In this article, we explore some of the most common interview questions asked during a program manager interview along with some great answers to help you win the job.
Are you sitting comfortably? Let’s begin!
1. As a program manager, what is your management style?
Try to avoid labels.
Some of the more common labels, like progressive, consultative, persuasive, can have several meanings or descriptions depending on which management guru you listen to.
The situational style is safe, because it says you will manage according to the situation, instead of one size fits all.
In my experience delegating responsibility and authority is crucial. A team needs to be able to develop and grow as individuals and a whole, not be held back by low expectations or ego.
I believe in building a team. Each member of the team should be clear on their role, know where they fit in and feel as though they can depend on one another. I also believe in real-time feedback. If you do something wrong you should know it immediately. Regardless of right or wrong, the further removed feedback is in time, the less effective it is.
2. What experience do you have when it comes to discussing our recently posted PROGRAM MANAGER position?
Speak about specifics that relate to the position you are applying for. If you know you do not have much experience in the job you are applying for, plan for this question ahead of time and ensure you can provide some relatable examples based on what you have done.
Almost all interviewers will appreciate confidence and pride in the work experience you have earned and your passion in transfering these valuable skills to your future role or position.
Ever since my first paper route at age 10 I’ve been doing something to keep myself busy and earn money. Back then, it was obviously about earning some spending money. What I didn’t realize was that I was actually starting the journey of establishing what I liked to do and how I fit in to the grand scheme of things. I then worked as a junior computer tech in my last 2 summers of high school. It was here that I discovered what I was passionate about and what I wanted to do. I enrolled in college to get my degree in computer sciences, and I have been working around technology ever since.
3. Our field is always changing. As such, what have you done with regards to personal development when it comes to a PROGRAM MANAGER POSITION in the last 12 months?
Here is an opportunity for you to showcase a wide variety of things you may have done both personally and professionally that will get your potential employers interested. Be sure to think about this one in advance in the event that it comes up.
Keep in mind, one of the key things that employers look for is an applicant who is self motivated and goal oriented.
Even if you don’t have something that is specific to the role you are applying for, don’t be afraid to list hobbies or other non-work related activities here. Again, this shows your employer you are the go-getter they are looking for.
In the end, you want to ensure that you are leaving your interviewer with the impression that you are motivated, self sufficient, and manage your time effectively.
That is a really great question. While I haven’t had the opportunity to develop within this particular role per se, I have actually become very involved in my local foodbank this year. This has taught me a great deal about community, teamwork, and taking initiative.
I took it upon myself to enroll in a summer business admin course at the local community college. Through this, I picked up some really great knowledge on communication and teamwork, as well as further develop overall managerial skills. Though it may not be directly applicable to this particular job, I believe the overall experience I gained could be a real asset here.
4. Tell me about yourself
In polling hundreds of different companies & HR departments, this is by far one of the most frequently asked questions in any job interview. Your interviewer will use this as an icebreaker, ideally to put you at ease and get you speaking openly and honestly.
While you definitely want to be prepared for this question, you certainly don’t want to make your answer sound memorized. Keep in mind, while this question may sound like an invitation to share your life story, you can be assured your interviewer has very little interest in hearing about everything you’ve ever done.
The person giving the interview has a job to do as well – respect their time. Unless you are asked about something specific, focus on your education, your work history, relatable hobbies and outside interests, as well as your current situation.
Be sure to start chronologically and tell a linear story. Start where you feel is sensical, then work your way up to the present.
5. I like what I’m hearing but we’ve got a ton of great candidates. Why should we hire you?
An easy question to answer well with one caveat – don’t slam your fellow interviewee’s. On the one hand, you have an opportunity to really stand out from the pack. Alternatively, You shouldn’t assume the skills of other applicants. Focus on your own strengths, and if the interviewer hasn’t given you an opportunity to mention that one “slam dunk” quality about yourself, now would be the time.
