16 Competency-Based Project Manager Interview Questions & Answers

Competency-Based Project Manager Interview Questions & Answers

Here is a list of the 16 most common project manager competency-based interview questions with tips and sample answers.

1. What Are Some Of The Projects That You Handled In The Previous Job?

The interviewer wants you to highlight the critical points of your career as a project manager so that they can fit you into their company and job position more appropriately. You are only going to get the tasks that you have absolute expertise in, so this is another self-promoting option.

An experienced professional will be able to answer this question with the right keywords that match with the job description.

Tip #1: Because you are going to be talking about multiple projects to answer this question, keep it short, crisp, specific, and relevant. Avoid talking about tasks, chores or menial work; highlight the main responsibilities and save every person’s time.

Tip #2: Make sure to highlight the parts of your project history that is relevant to the industry to which you are applying. If you are applying for an IT company, highlight a technology-based project that you have previously worked on.

Sample Answer

 “I have worked on all sorts of projects over the past decade of my career as a project manager. The subjects may be different, but I believe all projects have the same few procedures that a manager has the responsibility to pass them through.

There was one project that had a lot of paperwork and narrow deadlines, so I had to learn how to prioritize like never before. We assigned account managers to every project, instead of having one large project pool and then we started making visual progress reports. This percentage completion goal was set up on the servers online, and everyone was able to visualize how much of the project was done and stay focused accordingly. It turned out to be a very effective strategy, and we had not suffered from any delays ever since we put it in place.

I had another project in the same year where customers and their requests were more of the focus, and the paperwork was almost negligent. I ended up learning a lot about how to patiently deal with difficult customers and what their expectations out of the company were; the knowledge helped with future projects immensely.”

2. Tell Me About The Projects You Have Managed

The interviewer wants to learn about the type of projects you have experience of managing, as well as your approach to managing each project.

Tip #1: Avoid rambling on and on about different projects. Stick to the most successful project you worked on and demonstrate how you managed it.

Tip #2: Make sure you highlight your project management approach, but without focusing on it.

Sample Answer

 “Over the years, I have handled a variety of projects. My initial job was for a software development company, where we mainly focused on creating software and applications for different clients. I was in charge of managing execution of the projects from start to finish.

I also have experience of working for a marketing company. There, I tackled a variety of projects, from basic advertising to running entire campaigns on Facebook. The projects comprised of three people to a team of two dozen people working in tandem. Hence, I have sufficient experience of handling projects of different scopes with different personnel requirements.”

3. What Was The Most Challenging Aspect Of Your Last Project?

The connotation of this question might be negative, but an impressive can help you clinch the interview. The interviewer doesn’t want to learn about the challenges you faced, but rather how you dealt with them.

Tip #1: There is no right or wrong answer to this question. However, you have to provide an example of a project where you faced a genuine challenge.

Tip #2: Providing context is important, but you cannot just keep talking. Therefore, rehearse the answer and shorten it till you get to the core.

Tip #3: Focus on your contribution to the successful completion of the project.

Sample Answer

 “The last project I worked on was creating a payroll program for an MNC. The company has hundreds of employees in different regions of the world. My experience has mostly been with SMEs, and therefore, the sheer scope of the task was something new for me.

My focus was on learning as much as possible about the company and their specific requirements. However, that meant dealing with different managers and personnel from the company. In short, I had to talk to everyone in charge of a team, and hence was somehow responsible for the payroll.

I had to schedule online meetings with 12 different people, spanning 20 to 30 minutes each, over the course of a single day. Suffice to say, I haven’t talked so much in a single day since the start of my career. However, the effort was well worth it and we were able to complete the project successfully.”

4. What Was Your Most Successful Project?

This is a behavioral question that your interviewer is likely to ask. You need to define the reason why you considered a project the most successful. More importantly, you need to show that your contribution was significant.

Tip #1: Keep your answer specific to the project you are talking about. Provide the important details and context.

Tip #2: Highlight how complex the project was and why you considered it challenging.

Sample Answer

 “At my previous job, I had to work on a project involving multiple stakeholders. My role was to not only manage the team but also coordinate with each stakeholder. I had to define each specific stage of the project and then work backwards to determine who to communicate with at any given point.

My main concern was that the scope of the project could keep me from doing my job effectively. Hence, I focused on defining the possible risks that might arise. Therefore, I left some room in my schedule so that I could spend extra time, if necessary, coordinating with the stakeholders.

Thankfully, I did, because eventually I had to talk to each stakeholder multiple times before we could clarify the scope of the project. This is my only experience of working on a project where I had to be directly involved in defining the scope, rather than just working off a brief that I receive from a client.”

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5. What Is The Largest Number Of Projects You Have Handled At The Same Time?

