The best way to interview a Project/Product Manager

The best way to interview a Project/Product Manager

Written by Luciano Castro

The best way to interview a Project/Product Manager


Hiring a professional from any type of industry is quite a daunting task. The process takes time and money and at the end you still might be left with the feeling that your candidate isn’t a (perfect) fit. Furthermore, if you choose the wrong person, it may cost you even more dearly because you have to repeat the whole interviewing process again. 

So, what if you could get some extra help for FREE, help that would significantly reduce your risk of choosing the wrong candidate? And what if that free help lies in this article that we are providing to you right now? 


Without false modesty, here at Castro and partners we are really proud of the way we do our interviews. Why are we so proud? Well, because we have so many satisfied clients. Furthermore, we have a few aces up our sleeve that set us apart from similar PM companies.

Since we believe that sharing is caring, we would like to share with you the way we do it, the way it has worked best for us and our clients so far.


The best project managers need to wear many hats, we like to refer to PMs as Jack of all trades — they should successfully juggle between management, clients and staff and keep projects running smoothly. That’s why finding a good fit is so hard, you have to take into account so many aspects. The biggest challenges that you are facing are:


  • Selecting a wrong project manager or product manager
  • Costs of hiring 
  • Costs of errors (if you get the wrong person, what happens)


Selecting a wrong project manager or product manager

As we’ve already mentioned, finding the right fit is extremely hard. A person that might appear to be a great fit when you look at their CV and/or portfolio, might turn into somebody completely different in practice. Considering the fact that more than 68% of organizations use outsourced or contract PM, it leaves a lot of room to make mistakes. And mistakes of selecting the wrong PM usually come with quite a hefty price tag. Still, there are a few telltale signs that might help you lower the risk of selecting the wrong PM:


1. Not showing interest in learning about the company

To be successful at running a project and managing the team and the process, a person must be familiar with your company’s vision, goals, culture, and resources. If a person doesn’t show interest in understanding the core of your company, the underlying foundations which will direct all milestones and tasks, they ( and your company) are running the risk of missing out on some crucial signs very early on in the project cycle. Once this happens, getting back on the right track is extremely difficult ( if not impossible). As a consequence it will be costly in terms of resources, time, and regaining stakeholder confidence.


2. Not showing interest in engaging with stakeholders

One of the most significant parts of a project is engaging and interacting with stakeholders. If your PM doesn’t show much interest for a stakeholder’s well-being, it could be a quite good indicator that something is off. This is one of the areas where you would test your PM’s soft skills. 


3. Poor communication ( and other) soft skills

This one is linked with the previous point. It is quite self explanatory. Many recruiters tend to underestimate the importance of soft skills. And that is one of the biggest mistakes you can make. Of course that technical knowledge and previous experience play an extremely important part.

However, regardless of all the perfect technical skills your PM might have, if they are lacking people skills, it is pretty much a big no. You can’t be a good PM if you lack those. You need to manage people, you need to interact, you are the key person when it comes to that. Our advice is to definitely pay attention to your PM’s soft skills early in the process. Make sure that you check verbal and written communication, sound judgement, etc. 


 4. Key stakeholders are not included

It goes without saying how important stakeholders are. Actually, not just important but vital. Your PM needs to know which stakeholders should be involved, timing or their roles and how much they should get involved. If your PM fails in evaluating and selecting stakeholders necessary at all levels, or your PM goes only for the senior ones, it can definitely increase risks and cost of the project.


 5. Not interested (enough) in planning

The planning stage is probably the most important phase in the project management life cycle. If your PM takes this phase for granted and therefore fails to identify all the contributing factors of a project, they would most likely miss out on even more additional things in other phases of a project. Make sure to spend some time evaluating a candidate’s planning skills


Costs of hiring

We think it is safe to assume that by reading this article you are already aware of how important the role of a PM is. We also assume that by showing interest in this article you are also interested in hiring an exceptional PM because you are aware that trying to allocate PM tasks to “ordinary” employees won’t save you money. Yes, it is true that hiring a professional PM can cost between 5%-8% of your overall budget, which could run to £10,000s. Not a small amount of money for sure, but try at least to put on paper how much more it would cost if you don’t have qualified people doing your projects. In the end, it would cost you much more. And we are only talking about the financial aspect here. Try adding not meeting the deadlines, problems with stakeholders, time and team management problems. And voila, your costs of doing it on your own or with a non -PM person have just skyrocketed.


This is why interviewing a candidate is so important. The amount of time it takes to fill a position is usually 42 days. Thus,the process might take a while ( for us at Castro and Partners it usually takes 4 weeks) because you will have more than one round of interviews for sure, but if you do it properly and pay attention to some of the red flags we’ve mentioned you’d be on a good way to find a PM that fits your company’s business and needs. 


To find the best candidate for your project manager job description, one of the first steps is an interview.  Apart from checking candidates’ technical competence and business methodology, you definitely need to check their interpersonal skills. 

It is implied that depending on your type of business and industry, the questions may differ, but let’s cover some that might help you estimate the skills your candidate has.


