16 Most Difficult Interview Questions for Project Managers in 2021


Most Difficult Interview Questions for Project Managers

Below are the top 16 most difficult interview questions for project managers you’ll most likely be asked at a job interview, plus tips and examples of the best answers.

1. What’s Your Approach To Managing A Project?

The interviewer wants to know what your management process is like so that they have a better idea of where you fit in with the company. Your answer will also reveal how you rank people, process, and product in terms of importance as well as your communication skills.

Tip #1: Talk about a project that you have worked on previously, the system you used for it, and how it works for you and your team members the best.

Tip #2: Try to showcase that you are a team player as much as possible because most companies want an interactive, motivating manager instead of a one-man show.

Tip #3: It’s wise to express that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to projects and that you apply different proven project management methodologies according to the demands of a particular project.

Sample Answer

 “Generally, I have a very systematic approach to projects because I have a very disciplined nature. I record every detail, keep an eye out for all kinds of predictable errors, and have a visual target set so that everyone can see how much of the end-goal is covered.

I create dashboards for waiting time, project assignees, time left, budget left, and the project codes. All of this helps me visualize the expected result better, which eventually means better monitoring and better project forecast.”

2. What Projects Do You Not Want To Work On?

This could be a trick question because it has such a negative answer. The interviewer wants to ask if you are going to be satisfied with the job that you are applying for. Plus, if you have a weakness somewhere, and the job posting that you are applying for involves projects that require a lot of that work –the interviewer would want to know.

Tip #1: Don’t talk about your dissatisfactions with projects, keep it honest but positive.



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Tip #2: Talking about how you don’t like mundane projects is a bad idea because most projects are mundane and it just makes you look like an employee who needs a lot of mental stimulation –it’s hard to work with that.

Tip #3: Remain positive and upbeat; show that you look for the best in every situation.

Sample Answer

 “I have actually thought about this before. While there are a few bumps on the road, I have been overall satisfied with the work that I do, and the projects that I take up. I’m willing to work with all kinds of projects.

I think I don’t like projects with an excessive amount of paperwork (notice the use of ‘excessive’ which implies that you can work with the normal paperwork) because it hinders me from doing what I love about the job: interacting with different people.”

3. What Kinds Of Projects Interest You The Most? Why?

The interviewer wants to know about your strengths, and if they align themselves with the role you are applying for or their company.

An alternative to this question may be them asking about your ‘favorite’ part of the job and your answer will reveal how positively you feel about what you do, and where you fit best on the team.

Tip #1: It may not seem like it, but this is not about your interests actually, rather the interest of the employer.

Tip #2: Keep it short, simple, and specific –talk about the projects that are specific to your role and the company instead of irrelevant ones.

Tip #3: When narrating incidents, focus on the skill sets that you have which make the projects possible and interesting to you.

Sample Answer

“There are many things that I love about what I do, but a couple of them definitely stand out. I’m really passionate about transformation projects because they allow me to talk to people the most. I’ve been working in the project management industry for years and I find socializing with people the best part of the job because I connect with them really well and everyone has so many stories to share –it’s exciting to me!

Another thing that I am passionate about is technology. In fact, I love incorporating the latest tech and tools in the project management process. Learning about a new technology almost feels like an adventure.”

4. What Is Your Preference For Providing Status Updates?

With this question, the interviewer wants to assess your capacity for accountability. Providing regular status updates means that you are taking responsibility for the timeline established at the start of the project. Failure to provide a satisfactory response can hurt your chances of impressing the interviewer.

Tip #1: Explain the frequency at which you provide status updates.

Tip #2: Demonstrate whether you provide status updates voluntarily or upon questioning.

Sample Answer

 “Submitting regular status reports can be a challenge for most project managers. In fact, in my experience, I personally know a few project managers who consider status reports a distraction. Personally, I have no issues with providing constant status updates.

I have a specific approach to this process. I create an online dashboard where I input all the information related to the project. These include the different stages I break the project down into. Moreover, I mention the expected time of completion for each stage. Hence, every person involved in the project can simply view the dashboard at any given time to get a clear idea of the status of the project.

