Interviews can be a trying time for some therefore it is essential you prepare thoroughly before the big day, put yourself in the shoes of the hiring manager and think about what it is they will want to know about you. As working in project management can be varied from organisation to organisation, departmentally and from project to project it is important to think about how you work, not just what you deliver or support in delivery. Of course the hiring manager will want to know what the deliverables are but they will also be interested in knowing how you get from A to B, not just working through a specific methodology but also how you overcome key challenges. Because there is a lot to get across in the interview you will need to bring some sort of control to how you present the information, it is too easy to get carried away trying to paint a clear picture by going off on a tangent, wasting precious time and not giving the information originally asked for by the interviewer. Here are some tips to help you keep on track:
- Research the role and understand which areas of your experience match up to their requirements, then you will have a list to work through.
- With your list you need to think about some strong examples which really meet with the requirements, these examples may be entire projects or specific areas of a project.
- Each example should talk through enough information to be clear to someone completely new to your area of work, don’t use acronyms and internal business terminology, do be thorough but concise.
- A good structured approach to talking through examples is the STAR technique (Situation, Task, Action & Result), apply this framework to each example and keep on track.
Make sure you do all you can to answer questions thoroughly, if you are unclear on what the interviewer is trying to draw out from you, ask them to rephrase the question. Keep your cool at all times – sometimes interviewers may throw in some curve ball questions to throw you off balance or goad you to see how you react under pressure. From the moment you arrive outside the building you are being tested, I know a lot of hiring managers who speak to reception staff after interviews to see how you were with them, so always treat others with respect and good manners.
Interview questions will vary from company to company and manager to manager but essentially the interviewer wants to verify some key areas such as: whether your skills and experience are right for the job, if you actually want the job and are you the right fit for the business. Answering questions with strong examples from your professional past will really help you win over the interviewer as theoretical answers really don’t add value.
One of the first questions you are likely to be asked is “what do you know about us?” This is where you need to have done your homework and know what it is the business does/produces, who its main competitors are and any challenges they may currently be facing (publicised or not).
You will also probably be asked to talk about yourself; this is something you can rehearse and you should look to produce a short (3 or 4 minutes long) monologue which focuses on relevant pieces of experience, any areas of progression and achievements. Keep it professional, don’t talk about children and family and avoid any jobs which aren’t going to be of interest to the interviewer.
It is also possible you will be asked to talk through key strengths and weaknesses – think about examples which are more relevant to the job/business and don’t fall into the trap of stating you have no weaknesses, we all do and it is how we identify and address them which makes us better/stronger candidates and more employable.
Why do you want this job? Another great question and often overlooked by candidates when preparing for interview – simply stating you need the money to pay the rent/mortgage isn’t good enough. Again this is where your research comes in, knowing more about what they do as a business and the direction they are taking in the market can be a great area to talk about and also think about the challenge of a new team, different projects, developing your skill set etc.
You will ideally be asked to talk about difficult situations and proud achievements – this can be a great platform to demonstrate your management style and to tell the interviewer about something which isn’t covered on the CV, talking about how you have added value and overcome major blockers can really sell you.
You’ll no doubt be asked about your career goals, be realistic but don’t sell yourself short. Think about your 5-10 year career plan beforehand and tell the interviewer your plans but be pragmatic, you could talk yourself out of a job if you intend to be climbing the career ladder at the rate of knots. Taking on more responsibility and new challenges doesn’t necessarily mean jumping from PM to Programme manager or Coordinator to Manager.
So you’ve worked hard to get noticed by the employers or been through the battle of getting recruiters to represent you and the hard work has paid off as you have an interview pending, or if you are fortunate then you may have a few lined up. This is the point where you don’t sit back and wait for the day; you need to apply yourself to really impress the interviewers. Often those who have reworked their CVs find it an important refresher for what they have done over the years and it really brings home the fact that we easily forget important (and relevant to interviews) pieces of work. Also those who have sat comfortably in a role for a long time or have secured assignments without interviews will not be as prepared as those who regularly go for interview. Here’s a guide to getting yourself ready and creating a good impression at interview:
- Go through your CV and refresh yourself on what you have been doing over the past few years, pay particular attention to areas relevant to the role you are interviewing for and dig deep into your memories by walking through assignments step by step to draw out any additional detail which may not be addressed on the CV.
- Read the job description and draw out key areas of requirement, those listed core competencies are a good starting point. For example if they are asking for Change Management then you will need to supply a good example of when you have managed change, think about the bereavement curve, what the key challenges were and how you overcame them.
- Start to pull out some strong examples which you feel will be good to talk about and apply the STAR technique (Situation, Task, Actions, Results), be clear on the message you want to deliver and keep to the facts, being theoretical is not useful to the interviewer especially when you’ve actually done it so tell them how it was.
- Examples of work, some interviewers may ask you to take an example of a stakeholder communication plan or project plan – in this case take a portfolio with some strong examples and be prepared to answer questions about it.
- Research the company, so many people barely do this so take time to really understand what the business does and what key challenges they may be facing, who are their competitors, what’s new on their news pages. Also take a look about what others are saying about them, know all there is to know – really demonstrate your buy-in to them and the role.
- Do a dummy run to the offices – don’t leave the journey to chance. It is always good practice to time how long it takes and which trains/buses you need to take (or where to park the car) and going at the same time of day as the interview will take place a day or two before will give you a good idea of traffic etc. Do remember to take enough change for the meter if you are driving, I have known one candidate turn up to interview stating they can only stay for half an hour as they only had enough change for that on the meter – yes really!
- Organise what you are going to wear a day or two before; ideally all should wear a suit or smart office clothes, even those who are fashion conscious need to tone it down for an interview. Nothing too outlandish or uncomfortable either.
- Put together some good questions to ask the interviewer, it is good practice to think through the role and business – this will naturally bring up some questions about how you will fit into the team, what you’ll be doing and what is expected from you within the first few weeks/months. Write a list, better to include more than you’ll ask as some will inevitably be covered by the interviewer during discussion.