What you should never say in a job interview as a project manager

Leslie Stevens-Huffmann is a writer who focuses primarily on business and career topics. She lives in Southern California and uses her long experience of more than 20 years to advise IT professionals on career and job issues. On Insights.dice.com, she has written a powerful article aimed at young and experienced project managers alike. It is about job interviews - and not necessarily about what needs to be said to make oneself attractive, but about what is better left unsaid. Sometimes silence really is golden. In the following, we summarise their theses for you.
Two people shake hands.

Avoid slips by being well prepared

Leslie Stevens-Huffmann knows very well that even after many interviews, experienced project managers still tend to unintentionally say things that hurt their chances of ultimately getting the job. Many people make strange remarks under pressure or respond to questions with answers that immediately set alarm bells ringing in the other person. According to Leslie Stevens-Huffmann, the best strategy to avoid such verbal slips is to identify the mistakes in advance and deliberately not make them. She has therefore defined seven of the most dangerous slips.

Use technical terminology

The question of how to approach a project is probably standard. Many managers, even very experienced ones, then begin to explain how they first gather and analyse project requirements and investigate feasibility. Leslie Stevens-Huffmann points to Tom Mochal, president of TenSpep, a company that offers project consulting. He revealed to her in an interview that he is alarmed every time a candidate uses terms from everyday life instead of project management terminology. Scope, budgeting, scheduling and communication just have to fall. Depending on the job, using the wrong or missing terminology can kill your chances. It must be clear from your answers that you know very well the difference between project participant and project manager.

Please do not exaggerate

Whether you write it in your CV or say it in an interview, claiming that you have brought all your projects to a mutually satisfactory and successful conclusion is simply not possible, at least in the IT industry. Your new potential employer knows exactly the ratio between successful and failed projects and will not believe you anyway. It is better to use a formulation such as "Most of the projects I have managed have been successfully completed". This will make you look down-to-earth, honest and realistic. To describe your quality as a project manager, it is more useful to address how you handled difficulties than to brag about how successful you were. Employers are interested in managers who are unwavering in their search for solutions, even in seemingly hopeless situations. The same goes for certifications. Don't brag unnecessarily. Rather mention your certifications in your CV and don't go into much detail about them in the job interview unless you are explicitly asked about them. The names and titles speak for themselves. Rather talk face to face about how you keep up to date in your daily life, how you network and always try to be familiar with the latest developments and trends.

How much experience do you really have

Mochal explains that a manager who points out that he has managed projects with three or four phases will not be shortlisted by him. If you really don't have any experience with large projects, where, by the way, 300 phases are not uncommon, then you should try to expand your knowledge in this direction. Attend a seminar or spend some time in a very complex project environment. If you apply for complex large projects, you have to be prepared for them.

Who was at fault

It is an absolute no-go to blame your former or current employer for failed projects. Mochal does not hire anyone who claims that their last project failed because of poor company structures. As a project manager, one of your tasks is to identify bad structures and improve them, motivate teams to work together more efficiently and introduce the methods that promise success. A bad structure should not hinder you in this. Show that you are a doer, someone who can and will take the reins. Do not blame others for your shortcomings. If in doubt, simply describe another example from your wealth of experience.

Closure is important

Leslie Stevens-Huffmann gives the following sentence as the next example: "When a project is finished or in the closing phase, I usually hand it over to another team with the remaining small bugs and adjustments". Employers don't want someone who just retires at the end of a project and moves on to the next project. Show that you can and will take responsibility. Emphasise that you are committed to the project until the bitter end and that you will deal with any problems that arise in a professional manner.

Don't butter up

You should not say in an interview that you will take on a priority project of the CIO at any time, even if you are already in charge of dozens of other projects. This may sound like motivation and commitment to your ears, but to many employers it is a sign that you give in too quickly, that you buckle under pressure and that you recklessly jeopardise the success of your projects to please the superior. Nobody needs such an employee. Instead, focus on integrity, on setting priorities professionally and on the fact that every project has its importance. Emphasise that you can realistically assess your workload and that you can responsibly handle the workload of your teams.

Statements about your team

Be careful how you describe your interactions with your teams. A statement like "If a team member drags down the team's performance, I think about a performance improvement programme for that person" is not well received. Rather, describe your emotional intelligence and empathy in dealing with employees. Emphasise that you don't jump to conclusions, especially if your employees work hard. Rather, talk about how you remove hurdles for the team and how you look for support for your team to increase productivity. After all, as a good manager, you are willing to do anything for your team. Weeding out a black sheep is not one of your first priorities. This otherwise sounds like looking for a scapegoat.
Author: IAPM internal 

Keywords: Project management, Tip, Guide

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