Technical program management (TPM), or the management of IT-related projects, is a hybrid career field that requires a unique blend of art, science and craft. Given the complexity of managing multiple interdependent projects, candidates must possess not only sufficient technical knowledge but also the ability to communicate clearly, solve problems and embrace ambiguity. During any job interview, recruiters and hiring managers will ask questions designed to evaluate the candidate’s aptitude in all these areas.
- What is a weakness you have with project management?
- Why did you choose the technical side of project management?
- What is your experience like in budget management?
- How would you resolve a conflict between two or more team members?
Guide to TPM Interview Questions: Behavioural/Situational Interview
2.1 Practice by yourself
As mentioned above, youll have to answer three types of questions in your TPM interviews: technical, program management, and behavioral. The first step of your preparation should be to brush up on these different types of questions and to practice answering them by yourself.
For system design questions, we recommend getting used to the step-by-step approach hinted at by Amazon in the video below.
Here is a summary of the approach:
- Understand the goal of the system (e.g. sell ebooks)
- Establish the scope of the exercise (e.g. end-to-end experience, or just API?)
- Gather scale and performance requirements (e.g. 500 transactions per second)
- Mention any assumptions youre making out loud
- Lay out the high level components (e.g. front-end, web servers, database)
- Drill down and design each component (e.g. front-end first)
- Start with the components youre most comfortable with (e.g. front-end if youre a front-end engineer)
- Work with your interviewer to provide the right level of detail
- Refer back to the requirements to make sure your approach meets them
- Discuss any tradeoffs in the decisions youve made
- Summarize how the system would work end-to-end
Wed also recommend studying our system design interview guide, which digs into this method in more detail. It also provides several example questions with solutions.
For technical explanation and coding questions, we recommend learning the step-by-step method weve developed. To practice, you can use that method to craft answers to the technical questions listed in the previous section.
For program management questions, we recommend starting by brushing up on the basics with our program management primer. Another efficient way to do this is to take a free course designed to prepare for the Project Management Professional (PMP) exam such as this course on LinkedIn Learning.
This will give you an opportunity to refresh your memory on all key aspects of project management including: scope, schedule, resources, cost, quality, communication, risk, stakeholders, etc.
In addition, if youre interviewing for a TPM role in software development, you should make sure youre on top of common concepts used in Agile project management. A great resource here is Atlassians Agile project management guide. In particular, we recommend brushing up on the difference between Kanban and Scrum, and the common structures used in Agile projects (e.g. epics, stories, themes, etc.).
Similarly, if youre applying for a hardaware TPM role then youll want to be on top of the different engineering validation stages (EVT, DVT, PVT).
Once youve refreshed your memory on project management best practices you should go through the list of program management questions weve listed in the previous section and draft answers for those.
For behavioral interviews, we recommend consulting our leadership and people management primers, as well as learning our step-by-step behavioral interview method. Create a bank of 10+ personal stories where youve showed you can lead and collaborate with a cross-functional team. Youll find this method in our Facebook behavioral guide, but it is applicable to any company.
Once youve got a bank of stories you can practice using them to answer the behavioral questions weve listed above. You should emphasize different aspects of your story depending on the exact question asked.
Finally, a great way to practice technical, program management, and behavioral questions, is to interview yourself out loud. This may sound strange, but it will significantly improve the way you communicate your answers during an interview.
Play the role of both the candidate and the interviewer, asking questions and answering them, just like two people would in an interview.
Walk me through the steps you would take to implement a program successfully.
Most candidates are familiar with the best practices and control processes to bring a program to fruition, explained Kumar Saurabh, senior engineering program manager, instructor and author of “27 Program Management Interview Techniques.”
But to Saurabh, the greatest predictor of success in the role (and what he looks for) is structure, flow and clarity of thought in a candidate’s response. As you prepare for your interview, make sure to review your previous jobs and projects, and make sure you’ve crafted a compelling story that puts your experience and skills in the best possible light.
Tips: In addition to succinctly summarizing their process, top candidates also describe their previous work and link their actions and behaviors to outcomes, Saurabh added. Out of a hundred interviews, he estimates that only one or two candidates describe how they drive projects to meet company objectives, so taking that extra step can definitely set you apart.
1.3 Behavioral questions (38%)
TPMs work in cross-functional teams and are the glue between product, design, engineering and QA. They need to be able to communicate clearly and demonstrate a track record of delivering projects flawlessly.
This is the part of the interview process where you really want to show that you are good at working with others and anticipating potential issues before they arise. Be prepared to talk about situations where youve troubleshooted program bottlenecks, negotiated design components with engineers, adapted your program when requirements changed, etc.
Weve listed common examples that you can expect in this interview according to data from Glassdoor.com. Again here, you should be ready to answer both hypothetical questions (e.g. How would you do XYZ), and behavioral questions (e.g. Tell me about a time you did XYZ). Finally, weve also included typical behavioral questions (e.g. “Tell me about yourself”, “Why Google?”, etc.) that you might get asked for comprehensiveness.
Exercise: Pick one of the questions above and answer it in the comments section below, without looking at other peoples answers. This is a great opportunity to gain some practice for your TPM interviews.