4 Common Project Manager Interview Mistakes

So you’ve found a position in project management and sent in your resume. It’s a dream position, and when you get the call for the interview you realize just how high the stakes are.

Now what?

Whether this is your first or your 50th project management interview, it helps to revisit best interview practices and brush up. There are good ways and bad ways to prep for a project management interview. While you’re prepping, keep these four common project manager interview mistakes in the back of your mind.

Making one of these common missteps can limit conveying your full potential as a candidate to the hiring manager. This could easily cost you the project management job of your dreams.

We’ll explain each of the most common project manager interview mistakes below, and what you can do instead to wow the hiring manager and land the job.

Bragging Too Much About Your Own Accomplishments

Bragging Too Much About Your Own Accomplishments

We know what you’re thinking — you’re supposed to brag about your accomplishments in a job interview. However, keep in mind that one of the key requirements of a project manager position is managing and getting along with many other individuals.

Highlighting your many skills is great, but make sure that you’re also conveying your ability to collaborate and lead a team. After all, you’ll need to be able to prove that you can work with many different types of people and organize large initiatives with ease.

In your position, you’ll be the middleman between skilled laborers, stakeholders, suppliers, and team members. Demonstrating people skills and describing situations in which you effectively managed a group or project to reach goals is a sure way to get another callback.

When asked to describe your accomplishments on your last project, make sure you highlight effective instances of team leadership or collaboration that positively impacted the end result.

Hiring managers will also be keen to know ways that you’ve positively managed stakeholder expectations and contact. Ideally, everyone should leave the table happy. Dissatisfied stakeholders can make a project management job ten times harder for everyone involved. For this reason, be sure to highlight this particular communication skill as well.

Bad-Mouthing Others

Bad-Mouthing Others

Bad-mouthing former team members, stakeholders, company owners or vendors reflects poorly on you! It also indicates a lack of maturity and the hiring manager might begin to wonder what you’d say about the project team you’re interviewing for if hired.

You may be completely correct about the issues with an individual involved in a past project, but an interview is not the place to talk about it.

Although managing a large variety of people can have its frustrations, it’s important to discuss your experiences impartially and calmly. Tell your interviewer about times when you’ve managed employee dissatisfaction, addressed underperformance or even delivered bad news; these are great examples of effectiveness in the position you’re interviewing for. Find a way to frame these negative experiences as a project manager in a positive light.

Focusing on how you skillfully and tactfully fixed a problem instead of the problem itself will show the hiring team that you have the competency needed to address similar problems on their new project management venture. Always use tactful language and avoid unnecessary emotion when speaking about the difficult experience. Growing red in the face, shouting or even rolling your eyes can telegraph to the hiring manager that you will react similarly at the first sign of difficulty.

Understand that every anecdote you provide should showcase your communication skills and problem-solve in a positive light. Empathy and a personal interest in your team members’ success are also very impressive skills to hiring managers. These skills often translate directly into a lower turnover and a higher productivity. Showcasing a time where you really went above and beyond for your team members, or at the very least showed empathy for them, will take you far in a project management interview.

Pretending You Have Knowledge That You Actually Don’t

Pretending You Have Knowledge That You Actually Don’t

Project management is found in all industries and in all company sizes. When searching for a project manager position, it may be tempting to go the “fake it til you make it” route and pretend you have knowledge about a certain process. Google is your best friend, right?

Not in this case.

Honestly, this couldn’t be a worse idea. A competent hiring manager will quickly be able to tell if you’re coughing up “expert knowledge” on any facets of technologies, methodologies or skill sets required that you don’t have, and you probably won’t get the job. Instead, be honest about your experience and be prepared with a plan to mitigate your lack of familiarity in this one small part of the job description so that the project can proceed effectively.

It’s also safe to say that you should stick to project management positions in industries and skills that you know well so that you can effectively manage the project. While opportunities will arise where you can cross over to other industries, projects in each field are not created equal. You can quickly find yourself in over your head if you lack too many job-specific skill sets.