The interviewer wants an idea of the workload you can manage. Keep your answer to the point, as you only have to provide facts here.

Tip #1: Provide a concise answer. However, you cannot just say ‘10’ and move on.

Tip #2: Offer some insight into the type of projects you handled. 

Sample Answer

 “As a project manager for an IT firm, I handled 5 projects at a time. The expectation was to deliver an update to each client on a daily basis. Of course, I had to expedite projects with shorter timelines. In my experience, managing 5 projects during an 8-hour workday is feasible.

I do recall a time during my earlier job where I had to take over the project load for a manager who quit out of the blue due to personal reasons. My involvement was as a stopgap, and I handled 9 projects for a couple of weeks. Hence, I do have the capacity to increase my workload, as and when required, without hassle.”

6. Tell Me About A Full Project Life Cycle That You Managed And What Was Included In This Project

The interviewer is putting you to the test here by asking a follow-up question to your answer about your understanding of a project life cycle. Hence, your answer has to relate to the earlier answer you provided.

Tip #1: Provide examples of how you broke down a project into the different stages of the life cycle.

Tip #2: While you have to focus on a specific project in your answer, make it clear that you are adaptable. You would be open to changing your approach to suit the requirements of the project.

Sample Answer

 “The role of the manager evolves with each stage of the project life cycle. I once worked on a project where we were developing software for an accounting firm. During the initial stage, I consulted with the client directly. The purpose of this exercise was to get an idea of their requirements. Once they provided their requirements, I put forth a pitch and based off that, created a project plan, which is the second stage.

During the planning phase, I also picked my team. I assigned roles to each member and explained to them their contribution to the project, along with providing the desired timelines. The software team developed the product during this stage, i.e. execution.

The next stage was monitoring & control, where I ensure that all the teams are on the same page and working at the same quality level. Then, the project enters closing, the final stage, where I initiated the testing process, as well as documenting the processes to hand over to the client.”

7. How Have You Improved Project Management Processes At Your Previous Or Current Place Of Employment?

The interviewer wants to learn about the processes that you implemented to improve project management at your previous job. Provide specific examples to make sure you stand out.

Tip #1: There are some simple yet powerful ground rules to improve the processes involved in a project. First, nothing is more important than establishing a daily habit for all the members working on the project. Logging in and staying up to date on even the minutest of details will ensure no one lags behind. 

Tip #2: Moving on, refraining from over complication factors in your project is a big no-no. You have to make sure that your team can easily break down, process, comprehend and navigate through each task and milestone of the project no matter how big or small it – how easy or complicated it is.

Tip #3: Accountability also plays an instrumental role in improving the project management process. You have to hold your team member responsible for updated all the work. What this does it trickles down responsibility on every group and everyone will willingly and generate accurate reporting.

Sample Answer

 “At my previous job, I adapted the best practices from different project management processes, including the PMI and PMBOK methodology. All the flow charts and templates for the processes follow the PMBOK practices.

I set up a Project Management Office (PMO) to monitor the workflow and implement each process as decided. An integral part of the approach is providing training to each member of the project team so that they can adapt to the new processes.

Lastly, I ensure frequent monitoring and audits to ensure that each team member follows the process to the letter.”

8. What Creative Problem-Solving Techniques Have You Used Before?

With this question, the interviewer wants to know about your personal experience and real-life, concrete examples of successful projects that you have done in the past.

They want to know if you have the ability to understand the unique aspects, demands, and risks associated with the project and analyze for a tactic that works the best for it –rather than saying you approach everything the same way.

Tip #1: Although there are plenty of techniques you can use to propel the efficiency and operational productivity of a project – the trick and genius are to mix and match the best strategies and establish a workable solution.

Tip #2: Highlight the techniques and methods that you used in the projects. Don’t stick to just one; showcase that you know them all and are willing to be flexible.

Sample Answer

 “The best way to overcome a complex problem and to ensure that operations don’t veer off-track, nothing can be more important than to draft compelling questions. Instead of how “how” questions – replace it with “what if” – you need to engage your team to project a variety of scenarios, driving the project well into the future.

For example, what if we can do this – or what if we could bend a few rules – or break them – are there are any assumptions we can sack. What if we picture everything backward? These compelling questions drive creativity and a positive response. You need to think out-of-the-box and be unique in the face of adversity.

Next, identify your center. A majority of complications surface due to nothing but inner confusion, communications problems and not being up to date. Moreover, these are times when we tend to be hijacked by a variety of notions – conflicting wants and perspectives.  You need to think objectively and have a clear perspective to make the right decisions.

Another method that I use is the fishbone diagram method and the root-cause analysis method. I feel it’s important to determine the root cause of a problem before deciding on the appropriate action.”

