Program Manager Interview Questions

Recently I’ve been interviewing for two new roles within my team, Program Manager and Project Manager. On the day I was to interview the first candidate I was cycling to the office that morning trying to decide what questions would be appropriate for a mid-level Program Manager position. Once I got to the office I scribbled down the few questions I had thought of, and went to conduct the interview.

Over the course of the next few weeks I developed these questions into a more comprehensive set of questions to get a handle on a candidate’s suitability for each role. In this post I want to share the Program Manager interview questions I used and explain the reasoning behind each one. If there is any interest I’ll also write down the questions I used for the project manager role.

Ok, so here are the questions I asked and why. I always like to start with the first question on the list.

Question: Spend 5 minutes explaining your current position? Sometimes I might ask them to spend 5 minutes describing their career to date. Sometimes I ask both questions.
What I’m looking for: I’m asking these questions to determine how well they can take a huge amount of information and compress it down to 5 minutes. Additionally I’m interested to observe if they can explain themselves in a crisp and clear manner. This question is important as a large part of Program Management is taking complex information from multiple sources and communicating it to stakeholders in an easy to understand manner.

Question: If you had no direct authority over a colleague, how might you go about persuading them to support one of your proposals?
What I’m looking for: Here I’m hoping to see that they understand how to influence. I also like it when they offer and actual example. There are obviously numerous ways to influence and I’m not looking for a specific one. However, here is a link to the process I use to influence.

Question: What does a program manager do?
What I’m looking for: This might appear to be a very simple question but I was surprised how many candidates couldn’t describe accurately what a program manager does. I’m not looking for the perfect answer but would like them to point out that program managers manage the dependencies between projects, but not the projects themselves. Also, it’s always good if they mention Benefits Management.

Question: If I was to task you with implementing a Program Management Office, how might you go about it?
What I’m looking for: All I’m looking for here is that they’re able to think on their feet in a logical way. So perhaps they might answer by saying they would understand the business need for PMO, to shape how best to implement one, and then implement in phases, attacking the easy wins first. But really any logical answer is good.

Question: How do you ensure the whole team feeds into the risk management process, and how do you go about managing risks?
What I looking for: An understanding of the risk management process and its importance.

Question: How would you go about building a team?
What I’m looking for:Primarily an understanding that teams are very important. You can have the best governance and processes in the world, but if you have a bad team, your program will fail. Conversely, truly great teams always seem to find a way to deliver no matter what the obstacles. Other than this I’m just looking to see their approach to team building. Candidates often mention the use of Myers-Briggs Type Indicators to aid in building a balanced team.

Question: Suppose you were tasked with building a new Play Station and rolling it out globally. What roles would you have within your team and what would be the responsibilities of each role?
What I’m looking for: This is a practical question for which you’ll need to use a whiteboard. The question is designed to start a debate between the candidate and myself about team planning. If I feel there are gaps in their proposed team I will ask questions hoping they can identify the gaps and fill them. If we get the team in place quickly then I often follow up by asking what are the initial tasks the program manager might kick off for this program?

Question: With programs running over a long duration and Agile over very short time periods, do you feel there is a tension when it comes to including Agile projects within a program?
What I’m looking for: I personally do not think there is any conflict between Agile and programs, however, whichever point of view the candidate takes, what I’m interested in is an intelligent, considered answer.

In addition to the questions above I obviously always ask all the stock questions about a persons strengths and weaknesses etc, but the questions above are the ones which I feel are specific to program management, and enough to give a good indication as to candidates experience of program management and thinking style.

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Lu February 16, 2011 at 4:17 am

Hi, could you please send me by email the questions you used for the project manager role?
Thanks and regards.

Denis February 18, 2011 at 7:56 am

Hi Lu,

I sent you an email with some details. I’ll also aim to get the an article up soon to cover this topic in detail.

Best,
Denis

causacn August 3, 2011 at 9:25 am

I have the same request for detail of the questions and answers. Could you please kindly email me?

Thanks!

Neha August 7, 2011 at 2:06 pm

Hi, I will really appreciate if you could send me something similar for Project Manager role.

Thanks,
N

Denis August 13, 2011 at 2:47 am

@Neha – I’ve sent you an email

@ Causacn – I’ve sent you an email also

Hope to get this topic cover off this month on the site as I’m getting several persistent requests for it!

Denis

Sarada October 23, 2011 at 8:19 am

Hi,
Can you send me the link to the PRoject Manager Interview questions if you have published already. Else I will really appreciate if you could email me something similar for Project Manager Role.

Thanks,
Sarada

Michelle November 1, 2011 at 1:08 pm

Great Website! Could you please email me the questions you asked for the program management position? Also, anything additional I should know if the position I’m interviewing for is for specifically, a capital improvements program?

Thank you for your assistance in this matter.

nanny ckr June 10, 2012 at 1:38 pm

Great article.. can you email me the Q&A as well.. thanks

Priya June 20, 2012 at 8:27 pm

Great article. Would really appreciate if could you mail me the questions as well…

Rekha August 11, 2012 at 9:10 am

Hi,

Apart from the above questions mentioned, is there some other questions that a Program Manager should be ready to face in interview?? Appreciate if could email it.

Thanks!!!

K October 12, 2012 at 6:45 am

Hello,
This article has been very useful. It shows how to be crisp and provide examples to justify your answers.

Is there anyway for you to provide me any further details, Q&A for the Program Management role.
I have my interview next week.

Thanks K

Hazel November 20, 2012 at 2:55 am

Hello,

Could you please email me the questions you used for the Project Manager role?

Thanks

V.V. January 29, 2013 at 8:41 am

Hi,
Thanks for a nice article. If you could send me what questions could be asked in the program manager role is in academic institution and what could be considered good answers to those question. I am preparing for a program manager job interview in academic institute. Thank you.
V.V.

Dennis May 11, 2013 at 6:06 am

Please kindly provide me any further details, Q&A for the Program Management role.
I have my interview next week.

Y. Y. July 3, 2013 at 2:38 pm

Hello,
This article has been very useful. It shows how to be crisp and provide examples to justify your answers.

Is there anyway for you to provide me any further details, Q&A for the Program Management role.
I have my interview next week.

Thanks K

JAD September 23, 2013 at 4:08 pm

Hi, I found your article very interesting, can you please send me the questions and answers of the interview?

Thank you

sandra September 24, 2013 at 3:18 am

Thank you your write up is educating and has really helped me prepare for my interview! God bless you

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