Hiring at your agency: 16 PM interview questions

Hiring at your agency: 16 PM interview questions
Written by: Karl Sakas

I’ve helped several clients hire project managers for their agencies. PM recruiting is tough, because there are plenty of organized people but not all of them have strong client skills—or the ability to plan ahead to keep things running smoothly.

Asking good interview questions will help you find better PMs—and find them faster. The sooner you find the right person, the sooner they can start managing projects and retainers for your agency!

PM interview questions for agencies

Past performance tends to predict future performance—especially in PM, where people often learn best from past mistakes. The key is to focus on values (what they believe) and behaviors (how they act) that match what you need in the PM role. Be sure to ask followup questions to drill down into their answers.

  1. What size budgets did you manage at <previous job>?
  2. How big were your teams at <previous role>? What were their roles?
  3. What appeals to you about this job?
  4. Over a month, how would you ideally like to split your time between internal coordination, external client service, client strategy, and administrative work?
  5. What was the key to your <accomplishment at previous role>?
  6. What did you do in <previous role> that no one else could have done?
  7. What’s more important: to finish on-time, on-budget, or on-scope?
  8. Walk me through a typical day at <previous role>.
  9. Tell me about the hardest project you’ve ever managed.
  10. What do you do to keep up with trends in our industry and in project management?
  11. How have you approached switching to a new PM tool?
  12. How do you keep track of your own tasks?
  13. Tell me about the most demanding client you’ve ever worked with.
  14. What are the pros and cons to Waterfall vs. Agile? What’s your own preference?
  15. How do you decide whether to comp a client request vs. require a change order?
  16. Share about a time you needed to get info from a client who wasn’t sharing what you needed.

Ideal: opinionated and flexible

Some of the questions here are “trick questions.” For instance, most agencies do a mix of Agile and Waterfall—rather than 100% one or the other. And the ideal answer to #7 (on-time, on-budget, or on-scope) is: “It depends on the particular client’s priorities” rather than one of the three.

You want someone who is opinionated—since being a PM is primarily about getting results through other people, so they often need to persuade the team to do things—but they also need to be flexible. If someone is dead-set on a single approach or methodology, it may be a sign they’ll have trouble adapting to changes that are inevitable at agencies.

Summary for your agency

Before you post the job, be sure to decide whether you need a Project Manager (keeps projects and retainers running smoothly and efficiently) versus an Account Manager (keeps clients happy and upsells them). They’re different skillsets. Smaller agencies need to compromise by hiring one person to do both jobs, but be sure you understand whether you need to skew toward PM or AM when you can hire just one person.

Remember, asking the right questions will help you find the right PM faster. Ask followup questions to dig deeper. And always check references before you make an offer.

Question: What’s your favorite interview question when you hire project managers?

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