Project Management

10 questions project managers should ask employers during a job interview

Good PM interview preparation includes coming up with thoughtful questions for the hiring manager. Here are some ideas to get started.

About to be interviewed for a project manager position? While it's important to prepare answers for the questions the employer might ask you, it's also key to prepare some questions of your own.

The quality of questions that a project manager asks during an interview is often the tipping point of offering them the job, said Rema Deo, managing director of 24By7 Security, Inc.

"I believe that a project manager candidate must ask at least one or two questions during the interview, especially if asked 'Do you have any questions for me?'" Deo said. "Questions should be ideally open-ended so that they prompt further discussion. The interviewee must also be cognizant of the overall time of the interview so as to not take too much time from the interviewers."

Good questions will show an increased interest in the position, the company, and the technology you would be using, said Kris Hughes, a marketing manager for ProjectManager.com.

SEE: IT Hiring Kit: Project Manager (Tech Pro Research)

"When interviewing, it's important to ask questions that will make you look intelligent, curious and results focused," said Fiona Adler, founder of Actioned.com. "Asking questions is also a great way to further build rapport and forge a connection with your interviewer."

Here are 10 questions that project managers should consider asking on a future job interview.

1. What is your company's approach for managing projects? Do you follow a specific methodology, or use specific tools?

This question can help you learn if the company uses standard PMP, Scrum, Kanban, Agile, or Hermes, or tools like Microsoft Project, Trello, Basecamp, Asana, said Laura Handrick, an AR analyst at FitSmallBusiness.com.

"A PM job candidate should ask questions that demonstrate her/his inclination towards taking up the new role," said Praveen Malik, a project management practitioner, consultant, and trainer. "She/he should ask questions related to the job, company, type of work, and expectations from the new hire."

2. What kind of stakeholder support do you have on this project?

This question could also be framed as, "Are the senior executives bought in to the project's goals?" said Handrick.

Strategic questions like this can help show that you're able to think at a higher strategy level, in addition to managing tasks, timelines, and dependencies, Handrick said. Other examples of strategic questions might include "What is the business case for change for this project?" and "How does this project support the overall company objectives?"

Another follow up to this question would be, "How do you measure stakeholder and client success?" said Kris Hughes, a marketing manager for ProjectManager.com. "All companies measure success for their clients and stakeholders different in terms of their operational goals, and it's a good idea to have an idea how this is measured going into a new role to ensure that the end result matches your work style and how you deliver as a project manager," Hughes said.

SEE: Job description: IT project manager (Tech Pro Research)

3. How many clients do you typically assign to each project manager?

Other questions along these lines include "What can a PM expect on a daily basis in terms of communication time vs. organization time?" and "Will others from my team be in steady communication with the client, or will I be in charge of delivering a majority of the messaging?" said Micah Wilson, a project manager at coolblueweb. This can help determine the scope of your duties and the day-to-day job responsibilities.

4. Which KPIs do you track in your teams, and why?

This question can offer insight into a company's culture, said Dmitry Garbar, a senior project manager and partner at Belitsoft. "Firms that track a set of useful metrics complete more projects within time and budget. Which, in turn, leads to greater customer satisfaction, more work, and better job security," Garbar said. "For a hiring manager, this question shows that a prospective PM cares about their work and wants to see whether the same could be said about the company interviewing him."

A follow up question to this might be, "What does success look like in the first 90 days? Or the first year?" said Nick Cromydas, co-founder and CEO of Hunt Club. This can show that the candidate is thinking right away about how they can provide value, Espy added.

5. Does the team collaborate or tend to work independently? What are the team dynamics like?

Asking this offers insight into the candidate's awareness that all teams are different, and can impact the work environment, said Leigh Espy, and project and process advisor at FedEx. It also helps determine if the workplace is a cultural fit.

6. Is there room for growth or advancement?

"Asking about growth shows an employer that you are motivated and want to move up the ladder or develop new skills," said Ian McClarty, CEO and president of PhoenixNap Global IT Solutions. "The last thing I want to do is hire someone, train them, and they are gone in six months. By asking this, it allows the candidate to display intent to grow with the company long term."

Project manager candidates who don't have a PMP certification or an MBA may also want to ask if the company supports employees who want to pursue advanced degrees, and if it offers any assistance, said Todd Weneck, vice president of search at Modis.

Asking about opportunities and improvement for growth for the team can also give the interviewee a chance to talk about needs in a positive way, as well as talk about why you may be able to fill those needs, Espy said.

7. What is the career path for project managers in the company?

Similar to asking about growth and advancement, this question can get to whether project managers are promoted into more senior PM roles, or are promoted out of project management into another subsection of the business, Hughes said. This will help the candidate determine if the PM path at this company aligns with their own career goals.

8. What's the company's biggest challenge?

"A PM candidate should ask what my biggest challenge is," said Heather Eason, CEO of Select Power Systems. "Then, they can respond with how they would help me solve it."

When in an interview, candidates should make sure to ask questions that will uncover some of the company's weaker areas, said Cindy Visendaz, a recruiting manager at Addison Group. Other related questions might be, "What keeps you up at night? What issues will cause the most pain if not handled properly?"

"Knowing the answers to these questions will give candidates a better sense of the challenges they might be faced with on a day-to-day basis, and then from there, can help them determine whether or not these are issues they feel comfortable tackling as a new employee," Visendaz said.

9. What challenges do you anticipate I will encounter in this role?

This question shows a hiring manager that the candidate is looking ahead, and is hopefully prepared to take on these challenges, Espy said. It also offers the chance for the candidate to identify any special skills or experiences they can bring to the table, she added.

10. How does this project support the overall company objectives?

Determining if your projects will be major initiatives of the business or one-off projects led by a department can help a candidate determine if the role is right for them, Handrick said. Other related questions might be "What kind of change management support will this project have?" to see if there are staff from other areas of the business who will be on the project team to drive employee and customer buy-in, she added.

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Image: iStockphoto/fizkes

About Alison DeNisco Rayome

Alison DeNisco Rayome is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She covers CXO, cybersecurity, and the convergence of tech and the workplace.

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