I get an understanding of what good code is and what skills will be needed on my project. I can assess a software developer's skills and knowledge by looking at his code and asking technical questions. That's not always easy, but at least I know the way.

I get an understanding of what makes a good Project Manager. But how do I tell a good PM from a wannabe on the interview? I can not usually look at his/her projects. I can come up with some general questions like "What motivates people?". But that's not enough I guess.

What do I do to indicate a good Project Manager?

  • 2
    There's no such thing as a foolproof interview technique. If there were, no one would ever make a bad hire.
    – Todd A. Jacobs
    Nov 24, 2014 at 22:43
  • At the same time, they do not hire random people for PM positions. Some questions are asked and some answers are given. Let me rephrase my question a little bit, so it will be clearer what I'm looking for. Nov 24, 2014 at 23:02
  • 1
    The problem is that each person will have their own techniques, questions and hot-spots as part of their recruitment of a PM. As CodeGnome has pointed out there is no special formula- you are doing the hiring so you need to decide what questions and answers are important to you. As you have already confirmed you have an understanding of what makes a good PM for you then already have the basis of structuring an interview to look for those qualities. Anything else that could be provided here is an opinion poll, which is off-topic for this site.
    – Marv Mills
    Nov 25, 2014 at 9:47
  • Ok, I agree that interivew is subjective thing. However, I'm still wondering what makes a good PM. Like consistency and attention to details make a good QA. Any suggestions on how to rephrase the question to better reflect that? Nov 25, 2014 at 15:51
  • See the following for guidance on what it sounds like you're looking for: pm.stackexchange.com/questions/6555/… Nov 27, 2014 at 0:32

3 Answers 3


Other answers have provided good detail on the 'hard' skills (budget management etc) that good PMs should be able to demonstrate but I'd be most interested in the soft skills - negotiation, persuasion, communication etc - that are sometimes overlooked but are (in my experience) most critical to success.

What you ask and how you ask it should be guided almost entirely by the kind of organisation you are, the kind of people the PM will work with, and what you actually need/want them to do (fit in with existing systems? instigate change? reinvigorate a struggling project?). There's no point hiring someone who's great at sticking to existing systems and approaches if what you really need is someone who's going to tear things up and start again.

I find that using scenarios ('imagine you have a deadline looming and three team members are sick...') in interviews is a good way of teasing out the ways in which an individual will respond and react in a particular situation. It's no guarantee of course - without putting someone in a real life crisis (which is probably excessive in an interview!) you just won't know how they'll respond.

You should also emphasise the importance of providing examples from previous roles ('tell me about a time when you had to deal with a difficult team member...'). This will give you confidence that the candidate has actually done this stuff and not just read it in a book.

  • 1
    I totally agree, sometimes having a charismatic leader that can motivate people is more important than having a manager that can implement a CMMI lvl 5 process.
    – rioki
    Nov 27, 2014 at 12:33

What constitutes a good PM is highly subjective but I'm going to take a stab at this based upon what I would look for in a good project manager to see if that helps you.


Below are a list of things I would look for as broken down by the PMBOK knowledge areas.

Integration Management:

  • Ask them to provide you with a project charter / plan they have authored. (They might take one that someone else has authored)

  • Get them to interview you about one of your projects during the interview, and draft and submit a project plan to you for review.

  • Ask them about how they manage changes, any tools they have used, best practices they follow, etc.

  • Ask them about a project that they recently completed, specifically the tasks they undertook to formally close the project

Scope Management:

  • Ask them to describe how they would define, validate, and control the scope of a project. (basically describing a scope management plan)

  • Ask them how they would go about collecting requirements. How do they know when they have all the requirements?

  • Ask them how they would break down the work into manageable components.

Time Management:

  • Assuming that they were on time for the interview, ask them what they did to ensure they did arrive on time, and ask them questions what they would have done if something went wrong (I think a good PM always has a backup plan. If their car breaks down, they have a friend they can borrow from, or the ability to take transit.)

  • Ask them how they will come up with a realistic schedule. I would look for someone who investigates every item and double checks it against facts. Past experience is sort of good, but too much reliance can be a crutch.

