How to Handle Behavioral Interview Questions About Your Project Management Skills

Preparing for behavioral interview questions related to your project management skills is one of the best ways to prepare for your interview overall — and here’s the best way to do just that.

Even if your title has never been “Project Manager,” we’ve all been in charge of managing projects at some point. Today we’re going to be looking at the following question:

“Tell me about a time when you were assigned what you considered to be a complex project … What steps did you take to prepare for and finish the project? … What one step would you have done differently if given the chance?”

But first, let’s look at the skills and behavioral competencies of a good project manager. You’ll notice that these are are generally the skills of someone who is a good overall employee in any position.

  1. Determining who the project stakeholders are & managing their expectations.
  2. Setting clear project goals, with metrics of success.
  3. Scheduling, managing & prioritizing timelines and work activities to meet delivery dates.
  4. Managing costs.
  5. Clarifying quality and completion criteria for deliverables (when is a work product considered “done”?)
  6. Communicating with all stakeholders on an ongoing basis.
  7. Identifying and managing potential risks.
  8. Overcoming obstacles / putting out fires.
  9. Using persuasive techniques and presentation skills.
  10. Motivating teammates, building & maintaining relationships.

The main idea when you answer project management related questions is to use an example from your own personal work experience and weave in as many good project manager qualities as possible.

This means that you have to prepare! — Just do it. :)

… So, you’ve got 10 points (above) that you want to try to weave into your answer. Don’t think you can just “wing it” and make up your answer as you go along.

It’s really going to pay off for you to prepare this answer in advance. It’s going to help you in your interview overall. Once you start thinking about how your interview answers should be demonstrating specific “behavioral competencies,” then you’ll begin to naturally create more compelling answers that will convince the hiring manager that YOU are the right person for the job. That’s the whole point.

Project Manager Interview Questions and Answers

How To Prepare:

Answering behavioral interview questions about project management experience.

Think about 2 or 3 fairly complex or longer-term projects you had to complete in the past. Select an example where you at least had to schedule timelines and work with others, preferably from other departments, or with customers or clients. It’s best if you were in charge of some budget, or had some impact on costs or revenue for your company. Not everyone has had project experience with responsibility for cost / schedule / quality … but that’s OK. You are just trying to show your project management competencies using an example from your work history.

Get out a pen and paper, or open a blank word document. In the left column, start writing down projects you managed at past jobs, or projects you worked on where you had some type project management role. You MUST come up with at least one example. Think hard. There has to be something.

In the right column, for each project, try to write down 10 sentences following the 10 points above. For each project, ask yourself:

  • How did I manage the expectations of other people involved in the project?
  • How did I determine the goals for the project? Did I come up with numbers or metrics (dollars, hours, percentages) to measure those goals?
  • How did I prioritize the order of activities?
  • What was my communication plan for keeping stakeholders updated?
  • How did I think about project risks, and how did I maintain good relationships with people on my project team, including bosses, customers or clients?
  • … etc. — Look at the 10 points above as a starting point.

Strategy:

Project management related interview questions test your skills and competencies on many levels. You need to demonstrate that you can you see the big picture, but also identify the details relating to what you will need to do day-to-day to complete the project. Good project managers show an orientation around RESULTS and achieving an “end goal” while understanding that it’s inevitable that risks and obstacles are going to happen. Make sure you touch on teamwork, communication, and how having good relationships helps solve problems and supports the overall success of the project.

Sample Answers:

“Good question. I’ve worked on many complex projects. I think that the most important thing is to clarify the goals of the project as much as you can in the beginning, and then create a reasonable timeline with milestones where significant parts of the project will be finished. Also, it’s smart to tackle the most difficult parts early on in a project. That’s the way I usually prioritize things. If you wait to until the last third of project timeline to do the riskiest or more challenging tasks, then you are going to have less time left to figure it out before the deadline. Also, I like to breakdown large tasks into bite-sized chunks so that it is easier to know where to begin. Careful and detailed planning is the most important thing you can do to make sure a complex project goes smoothly. FOR EXAMPLE, I worked on a three month project where I was in charge of “XYZ” I was definitely happy with the outcome of my work, and the outcome of the project overall. But looking back on it, the one thing I would have done differently would have been earlier involvement of the stakeholders …”

“In order to set up for Complex Project “X” at Company “Y” I started by determining who the key stakeholders were and getting their early input on the project. Then I created a rough outline of the major milestones and worked backwards to breakdown the work that would need to be done to meet those milestones. I made a list of every risk I could think of that might stop me and my team from reaching those milestones, and I then added some contingency in the schedule in case anything came up. I sought the input of my teammates not only to help identify risks, but to get them involved and grow a good working relationship with them. We ended up completing the project on time, but there were some problems that I think we could have avoided. I would have changed “ABC” in order to avoid the quality problems we ran into.”

Resources:

Project Manager Interview Questions — from CivilEngineeringBlog.com.

What is a “Stakeholder?” — from The Project Management Institute.

Your Action Items / Next Steps!

1 Understand that preparing for project management related behavioral interview questions is one of the best ways to prepare for your interview overall.
2 Use pen and paper or a blank work doc to write down 2 or 3 projects you have been involved in, and for each, write down 10 sentences you can use that show good project management competencies.
3 Write out a fully formed answer to the project management question on this page using an example from your own work experience. Do it now! It's worth your time. This is great interview preparation.

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