Interview tips
April 3, 2011 2:37 PM   Subscribe

What should I know for my first project management interview?

I have my first interview this week for an IT project management position. This is an internal interview. I have been with the firm six years and am hoping to get promoted into management. I've done two mock interviews, and I've reviewed my experiences and mapped them to our internal management competencies. I feel well prepared and practiced, but this is the only firm I have worked for and I haven't interviewed since I was a new hire. Im pretty sure the interview will be 90% behavioral. I would love to hear any advice or tips from you all who have been here before. Thank you in advance!
posted by gocubbies to Work & Money (6 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Not a PM, but interview/hire PMs and the last two companies I've worked for have used behavioral interviewing. Based on the info in your question, I am assuming that you haven't held a PM role before, but that you are working on teams of the sort that you would be PM'ing for. I've got three specific pieces of advice, one on behavioral interviews, and two on interviewing for a role you've never done.

1. If the interview method is behavioral, then almost certainly your interviewer(s) will be working off a script, and at least some of the script will assume that you already have experience as a PM. These questions will be challenging for you, because you'll really need to stretch to find a suitable situation that maps to the question (e.g. you'll have to explain why being a camp counselor in 12th grade was *just* like being a PM). Try your best to answer those questions, rather than passing. For each question, I would take a minute or two to marshal your thoughts and pick the *best* example you can. Feel free to say, "Give me a minute to think of a good response."

2. If you haven't done the PM role before, you'll want to emphasize that you *know* what needs to be done -- that your domain experience will make up for the lack of PM experience. Also, in my experience, the biggest success indicators for PMs are that they are self starters and good communicators, even more so than having a PMP and able to quote the PMIBOK chapter and verse. I think you'll want to emphasize that you have those sorts of soft skills.

3. There will likely be some opportunity for you to ask questions during the wrap-up. You can use this time to make a statement about why you are well qualified for this position. That is something you can work up in advance.

Good luck with the interview!
posted by kovacs at 3:47 PM on April 3, 2011

Most PM interviews I have attended have revolved around 2 types of questions (with sample questions)

1. PM competencies

- From the start of an executable idea to deployment, can you list the life cycle and all the responsibilities of a PM? OR

- Can you tell us how you would handle a project from start to finish?

- How will you handle risks in the project?

2. Scenarios

- Given that you don't know functionally about a domain, how will you verify estimation?
- During a status meeting, you find out that you will not able to deliver the project on time with the resources? How will you handle this situation?
- One of your key team members is planning to quit. This might adversely affect the schedule. What will you do?

Your knowledge of your organization's specific PM methodology should help you answer the first type, while your experience should help answer the second. The tricky part is answering people-related questions, since the PM's role is mostly about handling teams. Your answers should show that you can manage the client, your reportees, your peers and your management well.

Good luck.
posted by theobserver at 5:16 PM on April 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

It would be helpful to know what you're doing now.

But without that, expect questions like:

1. You've worked with Eve [Mega AHole/Mortal Enemy]. Now, you'll be PMing his team. What would he say about you? What are the best ways to work with Eve?

2. What do you think the biggest risks to Project Foo are? (You do know the project you'll be PMing right? Or if not, what are things your company usually screws up on?)

3. The project is going well, but you don't think the product (iPod dock accessory for a toilet) is something our customers want. What do you do? BONUS: You talked to the product manager and he says it's fine. You're really sure that this is not fine. What do you do?

[There's no right answer. Just lots of pitfalls. Don't panic. Stand up for the customer.]
posted by veryblue1 at 8:39 PM on April 3, 2011

I can't speak to specific questions you may be answered but I do think you need to keep certain concepts in mind while answering questions:

Your job as a PM is to bring the right people to the table to get things done. You don't do work, you facilitate and organize it. You serve as organizational lubricant, a bullshit umbrella, and a escalation point. John can't write a certain piece of code because Sally isn't responding to his emails. Pick up the phone and bring them to the table. Tom can't get on with his configuration because he is getting bogged down with training. Speak to his boss and get him out of training. People need tools, food, sleep. Make it happen. If conversations need to be had, you make them happen.

PM's do a lot of other stuff, but I truly believe good PM's should mostly foster a healthy and efficient work environment so people can ultimately get their jobs done. Keeping track of metrics and schedules is great, but they are not an end in and of themselves. Reports and status should serve as tools to prompt action and escalation. Weak PM's will fall back on collecting status and creating fancy charts. Good PM's will take those charts, understand where the bottlenecks are and breaktrough them by any means necessary even if that includes bribing people, ambushing people in their office, or running out in the rain to get the team coffee.
posted by jasondigitized at 6:30 AM on April 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

answered = asked
posted by jasondigitized at 6:32 AM on April 4, 2011

Response by poster: Update...I got the job! Thanks all!
posted by gocubbies at 12:02 PM on April 24, 2011

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