Project Management Interviews – keeping it on track

Over the years in recruiting project professionals I have found one of the key pieces of feedback from clients is that candidates have been unclear answering questions at interview. Often starting off with an example of when they did XYZ and going off on a tangent so not covering the response effectively. This is easy enough to do when the pressure is on and you are trying to convey a great deal of information.

The key to answering the question rather than missing the point is to think about what you have been asked and think about an example which clearly demonstrates the skill being questioned. Preparation before an interview is required, by taking the job description and looking at the list of requirements you can gauge the types of questions which will be asked and from there you can think about your examples.

  • Set the scene – give enough information for the interviewer to understand what it is you were delivering / supporting or the task in hand
  • Talk about your actions – I know we work in teams on projects but the interviewer wants to know what you did, so avoid talking about what we did and talk about what you did!
  • The outcome – what actually happened, talk about the result so the interviewer can understand how effective your actions were.

Here is an interview question and response to demonstrate how to structure your responses:

Interviewer:“Give me an example of when you have dealt with widely dispersed stakeholders?”

Candidate:

“When I was managing the new IT desktop roll out of Windows 7 at XXXX I was responsible for a number of technical teams based at head office and out at various divisions across the UK. The stakeholders were internal people such as a board member (the sponsor), head of IT (head of programmes), senior project managers and teams based at 4 different locations and external stakeholders such as the software development company project managers and technical teams.

I created a stakeholder map which clearly identified all the stakeholders in order of importance and a plan which covered communications. It became apparent that I would need to meet the key stakeholders on a regular basis to ensure project milestones were clear and everyone involved could gain a clear perspective of where we were in the plan and highlight any bottle necks which couldn’t be addressed at my clearance level.

The result meant that I had bi-weekly meetings with key stakeholders and regular “on the ground” reporting from workstream leads to ensure the work was being completed in a timely fashion whilst checking against the benefits to keep the senior management team on board with operations.”

The above example is rather generic but you get the idea – setting the scene to give the interviewer enough insight into what was being delivered and then talking through who the stakeholders are to demonstrate your understanding of who stakeholders are and how to harness a communications plan followed by the end result is giving the interviewer the right kind of information without going into chapter and verse and detracting away from the question and more importantly the answer.

Adopting this approach to your examples is good practice and also can help you when talking through achievements on your CV.

4 thoughts on “Project Management Interviews – keeping it on track”

  1. Sound advice Nicola. We have all been there in the heat of the interview and a million and one pieces of information come into the answer as the project and stakeholder scenario was so complex right?! Well, it wasn’t but we get all focussed on the detail and not the key points needed by the interviewer!

    The above is so much easier and more sensible to follow than the STAR model and should hopefully give the interviewer what they want.

    One thing I will say about recruitment and interviews is the number of people who insist on PRINCE2 without knowing anything about it or understanding that essentially it is overrated and quite useless in the ‘real world’. They will ask for it but when you ask them if they run a PRINCE2 environment they will say no! So really, other than being a membership requirement of sorts to be a bona fide PM – what is the point of this charade?

    1. Hi SJ, many thanks for your comments and for raising a very valid point about employers asking for PRINCE2. I have come across this scenario countless times and found it to be very frustrating as a PM recruiter and for perfectly brilliant project practitioners who haven’t got the badge so won’t be considered for roles. It would appear that PRINCE2 has become the buzz word for PM which is not good! This would make a brilliant blog article – I would love to hear more about your experiences of this if you would like to be involved.

  2. Sure. Not sure how much I will be able to remember as it was last time I was casting around for work a few years ago.

    Just strikes me that they do not have the foggiest what it is or how it is used but they seem to think it makes the difference between a good PM and a bad one which is not the case at all.

    Real experience of project handling and delivery is what cuts the mustard – not a piece of paper from THAT course in particular. I found it bore no relation at all to a real project environment and could not relate to it at all.

    I truly feel PMing is a set of skills, some learned, some innate, some that come with time and experience. Any fool can read that massive book, listen to nonsense and then use judgement to answer the questions – doesn’t mean they have ever delivered anything.

    Also Prince2 takes on average 7 years to embed into an organisaion – how unweildy is that?! Proof positive that it is not very good and hence no-one uses it in the real world very often.

    I have the certificate but I do not use any of the skills they ‘taught’ me. All Prince2 is really is a money making exercise for the Government and training companies.

  3. I agree that PRINCE2 certification does seem to be a box ticking exercise and have spoken to a great deal of Heads of Projects / Programmes who say they tend to get caught in a catch 22 scenario with their clients’ expecting all project staff working on their projects to have it, despite not running the projects to P2 methods. There is a need for education in this area but when you are dealing with those who don’t truly understand PM it is a hard one for them to swallow.

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