How to Discuss Your Project Management Experience in Job Interviews

30 August 2010

Heading into an interview, you can be fairly certain there will be a discussion about your experience and qualifications. But you should also be prepared to tackle some pointed questions directly tied to project management.

This is the time to share your “project manager story,” says Larry McNeil, a project manager at Comsys, a recruitment firm in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. That can include talking about how you work with your team, for example, or how you deal with project adversity.

Here are four project management questions you might face in an interview — and some tips on how to craft a winning response:

  1. What are the factors you consider critical to keeping a project on track?

    “The hiring manager is looking to ensure you have experience in project budgeting, resource allocation across activities and dependency definition between projects,” says Justin Honaman, Atlanta, Georgia, USA-based author of Make It Happen! Live Out Your Personal Brand. “Outline the project, your role, the activities and tasks involved with the initiative, actions and decisions you made, and results.”

  2. What’s the most challenging project you have managed?

    “There can be many challenges getting projects done on time and under budget. There can be political landmines, technical speed bumps, resource shortages, lack of funds — the list goes on,” Mr. Honaman says. “When answering, clearly state the specific challenge addressed, then walk through the example.”

  3. Tell me about a project you managed that failed.

    Even the smallest problem can derail a project, Mr. McNeil says. “Be prepared not just to give the book answer, but real-life examples. It is not the size of the problem, just the magnitude of the impact.” Try to position it as a positive, Mr. Honaman adds. “One can learn just as much, if not more, from failure as success. Outline the key lessons learned and how you managed communication in the process.”

  4. Describe the project management tools and methodologies you have used.

    Answer this question with specifics, Mr. Honaman says. “What process mapping software have you used? What kind of issues database or spreadsheet have you used in the past? How do you track and manage requirements, defects and change requests?” he says. “Bring examples of deliverables demonstrating your knowledge and expertise, think about them ahead of time, and to show your successes through numbers and examples.”

Remember it is important for hiring officers to find someone who fits the organization’s culture.

Do research prior to the conversation to understand what “type” of project manager the organization is looking for, says Lisa Leff, business development manager at Comsys. Are they looking for someone technical with hands-on experience or a candidate with more strategic experience?

Companies want to know whether your experience matches their methodologies and processes, she says.

“Each project management role is a little different,” Ms. Leff says. “Technology, environment and scope may make a difference in the interview. Size and scope are important in determining the types of projects you have led.”

But be prepared for general questions, too. Check out last week’s article on 5 of the Toughest Interview Questions and how to answer them with ease.