Below are the top 14 interview questions for senior project managers you’ll most likely be asked at a job interview, plus tips and examples of the best answers.
1. How Do You Start A Project?
With this question, the interviewer is looking for your theoretical knowledge of project management. They want to know how you craft a project plan, how you explain it to key stakeholders, discuss its components with everyone involved, define roles and responsibilities, develop a baseline, scheduling, costs baselines, develop the staffing plan and analyze the risks involved.
Answering this question will reveal how you approach projects, what your priorities are, and how you manage and motivate a team of people working towards the same goal.
Tip #1: Walk the interviewer through the major steps of the project initiation with a real-life example. Some of these steps include crafting a project plan, sharing it with key stakeholders, discussing its components in details, defining baselines, roles, and responsibilities, developing scope statement, scheduling the cost baselines, and analyzing the project risks.
Tip #2: After talking about crafting the project plan, make sure that you talk about communicating the importance of its contents with the people involved.
“Initiation phases of a project are one of the most important steps, and I make sure that everything is planned well. I micromanage the entire project plan, sharing it with key stakeholders, discussing its components in details, defining baselines, roles, and responsibilities, developing scope statement, scheduling the cost baselines, and analyzing the project risks.
After I have crafted the plan, I make sure to communicate their importance with the people involved. This includes review and approval of the plan and changing its contents before explaining the responsibilities to the key stakeholders and employees in the next few phases.”
2. How Would You Close A Project?
Every project that is initiated needs to come to an end, and the project manager has the responsibility of finalizing all the activities, phases, and contracts of the projects.
When interviewers ask you how you would close a project, they want a rundown of the obligations you fulfill after a project has come to an end, including assessing weaknesses, measuring future risks, and satisfying the stakeholders.
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Tip #1: Focus on how you satisfy the stakeholders. Do you keep them updated all through the process? Do you document everything to be shared afterward? Do you value their input and administer their requested changes?
Tip #2: Always talk about passing your finished or unfinished projects through measurable criteria objective in nature, rather than subjective –the latter means your interpretation of the risks is lacking and incomplete.
“I usually begin the wrapping up of the project in the second last phase, rather than leaving it at the very end –this helps me prioritize things better. Depending on the nature and industry of the project, some of the things to be considered are compiling documents, audits and drawings, charting up a final report, providing people training, updating the risk registers and financial systems, rechecking and settling the warranties, returning the hires and borrowed equipment, and jotting down the lessons learned in a document.
After all of that is done, I chart up a post-project evaluation review or post-project evaluation report, where I list down an overview of the entire project; what went wrong, and what needs improvement. People often dismiss this as unnecessary but I find that it’s helpful in the long run to ask yourself if you know where you are going, if all the stakeholders are in agreement, if we are getting the results that we are expected to get, if we have the appropriate skills, tools, and techniques, how prepared we are for future challenges, and if the clients were objectively satisfied.”
3. What’s Your School Of Thought On Project Management? Are You An Agile Person?
There are different schools of thoughts of Project Management, each of which has their advantages and disadvantages. Depending on the nature of the project, you may choose to follow either and the interview would want to know which is your pick generally so they can fit you in their team.
Tip #1: You have to justify the school of thought you follow. Hence, your answer should reflect your methodology and practices.
Tip #2: Provide a short, to-the-point answer.
“My school of thought with regards to project management is the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) Methodology by Project Management Institute. The school of thought succinctly defines the different stages of executing a project. Adhering to the steps provided by the methodology has enabled me to execute a wide range of projects over the years.
Yes, I am an Agile person, and I adhere to Agile practices when managing projects.”
4. What Do You Understand By Project Life Cycle?
With this question, the interviewer wants to assess your ground and theoretical knowledge about the tools and templates of project management, and how you apply them to your practical professional life.
Tip #1: Explain the five stages of the project life cycle in brief detail.
Tip #2: Don’t provide an elaborate answer. Stick to the point and try to reference a project where you followed the project life cycle.
“A project has five distinct phases, including
- Monitoring & Control
All of these have a different set of activities and so the manager has different obligations during each phase.
In my experience as a project manager, a project life cycle starts with initiation. At this point, we initiate ourselves with the details of the project and the client’s requirements. During this stage, we conduct a lot of communication, understanding the teams to get them on the same page, and preparatory organization. This step helps with the planning phase. Once I have all the details on hand, I can break the project down into the next three stages and make plans accordingly.
Then comes the duty of ‘executing’ the project, which means everyone starts doing their assigned jobs. Next, I have to keep checking in with the members, resolve any issues, and foresee future risks and conflicts, which is the monitoring stage.
The next phase is control, ensuring that each member follows the defined process. Lastly, we enter closing, where the work is completed on time while maintaining effective communication with the stakeholders, and documenting the work before handing over the final deliverable.”
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5. What Are the Project Management Methodologies You Most Familiar With?
The interviewer wants to learn about your technical understanding of project management and whether or not you stay up to date with the industry best practices.