While I prefer sticking to the dashboard, I am open to adapting new methods or tools for submitting status updates, depending on the client or my employer”

5. If You Had To Rate Project Management As A Career, From 1-10, How Would You Rate It?

Rating your own self is a good measure of your own passion for your career as a project manager; if you’re genuinely passionate about it, you’ll go up on the scale. Interviewers look for this quality because they want to hire employees who will stick around, rather than bounce jobs because they don’t ‘feel’ it anymore.

Asking people to rate their own skills is also a great measure of your self-confidence; no one wants to hire a person who isn’t exactly sure about where they place themselves.

Tip #1: Ideally, you should rate yourself somewhere between 7 and 9 on a scale of 1 to 10. Anything below means you are not confident in your own skills enough to be hired for the job that you are applying for.

Tip #2: You can definitely rate yourself a solid 10 – it’s a thin line to walk on, but if you say it with confidence enough and back it up with your experience, you can make it work.

Sample Answer

 “Keeping in mind by the fact that I have a decade of experience as a project manager, a couple of certifications, and a work experience of managing projects in three different industries; I would rate my career in project management at 9 on the scale.

I plan on taking it up to 10 in the coming years with the experience I hope to get at this company, and the certification courses I plan on signing up for soon.”

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6. How Do You Manage To Keep Your Documentation Up To Date Throughout A Project?

The interviewer wants to learn about your ability to manage documentation, which is an area project managers often ignore.

Tip #1: Be honest about your approach to maintaining documentation over the course of the project. Some project managers consider it a distraction, and hence, explaining your viewpoint is important.

Tip #2: Express your willingness to cooperate with the company and clients to maintain effective documentation for each project you work on.

Sample Answer

 “I am generally a very organized person and I can’t imagine going through a project without organizing and micro-managing the records. I find that record management needs to be continuous, consistent and so I use all the offline and online tools available to create and store project documents, and papers.

I make sure that every document has a scanned copy of it stored in the office directory and every online transcription has a printed version stored within the documents as well. All of this makes the projects more efficient, saves times and efforts, and reduces space costs as well.”

7. How Do You Define A Milestone?

There is no point in giving the green light on a project unless you don’t have any deliverables to measure the progress of the different stages of that particular project’s lifecycle – that is where you need milestones – they are one of the most critical aspects of any project.

Tip #1: Regardless of your experience with milestones, you have to show that you are onboard for setting milestones for each project.  

Tip #2: Provide an example of a project where you completed the work according to the milestones provided to you.

Sample Answer

 “Milestones are just like signal posts for a project’s start date and final completion. Some of the most important factors that go into creating milestones include detailed overview, review and input, external review, budget checks and balances, timely submission of major deliverables along with many more. Of course, milestones have a fixed date – but there is no time duration between deliverables. 

There is no question that milestones can enhance the value of project scheduling. You can integrate milestones with some vital scheduling strategies such as PERT (Program Evaluation and Review Technique) or the CPM (Critical Path Method).

Milestones enable the team to precisely identify whether or not every process or activity is being completed on time. By locking in the dates connected with each milestone, a critical path for the project can be made for vital scheduling intervals in addition to the overall scope of the project.”

8. Do You Prefer Working On A Single Project Or Multiple Projects At The Same Time?

The interviewer wants to know your ability to handle projects, and whether you will be able to manage multiple projects. Since you are unlikely to be familiar with the company’s requirements, it is best to keep your answer open and explain that you are flexible in your approach.

Tip #1: Focus on explaining your approach to project management and how it enables you to handle multiple projects simultaneously.

Tip #2: Quote an example where you worked on multiple projects at the same time and completed them successfully.

Sample Answer

 “My approach to project management makes streamlining multiple projects simple. Hence, I am fully capable of working on multiple projects at the same time. I don’t view the entire project as a single process. I break the project down into a number of stages.

Based on the breakdown, I assign roles and responsibilities, while being responsible for keeping things on track. The approach remains the same, regardless of the complexity or scope of the project. I am adaptable to the needs of the organization, and can tackle multiple projects, if necessary.”

