Top 30 Program Manager Interview Questions (+ Example Answers)

By Mike Simpson

The world of business is like a spider’s web. Different pieces connect through a series of delicate threads. Sometimes, the pattern is logical. In other cases, it’s visual cacophony. But, regardless of how it appears, it’s the connections that matter. And those connections are what define the world of a program manager.

Program managers oversee an interconnected chunk of a business, allowing them to steer it toward a brighter future and help it achieve its goals. Without program managers, projects that share threads might not account for the efforts of another, causing everything to become disjointed. To put it simply, without a program manager’s guidance, it could be chaos.

Because of that risk, hiring managers are diligent about selecting highly skilled program managers. If you want to prove that you’re the amazing candidate you know yourself to be, nailing your program manager interview questions is a must. Otherwise, you won’t stand out from the pack; and that means missing out on the opportunity.

Sure, you could simply head to the interview and hope for the best. But is that really the best way to go?

No, of course not.

Being prepared is what it should always be about. Luckily, making sure you can shine isn’t challenging. We have your back. So, come with us as we take a deep dive into what it takes to leave the competition in the dust.

How to Answer Program Manager Interview Questions

First, don’t confuse program managers with project managers or product managers. While the job titles look ridiculously similar, and the roles do have quite a bit in common, they aren’t actually the same. Technically, they all oversee projects, but the niches can vary.

Product managers focus on (surprise, surprise) products. Project managers might work in any niche, depending on their employer. But their work tends to focus on the project at hand, and not on the big strategic picture.

Program managers usually oversee a group of projects (and, potentially, a team of project managers), and each one is connected by a common element, like a single company goal. Additionally, they are responsible for guiding strategy, keeping everyone moving toward the right target.

Oh, and project and product managers earn an average of $76,683 and $83,617 a year, respectively. For program managers, the annual salary average is $134,620.

MIKE'S TIP: You’re probably wondering, why does it matter if you answer your program manager interview questions like a project or product manager? While some duties are alike, there are nuances to each role. If you treat them like they’re the same thing, the hiring manager might think you don’t understand the differences. That makes them doubt whether you’re right for a program manager job. And, once doubt creeps in, your chances of landing the position go down the toilet. That’s why showing you know the difference is crucial.

Now that’s out of the way, but before we go over the program manager interview questions, let’s pause for a moment to talk strategy. You need the right approach. That way, if the hiring manager asks you something unexpected, you can adapt.

Start by doing some research.

The program manager job description is a great place to start, as it spells out what the company considers must-haves. Couple that with a look at the company’s mission and values statements, and you can find out a lot about the skills and traits the hiring manager wants to find.

When an interview question is straightforward – like, the “do you have skill X?” kind of straightforward – answering is a breeze. You assert that you do and provide a relevant example that proves it. Or, if you don’t, you admit it, but then go a little further, discussing your interest in acquiring the skill or any efforts you’re taking to improve in that area. Done.

But, when you’re facing behavioral interview questions, it’s a bit trickier. These require more than a “yes” or “no,” for one. For another, there usually isn’t a “right” or “wrong” answer. Sure, some answers may be better than others, or a better fit in the eyes of the hiring manager, but it isn’t cut-and-dry.

In most cases, behavioral interview questions ask you to navigate a scenario and provide examples of what you’ve done or what you would do. While that isn’t always easy, there is a technique that works. By combining the STAR Method and the Tailoring Method, you can craft a compelling, story-driven answer that’s as relevant as possible. It’s a great way to stand out from the crowd, so make sure you really get to know those strategies as you prepare for your interview.

Top 3 Program Manager Interview Questions

As with all interviews, the exact questions you face vary depending on the precise role. Every employer is different, so their needs, priorities, and preferences won’t precisely match their competitors. However, certain ones are pretty common. Here’s a look at the top three program manager interview questions, and some example answers.

1. When you’re overseeing multiple projects, how do you determine which is a priority?

Since program managers are responsible for several projects at once, they have to set priorities. This allows them to allocate funding appropriately, as well as direct their energy in the best possible way.

The hiring manager wants insights into your strategy. You need to clue them in to how you think, so provide details into what you assess when making a decision.

EXAMPLE ANSWER:

“If I need to set a priority, my first step is to examine any dependencies. In some cases, certain projects have to reach specific stages before another can move forward, making this a critical factor. Beyond that, I examine several project facets, including the goals, budget requirements, level of risk, resource constraints, and potential strategic value. Additionally, I’ll speak with the various sponsors and stakeholders to get their perspective. Typically, that process allows me to prioritize the projects in a way that yields the most benefit for the company.”

2. What steps do you take to avoid scope creep?

In the world of projects, scope creep is like the ax-wielding maniac lurking in the shadows in horror movies; it can spring out at you quickly and completely destroy everything. Since program managers oversee several projects at once, keeping scope creep in check is essential. Otherwise, a project can careen out of control.

