Program manager interviews are tough to crack if you aren't well prepared. Companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon tend to ask three types of questions: behavioral, program management, and role-specific / technical questions. As a result, you have to cover a lot of ground during your preparation.
Here's the good news. We've done some of the heavy lifting for you. We've analyzed over 100 real program manager interview questions, and have compiled our findings into the below guide, to help you strategically focus your preparation time.
In this guide, we'll give you an overview of the types of questions that are most frequently asked during program manager interviews. We'll provide 75+ real example questions from Facebook, Google, and Amazon that you can use to practice. And we'll also recommend an overall preparation approach you can use to land the program manager job you're targeting.
You can expect three broad types of questions in your program manager interviews.
Here's a breakdown of the frequency with which these question types generally appear during program manager interviews at leading tech companies. The numbers and categories below are based on real interview data from Glassdoor, along with our analysis here at IGotAnOffer:
- Behavioral questions (48% of all questions) test your ability to work effectively with cross-functional teams. You'll be asked questions about how you overcame team conflicts, troubleshot issues, etc.
- Program management questions (41%) test how good you are at delivering programs. You'll be asked questions about program management processes and skills, like planning and leading project teams.
- Role-specific / technical questions (11%) test your role-specific knowledge and experience. The exact questions you'll face here depend on the role and functional area where you'll be working, and could include questions that test your technical depth.
You'll notice that there is considerable focus on behavioral and program management questions across all the companies listed above. However, you'll also notice that some companies emphasize different questions more than others.
For instance, Facebook tends to focus more on behavioral questions, whereas Google focuses more on program management questions.
To get more insight into the process and the questions that are asked at a specific company, take a look at one of our company guides below:
- Facebook program manager interview guide
- Google program manager interview guide
- Amazon program manager interview guide
Now that you have the high-level view of the question types that are asked in program manager interviews at leading tech companies, let's dig deeper into each type of question.
Before we jump in, it's important to reiterate that all of the below example questions are real program manager interview questions that were originally reported on Glassdoor by Google, Facebook, and Amazon candidates (*note: we've just made changes in some places to improve the grammar or phrasing).
After analyzing over 100 total program manager interview questions, we came up with the below categories (and accompanying sub-categories) to help you prepare for your interviews strategically.
And below we've selected over 75 example questions that you can practice with. Let's start with the most common type of questions: behavioral.
Program managers are the glue between product, design, marketing, engineering, etc. They need to be able to communicate clearly, work well with others, and resolve project issues (before or after they arise).
Your ability to perform these functions will be assessed using behavioral interview questions. Be prepared to talk about your top accomplishments, situations where you've resolved conflict, and your motivation for applying to the specific company and role.
You'll notice that we've grouped these questions into a few sub-categories. You don't need to memorize these groupings, but it should be a helpful way for you to structure your preparation. If you can give a good answer for at least one question from each area, that will give you a good start with your preparation. After you've done that, you can continue preparing by practicing answers to additional questions.Also notice that this type of question can be asked using the typical format for behavioral interviews (e.g. tell me about a time you did XYZ?), or they can be asked as hypothetical questions (e.g. how would you do XYZ). This is a subtle distinction, but it is helpful to keep in mind, because these two formats require different answers. Now here are the example questions:
Example behavioral questions
- Tell me about a time you had a disagreement with a coworker
- What is the biggest conflict you have managed at work?
- Tell me about a time you pitched an idea to your boss and were shot down
- Tell me a time when you did not agree with a decision that was made? What did you do? What was the decision?
- Tell me about how you work with difficult people.
- Give an example of a challenge you have faced
- Give me an example of an uncertain situation at work and how you dealt with it?
- Tell me about a time you had to act with limited information
- Tell me about a time you had to handle pressure
- Tell me about a time you failed
- When did you take a risk, make a mistake, or fail? How did you respond, and how did you grow from that experience?
- What is the worst mistake you've ever made?
- Tell me about a time when you had to come up with a creative solution to solve a problem
- Tell me about a time you created something from nothing
- Tell me about a situation where the problem was really difficult but you came up with an easy solution
- Tell me about a time you used innovation to solve a problem.
5. Fit / motivation
- What do you like to do?
- Define your ideal work environment and manager
- Why are you looking for a job?
- Why Facebook (or Google, etc.)?
6. General / resume
- What are your strengths and weaknesses
- Walk us through your resume
- What accomplishments are you most proud of?
- How will you go about doing this job during the first 90 days?
- Tell me something you've learned that made you better at your job
- Take me through a scenario where you went above and beyond your job responsibilities
- What would you say is your superpower?
The second most frequently asked type of question on program manager interviews are questions focusing on program management processes and skills.
Depending on your specific role or functional area, the day-to-day program manager responsibilities can vary significantly. Sometimes you might work at the program level (i.e. across a few different projects). In other situations, your work could look very similar to that of project managers or product managers.
