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Program Manager Interview Question Guide For Interviewees & HR

11 min read

Are you thinking about becoming a Program Manager? Or are you looking for a talented individual to fill this position? If so, then it’s a good idea to do some preparation before your interview marathon begins. This applies to recruiters and candidates. 

I am going to discuss some of the most common program manager interview questions. I'll also tell you how to best approach them. 

Let’s get to it.

Behavioral Skill Interview Questions

Behavioral interview questions ask about specific situations to check your reactions. They aim to show your resistance to stress, your communication skills, how you behave in a professional environment, etc. 

Tell me about a time when you failed.

How to Answer

This program manager interview question is an invitation to share a story about a time when you messed up. It’s not a tricky question – we all misstep  from time to time. Recruiters simply want to find out how you cope in difficult circumstances, especially when you caused the difficulty. Don’t make it overly long. Start by describing the situation and explain why you found it challenging. Then tell them what you did exactly. Be honest and humble. 

It’s a good idea to frame it as a lesson. You can tell the recruiters what you’ve learned from this situation and how it made you stronger. 

Tip for a recruiter: When listening to the candidate’s reply, make sure they’re genuinely admitting to failure – not manipulating their answer to make them look good, or sharing a trivial story about a small mistake.

Have you ever faced a communication problem while managing a program? Who with, and how did you tackle it?

How to Answer

Program managers interact with many stakeholders, so it’s natural that communication issues arise sometimes. Your interviewer knows it, which is why they want to be sure you can effectively and professionally deal with them.  

The most important thing is to show that you achieved a positive outcome. Feel free to talk about the obstacles you encountered along the way. It will make the story sound more honest and realistic, but make sure it ends well. If you finish it negatively, you won’t be able to demonstrate your skills. Also, be sure to mention what you learned from this experience and how it will help you in your next job. 

Tip for a recruiter: If you’re unsure if the candidate has actually tackled the communication issue well, ask follow-up questions. Before you proceed with the recruitment process, it’s important to feel confident that you’re dealing with a candidate with integrity and interpersonal skills.

Tell Me About a Time You Disagreed With a Coworker

How to Answer

This program manager interview question is yet again conflict-related. And let’s face it, disagreements are part of our daily work. So instead of denying it ever happens, show how you approached it in a constructive and professional manner. The aim of this question is to prove to the recruiter that you’re able to handle disagreements productively, and that you’re a good collaborator. Those who put the well-being of the business over their personal interest are on the interviewers' radar. 

You have to demonstrate that you’re able to quickly handle a conflict before it escalates into something more serious. 

Tip for a recruiter: Additionally you can ask the candidate what they would do differently if they could turn back time. This will help you assess if they have drawn any lessons from their experience. 

Hard Skill Interview Questions

Hard skills are the professional abilities that make you qualified for the role you’re applying for. The term refers to all the skills you’ve gained through education, training, or, simply, on the job. Not only are they objective, they’re also a much easier way to assess than your behavioral traits.

When a hiring manager asks you these questions in your interview, they do so to evaluate how knowledgeable you are in each skill. This helps them decide if you’re qualified enough to do your job well.

What is your approach to change management? 

How to Answer

Program managers coordinate work across multiple projects, so change is a constant in their daily work. The best way to answer this program manager interview question is to recognize two aspects of change. First, there’s the change that sneaks up on you unexpectedly. Second, there’s the one that you initiate and manage through a formalized process. The first type will speak about your adaptability skills and, likely, how well you handle sudden project derailment. Meanwhile, the latter will show how good you are at change management as a systemic process.

Instead of reciting change management theory, refer to a previous experience. So, if you’ve helped your company undergo digital transformation, explain how you’ve tackled it. If you’ve decided to introduce a more advanced CRM or roadmap software (for example, one that uses automation), how did you get internal buy-in? What were the stages of moving from your legacy tool to the new one, etc.?

Make sure that your answer:

  • Shows that your change management is driven by a strategic approach

  • Explains how you recognize and address initial team resistance

  • Proves that you never lose sight of company values while navigating change

Tip for a recruiter: After listening to the candidate, ask yourself – could you picture a similar change management process at your company? Perhaps even take a step back. Do you believe that the change your applicant initiated was necessary for the business from a business perspective?

How do you assess project risks?

How to Answer

Just like change, risks are unavoidable in a program manager’s work. When a recruiter or hiring manager asks you this question, they want you to explain how you identify and mitigate them. Prove that you know how to engage in risk management throughout the entire project.

In your answer, explain how you’ve handled risk at your previous company. If you’re not a first-time program manager, mention what your risk appetite and risk tolerance thresholds were. Why were they set at these particular levels?

Try to present yourself as a critical thinker. Explain how you’ve formed judgments and learned from previous situations. And, since risks can lead to crises, explain how you help other team members stay calm and focused while solving the issue. This speaks miles about your job fit.

Tip for a recruiter: Pay attention to how the interviewee talks about their coworkers. Do they seem friendly and helpful or are they judgmental, trying to avoid taking responsibility for their decisions? 

What program management certification do you have?

