Where a fluff interview answer but a solid resume could still win you a job in other sectors, it’s likely to cost you a project management job. Because project managers are prized for their ability to solve problems, the scenario-based interview question requires a solid response. Sometimes it’s hard to know what makes a truly bad answer so we’ve compiled a short list for you here.

Question #1

You have no participation in wage and salary administration for team members; you cannot hire people or have them removed from your team without the help of the functional managers; and your team members are working on several projects in addition to your project. Now, how do you plan on motivating the people assigned to your project?

Why it’s asked: As a project manager, you often have leadership responsibility but virtually no authority.
Worst Answer: “I’d ask executives or functional managers to help pursue incentives.”
Why it’s bad: When you have no carrots to dangle in front of team members, such as performance reviews or bonuses then you must rely upon your interpersonal skills, ability to work with all sorts of people, and especially communication skills.

Question #2

You are walking down the hall and a high level executive approaches you to ask about a problem your program is having. She tells you what she thinks you should do about it, but you are not the Subject Matter Expert on the problem. How should you respond to the executive?

Why it’s asked: To demonstrate how a PM manages leadership expectations with honesty and integrity
Worst Answer: “It depends on the situation.”
Why it’s bad: This is at best a stall and at worst a cop out. Everything depends on something and leaders know it. Don’t waste their time with this sophomoric response. Indicate that you understand what their telling you but that you aren’t the expert. Ask to run it by the team (the actual Subject Matter Experts) and get back to them in a few days.

Question #3

When you are assigned a project in flight that is completely off the rails, how do you go about getting it under control?

Why it’s asked: To reveal the level of understanding of basic project management skills, like those tested in the PMP exam, and a leadership approach.
Worst Answer: “I’d find out who missed or is missing their deliverables and hold them accountable.”
Why it’s bad: While on its face this seems a plausible answer, it skips the important steps of evaluation and diagnosis, a recurrent theme in formal Project Management. Unless life and safety are at stake, the correct approach is to determine why the project is off the rails before diving into remedies. Further, this new project manager would immediately be seen as an uncaring “command and control” type project manager rather than a partner and leader.

Question #4

As your project goes into execution, a senior leader from another business unit phones and irately tells you that they were never informed about the project but that they are impacted. What do you do?

Why it’s asked: To show interpersonal skills and reveal how the project manager handles integrated change on projects.
Worst Answer: “I’d direct them to speak to the project sponsor.”
Why it’s bad: This suggests a not-my-job mentality and passes the buck.The correct response is to first listen to and understand the point of view. Second, you must evaluate and document the claim, and third, assuming the impact is real, you must work with this leader on a recommendation for project change to take the sponsor for a decision.

Question #5

How do you get stakeholders on the same page early in a project when there is little information and much uncertainty?

Why it’s asked: To get at how a project manager communicates, reasons, and leads in uncertainty.
Worst Answer: “I’d remind them that we don’t know much early and ask them to be patient while we work through the details.”
Why it’s bad: This is obvious, unhelpful, and ultimately fails to answer the question. Project manager work is rife with uncertainty, and the job is to translate that uncertainty into action.