Tip #1: Only mention methodologies you have experience of working with. The interviewer might ask a follow-up question based on your answer.
Tip #2: Read up on the project management methodologies you are familiar with. This will help you articulate your answer.
“The two main methodologies I have firsthand experience of using are Agile and Scrum. Personally, I prefer Agile, but that is mainly due to the nature of projects I have worked on over the years. A majority of the projects I managed at my previous job entailed picky clients who loved following up. Hence, with Agile, I was able to provide timely updates and maintain effective communication with them.”
6. How Do You Handle Change Request?
Change is an ever-present factor of any project – you would be remiss if you neglected the possibility that your client will request changes and amendment to be made throughout the lifecycle of the project.
By asking this question, the interviewer wants to know how prepared you are in the event that a change request happens, and what you do to handle it efficiently.
Tip #1: While change can either lead to positive or negative outcomes – what you need to focus on is the number of change requests that aren’t effectively approved, implemented, communicated or requests that can lead to significant complications – plunging the project and organization into an out-of-control spiral.
“The best way to handle change request is to first identify the scope of the change required. You have to determine whether the change request related to the business, the requirements of the project or the stakeholder. You need to validate change requests and communicate them with all the stakeholders involved.
Identifying the scope of implementing those changes is the second most important factor. Once you have a full grasp of the proposed change and its significance to the project, you will have to convene a meet with your team and brainstorm ideas to formulate an executable plan.
Once you have the change request approved by the higher-ups, you have to notify your team and update all vital project deliverables.”
7. How Do You Monitor And Manage Risks When Working On A Project?
During the interview, the interviewer wants to assess your ability to perceive the concept of risk and how it relates to project management. Demonstrating your capability to monitor and manage risk can make you a strong candidate for the position.
Tip #1: Handling an elusive factor such as risk in the project is vital to the success of the project. However, the best way to manage is to establish a comprehensive risk management plan. This is something you have to brainstorm and not just write ballpark points. Like everything else, it is all part of the process.
Tip #2: Talk about risk identification, risk prioritization, and risk monitoring.
The best way to manage risk is to first identify it – resolving something you don’t know anything about is hardly the best way to go about it. There are a variety of components that can help you identify the risks associated with your project.
The structure is important here – you need to analyze the risk first and once you fill the risk register with all the risk potentials the next step is to determine how likely it is for the risks to surface.
After you identify the risks, the next step is to prioritize those risks. Remember, no two risks are equal. You must analyze and evaluate them to know what type of resources you will need to tackle those problems.
It is important to monitor these risks over the duration of the project, while also adding new risks. The process for this involves regular risk assessment meetings with the team members working on the project. These meetings take place frequently, usually once a month.”
8. What Do You Think Is The Difference Between Projects, Programs, And A Portfolio?
This question is to test your ground knowledge on the subject of project management, and most project managers find it hard to distinguish between them.
Additionally, your answer will also be reflective of the extensiveness of your experiences as a project manager. Every manager has worked on projects, but only the really experienced ones have worked on enough of them to handle programs and create portfolios.
Tip #1: The best way to go about answering this question would be with a concrete example. You don’t have to narrate theoretical definitions, rather illustrate them with your experiences.
“Projects are temporary journeys that have one or more certain goals, and programs are larger initiatives that are split into multiple-projects with one central goal. In a program, projects are interrelated and coordinated.
Portfolios, on the other hand, are large collections of projects, which may or may not be interrelated, centrally coordinated or have the same goal. They are simply a showcase of an organization’s work from a certain perspective, let’s say managerial or planning.”
9. What Do You Understand By A Project Charter?
The interviewer catches a glimpse of your organization and documentation skills as a project manager, both of which can play a significant role in making or breaking a project.
Tip #1: Express your knowledge about the importance of having a project charter, it’s used for project approvals, references and organization strategies.
Tip #2: Demonstrate how you use a project charter for successful execution of a project.
“The authorized document required to initiate a project is called the project charter. It has the goals, outcomes, and top-level requirements of the project as seen by the stakeholders. And of course, it grants me as the project manager the authority to utilize all the organizational resources to perform all my duties.”
10. What Do You Understand By Plan Baselines?
The interviewer wants to assess if your idea of a baseline plan has different start and completion dates as well as duration measurements depending on the number of stages or levels in the entire project. Although they are just estimates – they are important because as a project manager you need to ascertain whether or not your employer can afford it in terms of time and actual chronology.
Tip #1: Relate the concept of plan baselines to your experience. There is little value in offering a generic or purely technical answer.
Tip #2: Reference an example where you had specific plan baselines at your previous job and you managed to complete the project successfully
“A baseline plan is essential for effective project management. It is vital that you should integrate at the start of every project. A baseline plan effectively defines what you hope a particular project will look like.
It includes essential elements such as the cost of the project throughout the lifecycle, the goal-factors and the time required for successful completion. It is an approximate attempt of placing forth reasonable estimates.