  • Now that they have a schedule, what will they do to keep everyone on track? Good PMs monitor the critical path and keep all the stakeholders in the loop of critical milestones. I would look for someone who indicates they would remind people in advance of pending deadlines. (e.g. email to co-worker: "Hey, just a reminder that (key deliverable) is due on friday. Let me know if you need anything to complete this.")

Cost Management:

  • Ask them about how they will manage and control costs. I would look for someone who spends a lot of effort on clarifying the budget and detailing the scope including assumptions and exclusions.

  • Ask them if they have had any experience estimating. Give them an example item and ask them how they would go about finding out how much it cost. If they give you a price from memory, ask them to describe why they think that is a good price. I would look for someone who is resourceful and seeks out the information from multiple sources.

Quality Management:

  • Ask them to describe what quality means to them. I would look for someone who makes the distinction between quality and grade.

  • Ask them to describe how they would make sure the team delivers quality results. I would look for someone who clarifies the scope with everyone to make sure they are on the same page. (E.g. If you want a new floor and simply tell the contractor "new floor" he may understand that to mean "the cheapest new flooring possible" while you are envisioning bamboo planks. A good PM would demand the scope be clarified to indicate "new bamboo flooring" and also follow up with the contractor to make sure they caught this note.)

Human Resource Management:

  • Ask them to describe to you how they would acquire, develop and manage a project team. How do they make sure team members have the required skills to get their jobs done, and know what their responsibilities are.

Communications Management:

  • Ask them how they would manage project communications. Is there a tool they recommend? Have they used your internal communication tool before? What are their thoughts on email / phone / SMS / IM communication? When is it appropriate to use each? (I would look for someone who identifies the strengths and weaknesses of each tool and is willing to adapt as required)

Risk Management:

  • Ask them how they will identify project risks? Do they have pask experience with projects similar to yours?

  • Ask them how they assess project risks? Do they have any tools they use to help determine which risks are most important to address?

  • Ask them to describe a risk that was successfully mitigated, followed by one that wasn't and what they would do looking back

Procurement Management:

  • Ask them about their experience procuring the services involved in your projects. Have they done this? How many have they done? Was it sole-sourced, public, somewhere in-between?

  • Ask them to describe a successful procurement and an unsuccessful procurement that they participated in.

  • Ask them how they closed out a previous procurement.

Stakeholder Management:

  • Ask them how they identify stakeholders on a project. How do they know they have identified all the stakeholders?

  • Ask them how they manage diverse stakeholders, and what are their tactics to deal with a disengaged or adversarial stakeholder.

Hopefully this is helpful!

  • This is good stuff. I'd caveat that relying too heavily on certifications can be dangerous (it's not actually that difficult to get certified - much more difficult to do this stuff in practice) so you definitely need to dig in to the detail further at the interview stage.
    – Willl
    Nov 26, 2014 at 16:22
  • 1
    Yes, of course the certification alone is not enough, that's why I would dive deep into the 10 knowledge areas to find out if they really understand them. There's a big difference between someone who just passed and someone who lives and breathes project management. Nov 27, 2014 at 14:26

Hunter & Hunter 1984 and others have described consistently how incredibly weak our employee selection tools and processes are. Conducting an interview is one of the weakest selection tools in terms of predictive validity, although adding structure helps to a decent degree.

If all you have in your employee selection tool box are resume reviews and interviews, your odds of selecting a quality employee, no matter the role or level of seniority, are low and, if you are successful, will most likely be due to pure luck.

Soliciting questions on this site is a non starter, since the answers are not tested or correlated with future performance and is subject to extreme bias.

Your issue is not soliciting for indicators but you need to get schooled in the tremendous issues in hiring predictive validity, human cognitive biases, and decision making issues. Just google this and start reading.

  • 3
    +1 for pointing out that most interview processes are not statistically better than random chance at predicting job success. I think HR degrees should require forehead tattoos that remind people of this inconvenient truth. :)
    – Todd A. Jacobs
    Nov 25, 2014 at 22:40
  • 1
    Not the best answer to read when I have two interviews tomorrow :)
    – Marv Mills
    Nov 26, 2014 at 23:31

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.