Is there a wrong way to answer this question? Consider the responses below:
- “I really need a job right now”
- “I need the money”
- “Your office is really close to my house”
- “I’ve always been interested in what you guys do”
Notice any commonality here? All of these answers demonstrate a benefit to you. While every employer assumes that these sorts of things play in on some level, these are not the reasons they are going to hire you.
In summation, clearly illustrate what in specific has made you a good employee, and how you envision yourself contributing to and benefiting the company.
6. I’m curious – how did you come to find out about our company and what do you know about us?
This can be a great way to stand out from other applicants and demonstrate initiative. Almost every company will have a website, Facebook page, Instagram account, or some sort of digital footprint. Spend a bit of time doing some online research:
- If they have a website, check out their “About us” or “Culture/Mission/Vision” pages.
- Who are some of the principal people who work there? Who are the founders?
- What sorts of things does this company care about? Do they donate to a particular cause or charity? Which one(s)?
- What are their core values? Which of their core values resonate with you?
- Has the company been in the news recently or have they won any awards (Social Media can be a great place to find this information).
While your interviewer won’t expect you to have in-depth company history, a little here can go a long way.
7. I don’t expect you to go into too much detail – but why are you leaving your last job?
An innocent question. But a question that if answered improperly, can be a deal breaker. While many individuals will be looking to a new job as a means of increasing their salary, “not being paid well enough at your last job” is not something you want to mention to your interviewer. After all, are you not likely to leave this particular job if you found you could make more down the street?
If you’re currently employed and leaving of your own accord, craft your response around enhancing your career development and a seeking out of new challenges.
If your current employer is downsizing, be honest about it, remain positive, but keep it brief. If your employer fired you or let you go for cause, be prepared to give a brief – but honest – reply. No matter how tempting it may be, or how “unfair it was that they let you go” steer clear away from any and all drama and negativity. Any experienced employer understands that sometimes things happen. Staying positive is key here.
8. What are your strengths?
While this question is an invitation to do some chest pounding, remember to illustrate strengths that will benefit the employer and are relative to the position. For example:
- being a problem solver
- being a motivator
- being a natural leader
- the ability to perform under pressure
- a positive attitude
Are typically all solid strengths, but again, consider the position. For example, mentioning you are an excellent “team player” in a job where you largely work alone suddenly becomes irrelevant to the employer and demonstrates a genuine lack of self awareness.
Beyond this, present your strengths with confidence – this is not the time to be modest.
9. What are your weaknesses?
Another tricky one. The purpose of this question is to see how you view and evaluate yourself.
One the one hand, if you suggest you don’t have any weaknesses, your interviewer will almost certainly see you as a lair, egotistical, or both.
Don’t fall into the trap of trying to present a positive skill in disguise as a weakness, like “I work too hard” or “I am a perfectionist”. Any experienced interviewer will see through this in a heartbeat.
Additionally, revealing that “I’m not really a morning person and have been known to come in late” raises immediate and obvious red flags.
The trick here is to respond realistically by mentioning a small, work related weakness and what you are doing or have done to overcome it.
10. What do you see yourself doing in five years?
This one is all about job commitment.
Some people make job hopping a career in of itself, and your answer here can be telling. Here, your interviewer is determining if you are:
- someone who sets goals
- someone who has a vision
- someone who is reliable
- someone who demonstrates commitment
- someone who is loyal
While no interviewer expects someone to stay at a company forever, try and craft your response in such a way that shows progression in your career, and alignment with the Company’s needs and future. Again, self awareness is key – your employer doesn’t want to send you down an unwanted path, resulting in wasted time and energy for everyone.
11. What are your salary expectations?
Many consider this question to be a loaded gun – dangerous in the hands of the inexperienced. Often times, an interviewee will start talking salary before they’ve had an opportunity to illustrate their skill set and value making any sort of leverage valueless. Here, knowledge is power, as salary often comes down to negotiation. Do some research into your industry to establish base rates of pay based on seniority and demand but keep in mind – your employer is hiring you for what they believe you are worth, and how much benefit they feel you will provide.
