implement a contingency plan on a previous project?
Explain the Pareto principle. How does the principle impact how you approach managing a project?
Are there any particular types of projects you do not feel qualified to manage? Are there any projects you simply like less than others?