Your dream company has invited you to interview for a project management job. They’ve asked you their questions, and now it’s your turn to find out whether the company is a good fit for you. Asking the right questions can give you an accurate glimpse of what it will really be like to work for your potentially new boss, team and organization.
Here are ten revealing questions to ask during your interview process.
1. What is the most important skill you think I should have?
Turn the tables. Your interviewer will probably ask you what you think are the most important skills for a project manager. Find out what the team or organization values the most from team members. “The ability to track time” versus “teamwork skills” are two very different answers. This information will give you a good idea of how the organizational culture works—and what will be expected from the role you’re interviewing for.
2. Where do project managers go in the company?
This will help you work out what your likely career path is going to be if you’re successful in securing the job. Ideally, your interviewer will explain the structured opportunities available to you based on your level of experience and qualification.
You should expect to hear that there are two main career paths: moving up within a project and program management, and also being promoted out of project management into other jobs. You’ll have to decide if the paths they explain fit your personal career goals.
3. How many women/minorities/ex-project managers are on the Board?
I have stumped a couple of interview panels with this one. It’s interesting to see their reaction: Do they actually know the answer to this question, or do they have to come to an answer by going through a list of Board members in their heads (you’ll be able to tell).
The answer reveals what senior levels of management look like in the company, which in turn is a crude but probably accurate reflection of your career prospects. It also gives you the chance to talk about the diversity programs the company might have in operation.
4. How does your mentoring program work?
If nothing else this question will lead on to: “How do you support project managers if you don’t have a mentoring program in place?
5. I’d like to an MBA/PMP course. Do you support professional development?
Find out first if the organization offers support for ongoing professional development, and then how. There’s a big difference between letting employees expense an annual membership for a professional organization, and funding an MBA program. Expect the answer to fall somewhere in between.
If you don’t get the answer you want, at least you’ll know what you’ll be facing if you choose to take on further study in the future.
6. How do you know when your clients/stakeholders are happy?
Today, project success goes much further than the iron triangle. You’ll want to make sure that employee productivity is channelled into happy customers, not simply a tick box exercise for whether you hit your deadline. This question gives your interviewer the opportunity to talk about customer satisfaction surveys, ongoing reviews, how they manage lessons learned on projects, and more.
7. Will I work with Business Analysts?
It’s good to know the kind of support you can expect in this job. An organization that values the input of business analysts will have a different outlook and culture to one that expects you, as the project management professional, to do all the process mapping and requirements elicitation.
Expand the conversation to get a better view of who else is going to make up your project teams. For example, does each project get allocated a financial analyst to help with budgets and forecasting? How would you engage with the technical teams for projects with an IT element—directly with each team or through a technical architect or lead? The latter is preferable, especially while you’re new to the business and might not know exactly whom to ask for what.
8. What software do you use?
Ask what project management software, collaboration tools and scheduling software they expect project managers to use. You probably won’t make a decision to work for this company solely on the software they use, but it’s still useful background information and insight into work habits and culture.
You can deduce a lot from a company where everyone uses a collaborative project management tools or enterprise system, versus an organization where nothing is mandated but most people plan in spreadsheets.
9. What flexible working options do you offer?
Flexible working should be important to you, so check what policies are in place. This could be anything from a complete, self-managed approach that rewards employees based on measurable reports to specified work-at-home days.
If you’re interviewing for what looks like your dream job, and you need a level of flexibility, but in this case you’re expected in the office 9 – 5, Monday to Friday, then perhaps it isn’t your dream job after all.
10. How many of your projects here fail?
The first thing to look for in the answer is whether there’s a figure they can give you. A sign of a mature organization is one that collects data on successes and failures, however they’re defined. You’ll be able to tell if your interviewers are making up a number, or whether they have a sound statistical basis for their response.
There’s a lot riding on a job interview—for both the organization and the individual. When you’re interviewing for your next career move, the right questions can give you the insight you need to know if the position and the team are the best fit for you.
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