3 Project Management Interview Questions You Need to Ask

Do you manage a PMO and need to hire a project manager?

If you run a project management office that staffs project managers, you know the challenges and headaches of finding great project managers. When a new PM position needs to be filled, the PMO manager will spend significant time screening resumes, preparing project management interview questions, conducting phone screens, and interviewing candidates face to face. It can be exhausting to waste time on the wrong candidate without a streamlined PM hiring process.

A PMO will often hire temporary or contract-based project managers to adjust to the project demands. The typical project management hiring process includes:

  1. Write the job description or requisition request
  2. Post the requisition on a job board or distribute it to staffing firms
  3. Receive resumes
  4. Evaluate project manager resumes
  5. Schedule phone screens and conduct phone screens
  6. Schedule onsite interviews and conduct onsite interviews
  7. Make hiring decision
  8. Close the requisition

HR will usually assist with the job posting and preliminary screening if this is a permanent company position. The core steps remain the same.

The biggest challenge with this process is with Step 4: Evaluate project manager resumes and Step 5: Conducting the phone screens. I used to waste hours evaluating resumes, identifying qualified candidates, and conducting phone screenings. During the phone screen, I quickly found some candidates were not qualified for the role despite all the STATED PMP certifications, Agile credentials, MS Project knowledge, and years of experience.

To solve this project manager interview question hurdle, I added 3 simple questions to expedite the process.

Three Key Project Management Interview Questions

I’ve saved a lot of time by asking the candidate to answer 3 simple project management interview questions BEFORE the resume is submitted. If the recruiter, staffing firm, or individual candidate doesn’t submit answers to these questions, I don’t even look at the resume. If the candidate responds with experience-supported responses, I consider them for the next step in the interview process.

The three questions are:

  1. What characteristics make up a good project schedule?
  2. How do you determine the critical path of the project?
  3. How do you ensure your project schedule is on track?

Why ask scheduling questions upfront?

There are many project management interview questions that could be asked, and I save those for the on-site interview. These 3 questions focus on the mechanics of project scheduling. If the candidate can’t answer these questions adequately or responds with answers easily found on Google, then the candidate won’t be a good fit for the project.

Whenever a project is troubled, I examine the project schedule as the first deliverable to confirm whether the scope delivery is adequately scheduled.

By screening for this skill upfront, you increase the chances of avoiding the whole “project in trouble” scenario. The critical path question is often viewed as academic, but it is crucial to identify the driving tasks that forecast a project’s end date in actual practice. These three questions provide insight into the “technical” project management skills and help determine if the candidate should be invited to a phone assessment.

Additional How To Hire a Project Manager Tips

#1 Ask for referrals first

If you want to save time, ask the current project managers in your organization for their referrals and recommendations. A valid referral from a project manager I respect takes a higher priority than a stack of resumes from recruiting firms.

#2 Ensure the job description defines the specific project skills required

All too often, we get complacent and reuse the same project management job requisition, making small tweaks in an effort to expedite hiring. Spend time writing a solid job description that matches the specific project needs. If the project manager needs to have a background in managing a specific type of technology, include it in the job description. Conversely, if the project is less complex and only requires a PM with 2-3 years of experience, list it in the job description.

#3 Meet with staffing firms so they understand the project manager’s needs and desired background

Successful staffing firms want to submit the best candidate for your position, yet they must balance the time required to respond to a job description with the resource quality. I’ve found it helpful to meet periodically with the staffing firms and share the ideal candidate profile with them. A short ten-minute phone call about the job description can make the difference in finding the right candidate instead of just reading the job description requirements.

(I know we’re all busy. Consider taking a 10-minute call on your drive home from work, and you’ll end up with better candidate resumes)

#4 I still prefer the PMP

In my screening process, I still prefer project management candidates who have successfully passed the Project Management Professional certification. The key reason I filter project manager resumes based on this credential is that the PMP establishes common language. In an interview, if we talk about a project management plan, it helps to know we’re not talking about a project schedule. I’m not expecting the PM to conduct a forward and backward pass on a project schedule, but it helps to have a conversation about the critical path.

#5 Review the qualifying questions during the phone screen or onsite interview.

Once I meet with the candidate, I will probe more into their scheduling responses. I also like to focus on their overall approach to successfully kicking off a project, organizing the scope, assessing stakeholders, and setting up the project for success. By reviewing the preliminary questions, you’ll also know if they truly understand the technical side of project management as well as the academic side.

For experienced project managers, reviewing the preliminary questions is a 2-3 minute exercise, and we’ve already discussed the project’s specifics. For less experienced project managers, I’ve seen them stumble by trying to explain every phase of the project lifecycle.

#6 Shortlist to 3 Onsite Interviews Only

For on-site project management interviews, I only shortlist 3 candidates. Identifying your top 3 candidates forces you to make “A-Pile / B-Pile” decisions and avoids analysis paralysis. Remember that talented project management candidates won’t be on the market for long. Scheduling on-site interviews for more candidates also takes a lot more time. If you’ve adopted the 3 project management interview questions as part of the pre-qualifying process and the phone screen process, then you should have a short stack of qualified project managers ready to join your team!

Additional Useful Articles on Hiring a Project Manager


Andrew Makar

Andrew Makar, DMIT, PMP, CSM is an IT director with delivery experience across projects, programs and portfolios in Digital Marketing, Automotive, Software and Financial Management industries. He is an enthusiastic leader who effectively translates project management theory into practical application. His area of interest and practice is in implementing Agile processes and SCRUM techniques to deliver better software to his customers. Find out more about Andrew on andymakar.com and please reach out and connect with Andrew on LinkedIn.

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