One relatively safe approach is simply asking the interviewer about the salary range. If you wish to avoid the question entirely, respond by saying that “money isn’t a key factor” and your primary goal is to advance in your career.
12. Do you have any questions?
This one you can almost be assured will be asked, and you better have some ready.
By asking questions you demonstrate initiative, and show that you care enough about the job to have done some research. Ask questions that focus on areas where you can be an asset. Beyond this, other questions may be more direct including productivity, expectations, training, and other logistics. All this being said, try and limit the questions to no more than three or four.
Lastly you’ll want to ask about the next step in the process and when to expect to hear about the position.
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8 bonus tips for knocking it out of the park:
1. Background Research
As indicated above, research on the company you’re applying for is critically important. Arm yourself with knowledge on the products, services, and types of customers this company deals with. You may even want to let them know who you feel their competition is! Beyond trying to make yourself look good, researching the culture of the company can provide great insights into whether or not you and your potential employer are aligned.
2. Practice makes perfect
To be certain, interviews do not always follow the same format and each interviewer will have his or her own style. That said, there are certain questions you can expect to be asked in almost any interview for any position. By understanding and practicing responses for these “oldies but goodies”, you can show up to each interview that much more confident.
3. Have some examples ready
While many candidates tell their interviewer that they posses certain desirable qualities, the proof as they say, is in the pudding. Spend some time in advance of your interview coming up with concrete examples of prior work achievements and how they demonstrate a desired ability. Be prepared for the recruiter’s questions and to anticipate them based on job position requirements. Instead of simply saying “I am well organized”, trying attaching an example or strategy. “I am a well organized person - here is an example of a project I spear-headed where organization was clutch”. Looking for the slam dunk? Finish your response with “Did that help answer your question?”.
4. Dressing for Success
First impressions can make or break so many things in society, and your interviewer’s impression of you is no exception. Whether anyone is willing to admit to it or not, the reality is you will be judged from the moment you arrive at the door. This is where some of the aforementioned research comes into play. What is the culture of the company like? Are they a highly formal suit-and-tie affair, or a casual silicon valley “hipster” organization? If you under-dress, you can appear to be too relaxed, and someone who does not appear to be taking this position seriously. However, overdressing can be perceived as over compensation. When in doubt, dress sharp, in classic business casual.
5. Play it cool
Assuming you have done some practice, you are ready to play it cool - as well you should. Make sure you’ve planned out your route well in advance, and provided ample extra time for unexpected traffic and parking issues. You should smile when greeted, and keep in mind that your interviewer may be just as nervous as you. During the interview, speak clearly and deliberately. Your body language is also important; don’t slouch back in your chair or appear “hunched over” in a defensive position. Sit tall, proud, and confident.
6. Be honest
Some candidates think using elaborate techniques to “talk around” difficult questions keeps them in the power position. A much better approach is honesty. If you are asked a question and simply don’t believe you have well developed skills in that area, don’t be afraid to let the interviewer know, rather than answering with unrelated and tangential examples. Try taking control in these situations by saying something like “While I don’t have experience in that particular area, I feel my experience in this area may be beneficial”.
7. Don’t be afraid to close the deal
Once the interview is over, the likelihood is both you and the interviewer have a good idea of where one another stand. As you stand up post interview and engage in a final handshake, be upfront. Confidence here can go a long way. If you believe you nailed the interview, be bold: “I’m going to be straight with you - I think that went really well and I think I’d be a great asset here. Where do I stand as of now?”. Alternatively, if you don’t think it went well…you probably have your answer already.
8. Be sure to ask questions
Try and prepare 2 or 3 really great questions that imply you’ve done some homework in advance of the interview. You can really impress your interviewer by asking practical questions regarding specifics about the company as well as the role itself.