Below are the top eight project management interview questions on managing conflict and handling stakeholders which you’ll most likely be asked at a job interview, plus tips and examples of the best answers.
1. How Do You Handle Office Politics?
When job interviewers ask this question, they are trying to assess your people skills. No one wants an employee who doesn’t fit in with their colleagues, clients or blend into the company culture.
Tip #1: Reflect in your answers that you are not generally an easily irritated person, because that’s one of the things that the interviewers are trying to gauge.
Tip #2: Demonstrate that when a situation of annoyance arises, you communicate and handle it with grace.
“I try to stay as far away from office politics as I can because I find that it disturbs my performance. Personally, I like people and can pretty much work with anyone. Plus, I do my best to follow directions and meet what is expected of me in the workplace –I find that the best course of action is to stay out of these internal battles.
It’s rare but I get very annoyed when one person wants to take credit for something a group effort. I think credit should be given where it’s due, that’s how teams work. It’s not just unfair to people but also impacts the team efforts as well.
I believe in effective delegation. I assign clear roles to each member, with guidelines to ensure no one steps beyond their remit. Hence, the issue of someone taking undue credit does not arise on my watch”
2. Tell Me About A Time When You Had Two Key Stakeholders With Opposing Views. How Did You Manage That?
This is a very important question, and often requires a detailed answer with a real-life situation. This helps the employer determine how flexible, accommodating and influential your personality is and what you do when a conflict arises.
Tip #1: Always answer in a manner that shows that you seek to understand the people, listen to them, and then come to a conclusion.
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Tip #2: Keep it positive and highlight your persuasive tactics.
“At my last job, there was a big debate among two of our executives on selecting one of the two companies who wanted to work with us. One of the companies was more well-known and budget-friendly, while the other was less known, costlier but it would get our job done in the long run. One of the executives wanted our company to work with the famous one, and the other wanted to work with the less-known company. Things got heated pretty quick, and I had to step in, call in a lunch break.
When I saw that both the parties had calmed down over a cup of coffee, I brought the situation up again and had both the executives make their arguments one by one, listed down both the benefits on a whiteboard across from each other –and let them decide.
They ended up going with the less-known company, just by the way, and from what I hear it turned out very well for them.”
3. How Do You Deal With Rude Clients?
Your interviewer wants to know and test your reasoning abilities, problem-solving skills, and how effectively you make decisions on the spot. This is also a test of your people skills.
Tip #1: Make sure that the answer that you provide is well-thought and well-constructed.
Tip #2: Avoid using cynical or in different words, or harsh language.
Tip #3: Try to showcase your leadership, communication, and attentiveness to the customer as much as possible.
Tip #4: Don’t just say any vague sentences, try to be precise and give real-life examples.
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“I think complaints are unavoidable, and many people don’t really handle them well. So when I see that happening, I usually let the client have their say and it’s only when they stop that I gently let them know the situation. I believe clients should be treated with respect and communicated with, informed to their satisfaction because both of us want the same thing.
For example, if a client comes to us and wants to complain about a delay in delivery of the equipment they ordered, I apologize and tell them why we can’t take their purchase back. Then I gently guide them towards alternatives. Of course, I want to make sure that they are heard and feel understood which usually calms people down.
I genuinely believe that, because the clients are what keeps us up and running, a dissatisfied customer is a bad reflection of the company. I make sure to hear them out, pay close attention to their concerns, and address them keeping in mind the policies of our company. “
4. Have You Ever Had A Conflict With Your Boss? How Was It Resolved?
The interviewer is trying to assess your conflict management skills and their compatibility with your interaction with authority figures. They want to know if you respect your supervisors, even when you happen to disagree with them.
Tip #1: Keep track of incidents of conflict at your workplace that you were involved in, and how you handled them.
Tip #2: Don’t say it out loud if you disliked your previous boss, no matter what.
Tip #3: Try to offer up a real-life example, because experienced interviewers can often look through made-up stories.
Tip #4: Talk a little about the conflict, but focus primarily on the resolution and the role you played in bringing it about.
Tip #5: Stay humble and considerate.
“I’ve been very lucky that I have had excellent, talented employers so far in my career and I have a lot of respect for them. Of course, conflicts and disagreements arise, but usually, I get along quite well with managers because I’m a very hard worker.
I did have a rocky start in the beginning of my career with one of my managers, but it was primarily because I had different expectations than he had. I think keeping a steady communication channel open is necessary, and I would try and chat up every other day with him to get an idea of our goals. I ended up finding a middle ground, and it all worked out. In fact, that was the longest I had worked at a company.”
