Three Project Management Interview Questions You Need to Ask

project management interview questions

Written By Andrew Makar

Professional Cat Herder and an Agile Enthusiast with a keen interest in putting PM theory into actual practice.

The Project Manager Hiring Challenge

Do you manage a PMO and need to hire a project manager?

If you run a project management office that staffs project managers, then you know the challenge and headaches associated with finding great project managers. When a new PM position needs to be filled, the PMO manager will spend a significant amount time screening resumes, preparing project management interview questions, conducting phone screens and interviewing candidates face to face. It can be exhausting wasting time on the wrong candidate unless you have a streamlined PM hiring process.

A PMO will often hire temporary or contract based project managers to adjust with the project demands. The typical project management hiring process includes:

  1. Write the job description or requisition request
  2. Post the requisition on a job board or distribute to staffing firms
  3. Receive resumes
  4. Evaluate project manager resumes
  5. Schedule phone screens and conduct phone screens
  6. Schedule onsite interview and conduct onsite interviews
  7. Make hiring decision
  8. Close the requisition

If this is a permanent company position, HR will usually assist with the job posting and preliminary screening. The core steps remain the same.

The biggest challenge with this process is with Step 4: Evaluate project manager resumes and Step 5: Conducting the phone screens. I used to waste hours evaluating resumes, identifying qualified candidates and then conducting the phone screen. During the phone screen, I quickly found some of the candidates were not qualified for the role despite all the STATED PMP certifications, Agile credentials, MS Project knowledge and years of experience.

To solve this project manager interview question hurdle, I added 3 simple questions to expedite the process.

Three Key Project Management Interview Questions

I’ve saved a lot of time by asking the candidate to answer 3 simple project management interview questions BEFORE the resume is submitted. If the recruiter, staffing firm or individual candidate doesn’t submit answers to these questions, I don’t even look at the resume. If the candidate responds with experience-supported responses, then I definitely consider them for the next step in the interview process.

The three questions are:

  1. What characteristics make up a good project schedule?
  2. How do you determine the critical path on the project?
  3. How do you ensure your project schedule is on track?

Why ask scheduling questions upfront?

There are a lot of project management interview questions that could be asked and I save those for the on-site interview. These 3 questions focus on the mechanics of project scheduling. If the candidate can’t answer these questions adequately or responses with answers easily found on Google, then the candidate won’t be a good fit for the project.

Whenever there is a troubled project, the project schedule is the first deliverable I examine to confirm if the scope delivery is adequately scheduled.

By screening for this skill upfront, you increase the chances of avoiding the whole “project in trouble” scenario. The critical path question is often viewed as academic but in actual practice, it is key to identifying the driving tasks that forecast a project end date. These three questions provide insight into the “technical” project management skills and help determine if the candidate should be invited to a phone assessment.

Additional How To Hire a Project Manager Tips

#1 Ask for referrals first

If you really want to save time, ask the current project managers in your organization for their referrals and recommendations. A valid referral from a project manager that I respect takes a higher priority than a stack of resumes from recruiting firms.

#2 Ensure the job description defines the specific project skills required

All too often we get complacent reusing the same project management job requisition and making small tweaks in an effort to expedite hiring. Spend time writing a solid job description that matches the specific project needs. If the project manager needs to have a background in managing a specific type of technology, include it in the job description. Conversely, if the project is less complex and only requires a PM with 2-3 years of experience, list it in the job description.

#3 Meet with staffing firms so they understand the project manager need and desired background

Successful staffing firms want to submit the best candidate for your position yet they also have to balance the time to respond to a job description with the resource quality. I’ve found it helpful to meet periodically with the staffing firms and share with them the ideal candidate profile. A short ten minute phone call about the job description can make the difference in finding the right candidate instead of just reading the job description requirements.

(I know we’re all busy. Consider taking a 10 minute call on your drive home from work and you’ll end up with better candidate resumes)

#4 I still prefer the PMP

In my screening process, I still prefer project management candidates who have successfully passed the Project Management Professional certification. The key reason I filter project manager resumes on this credential is because the PMP establishes common language. In an interview, if we talk about a project management plan, it helps to know we’re not talking about a project schedule. I’m not expecting a the PM to conduct a forward and backward pass on a project schedule, but it helps to have a conversation about the critical path.

#5 Review the qualifying questions during the phone screen or in the onsite interview.

Once I meet with the candidate I probe a little more on their responses to scheduling. I also like to focus on their overall approach to successfully kicking off a project, organizing the scope, assessing stakeholders and setting up the project for success. By reviewing the preliminary questions, you’ll also know if they truly understand the technical side of project management as well as the academic side.

For experienced project managers, reviewing the preliminary questions is a 2-3 minute exercise and we’ve already moved on to discussing the project specifics. For less experienced project managers, I’ve seen them stumble by trying to explain every phase of the project lifecycle.

#6 Short list to 3 Onsite Interviews Only

For onsite project management interviews, I only short-list 3 candidates. Identifying your top 3 candidates forces you to make “A-Pile / B-Pile” decisions and avoids analysis paralysis. Keep in mind the talented project management candidates won’t be on the market for long. Scheduling onsite interviews for more candidates also takes a lot more time. If you’ve adopted the 3 project management interview questions as part of the pre-qualifying process and the phone screen process, then you should have a short stack of qualified project managers ready to join your team!

Additional Useful Articles on Hiring a Project Manager

Need More Sample Project Management Interview Questions and Answers?

project management interview questions and answers

If you are looking for more project management interview questions and answers for your next project management interview, take a look at our Top 50 Project Management Interview Questions and Answers blog post.

Get the Job You Deserve in 7 Easy Steps

Learn a simple 7 step process for finding, preparing and passing your next PM interview

project management interview questions

Learn how to:

  1. Write a project management specific resume. Optimize your resume to highlight your PM experience and get an interview
  2. Find the right opportunity. Ensure the opportunity is a fit for you as well as the company. Finding the right opportunity goes beyond applying to job boards and attending a PMI meeting.
  3. Pass the initial phone screen. Learn how to pass the phone screen and learn the secrets recruiters use to validate your profile.
  4. Prepare for the on-site interview and the stages afterward. Learn how to successfully prepare for the on-site interview using a proven technique with minimal preparation.

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