Interview Questions to Hire the Top Program Managers

One of the most critical roles that a company can hire for is the role of Program Manager. Why? Because good program managers supervise and organize activities while ensuring that the project aligns to the company’s core objective. Typically this role must manage others to inspire all parties to stay on task while remaining laser focused and organized to not let any balls drop in the process.

A great program manager can drive a more productive and effective team, whereas a bad manager will have your employees actively looking for their next job. That’s why, when seeking top program managers who will oversee various projects and teams, it’s necessary to ask questions that ensure they’ll have a positive impact on others, as well as an impact for the greater organization.

What is a program manager?

Program managers oversee a wide range of projects, and manage the project managers who are in charge of those projects. They can span across many areas and functions from operational/technical program managers to people ops.

Program manager vs. project manager

There are a couple of key differences between a program manager and a project manager. The first is that project managers are supervised by program managers. The second, project managers deal with the technical aspects of a project, whereas a program manager takes a more strategic role. 

Program manager qualifications

Program managers require different experience depending on the programs of your company. If your programs are software-based, then you’ll want to find program managers with experience in software engineering, etc. You may also choose to find candidates with certifications in project/program management. 

Program manager interview questions

During the interview you’ll want to dedicate time into using behavioral-based interview questions to gauge candidate leadership skills, communication skills, management skills, and problem solving aptitude.

Program manager interview questions for operations management:

  • What are the most common reasons why projects fail?
  • Tell me about a time where you managed a project that didn’t go as planned. What happened? What would you do differently if given the chance?
  • When managing multiple projects, how do you determine which are the highest priority?
  • If you were assigned a program with a 6-month deadline, what steps would you take to plan and deliver the project successfully?

Program manager interview questions about their responsibilities:

  • How do your responsibilities differ from those of your project managers?
  • What technology and tools do you find are necessary to be successful in your role?
  • What metrics do you review to measure success?
  • What’s your experience with program charters?
  • Do you leverage a code of ethics that enable you to be a better manager?
  • Why is change management important for this role?
  • How do you properly define/document and control the goals for each program that you execute?
  • How do you keep up with industry trends?

Behavioral based program manager interview questions:

Anytime assessing a program manager that will impact others across the organization, it’s important to dive into that individual’s core motivators and behavior.

  • Describe the most recent program you managed. What was your contribution?
  • Tell me about a time where you were asked to develop a budget and allocate resources to a past program. 
  • Tell me about a time where you were managing a program that was falling behind schedule. What would you do differently now, if given the chance?
  • Tell me about the biggest challenge you’ve faced while managing a team of project managers.
  • Have you ever faced a communication problem while managing a program? Who with and how did you resolve it?

Final thoughts: Program manager interview questions

It’s important that as you interview and meet with program manager candidates that you think about the impact they’ll have on your overall team. During the interview, use the above program manager interview questions to determine if they’ll mesh with their direct reports, and be able to get the most from the resources they have available.

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