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5 Project Management Interview Mistakes That Make You Look Dumb

So you landed an interview for a project management role.  Congratulations!

Being evil yourself in an interview is critical, because you want them to see who you really are.  If there is a fit between you and the organization, it will be found if you treat this like an engaging discussion.

~ dUmB !But there are mistakes that can detract from your credibility.  While we all hope our qualifications and fit are more important than impressions from a single contact, the truth is some hiring managers will be completely turned off if you make dumb mistakes during the interview, and hiring you will be out of the question.

Here are five mistakes to avoid when doing a project management interview.

1. Fail to Sell Yourself

The first step in selling something is to know what your potential customers need.  In this case, that’s the hiring manager(s).

Let’s see…how would you know what they need?  You’d better know!  A combination of the job description, information gleaned from other conversations, and insights from your network are vital.

Now that you have that figured out, it’s up to you to connect your experiences and talents make you a perfect fit for their needs.

They want to know why they should hire you specifically.

Make it crystal clear.

2. Trash Talking

You suspect your former boss was possessed by demons?

Great theory.  NOT the time to explore it.

Sometimes we can fall into the trap of talking smack because in some situations, it can foster a bond.  It’s the in-group/out-group thing that’s built into our brains.

This is NOT one of those situations.

In an interview situation, the logical extension of you complaining about previous employers or co-workers is that you will continue this behavior if you come work for them.  When you don’t get your way, your preferred method of dealing with it is passive-aggressively putting others down behind their backs.

At least, that’s the impression you leave.

When I witness this in an interview, in casual conversation at the water cooler, wherever….  it sets alarm bells off in my head.  “I see your true colors…”

Definitely not a way to hook a gig as a project manager.

3. Talking Too Much

You may think this is an interrogation.  It’s not.

You may think this is your personal 15 minutes of fame.  It’s not.

It’s a conversation.  Bring balance to it.

Answers to questions should be as clear and vivid as possible, while also being as concise as possible.  When you start rambling on, the interviewer starts thinking, “Hey, what are they talking about now?  I can’t even remember my question anymore.”

I have found that as long as you are able to deliver your message and get your points across, the best interviews involve the hiring manager doing about half of the talking.  I like to ask specific questions occasionally to dig into topics like what kind of work they do? How does project management work in your department?  What is the project the department has done recently that you are most proud of?

These questions do a few very important things for you.

First, they give you excellent information that you are really interested in.  I deeply care about how much a company values project management as a discipline.  I really want to know how they execute projects and build the products.  I don’t want to find out after I’ve been hired.  I have a genuine interest.

Second, have you ever noticed a specific trait about some of the people who you really enjoy talking to and working with?  You know, the ones who are genuinely interested in what you think and ask how things are going…not in a generic way but about specific things they know are important to you.

Yeah, I love those people.  I like to hire them too.

4. Money Talk

This cuts both ways.

Hiring managers who don’t know what’s really important about acquiring staff will ask it.  Inexperienced candidates will answer them.  Some candidates may even ask the question.

Salary is off limits until you’ve won them over.

Imagine if you went to buy a product, and before even telling you much about it the salesman asks to see your credit report.  You’d walk away in disgust.  That’s what you are doing to the hiring manager when you ask “How much does this job pay?”  Tacky.

If they bring it up too soon (which unfortunately, happens a lot) I like to respond with something to the effect of “Wouldn’t you like to know a bit more about me before offering me the job?”  Not everyone can pull this off without sounding snarky, so here’s a more benign version.  “I prefer to discuss compensation at the time of a job offer.”

5.Not Following Up

Odd, this.  Very odd.

When you are at the end of a first date with someone who you are really interested in, do you ask when you can see them again?  Of course!

Do you call them afterward and try to arrange another date, because you had such a blast with them on the first one?  Of course you do!

So why wouldn’t you follow-up with a company you really want to go work for?

Send an email afterward thanking them for their time and consideration.  Send a hand-written note they’ll receive a few days later.  Call in about a week to ask how things are going and let them know you’d love to come in for a follow-up discussion.

Just do it.

P.S. You may find it amusing to know that I have made all of these dumb mistakes myself at one time or another. I only gained perspective after being on the other side of the table, seeking candidates to hire for my teams. When you are in shock at how a particular candidate could do such a thing, and then realize you actually do it too, it’s quite an epiphany.

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About the Author

Josh helps new and aspiring project managers reach their career goals. He has been managing projects in Computing, Financial Services, Telecommunications, and Aerospace for over a decade. Josh’s educational background includes a Bachelor of Science degree in Project Management and he is PMP certified. The best method for tapping into Josh’s knowledge and experience is his training for project management, where Josh shares his best practices for how to get ahead in your project management career and his best practices in specific project management processes.
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2 Responses to “5 Project Management Interview Mistakes That Make You Look Dumb”

  1. Excellent series, Josh. You are the ‘Dr. Phil’ for project management!

    1. Heyyyy now, I’m not (that) bald yet!

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