Project Management Killer Interview Questions

Last week I took a look at the project management interview process with the idea that we could really turn it on its head by interviewers not using a CV during the actual interview. It makes sense because there are certain behaviours that interviewers show that really skew the interview process – or in other words there are known interview bias that influence the way we interview and choose candidates.

Huffcutt (2010) outlined seven principles for interviewing which tries to avoid these bias. In this post I concentrate on the bias, “avoid bad questions”. It stands to reason that good questions throughout the interview will give a greater insight into who the candidate is and the experience they have. Huffcutt reminds us that interview questions should be chosen purely on the ability to extract information from candidates that is directly related to the requirements of the job they are being interviewed for. Sounds like common sense, however many interviewers will still ask common questions that are not necessarily related to the job and are more likely to be found in the hundreds of “Get that Job” books available. Huffcutt highlighted this with the classic question of, “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”. A classic question that most people have rehearsed to death to give an answer that shows their weakness could actually be a strength.

Questions for project management interviews – indeed any interviews – should concentrate on KSAO – Knowledge, Skills, Abilities and Other Characteristics  that are needed in the position, so typically the questions should come from the job specification. Questions can also be formulated to extract KSAO of a candidate by using questions based on ‘critical incidents’ or typical project management scenarios.

low-pictofigo-fight-hi-019Huffcutt also stated that interview questions can be improved by using different types of questioning.  ‘Behaviour description’ questions are those types that ask a candidate when they have displayed a certain type of characteristic. For example in a project management interview, the job specification states that a strong communicator, with a clear track record of team building, with strong leadership qualities and skills is required. The questions could include, “when have your leadership skills been really tested?” or “when have your communication skills made a real difference?”

There are also ‘situational’ questions that enable an interviewer to set a hypothetical scene or situation and ask candidates how they would perform in those circumstances. To make these questions really applicable, the scenarios should really come from real examples that have happened in the organisation before (incidentally this sounds like a good use of historical project lessons learnt)

Killer questions for project management interviews stem from the job analysis and job specification. The questions should always be related to the position being recruited for. Questions should really bring out the specific knowledge, skills, abilities and other characteristics that are required to perform in the role within that specific organisation. Common interview questions should be avoided at all costs.



Allen I. Huffcutt (2010) From Science to Practice: Seven Principles for Conducting Employment Interviews. Applied H.R.M. Research, 2010, Volume 12, Number 1, pages 121-136

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  1. Competency based rather than c.v. based interviews are certainly a great way to discover whether a candidate for a Project Management role is up to the job. The interview should be based on a first class job description and person specification with a sound knowledge of the challenges likely to be confronted in the specific project or in similar project scenarios. I really like ‘How to Manage a Camel’. It’s full of useful information, interesting and well presented. Sharon Henry.

  2. Thanks Sharon. I think the problem a lot of the time is that the job and person specification are not that great. Not that many people know how to write them – and be realistic for that particular position. I mean, we’re all guilty of a cut-and-paste job when we can get away with it but ultimately we’re talking about a process that can cost an organisation a small fortune if they hire the wrong people. More care and attention needed I think!

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