Costs of errors 

By now you have at least got a glimpse at how costly mistakes could be, and not only from a financial point of view.  Poor hires can result in lost productivity and expenses in hiring, recruiting, and training replacements. Let’s back this data up with some more numbers. 

Statistics are quite bleak when it comes to hiring a wrong person. According to CareerBuilder, almost three-quarters of companies that made a bad hire reported an average of $14,900 in wasted money. Furthermore, 74% of employers stated that they hired the wrong person for the job.

And this is only a financial aspect. The cost of errors goes way beyond only finances.  

  • Lost Productivity

Bad hires might be completely unproductive and that would reflect on the whole team. This can lead to slowdowns, missing deadlines and not very happy clients.

  • Lost Clients

Lost productivity and lost clients go hand in hand. Having a wrong hire can affect your relations with clients in many ways ( lack of trust, poor work quality, lack of productivity, lack of showing interest in clients). And it isn’t just existing clients you might lose. Bad news travels fast, especially in this digital age. A bad review can spread like a forest fire and your reputation might be quite damaged. 

  • Damaged Employer Reputation

Although we are primarily talking about hiring here, pay attention to the way you fire people. A bitter ex- employee can leave a bad review, spin a story and damage your brand and reduce your ratings.

  • Supervising a Bad Hire

According to one study,34% of CFOs said that not only do bad hires cost them productivity, but managers also have to spend 17% of their time supervising poorly-performing employees.

The time you spend supervising bad employees could have been used for more fruitful things. 


The importance of interview

We probably can’t highlight enough how important a candidate interview is. A thoroughly prepared interview will save you a lot of headache later. Your interview questions will naturally vary from more general ones to more specific ones. A useful tip is to have your PM persona in mind and make sure that your questions are tailored in such a way that you could test all the areas you want/need for a PM job position. 

 As we promised ( and we do keep our promises), we will share with you the way we do it. You will get an insight into our interview process. So let’s start.


The interview process at Castro and Partners

Our interview process has 4 stages or phases.

1. Get to know your candidate

The first or initial stage is what you could call Get to know your candidate. During this first interview, we ask questions primarily related to basic technical skills just to make them less anxious and more relaxed. Some of the simpler questions could be about the methodology that they use on a daily basis, the methodology they prefer, tools and software they use(d). Obviously, it is in this part that they talk about their past experience(s) regarding Scrum and Agile. These questions should give us an insight into technical skills.

This is also the best moment for them to provide some certificates or diplomas. In addition, we also check their language skills at this point. As it has been said, it is not only about technical skills. A good PM needs to have an array of non-technical skills. 

We firmly believe that listening to our candidates and clients respectively is one of the most important things in the PM world. That is why we like to hear their opinion about how much they expect to earn at this position, what their hourly rate is. And not only do we listen, but we also take it into account.


 2. Assessment tests 

After the candidates have passed the first round, they get two assessment tests. In our case, out of 100% candidates ,70% pass the first round. The assessment test consists of two parts. The first part has 40 questions when it comes to Project management and 15 questions when it comes to Product management. Candidates have 30 minutes to answer the questions. Questions are of technical nature and in this part we dig a bit deeper to check their knowledge regarding Scrum, Waterfall and general PM. At this stage, 50% out of 70% pass the second round.

 3. Business case study

The candidates who have passed the first part of the assessment test, automatically get the second part. We call it a Business case study. This is probably the most important part because candidates can fully show their expertise, ideas and problem-solving skills. They are given a so-called critical case or project. In short, it is a project that got severely derailed and their task is to put it back on track.  They need to come up with planning,development, budget, allocating resources, forecast, tackling relevant questions. Out of 50% of the remaining candidates, 30% pass the third round.

 4. Presentation of their “project” 

If candidates passed the three previous rounds, then they are connected directly to one of our senior PMs. It is in a way a role-play. The candidates present the project they did in round three and their task is to dazzle our PM and show him why their solution should work and how the process looked like. Out of the remaining 30%, 10% pass the final round.


If you followed our stages closely you could see that each stage tests all the risk factors we mentioned in the very beginning of this article. In our case, the whole process lasts for approximately a month. When we sign a contract with a candidate, it takes an additional month or two until they are given their first client. Why? Fairly easy- to minimise the possibility of an error ( you’ve seen the havoc these errors might bring). Additionally, by taking our time, we increase the possibility of a (perfect) culture fit.  Although our later rounds of interview are extremely important, it is the first phase that is in a way crucial. For us, it represents a unique opportunity to see a candidate beyond just their CV or Linkedin Profile. We all know these could be blown out of proportions ( and reality). That is why we try to do our best in screening candidates during the first call. 


At the end of the day, we bear a huge responsibility not only towards our candidates but also towards the clients we would like to match them with. 

We don’t say we are doing it perfectly, we are just doing it best.


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Contact information


Castro & Partners - P. IVA: 02325360515
Via Mannini 19, 52100, Arezzo - Italy

Phone: +39 0692949345
Contact: [email protected]



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