Moving on in project management often means finding a new role. As we gain more experience in project management, we want to go on and do bigger projects with more complexity and more strategic importance. And sometimes it’s not possible to do that type of work within the organization where you are today. When it feels like you’ve outgrown the possibilities presented by your current employer, it’s time to get a new job.
So how do you prepare for an interview? An interview as a project manager has many similarities to applying for any management post. Here are five tips for getting prepared once you’ve received the notification you going to an interview.
Research the organization
Whether you are staying in the same industry or moving to a new one, it’s worth doing some research into the company you are visiting for the interview. The internet makes it so easy.
Check out what employees say on Glassdoor, look up the business on LinkedIn, read their website and do a Google search on key executives and the people who will be interviewing you.
Find out if the company has social media channels and what they are saying on their Facebook and Twitter pages. Do they seem active and responsive to customer queries? Is the tone of communication in line with what you would expect, or the kind of company values you want to be associated with?
Find out about the role
Before you arrive at the company for an interview (or speak to them on the phone, if you are having a telephone interview), make sure you know what the job is.
That seems straightforward, but the roles of project delivery personnel are diverse! Ask for the role description, job specification, person specification, organization chart and anything else they can give you to help you understand how the role fits into the business.
In particular, make sure you understand the remit of the role and the responsibility level of the post – where are you in the hierarchy? Have you accidentally got an interview for a program manager, when you were after a portfolio office job? Don’t assume that the hiring manager knows exactly what your skillset and background is, especially if you have applied through an agency or central HR department.
Understanding the role will also help you pitch your salary expectations in case you get asked during the interview.
Check the location
Where are you going for the interview? It doesn’t look good to turn up late, or to have to call the office and tell them you are lost!
Plan your route, allowing for traffic disruption or public transport issues on the day. Do a practice run if necessary, so you can feel confident that you know how to get there.
Find out who you should ask for on the day, which building to report to if it is a multi-building site, and where you can park. Have all the information to hand, so if the worst happens and you are running late despite your plans, you can let the interviewer know.
Prepare answers to common questions
Now you know about the company and the role, you can work out the kinds of questions the interviewer is going to ask you. Common interview questions are:
- Can you outline your experience to this point?
- Why did you apply for this job?
- What do you know about our business/industry?
- What can you bring to the role?
- Tell us about a time when… (followed by a scenario).
Think about some highlights in your career that make good stories to illustrate certain skills like stakeholder engagement, communication, leading a team, handling conflict and managing up. If necessary make notes, it won’t hurt your chances to pull out a notebook during the interview – on the contrary, most employers will be impressed you took the time to prepare!
Some interviews incorporate a test, and you should be warned of this in advance. It could be preparing a presentation on a topic, creating a sample project schedule for a fictional project, or something else. You might be asked to do an exercise like this on the spot, but it’s more likely that the recruitment team will tell you what to expect on the day.
If you are asked to prepare materials to take along to the interview, do that and be ready to discuss what you’ve done.
Prepare questions to ask
At the end of your interview, interviewers tend to ask if you have questions for them. It’s considered good practice to have something to ask, so plan a few questions in advance. If you are worried that your mind will go blank, write them down and rely on your notebook when the time comes.
Remember that if there is a natural point in the interview to ask your question, feel free to ask it at that point. You don’t have to save all your questions to the end – the interview is also your opportunity to check if you want to work for this company, so use your chance and ask what you want to find out.
Here are some sample questions you could use:
- Why is there a vacancy?
- When was your PMO set up?
- What is the path most people take to promotion?
- What project management methodology or approach do you use most?
- What happens next in the recruitment process?
You’re ready! Preparing for an interview is always a little nerve-wracking but remember, this could be the start of a wonderful opportunity. Good luck!
This article was written by Elizabeth Harrin.
Elizabeth Harrin is the creator of A Girl’s Guide to Project Management, which she started in 2006. She has won a number of awards for her internationally popular blog: "A Girl's Guide To Project Management." She also authors two additional blogs, regularly featuring interviews she conducts with industry experts: "Talking Work," and "The Money Files," on Gantthead.