5. How Are You When You’re Working Under Pressure?
The interviewer wants an elaborate incident of a pressure-inducing situation, how it affected you and how you managed to handle it. There are times that pressure actually makes things more productive for some employees, and that’s another thing that they might want to know.
Tip #1: Avoid mentioning an incident when the stress or pressure was self-induced. For example, don’t narrate a story about how you were stressed because you procrastinated, rather when you were given many tasks and you finished them on time.
Tip #2: Don’t talk about how you were feeling just what you did to combat that feeling.
Tip #3: Every job has a certain situation of stress that will arise occasionally, make sure you don’t say that such incidents bother you.
Tip #4: If stress can be a motivator and cause you to be creative, definitely throw that in.
“I think workplace pressure is inevitable, and it can get to everyone. But over the years, I’ve figured out how to manage it better. I find that I actually work better under pressure, like when there are a lot of assignments to do and the deadline is soon. With the end goal in near sight, I find that I stay motivated and productive.
Of course, all of us do crumble under stressful situations, and I’m no exception but I usually manage to salvage things because I’m pretty good at multi-tasking and time-management. For example, once I had four big projects due in the same week. I created a schedule, allotted a time for each and every task, and managed to stick to it.”
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6. How Will You Gain And Keep The Support Of Your Project Sponsors?
Your interviewer is looking for essentially two things: how you define ‘project sponsors’ and how you elicit and retain information from them as a project leader.
Some people consider project sponsors to be the people who review the project while others consider them the people who hold the budget. Either way, project managers are responsible for upholding these relationships, and effectively communicating the value of the project to these people so that there is continual support.
Tip #1: You can use this question to talk about your supply-chain management skills, people and project management skills, negotiation skills, and your ability to responsibly deliver the financials and administrations of a project to achieve project goals.
Tip #2: Highlight your strong negotiation skills, and your history of building strong relationships with colleagues, and project sponsors.
“The key to keeping project sponsors is very simple: do the project on time, within the budget, and satisfy the customers. If the project goes with the minimum amount of glitches, you’ll inevitably have the support of project sponsors.
I work very hard to keep the projects I’m involved in on track. I informally interfere with customers and sponsors if I sense things are going south, I conduct regular formal meetings with all team members to keep track of and resolve arising issues, I am wholeheartedly open to solution suggestions, I keep the customers informed at every step of the way, I continuously communicate with the higher-ups of the project and I take all concerns and requests very seriously.
This obviously requires a lot of communication and negotiation, but it keeps the project running smooth and that’s all that the sponsors eventually care for.”
7. What Is A Stakeholder?
There are many stakeholders in the project including the project leader, testers, customers, resource managers, senior management, project team members, consultants, and even contractors and subcontractors.
With this question, the interviewer wants to know what your definition of a stakeholder is, and which of them do you consider most important. Your relationships, negotiation, and communication levels all matter in a project, particularly with stakeholders.
Tip #1: Focus on all groups of stakeholders, rather than on one.
Tip #2: Every group has a different set of importance, priorities, urgencies, proximities, and power; talk about the “Stakeholder Circle”
“The person, entity, or organization which is directly affected by a project is the stakeholder. Such an effect may be positive or negative but the party involved has influence over the project, which is why it is important to involve them and keep them updated through all the phases of a project; planning, execution, and closing.”
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8. How Do You Determine The Communication Needs Of Stakeholders?
The interviewer wants to assess your ability to communicate with different stakeholders over the course of a project. Your answer should tie in with your answer to the earlier question of who is a stakeholder.
Tip #1: Explain how you value the role of each stakeholder.
Tip #2: Demonstrate your process for maintaining effective communication with each stakeholder.
“All stakeholders are important – no matter how minor or major their role is. Even small-time stakeholders exhibit the potential to quickly rise up and become hefty investors. And if they lag behind schedule, it will affect your overall critical path.
That is primarily why every stakeholder involved in a project must be kept in the loop through a streamlined communication process. As a project manager, you have to be proactive and ensure every stakeholder is part of the project no matter what, through a different channel of communication – direct and indirect.
When formulating your project communication strategy – it is vital to have two plans. One plan should just be a simple overview of the communications strategies you are going to use and the other one should be a more comprehensive and in-depth communication plan.
However, for smaller, not-so-complex activities and projects, a brief overview of the plan will suffice. But remember that the primary objective of any communication plan is to build effective and consistent communication with the stakeholders. You have to successfully manage their perceptions concerning the progress and productivity of the project.
You have to create your communications plan in tandem with your entire team – and not just individually. Concentrate your plan on the needs of the stakeholders. And remember, your communications will evolve prior to the projects, its start and throughout its launch, progress and completion.”