How to answer

Program management is a career path many people enter from other lines of work. It’s a popular career pivot among Product Owners, Software Developers, and Data Analysts. Yes, Program Management Professional (PgMP) is probably the highest level of certification for program managers. Still, any other type of training that shows you can fulfill your duties well will be an asset, too. 

For example, if you used to be a Project Manager, it’s a great idea to mention your Project Management Professional (PMP) certificate and any Agile-certified practitioner courses. These prove that you know what the software development process looks like on the inside. Or, maybe, you have a BA in programming or completed a front-end coding boot camp. Be sure to tell your interviewer as it gives them a more wholesome picture of what you bring to the table.

Discuss how each and every course has helped you in practice and how it enabled you to further develop your hard skills.

Tip for a recruiter:  If your candidate seems to have it all but lacks a certificate that’s needed for the role, don’t write them off straight away. If they have the required on-the-job experience and the right soft skills, consider sending them to the right class or course in their first weeks of work.

Soft Skill Interview Questions

Soft skills are a mix of social, communication, and personal traits that might make you a good fit for a job. When someone asks you a soft skill interview question, they want to get a sense of who you are and how you’ll be as a team member.

Can you tell me about your management style?

How to Answer

There are several leadership styles. It’s good to familiarize yourself with them and understand if the one you practice is compatible with the company you’re applying to. If you’re sending your CV to an international corporation, then high chances are you’ll be able to Google the company’s key public figures. Try to identify which style(s) these people represent. This can give you a sense of whether your approach will be seen as an advantage or a potential issue.

If you hear this question in your interview, make sure to name the exact leadership style you identify with and explain why. So, if you see yourself as a transactional manager, you could say that it’s because you put a big emphasis on structure and tried-and-tested routines. If you can refer to an exact situation and how your management style played out in your company’s favor – even better.

Remember that each management style will have its pros and cons, so the hiring manager might ask you a couple of follow-up questions. Naturally, focus on explaining why you believe the one you live by will support you in effective program management. 

Tip for a recruiter: Try not to disqualify the candidate just because they have a different management style than most of your management team. If you’re not entirely sure they’ll be able to effectively lead a team, ask them a few additional behavioral questions to check their fit.

Which of your traits do you feel best equip you to work as a leader?

How to Answer

While answering this program manager interview question, first consider the traits every leader should possess. These can be anything from creativity, empathy, and authority, all the way to the ability to handle stress. Just make sure that at least some of the characteristics you mention are exhibited by you. Then you can go further and explain how you would use these traits to lead your co-workers. Mention both positive and negative situations. This way you’ll show the HR manager that you really thought it through. 

Tip for a recruiter: If your candidate doesn’t provide examples of situations, ask them a few follow-up questions. If they say they’re great at handling stress, then how did they use it to instill a sense of calm and focus across the whole team? While they’re discussing their own characteristics, these shouldn’t be about individual work. They need to prove a benefit to the team. 

What three skills do you think are most important to be an effective program manager?

How to Answer

Make sure that you actually have the skills you’re naming, and that you’re not simply saying what you think hiring companies want to hear. Recruiters – especially experienced ones – have pretty much seen it all. So, if they sense that you’re presenting a fictionalized version of yourself, they won’t trust you. Not exactly the first impression you’re going for!

If you genuinely feel that you’ve got above-average communication skills, a critical-thinking mindset, plus have years of project management experience, don’t be modest. Don’t forget to mention the abilities you’re still working on, too. The hiring manager will see that you’re a good investment, as you care about professional development. 

Tip for a recruiter: If you have any must-have skills in mind that a program manager should possess, write them down. After interviewing the candidate, compare their answers with your list. Just bear in mind that nobody is perfect, and a lot of skills can be learnt. 

Program Manager Interview Questions – securing your next job

Want to boost your chances of landing a job as a program manager or recruiting one? There are two things you can do. First, roll up your sleeves and study some of the most popular program manager interview questions.

If you’re applying for the role, the hiring manager will likely want to ask you three types of questions – those that assess:

  • Soft skills, like your leadership style

  • Hard skills, like your change management methodology

  • Behavioral traits, like how you communicate and navigate conflict

Make sure to prepare answers to all of the questions I’ve shared in this piece – this will help you make a good first impression.

And if you’re a hiring manager, then make sure to ask follow-up questions whenever you’re not satisfied with the candidate’s answer. Seek to learn about how the applicant has used their skills, traits, and education in real life. After all, they need to ideally fit your organization and resonate among your team members.

Whether you’re a candidate or a recruiting manager, be sure to check out Match. We’re an elite freelancer community that works with some of the most exciting companies in tech. Tell us about your career objectives or hiring goals, and we’ll take it from there!

About the Author

Kate manages content marketing for talent acquisition at MVP Match. Her job? Attracting the best and brightest tech talent into our community where they are matched with rewarding roles they deserve. She's a copywriter at heart, and has spent over 10 years in marketing for tech, healthcare, and consulting firms. An avid traveler and workation pro, Kate both embraces and advocates for a future where everyone is empowered to define work on their terms.