In simpler terms, you can just say it is a roadmap for the entire project. When you have a skeleton of the project at hand – any chinks or wrinkles in the processes or a red light can be fixed before things get out of hand. Baseline plans are more commonly used for a project where you have worked against the clock.”
11. What Is Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) And How Does It Affect The Work Estimates Of Tasks/Activities?
The interviewer wants a clear idea of your knowledge of Work Breakdown Structure (WBS), and how you use it to complete projects successfully.
Tip #1: Throw in the benefits of the WBS system which include enhanced communication, increased creativity, the vision of the project is maintained at the forefront, organization and structure of details, mitigates future complications and project management issues, the precise collection and organization of key data and ideas, risk management, streamlined allocation of tasks.
Tip #2: Refer to the implementation of the WBS system in your previous jobs, highlighting a relevant example.
“Sectioning and allocating work and resources to effectively manage and ensure the project is completed on time requires a key project deliverable – which is where a WBS comes into play. Using this hierarchical deliverable for project orientation clearly defines what needs to be executed by whom and in how much time.
The fundamentals of a work breakdown structure visually elaborate the total scope of the project, slicing them into manageable pieces that you and your team can comprehend and integrate. Each WBS deliverable will provide you with comprehensive details and definition of each task/activity.
And because the true nature of a work breakdown structure is purely hierarchical – you are going to have options and components that you will be able to include to make individual milestones easier to manage.
Some of the successful elements of WBS include stated vision of the project, the phases or stages of the project – these vary as per the size and scope of the project, deliverable that your team can complete every step of the way, individual and groups tasks that can be managed and completed throughout the project’s lifecycle.”
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12. What is EVM (Earned Value Management)?
You can use EVM on the total cost of the project as well as on schedule control – and it can be a very important element in forecasting the project itself; the interview may try to test your knowledge on this subject because of this.
Tip #1: There are a lot of reputable and prominent organizations that use Earned Value Management – some of which include: PMI (Project Management Institute), NASA, Defense Acquisition University, Federal Acquisition Institute, Acquisition Management (UK).
“The best way to perform a precision based measurement of how the project is coming along is through Earned Value Management. EVM is a streamlined and systematic process that integrated to identify variances in different projects stipulated on a comparison of the number of hours invested, the work planned and work performed.
You can use EVM on the total cost of the project as well as on schedule control – and it can be a very important element in forecasting the project itself. One of the most essential components of any EVM for any project is a project baseline. And that serves as a benchmark for future EVM-intensive tasks. As a project manager – you need quantitative data to make accurate and sensible decisions.
EVM has three fundamental metrics that make up the building blocks for the methodology. Those are EV (Earned Value), AC (Actual Cost), and PV (Planned Value).”
13. What Is Meant By Quality Standards In Software Projects?
There is no question the quality of software has drastically enhanced over the past couple of decades. One of the more driving reasons for that is the fact that organizations have incorporated newer, better technologies in their developmental phases – for example, most businesses integrate object-oriented software development, case tools and more.
By asking this question, the interviewer wants to know if you are up-to-date with the ground knowledge of the job that you are applying for.
Tip #1: There are three fundamental checkpoints in making sure the software quality is up to par and expectations of the client – make sure you talk about them:
- SQA (Software Quality Assurance) – this is where you need to ascertain all the right organizational procedures and quality standards.
- SQP (Software Quality Plan) – this is where you must choose realistic and implementable procedures and quality standards for any specific project and be able to modify those standards.
- SQC (Software Quality Control) – this is where you have to diligently ensure all quality standards are being followed and nothing steers clear of the procedure.
“When it comes to ensuring software quality, putting it mildly, you need to ensure the software is bug-free, developed and launched on time and within the stipulated budget, meets all the client’s specifications and requirements, and is maintainable.
The three checkpoints in making sure that the software quality is up to par are SQA, SQP, and SQC. There is no question the quality of software has drastically enhanced over the past couple of decades. One of the more driving reasons for that is the fact that organizations have incorporated newer, better technologies in their developmental phases – for example, most businesses integrate object-oriented software development, case tools and more.”
14. What Is The Triple Constraint Triangle In Project Management?
The interviewer wants to determine if you are familiar with the concept of Triple Constraint Triangle. Lack of knowledge on this subject can cost you.
Tip #1: Keep the following theoretical concepts in mind. A TCT is basically a model highlighting three fundamental constraints inherent in any and every type of project. These are:
- Cost – This is the budget of the project.
- Scope – This comprises of all the tasks and project deliverables that must be completed to meet the goal of the project.
- Time – This is the end schedule of the project and the hours needed to complete it.
“Simply put, the Triple Constraint Triangle stipulates that the productivity and success of any project are affected by these above-mentioned factors. As a project manager, you have to be diligent and meticulous enough to play with all three factors and trade between them. However, remember that eliminating any one of the elements can adversely affect the other two.
While it is a truism that the TCT is a vital part of any project, keep in mind that it does in no way determine the success of the project. You can think of these constraints as a framework that you can work within – it enhances creativity and is made up of points that are clear to your team. They will be able to work within the boundaries of the project.”