9. How Do You Turn Around A Project That Isn’t Going As Planned?

This is actually a positive question despite how it may seem at first. The interviewer is not interested in your failure, rather what role you had to play in that failure, and how you managed to cope with it.

Failures are inevitable, and as a project manager, you need to have the skills to handle stressful situations, motivate people to get back on their feet during and after the issue, and to prevent similar failures down the road.

Tip #1: Don’t ever imply that you have never had a project that went too out of scope, behind delivery, became too expensive and hence failed –that simply is not true.

Tip #2: Try to pick a story that had happened a long time ago, to imply that the preventative measures that you took in response to that failure have worked.

Tip #3: Do not cover up the failure, make excuses or throw blame, or try to sugar coat anything. Demonstrate your ability to learn from mistakes, and handle stressful situations and failures.

Sample Answer

 “One of the most stressful things that I had to go through was when I was managing a telecommunication team, and the subscribers of one of our clients could not make calls from a certain region.

Turns out, we had not properly administered all of the post-deployment tests; this was the biggest failures I had in any of my projects. It was also the most stressful ones because the client called early in the morning next day, and was letting out all of his frustrations –rightfully so because about eighty different subscribers from Kentucky had called them with complaints.

After I dispatched our entire software developer and testing engineer teams to investigate the issue, I tried to calm the customer down and keep him updated about what was happening and why. He seemed to be getting angrier by the second though because more and more calls kept coming up. It was a stressful hour.

However, we managed to locate the problem. The customized routing to the city had not been updated during the deployment testing. The update would take about 6 hours, and as soon as we had that number, we were able to calm the client down. All’s well that ends well, but I made sure to have my team double check the post-deployment tests to avoid issues like this in the future, thankfully, they have not.”

10. What Was Your Greatest Success As A Project Manager?

This is another one of the behavioral questions that are bound to come up during the interview. Your answer will help the manager know where your expertise lies, what you excel at, and how much passion you have for the role that you are applying for.

Tip #1: You have to be as specific as possible, without going into irrelevant and unnecessary details.

Tip #2: Because this question targets your experience, and the complexity of a project, talk about the challenges you had to overcome –because those are exactly your greatest successes.

Sample Answer

 “My greatest success as a project manager is perhaps when I was involved in this very complex assignment of implementing new software into the IT department. The insurance Company A had bought an automated testing tool but the testing had been done manually, with no documentation; consequentially, there were a couple of quality defects, and they resulted in a couple of customer complaints as well.

There were many challenges I had to overcome, the software did not compute our system’s programming language, some team members had to be trained to learn the testing tool, and the extensiveness of the project in itself required a time period of more than 6 months.

All of this took a lot of time and efforts, but the benefits were almost immediate as soon as the setup was complete. Because of the new software, we were all able to provide positive customer satisfaction and improve our productivity as well. The success of this project is probably the highlight of my project management career.”

11. What Was Your Biggest Failure As A Project Manager?

This is actually a positive question despite how it may seem at first. The interviewer is not interested in your failure, rather what role you had to play in that failure, and how you managed to cope with it.

Failures are inevitable, and as a project manager, you need to have the skills to handle stressful situations, motivate people to get back on their feet during and after the issue, and to prevent similar failures down the road.

Tip #1: Explain the reason for the failure clearly.

Tip #2: Demonstrate how you overcame the failure.

Sample Answer

 “Complacency can be the undoing for any project manager. I learned this the hard way at my previous job. We were working on a project for an existing client, for whom we had completed multiple projects. The agreement was to submit 30% of the work by the end of the first week.

Since we were handling a large workload at the time, I pushed this project to the backburner. Eventually, I presented the client with just 10% of the work by the deadline, and the client cancelled the order on the spot.

The incident hit home hard, and from that day on, I realized that as a project manager, taking things easy is not an option”

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12. What Do You Consider The Most Difficult Aspect Of Project Management?

Project management comes with many challenges all of which are a different level of difficulty for every manager, depending on their temperament and their strategies.

By asking this question, the interviewer gets an idea of your managerial tactics, what aspect of your job is the most challenging for you, and what you do to meet those challenges.

Tip #1: The answer to this question varies from person to person, but there are five items that almost every project manager has had difficulties with. These include the project budget, change control, team conflict resolution, keeping track of important paperwork, and the dreaded status reports.

Tip #2: Pick one of the things from the aforementioned list that you find to be the most challenging, and elaborate in the answer why.

Tip #3: Make sure that you also highlight the way you cope with this challenge because the interviewer does not want to hear a weakness that you don’t know how to deal with.

Sample Answer

 “Status reports are the most challenging part of project management for me. Although they are absolutely necessary to keep the players motivated and the stakeholders updated, I sometimes find them to be a major distraction in getting the project done. Many times, status reports get redundant and it’s very hard to please all of the people all of the time with feedbacks and updates.