9. Do You Prefer To Work Independently Or On A Team?

This is a simple enough question; the job interviewer wants to know if your strength lies in working with a team or independently. This is an assessment of your personality and the mode with which you complete a task.

Tip #1: Interviewers want an employee who is comfortable with both scenarios; working independently and in teams. This shows a dynamic, complex, and flexible personality.

Tip #2: Too much independence reveals to employers that you may not be able to work well in teams. Alternatively, not being able to work independently shows an excessive reliance on other people to get the job done.

Sample Answer

 “I’m comfortable in both situations, working in teams and independently. I think it depends on the project at hand; some require a lot of in-depth, alone time and others require multiple hands. I find that there are perks in both situations, and I’m willing to get the job done the best way possible; that’s the goal, right?

I prefer working in teams, but I can work independently as well; both have their own value. If the task is easy enough to handle, there’s no need to join heads together, right? However, if it’s a high priority task, or requires a different perspective, I’m happy to brainstorm ideas with a team as well.”

10. You Managed The Project Work As Per Requirements. However, The Customer Is Not Happy With The Result And Does Not Accept The Product. How Would You Convince The Customer?

The interviewer is trying to gauge your problem-solving skills, professionalism, and emotional intelligence when the situation gets tricky. They want to know how efficiently you express and implement the skills that you claim to possess –preferably in the form of a real-life narration.

Tip #1: Identify the reason why the customer is not happy with the result. If the customer is at fault, explaining the reason to him or her can be a simple way out.

Tip #2: In case your negligence or mistake resulted in poor performance, acknowledge your shortcomings and provide a solution.

Tip #3: Explain how you will convince the customer to give you a chance to rectify the issues.

Sample Answer

 “At my previous job, we received a project for developing a website for a client. The client provided us a specific set of pages. Our developers and designers collaborated on the project and completed it within the deadline. We delivered the project to the client and their feedback was positive.

However, before signing off on the project, the customer expressed displeasure that the site was not ‘dynamic’ the way his competitors’ sites are. I immediately requested the customer to come in for a meeting.

I explained to him the scope of the project, including demonstrating how the project we delivered was in line with the original brief. The client agreed that the web pages did in fact reflect the sample themes he had shared originally.

I informed him that we can redo the design to meet his new requirements, for an extra fee. The client agreed and we were able to close the project on a positive note”

11. How Do You Deal With Gold Plating In Your Project?

Gold plating is essentially a metaphor for delivering in the project more than what is required, and someone in charge of the project must avoid that at all costs. The interviewer wants a little insight into your technical knowledge and scope management skills, including how well you handle gold plating in projects.

Tip #1: Focus on what you did to prevent the gold plating, not the details of the project in itself.

Tip #2: Be clear how your effort to prevent gold plating actually helped save cost and time.

Sample Answer

 “At my previous job, we received a project for developing a website for a client. The client provided us a specific set of requirements. Our developers and designers collaborated on the project and planned to develop the website with additional features. I immediately had a meeting with the developer, explaining the need to avoid gold plating. I also had a meeting with my entire team, explaining to them that there is no need to go the extra mile when we can fulfill the client’s requirements easily”

12. Describe How You Deliver and Present Results

This is a little bit of a trick question because every project requires the application of different tactics for an effective result; there is no one way to deliver and present the results of a project.

What the interviewer is looking for in a project manager by asking this question is if they have enough experience to say, “Well, I know all the tactics theoretically, but the practical life is much more intricate.” – and then explain how.

Tip #1: Talk about your personal experience, and share real-life, concrete examples of successful projects that you have done in the past.

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.

Tip #3: Talk about your 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.

Sample Answer

 “Every project has a different set of demands, risks, and unique aspects and so the delivery process needs to be customized every time. There are many things to keep in mind, like the client’s personal preferences –some want quality and don’t really care for deadlines while others just want a set number of things done by a certain date.

