10 Program Manager Interview Questions to Help You Prepare

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Interviewing for a job in program management? Review these program manager interview questions as part of your interview preparation to make the best impression.

[Featured image] A male wearing a white shirt and gray tie is being interviewed for a program manager position. He is being interviewed by a female, wearing a dark jacket and having long dark hair. She is taking notes on her laptop which is sitting on her lap.

A program manager oversees a program or initiative for an organization. This career path and set of skills is relevant to many industries, including technology, finance, and other business-related fields, as well as public sector fields such as non-profit and government.

While project management focuses on short-term projects, program management is about leading a larger goal. As a program manager, you’ll plan, direct, document, and monitor the quality of more extensive programs that involve smaller projects. Program managers provide guidance and delegate projects to project managers. 

Use this guide of 10 questions to help you prepare for your program manager interview.

Read more: What Is a Program Manager? And How to Become One

10 program manager interview questions

To ace your program manager interview, knowing what potential interview questions your hiring manager will ask can help you prepare answers ahead of time. Here are 10 common questions they might ask:

1. Tell me about yourself.

Expect to talk about yourself, your work history, and any skills that are directly related to the program manager job description. This shows the interviewer you have the required skills and that you’ve researched the company you’re interviewing with. Keep this to no longer than a few minutes. You're giving an overview that highlights relevant experience and tells a strong story of why you're a great fit for this role, not a repeat of your resume.

2. Why do you think you're a good fit for this role?

For this question, you'll want to demonstrate your leadership and program management skills as they relate to the job you're applying for. If you're applying to be a program manager for a technology company, speak to your experiences as a senior project manager for a health technology start-up, for example.

Program managers lead big projects and are adept at assessing and mitigating risk, so you'll want to mention experiences with risk management in previous programs. As a program manager, you’ll need strong communication, collaboration, and multitasking skills, so it may be essential to provide exact examples of this. Use metrics from past programs, such as cost variance, resource utilization, and customer satisfaction.

Tip: Use the STAR method

For any behavioral or situational questions (common for program management interviews), use the STAR method: situation, task, action, and result. Applying this method helps to explain an example or story in a compelling, logical manner.

Read more: How to Answer STAR Interview Questions


3. Tell me about a successful program you have led.

An ideal program manager has led successful programs in the past and can explain why they were successful using quantitative metrics to demonstrate impact. You'll want to describe how you increased program performance using metrics like customer satisfaction, engagement, cost variance, and more. To set yourself up for success, you may include examples of when you’ve solved a problem, like a scope creep or a non-compliant team member.

4. Give an example of prioritizing tasks when working on multiple projects.

The ability to simultaneously manage multiple projects is essential to a program manager’s success. The interviewer likely wants to hear about the software programs, tools, or applications you use to organize your projects’ tasks and your preference. Examples of project management tools include Basecamp, Jira, Trello, Asana, and Google Suite. If you have any other tips or methods you have learned in your experience, such as balancing an organization's budget or impact, then be sure to describe that situation in detail.

5. How do you adapt if a company changes its goals halfway through a project?

Show your resilience, professionalism, and problem-solving skills by detailing how you pivoted when a company changed its goals during a project. Talk about your experience with scope creep and how you tackled that. You can also talk about communicating and guiding team members and stakeholders about any changes to a project or program’s goals. 

6. Tell me about a time when you fell behind on a project. What did you do to pull it back?

This question touches on important program management skills, including risk management, preventing scope creep, and problem-solving skills. Provide examples of steps you’ve taken to set a delayed project back on the right course to meet milestones and deadlines for deliverables. Communication would also be key in this situation. Mention your experiences being assertive and the steps you’ve taken to control projects, prioritize tasks, and communicate with others on your team.

7. Tell me about your management style when directing a team of project managers.

Talk about the traits that make you a successful program manager. An ideal program manager can show empathy, solve problems, offer support, give constructive feedback, communicate effectively, and offer strategies and guidance to their team. Highlight your ability to communicate with various stakeholders. You can also talk about your ability to build teams, improve collaboration, and inspire positive change. 

From project to program manager

The path to becoming a program manager typically starts with project manager. If you're advancing from project to program manager, you'll want to make sure you have a firm foundation of experience and all the key project management skills. Be sure to check out Coursera's resource guide to becoming a project manager, where you'll find articles for every step of your journey.


8. Give me an example of a time that you identified and mitigated project risks.

Risk management is a critical part of being a program manager. Talk about how you identify and evaluate potential risks. You can discuss ways to foresee potential risks and their impacts with a cause-and-effect diagram. You can also talk about creating a risk management plan and how you communicate and document them. You can also discuss times when you had to escalate a problem to key stakeholders to make speedy decisions, reduce frustration, and offer checks and balances. Whichever example you choose, make sure to use the STAR method to explain it thoroughly.

Read more: How to Manage Project Risk: A 5-Step Guide

9. What is your approach to change management?

Companies use change management to make large-scale changes in a department or throughout the company. According to American Society Quality, being a successful program manager means preparing and supporting employees, establishing necessary steps for change, and monitoring pre- and post-change activities for implementation. 

Read more: What Is Change Management and How to Use It Effectively

10. How do you measure success in your projects?

Answer this question both quantitatively and qualitatively. While you can talk about metrics, you can also demonstrate how you stayed in scope, met deliverable dates, and kept your team motivated. You might choose two examples of different ways you measured success, so you can demonstrate to the hiring manager your depth and breadth of impact measurement.

Tips for preparing for your program manager interview

Interview preparation can help you succeed and feel more confident for your program manager interview. Here are some steps to prepare for your interview

Research the organization. If you aren't already familiar with the company, researching the latest news or press releases can be a helpful place to start. Read about their products and services and the organization's mission. Job review sites like Glassdoor and Comparably can provide insight into the company’s work culture. Another suggestion is to search for the potential interviewer and company on LinkedIn. 

Prepare your answers. Write down your answers to the questions listed above. Writing down notes and examples can help you memorize them and recite the answers more naturally. 

Practice the interview. After preparing your answers, practice answering the interview questions with a confident and natural-sounding tone, eliminating any "umms". Use stories and examples that illustrate your expertise and highlight your transferable skills.

Ask for feedback. Ask a fellow program manager, instructor, mentor, or friend for feedback on your resume and interview question answers. A mock interview can help you identify gaps in your answers and think about better ways to answer questions.

Prepare your questions. Always come ready with questions for the interviewer. This is your opportunity to gain clarity on the role and expectations—and explore whether the job and company are a good fit for you and your career goals.

Read more: Questions to Ask at the End of an Interview

Next steps

As you continue your job search, consider ways to improve your interviewing skills. Try this Successful Interviewing course from the University of Maryland. It covers how to answer traditional interview questions, so you can make an excellent first impression.

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