10 Tips to Ace Your Project Manager Interview


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project manager interviewWe looked at 5 things you must do BEFORE appearing for a project manager interview, earlier. Today we shall see how you can ACE your project manager interview.

But first here is something important to understand.

Did you know that we make an impression about a person in the first tenth of a second when we see them?

Yes, all it takes is a tenth of a second to form an impression of a stranger from their face, and that longer exposures don’t significantly alter those impressions!

You can see how important this can be during an interview – typically a pressure-cooker situation.

I’ve been on both the sides of the interview table during my decade and a half long career (being an interviewer several hundred times more than being an interviewee, but the experiences of being an interviewee is very very vivid! 🙂 ).

In this post I put across few lessons I’ve learned about how one can ace a project management interview.

Some of these tips are applicable in general to any interview but I’ve included them in here from a holistic point of view, because they are necessarily part of project management interview as well. 🙂

Tip #1. Greet people when you enter and feel cheerful during the interview

A team researchers from Switzerland and UK conducted experiments to find out the impact of smile during interview.

During the experiment participants viewed short video excerpts of female interviewees exhibiting dynamic authentic smiles, dynamic fake smiles or neutral expressions, and rated them with respect to a number of attributes.

In both studies, perceivers’ judgments and employment decisions were significantly shaped by the quality of smiles, with authentic smiles generally leading to more favorable job than fake smiles or neutral expressions.

Furthermore, authentically smiling interviewees were judged to be more suitable and were more likely to be short-listed and selected for the job.

Surprised?

The research paper notes that “many decisions in human life are based on limited information available for a short period of time. There is often no or minimal knowledge of other persons we encounter and as a result first impressions are determined by any available cues.”

This is so true in the case of interview – where neither you nor the interviewer might have had much time to know each other prior to the meeting, and the interviewer is tasked with passing a judgment on whether or not you are suitable for the job.

Sounds familiar, right?

Although we consciously make an effort to understand the job-knowledge of the interviewee, and look for non-verbal cues and gauge personality and emotional traits to make the decision on hiring, a smiling candidate always has an advantage.

Genuine smile conveys confidence and the fact that the person is capable of being calm in a pressure situation (such as the interview itself).

Of course, the smile alone does not count all by itself, one needs to be good at the skills she is being interviewed for – but it sure is a great armor you’d like to carry with yourself to the interview room.

Noted the part in the research finding that says that the smile has to be genuine?

Now, that’s the hard thing to do when one is feeling a bit anxious or nervous, right?

Here are few pointers that have helped me personally, and hopefully you’ll find them useful.

a. Take a deep breath while waiting your turn.

Breath has a phenomenal connection to our mind. Taking few deep breaths while you wait to be called in will calm your mind. This relaxes your body. It becomes easier to smile genuinely.

b. Think about your strengths

Those few minutes before the interview is crucial.

Fill your mind with thoughts of your victories –

  • projects that you have successfully completed,
  • the accolades you’ve got from your customers,
  • appreciation you’ve got from your managers and
  • the genuine praise you’ve got from the team member who looks up to you.

c. Be honest about your abilities

Everyone has weaknesses, no one knows everything. It is not mandatory that you be good at all the aspects of your job description. It’s okay to have gaps. Be willing to accept them. No pretensions. No trying to paint a picture of someone you are not, during the interview.

Know that you are fantastic the way you are.

Getting into this state of mind will relax you.

What if the interviewer picks up your area of weakness?

No worries. Accept it and talk about one or two instances where you took extra effort to learn something new and succeeded. Make up for any lacking with enthusiasm and attitude.

Interviewers love such interactions.

Tip #2. Do not use sales pitch

It is important to highlights one’s achievements, but totally avoid a salesy pitch. No one likes to be sold. And it is an instant turn off for the interviewer.

Present facts and figures – they speak louder than any amount of adjectives.

Tip #3. Focus on the skill needs of the position you are applying for

If you are applying for the program manager position, only talking about your technical contribution to the project will not cut any ice.

Even if you are one of those that grew from technical ranks into project management role and your current profile involves certain part of project management duties in addition to technical work (a ‘techno-manager’) highlight various aspects of project management you have worked upon.

Here’s a tip – if you grew from tech position into project management role, highlight 1-2 failures as a PM and the lessons you learnt from them and explain how you improved.

This will give them another strength of your character – you can pick up something new and you are willing to make mistakes and learn from them.

Such conversations are music to interviewer’s ears.

Tip #4. Use verbs, facts and figures rather than generic answers

Interviewer is more interested in knowing what you have done, rather than what you know.