If I have multiple projects on my hand, I usually prioritize projects based on their delivery date and spend more time on the ones that require more refinement than the rest. I keep my clients informed, and I find that most of them are flexible and accommodating if you communicate with them. I deliver everything on time, and clients are usually satisfied with my work.”

13. What Do You Think Are The Main Causes Of Project Failure?

With this question, the interview can assess what your priorities during a project are, and what plans you have in order to make sure that the project does not fail.

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: Some of the main reasons behind failures of projects include inadequate risk management, improper use of formal methods and strategies, poor management of expectations, failure to track requirements, failure to track progress, cultural differences particularly in international projects, and ineffective leadership.

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

 “Lots of things go into making and breaking a project, but if I had to pick one it’s the inability to be flexible. When you aren’t accommodating, you will have issues with communication at all levels. This, in turn, leads to ineffective leadership, failure to keep track of time because you get too caught up in the details, you may have cultural differences especially in international teams, and just an overall lack of tracking project progress because of the inflexibility of timing, budgeting, and scheduling.

I think it’s important to keep an open mind and a level head when approaching a project and leave room for little ups and downs –which are a normal part of everything that you do.”

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14. How Do You Handle Scope Creep?

This is an inevitable part of projects and most of the time the clients are not at fault either. It is a project manager’s duty to handle the redefined requirements and ultimately say yes or no to requests. Your negotiation and communication skills count for a lot here.

Tip #1: Talk about your personal experience, and share real-life, concrete examples of successful projects that you have done in the past.

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.

Tip #3: Talk about your 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.

Sample Answer

 “I make the project requirements and costs clear from the very beginning to the client, and when I feel a scope creep coming up I review the goals and objectives of the work at the initial planning stages. I ask myself how the changes will be done and who will do them, and address the process of getting additional payments for scope creeps.

Online software tools are also important in managing such projects and getting an idea of the changing schedule and work tasks. Of course there are times where you just have to say a straight forward, gentle and simple, “No.”

15. What Type Of Contingency Planning Do You Do?

Contingency plans are often widely ignored by many managers with the presumption that big disruptions are rare and often unpredictable. Ideally, though, managers should stay prepared and always have an on and off-site, widely disseminated contingency plan.

An interviewer asking you this question wants to know how proactive you are in the short term and how prepared you are for the long-term operational setbacks, and if you are able to gather up and invest enough time and resources to recover from potential setbacks.

Tip #1: Talk about risk assessment, defining actionable goals, tactics for restricting resources, creating and maintaining the drafted plan, and distributing it widely.

Sample Answer

 “I believe that each project brings along a different set of risks and challenges. Hence, I adopt a contingency planning approach based on the scope of the project. For projects involving multiple teams, I nominate a shadow team that only has an overview of the project and is ready to step in if the need arises.

I also encourage my employers to invest in backups for all the technology we use. For example at my previous job, I had my boss arrange for multiple servers when developing software. Hence, we had multiple copies of the deliverable, ready to go. Again, the contingency plan will vary from project to project.”

16. What Are The Types Of Risks You May Encounter In A Project?

The interviewer wants to test your knowledge of project management. Even if you have practical experience as a project manager, being familiar with the specific types of risks is important.

Tip #1: Read up on the four main types of risks in project management. Brush up your knowledge and think of examples that are relevant to your experience.

Tip #2: Relate the types of risks to projects you have worked on previously. A bookish or purely technical answer will not impress the interviewer.

Sample Answer

 “In project management, there are four types of risks that a project might encounter. First is scope risk, where the scope of the project changes once we start working on it. Some clients are particularly fond of changing the scope, and this does make it harder to keep the project on track.

Next is technological risk, where the tools and technology we plan to use for the project develops a defect or just refuses to operate. I cannot recall the numerous times an online tool decided to not cooperate right in the middle of a project.

Scheduling risk is another issue that I have experience of dealing with. Once, we were working on developing software for a client, which required us to install a program from a third-party vendor. The vendor faced some technical issues and delayed the delivery by a week, which threw our schedule off-kilter.

Lastly, resource risk can arise when the personnel working on the project face any issues. I have had associates resign in the middle of a project, to quote an example.”

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