Interview Questions to Ask When Hiring a Program Manager

Recruiteze: Top Interview Questions to Ask When Hiring a Program Manager

Today’s business world is like a puzzle. Many different pieces are connected to each other. Sometimes, that connection is logical. Other times — not so much. However, no matter how complicated the puzzle is, the connection between the pieces is what is important, and the person that makes those connections is the program manager.

Without program managers, project pieces might not fit one another, which could break the project. Without a program manager and their guidance, projects can quickly turn into chaos.

Because of that risk, selecting a highly-skilled program manager that will fit in is not easy. In this post, we’ll take a deep dive into the program manager interview questions you should ask when hiring a program manager.

What is a program manager, and what do they do?


Before taking a dip into the program manager interview questions, we need to define what a program manager is and what they do.

What is a program manager?


By definition, a program manager is a project management professional whose job is to coordinate and oversee various strategic initiatives across an organization.

They usually coordinate multiple projects and the teams working on them, provide strategic guidance to the company’s project managers, and facilitate communication with cross-functional teams.

What does a program manager do?


To understand the program manager’s role, we first need to define what we mean by “program.”

By definition, a program is a group of related projects that together support a strategic business initiative. Launching a product, implementing a new marketing process, or opening a new process could all be defined as strategic business initiatives.

The program manager’s job is to have a high-level view of the entire program and guide project managers so that they are all working effectively toward completing that program’s objective. Each of the projects in the program is then managed by a project manager.

A program manager could also be defined as a super project manager that strategically directs all projects under one program simultaneously.

Interview questions to ask program manager candidates


Now that we know what a program manager is and what they do let’s look at the program manager interview questions that you should ask a candidate when hiring a program manager.

1. What does a program manager do that project managers don’t?


While this may sound like a no-brainer question for someone applying for a program manager role — as this is generally a role for people with a lot of experience — you have to ensure that the candidate understands the role. A great program manager will easily distinguish his role from a project manager’s role, which is key when an employee has to manage a manager.

2. What’s the role of technology in program management?


A great program manager should be able to explain why technology plays a significant role in program management. They should know that these days, tracking and monitoring tasks, employees, formalizing project processes, and establishing open communication channels is hard without technology.

3. In your opinion, what is the most common reason projects fail?


One of the essential roles of a program manager is to ensure that a project is successful. To do that, they need to be aware of the most common project pitfalls and how to avoid them. If a candidate can’t answer this question, it is most likely that they don’t have enough experience for the role of a program manager.

Another way to ensure the success of a project is to hire the right people. However, hiring the right people takes a lot of time, energy, and money. Because of this, we have developed an cloud-based applicant tracking system Recruiteze. By using Recruiteze, you can broadcast your job ad to thousands of people and then sit back and relax while they seamlessly flow into your online application database that can be tracked, reviewed, and organized with ease.

4. When you’re overseeing multiple projects, how do you determine which takes the priority?


Being able to prioritize is vital for a program manager. Failing to make the right decision and focusing on the project that is not the most important one could easily lead to chaos. You need to ensure that a candidate has the skills to avoid that.

5. Describe your risk analysis process.


You should look for candidates that can plan for risks. If a candidate says that they don’t have a risk analysis process because they can avoid risks, you are most likely talking to the wrong candidate, as risks are almost certainly going to happen with any project.

6. Tell me about your biggest project success.


Ask this question if you want the candidate to demonstrate if they know the necessary steps to take if you want to have a successful project. The right candidate should be able to give a brief outline of the successful project from start to finish.

7. Tell me about your biggest project failure.


A great program manager candidate should be able to recognize their mistakes. When you ask this question, make sure that you look for a candidate who can reflect on why the project failed and what they learned from it. They should be able to identify the cause of the failure and sidestep it to the best of their ability.

8. How do you avoid scope creep?


In program and project management, scope creep can spring out of nowhere quickly and completely destroy your project. Since the task of a program manager is to oversee several projects at the same time, they need to be able to keep scope creep in check at all times.

Otherwise, a project can quickly become ugly. Make sure that you look for candidates that can actively prevent scope creep. If a program manager can prevent scope creep, the odds of you finishing a project on-time and on-budget significantly increase.

9. How do you handle conflicts in your team?


Conflicts at work are common. Since a program manager manages a team, they are also the ones responsible for de-escalating any conflicts that might occur. Look for candidates that can ensure that a team working on a project can work together to deliver the expected program outcome.

9. How was your last — or current program?


Ask this question to find out what kind of work the program manager candidate is doing at the moment. While the candidates’ resumes should help you determine whether or not a candidate fits in with what you do, sometimes you might be surprised how a candidate’s experience might fit in with your needs. Look for candidates that can reflect on both their achievements and setbacks of the project.

10. How do you deal with underperforming team members?


If your team is struggling, the program manager has to step in to help. Ask this question to see how a candidate demonstrates their management and leadership skills. Look for candidates that can show how committed they are to the team’s success and the overall program.

11. How do you handle program issues?


Program issues sometimes arise. Look for candidates that can demonstrate their problem-solving skills and strategic thinking abilities. A great candidate should be able to answer with a specific time they encountered a problem while working on a project and explain how they handled the issue.

12. Have you ever worked on a program that did not meet the deadline or the budget? If you did, how did you handle it?


One of the biggest responsibilities of a program manager is meeting the deadline and the budget. However, we are all human, and mistakes and setbacks do happen.

Also, going over the budget and missing the deadline are the two most common issues encountered by program managers. Look for candidates that can explain how they handle project setbacks. If they use the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, and Result) to answer the question, it most likely means that they have given this a thought in the past and have reflected and learned from the mistakes.


13. What is the most important task that a program manager does?


Ask this question to determine whether or not a candidate can demonstrate the knowledge and the experience they have gained during their career as a program manager.

Look for candidates that can explain how they spend most of their time at work, and that can reflect on their key responsibilities from the past. The answer to this question will show you if a candidate can fit in with your requirements and also what their workflow would look like.

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Closing thoughts


We hope that this blog post has helped you determine which program manager interview questions are the most important in an interview — questions that you cannot miss. Finding the right candidate — the one that can answer all your requirements — is not an easy task.

Because of this, asking candidates these program manager interview questions should help you on that path regardless of the industry and the program management requirements.

These program manager interview questions can also save you a lot of time and money during the recruitment process. If you are looking for other ways to save valuable time and money for your company, consider automating your hiring process. Regardless if you’re hiring a program manager or any different role, the right recruitment software can easily save you hours upon hours in your hiring process.

Recruiteze can help you find the right candidate without exhausting your search efforts. Our software features an intuitive and user-friendly cloud-based applicant tracking system, CRM, careers page, and other awesome features that will help you boost your hiring process while also helping you not miss any high-caliber applicants. With Recruiteze, you can reduce the time and resources you would spend on hiring and save yourself from the mess of trying to keep hundreds of job applications hiding in different places.

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