However, I understand that status reports are important so I’ve crafted a middle-ground plan to make it work for myself. I create a usable and informative dashboard for everyone, particularly for sponsor and senior management. This dashboard contains everything, from the accomplished percentage of the project, a timeline of remaining tasks, the budget health, and the stakeholders and customer side high-level players.

Instead of splitting the task up into different status reports for different levels of the organization, I create a one-size-fits-all approach and save everyone the time, effort, and energy.”

13. Share A Challenging Situation That You Experienced While Working On A Project. How Did You Deal With It? What Did You Learn?

Things don’t always go to plan. You know this and so does the interviewer. The reason he or she is asking you this question is not to learn about the challenges you faced but rather to find out how you dealt with the situation.

Tip #1: Be straightforward about the situation, and don’t attempt to sugarcoat it.

Tip #2: Focus on what you learned rather than the failure itself.

Sample Answer

 “Once I make a commitment to my client, I stick to it. However, in one case, I came close to failing to meet my commitment. The project involved customizing 35 pieces of equipment for a client and delivering them to their warehouse.

Due to inclement weather, we were unable to receive the parts we needed to finalize the equipment for delivery. We had two weeks to complete the order but eventually, were running against the clock. As per our agreement, failure to deliver would mean a cancellation.

Rather than wait for the supplier to send over the parts, I sent two people from our team to pick them up and bring them over. This gave us an extra 24 hours, and we were able to complete the delivery on time.

A key part of the process was that I informed the client that there could be a delay due to the weather. Hence, when the client received the order on time, he was more than satisfied and even gave us a generous bonus.

The main thing I learned from the situation was to be proactive. In both sending my team members to pick up the parts and calling up the client, I was proactive, and these two steps contributed massively to the successful completion of the project”

14. Have You Worked On A Project That Failed? Tell Me What Happened?

Here, the interviewer is testing your resolve. Most people fair failure and are not open to talking about it. By answering this question candidly and honestly, you can win the interviewer’s confidence and trust, and improve your chances of success.

Tip #1: Don’t narrate a minor setback during a project. The question is about a project that failed and you should answer accordingly.

Tip #2: Explain why you feel the project was a failure on a personal level, and not just for the client or company.

Sample Answer

 “During my early days as a project manager, we received a huge project from an important client. In my zeal to prove myself to my new employers, I ended up taking on most of the tasks associated with the project. I had the option to pick the team of my choice but I did not exercise it.

A few weeks down the line, I realize that I had bitten off more than I could chew. By that time, it was too late to rectify the situation and we ended up missing the project deadline. Eventually, I had to seek help from other project managers to complete the work. From that day onwards, I made delegation my mantra for success, and it has served me well so far”

15. What Was Your Biggest Mistake? What Did You Learn From This? How Did You Make Sure It Wouldn’t Happen Again?

The interviewer wants to test your ability to be forthcoming about your shortcomings. Providing an honest and clear answer is the best approach here.

Tip #1: Admit to the mistake you made. Don’t try to beat around the bush.

Tip #2: Pick a mistake that you are certain you will not make again.

Sample Answer

 “The biggest mistake of my career has been taking decisions in the heat of the moment. During a project, I reassigned a crucial task to an employee who clearly lacked the experience to pull it off. My belief was that I would be able to provide the guidance and assistance necessary to complete the task.

Over time, I realized that mentoring the team member will not be possible, given that I had to take care of my own responsibilities with regards to the project at hand. Instead of enlisting the help of other experienced employees, I tried to manage things myself.

However, I had to relent and get an experienced employee on board to assist the rookie. Since then, I have been conscious about assigning roles according to the experience level and capability of the employees available for a particular project”

16. What Was Your Most Important Contribution To Your Last Team?

With this, you need to showcase that your personality is not just another face in the crowd but something more valuable. Had you not been at your previous team, what achievement would not have been accomplished?

Tip #1: Make sure that the story you narrate is relevant to the job post, and the company for which you are interviewing.

Tip #2: If you have multiple stories, play them out and pick what will go the best with your current application.

Sample Answer

 “The company I worked at before managed to attract a huge client, who could offer us stable income for a number of months. At the time, we were ill-equipped to handle the project, and many of the employees there lacked the requisite experience. As the project manager, I took the responsibility of mentoring the team members.

I spent a week coaching the team before we started working on the project. The next step involved planning the execution of the project. I broke down the project into 21 stages, instead of the usual 8 to 10 steps we usually opted for. This enabled us to complete each task within the deadline.

There were some issues over the course of the project, including unexpected delays due to some technological problems. However, the work I put in during the initial stages enabled us to keep the project on track from start to finish”

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