Over Preparing For the Interview Questions

Over Preparing For The Interview Questions

This interview tip doesn’t just apply to project managers, but it’s a very common mistake. When you’re preparing for an interview, don’t google every potential question you can find and rehearse your answers. Chances are if you can answer any “top ten project manager interview questions” in your sleep that is exactly how you’ll sound to the hiring manager!

Instead, read the job description carefully and have two or three examples at the top of mind that would apply to each requirement of a time when you performed that task well.

Not sure what we mean?

Say the hiring manager asks how comfortable you are with budgeting. If you’ve done the right amount of homework, you’d probably have seen budgeting and financial reporting in the job description. Therefore, you can absolutely wow the hiring manager with a tale of a time your ingenuity and superior project management skills kept you in the budget on a project.

You can even talk about a time things didn’t go as planned on a project!

In fact, this is an excellent strategic plan in job interviews for project management. Talking about all your amazing successes as a project manager and how you saved the day for your company, team, and stakeholders is great. However, if you’ve been around the block or two as a project manager, you know that things can and do go wrong all the time.

Your job as a project manager is to manage risk effectively, not eliminate it completely. There will be risk, setbacks, pivots and more on every job site. Your hiring manager will expect it; in fact, they’ll probably be a little suspicious if your interview is full of happy project management tales!

The larger the scope of the project, the more chances that problems, tensions or risks arise. Discussing how you approached these setbacks or even delivered bad news can absolutely earn you the project manager position.

There is also another aspect of preparation you should be doing for your interview:

You will help yourself a ton by performing meaningful research on the company you’re interviewing with before the meeting. Again, this is one of those common interview tips, but do you know what you should be researching?

At a minimum, you should know what project management methodologies and software the company prefers to use.

You can find out this information directly by contacting the offices, or you can try to determine what project management software they use more subtly. For example, looking up past project managers they’ve worked with on LinkedIn. You can either connect with these past employees and message them, or peruse their skill set to see if yours matches up.

Discovering past projects that the company has worked on is important as well. Doing your homework on the most recent projects will often tell you about the type and scope of projects you’ll be undertaking at the company.

This can tell you about company expectations, processes and more before you even walk in the door. You’ll also really impress your hiring manager by doing your due diligence.

The Bottom Line

The Bottom Line

So what’s the main takeaway from this article? When talking about your previous project management experience, err on the side of honest, truthful and tactful. You’re free to talk about difficult problems and how you solved them; after all, any hiring manager for a project management position knows it’s not always sunshine and rainbows.

Don’t misrepresent your skill-base or knowledge. Even if it seems like the best job in the world, being caught in a lie can damage your reputation with the company and potential contacts of the company before you even get your foot in the door. Even if you’re not a great fit this time around due to lack of a particular skill or relevant knowledge the door could open up next time once you’ve brushed up a little!

Don’t rehearse interview questions endlessly so that you sound mechanical and uninterested when you answer them in the interview. You want to come across as passionate, interested and engaged in your profession! Practicing the same canned answers over and over will do you a disservice here.

Finally, don’t just research fast facts about the company like their founding date, management team, and top clientele. Dig a little deeper to find out what project management systems they use, who has worked for them before and what the actual work environment might be like for you as a project manager. This will not only impress the hiring manager, but it will give you valuable insight into whether this is the kind of position you’ll thrive in.

You don’t have to directly contact the company to find out details like this either! Try to look up past employees or project managers to scope out relevant skill sets and look for red flags that the company might be difficult to work for.

Hopefully these tips will help you land the job of your dreams! Let us know if we missed any in the comments.

Kenneth W. Boyd

Kenneth W. Boyd is a former Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and the author of several of the popular "For Dummies" books published by John Wiley & Sons including 'CPA Exam for Dummies' and 'Cost Accounting for Dummies'.

Ken has gained a wealth of business experience through his previous employment as a CPA, Auditor, Tax Preparer and College Professor. Today, Ken continues to use those finely tuned skills to educate students as a professional writer and teacher.