Prepare for Behavioral Questions on Your PM Job Interview

Interview QuestionsBy Tim Dalhouse, MBA, PMP

A connection of mine on LinkedIn, Lindsay Bradley, had a job interview recently and shared some questions with me that the interviewers asked her. I wanted to share them here because every Veteran that we help needs to understand what civilian employers are looking for in a PM, and you have to be prepared to answer these type of behavioral questions.

According to TimesUnion.com:

“Behavioral-Based Interviewing is grounded in the theory that the most accurate predictor of future performance is past performance in a similar situation.  With this type of approach, also known as Critical Behavior Interviewing (CBI), employers pre-determine the core competencies or skills required for success in a particular job.  When an interviewer asks CBI questions, they are probing for “behavior patterns” rather than “correct” answers.  You cannot “wing” a CBI interview.  Success requires deliberate preparation.”

In my PMP training, I focus on deliberate preparation of every Military Vet that goes through my program. I understand that relating your military experience to the appropriate responses civilian employers are looking for to their CBI questions is foreign territory for you. I teach you what the key indicators employers are looking for in your responses, and help you formulate and practice answers to common questions that employers of PMs are using today.

Lindsay interviewed with a management consulting firm, whose main focus is IT. One of their largest contracts is with Microsoft. The position she interviewed for was Program/Project Manager, and here are 4 of the questions she was asked.

1.  Tell me about a time when you had a project that got out of control with things going wrong and what did you do to get it back on track? What was the outcome?

2.  Give me an example about how you communicate with others (team members or vendors) involved with a project to ensure on time delivery.

3.  What do you consider to be your “claim to fame” project and tell me about a project that didn’t go so well and why.

4.  Tell me about a time where you were waiting on another vendor or person involved in the project to do something that was holding up the project from moving forward. What did you do to address this?

How would you answer these?

If you think about it, there are a couple of themes going on in these questions. First, the employer is looking for your honest assessment of some of your past difficulties in managing projects. To say that you haven’t had any past challenges or even failures is disingenuous, and shows that you are either out of touch with reality, or extremely narcissistic. The best thing to do is have some examples of past problems, lessons learned, and hopefully a few short stories of how you adjusted on the fly and saved the day for a jeopardized project. Employers fully expect that you are going to have problems managing their projects…as a matter of fact, that is a big reason they want to hire you…to effectively solve their problems.

Second, they want to know how you solve problems. In behavioral questions, there is definitely a wrong answer, but there can be many right ones. There is no one set way to skin a cat, and there may be multiple ways to achieve success in a given situation. The key here is to respond in confidence with an answer that shows you always analyze the impact of every decision on every aspect of a project before pulling the trigger. Knee-jerk reactions are the kiss of death for a PM. Your best answer to some of these questions may be “It depends”, and then redirect the question back to the interviewer for clarification. The goal of this strategy is not necessarily to get more info because you don’t understand the question, but rather to show that you are a deep thinker and always seek to understand everything you need prior to making a decision.

And, third, these questions are geared to give the employer an understanding of how you deal with people in all sorts of circumstances and relationships. Notice that some of the questions relate to how you interact with project team members, while others ask about outside stakeholders, like vendors. PMs spend up to 90% of their time communicating with people, and that means that you need to be a master people-person. The main goals of communicating with all your stakeholders are to ensure everyone understands the project objectives, the plan to get there, and, most importantly, that they buy-in to the plan. Getting buy-in from stakeholders means that you can count on their support, cooperation, and discretionary effort, which is a great formula for project success.

I remember a sarcastic sign over the door of a logistics office in one of my Marine Corps squadrons that said “Why plan when you can just react?” That is extremely bad advice if you want to do well on a PM job interview and land that great job. I can help you prepare not only to pass the PMP exam, but also how to apply that knowledge to come up with great answers to some really tough behavioral interview questions.


Tim Dalhouse, MBA, PMP is a retired U.S. Marine Corps Master Gunnery Sergeant who stumbled into a civilian career as a Project Manager and found it a perfect fit. He now makes it his mission to help other Veterans obtain the Project Management Professional (PMP) or Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) credentials, and help DOD agencies & contractors increase their organizational project management maturity. He’s trained over 500 students around the country to master and apply the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK®) for consistent, real-world success. Email: timdalhouse@gmail.com. Website: is https://timdalhouse.com

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