Hiring managers want to know that you actively prevent scope creep. That way, the odds favor you finishing on-time and on-budget.

EXAMPLE ANSWER:

“For managing scope creep, vigilance is key. However, it also requires critical thinking. After all, every project shifts a bit along the way, so having the ability to separate scope creep from genuine necessary adjustments is essential. For every project, I make sure all of the parameters are well-defined before it moves forward. Additionally, I keep the lines of communication open, both with team members and stakeholders, establishing myself as a primary point of contact for questions and change requests. This allows me to remain informed of any requests that fall outside of the original scope, enabling me to step in and assess the situation as quickly as possible. Then, we can work together to determine whether a change is appropriate or needed, and, if it isn’t, I can address the situation appropriately.”

3. What is the most common reason projects fail?

Hiring managers want to avoid failure. That means hiring a program manager that understands what can cause it, allowing them to sidestep it to the best of their ability.

EXAMPLE ANSWER:

“If I had to pick a single reason, I’d have to say poor communication. When the lines of communication breakdown, the resulting situation invites failure. For example, team members may not be on the same page, causing one group to prioritize one aspect while others concentrate in a different direction. Details about changes might not be properly shared, slowing progress and potentially requiring some to redo work simply because they weren’t informed that they needed to take a new direction. All of this elevates costs and lengthens the timeline, increasing the odds of failure. But, with solid communication, much of this can be avoided.”

27 More Program Manager Interview Questions

Here are 27 more program manager interview questions the hiring manager may ask during your meeting:

      1. How is a program manager different from a project manager?
      2. What value is created by grouping several projects into a single program?
      3. What is the biggest challenge you’ve ever faced when overseeing a team of project managers? How did you overcome it?
      4. If you’re working on a project and the company changes its goals, how do you adapt?
      5. Tell me about a time when one of your projects fell behind schedule. What did you do to recover?
      6. What steps do you take to make sure you can meet tough deadlines?
      7. How do you prevent communication breakdowns among team members?
      8. Tell me about a time where you and a project manager you were overseeing disagreed. How did you handle it?
      9. Which metrics do you use to determine success?
      10. How do you make use of technology to keep a program on target?
      11. Describe your experience with program charters.
      12. Do you believe that change management is critical for program managers? Why or why not?
      13. What resources do you use to stay on top of industry trends?
      14. Describe your risk analysis process.
      15. Tell me about your biggest project success. What about your biggest project failure?
      16. Have you ever had to negotiate with a difficult stakeholder? How did you handle it?
      17. Can you tell me about your management style?
      18. Tell me about your delegation strategy.
      19. Do you use a different approach for small programs than large ones? Why or why not?
      20. What steps do you take to determine how to allocate a program’s budget?
      21. When you have a chance to build your own team, how do you put one together?
      22. Once you identify project risks, how do you mitigate them?
      23. If two team members disagree about how to proceed, how do you get them both on the same page?
      24. What steps do you take to get the best deal from a critical vendor?
      25. How do you ensure the quality of the program’s results?
      26. If two stakeholders provide you with conflicting requirements, how do you determine how to proceed?
      27. Which of your traits do you feel best equip you to work as a leader?

5 Good Questions to Ask at the End of a Program Manager Interview

When the sun begins to set on your program manager interview, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to ask the hiring manager a few questions of your own. This is a critical opportunity that you shouldn’t pass up. Not only does it make you seem more interested in the job, but it also lets you learn more about the role and the company’s culture.

Sometimes, you’ll be able to choose some questions on the fly. If you don’t learn something important during the interview, consider asking about it. But, if that doesn’t happen, we have your back. Here are five good questions to have in your back pocket.

      1. Does your company use a specific approach, toolset, or methodology for managing projects?
      2. How many projects are typically occurring simultaneously?
      3. Can you describe the typical day for a program manager here?
      4. What is the biggest challenge this position solves for the company?
      5. What do your most successful program managers have in common?

Putting It All Together

Ultimately, by embracing the tips above, you can show those program manager interview questions who’s boss. Just make sure to practice your answers ahead of time, ensuring you can discuss your capabilities with ease. That way, you’ll showcase yourself as the amazing candidate you know you are, increasing the odds that you’ll get the offer when all is said and done.

Good luck!

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About The Author

Mike Simpson

Co-Founder and CEO of TheInterviewGuys.com. Mike is a job interview and career expert and the head writer at TheInterviewGuys.com. His advice and insights have been shared and featured by publications such as Forbes, Entrepreneur, CNBC and more as well as educational institutions such as the University of Michigan, Penn State, Northeastern and others. Learn more about The Interview Guys on our About Us page.