“I prepared the project plan based off the project charter and my 3 weeks of interaction with customer’s clients to understand their expectations much better. I could foresee many risks during this interaction and that lead to planning their mitigation plans with customer and my team – about 60% of which later materialized and we could manage the impact. Moreover, this initial interaction helped me plan costing more realistically and incorporate into the project plan – this saved about 20% of our spending because we discovered few alternatives that were less expensive.”

..will sell better than something like,

“I was the sole person with most of the knowledge on the project and everyone would come to me for anything. The project plan I prepared won the best project management plan prize in our company”.

You get the idea.

By the way, did you know that you are entitled for awesome discounts and my free PMP prep books? Check it out here.

Tip #5. Do not be afraid to talk about your failures

A good interviewer understands that success is not guaranteed in every project.

And most likely you will be asked about a project where you failed. If someone has got success she would have failed few times.

Why?

Because no one comes on to this earth knowing project management inside out. Which means everyone learns from the beginning, this also means there will be failures before one learns to manage things well. If they are not apparent to you, take time and just go through each events of your projects.

Even you might have managed ALL of your projects successfully there will be incidents where you took some decision that did not work out the way you thought through.

Identify such and provide the interviewer with the lessons you learned from that incident.

That, is what they would be looking to gauge from the conversation. Whether the interviewee has learned from the mistakes she’s made. The key however is to be brief about your explanation.

Tip #6. Tell them how you grew into your current position

And highlight how you grew WITH the company. This gives interviewer an insight as to how you can grow into their organization. However keep this conversation short, unless she wants to know more and asks questions around your explanation.

Tip #7. Do not badmouth anyone, especially previous manager(s)

It is a known fact that people do not leave companies, people leave managers.

Even if this is true in your case, do not talk negative about your manager during interview. Or about anyone, for that matter. Thinking about from the interviewer’s perspective, she too is a manager of someone. It just doesn’t feel good hearing another manager being complained about.

Badmouthing creates a negative vibes, and during interviews… no, you don’t want any. Although the case is genuine it is better to be avoided.

If this is about the reason for leaving previous job, manufacture some positive reason if required.

Tip #8. Talk about instances where you hit a wall and overcame obstacles

Everyone loves to hear stories of someone overcoming hardship. Movies are made every day with this theme.

It does help for you to highlight such experiences. Wait for the opportune moment to narrate it, and make it part of the context of discussion.

Make it a point to bring this during an appropriate moment although not explicitly asked, because EVERY project manager position will have difficult situations and you need to demonstrate your ability to handle tough situations. Even if it is not stated explicitly in the job description it is part of project manager’s profile.

Tip #9. Highlight the best practices of project management you have used across your projects

Talk about tools (Project Server, Trello, Asana, AZendoo, MS Excel, whatever you have used) and methodologies (Agile, waterfall, V, etc) you have used.

Also important is how you helped spread best practices from your own project across to other projects.

This also showcases your ability to take initiatives.

Tip #10. Cover all the bases

Do this exercise couple of days before your project manager interview.

Make a list of all attributes a project manager must have. Tenacity, Initiative, Proactiveness, People-focus, Commitment to customer success, Ability to understand business and contribute to company growth even if its outside of expectations from PM, ability to get more business from existing customer, ability to learn new stuff, ability to take action even under pressure, and so on.

Spend some time going through your past experience and list one or two instances of each of these (or as many as you can, but without manufacturing them). Relive those memories.

During interview conversation whenever you come across a situation that you can map to your list, casually drop in how you handled one such in your career.

These are essential part of project manager’s profile and not many interviewers themselves would have thought to check interviewee on these attributes. These casual mentions contribute to their overall assessment of you and should there be a tie to your position with another candidate you might get past that last barrier on the basis of these traits of character.

In Conclusion

Project manager interview can be stressful, but need not necessarily be. These 10 tips combined with some of these preparatory steps should make it a pleasant exercise. I’d love to hear about your project manager interview experiences – please let me know in the Comments section below.

To your success,

shiv-sign

Research reference –

Eva Krumhuber, Antony S. R. Manstead, Darren Cosker, Dave Marshall, Paul L. Rosin. Effects of Dynamic Attributes of Smiles in Human and Synthetic Faces.

Image courtesy: usfbps

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{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Abdelkader Alziady December 4, 2014, 2:13 pm

    thank you for support others .I already passed the PMP exam from 3 weeks
    I used many books and your blue prints for preparing for the exam .
    plz, don’t stop your mails to me ,I found it helpful in many

    Reply
    • Shiv Shenoy December 4, 2014, 2:27 pm

      Hi Abdelkader, thanks for your message. Glad to see you found the Blueprint useful, your message only corroborates what hundreds of people are writing to me about. Thanks! -Shiv

      Reply

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