And just as the role itself can vary, the questions you'll be asked during your interviews will also vary. As a result, we'd suggest practicing two broad categories of program manager questions:
- Program management processes
- Program management skills
As you can see, each category has some sub-categories within it. But don't worry, they're actually fairly easy to remember when you understand what each category represents.
If you're familiar with project management, you may notice that the 5 categories listed under program management processes are roughly aligned with the PMBOK project management process groups. For our purposes, essentially all this means is that "process" questions are aligned with the lifecycle of a project (e.g. kick-off, planning, execution, monitoring, and then closing).
Then, the "skill" questions cover a handful of questions that are commonly asked in program manager interviews to assess key skills, like leadership and partnership.
Let's begin by digging into the process questions all at once, then we'll cover the skill questions one-by-one. You should get a feel for the categories as we work through them.
2.2.1 Program management process questions
As we mentioned, each of the process questions you'll face in your program management interviews can be roughly connected to each stage of a project's lifecycle.
Below, we've provided example interview questions for each of these project processes. And these are all roughly aligned with the PMBOK process groups. We'd encourage you to practice answering at least one question from each sub-category.
Example program management process questions
- How do you kick-off a new project?
- Tell me about a program that you managed from kick-off through execution
- What steps would you take to launch X product?
- What is critical path and what happens if it changes?
- Tell me about a time you had a plan, but you encountered some obstacles. What did you do about it?
- You have 12 months to roll out a new product, describe in detail how you would manage the process.
- Tell me about a problem you faced when going from strategy to implementation
- How do you manage a complex program that consists of multiple projects?
- Your entire team can only use one spreadsheet. How would you optimize the design of the spreadsheet to make sure it works well for everyone?
- Describe a time you sacrificed short term goals for long term success
- Tell me about a time where you had to work on a tight deadline
- How will you handle reporting multiple projects when some of them are falling behind in schedule.
- Tell me about a project you managed. What were some of the metrics you used to determine the success of the project?
- How would you derive metrics?
- Tell me about a time you used analytics to make a decision.
- How do you know if a project is done?
2.2.2 Leadership (program management skill questions)
This is the first of four skill question sub-categories. These questions are a bit more unique, in that they require more explanation than the individual process categories we've just covered.
For leadership questions, you can expect these to sound very much like behavioral interview questions. However, we've separated leadership questions from behavioral questions because they tend to focus on leadership areas that are particularly important for program managers (which may be irrelevant, or at least less important, in other roles).
We'd encourage you to practice with the sample questions provided below.
Example leadership questions
- How do you advocate for a commitment to a priority, when that priority is not high on someone else's list?
- How do you manage timelines in a highly matrixed environment, where there is no top down authority?
- What five slides would you use for a presentation to a CEO?
- Tell me about a time you had to disagree with an executive.
- Imagine you are working with a lot of engineers in this role. Given that engineers speak a slightly different language, how would you approach communications?
- Tell me about a time you shared a common vision with your team for a project you were leading?
- Tell me about a time when you used feedback about your team to drive a change. How did you gather or receive feedback on your team's performance? What was the outcome?
2.2.3 Partnership (program management skill questions)
The next skill question we'd like to cover is partnership questions. Similar to leadership questions, the format of these questions will look similar to behavioral questions.
But the primary focus for partnership questions is to evaluate your ability to work with a variety of stakeholders to move programs and projects forward. To do this, you'll need to build and maintain good working relationships, and you'll need to be able to influence other people's priorities without direct authority over them.
Practicing the below questions will help you prepare for your interviews and they'll also help you get a clearer sense of the environment that program managers operate within.
Example partnership questions
- Have you ever collaborated with multiple teams? What challenges did you face?
- How would you convince someone to get your work done if they happen to be a difficult personality?
- Describe a time when you had to earn the trust of your project team and break their resistance to change. How did you do it, and what was the biggest challenge?
- Give an example of how you've worked with cross-functional teams and what role did you play?
- Tell me about a time when your team’s goals were out of alignment with another team you relied on in order to meet your goals. How did you work with the other team?
- Tell me about a time someone changed your mind on a topic. How did you feel about it?
- Tell me about a time when you had to influence without authority.
- What would others say about you?
2.2.4 Estimation (program management skill questions)
Estimation questions are a bit different than the others, as they will test your logic and mental math skills. You may get an estimation question that is relevant to your role or industry, or you might get a question on a seemingly random topic, like pizza.
Regardless of the subject of the question, you'll need to show that you can break down the question into logical pieces and come to a reasonable conclusion.
To learn a step-by-step method for solving this type of question, we'd recommend reading our separate guide on estimation questions (note: this guide is written for product managers, but the contents will still be relevant for this type of question). Then you can practice with the example questions below.
Example estimation questions
- How many website domains are there in the world?
- Estimate the costs of building a subway system (i.e. a metro)?
- How many Pizzas were consumed in certain state
- What is daily collection at the busiest toll road in [name of local city]?
- How many cars are registered in [name of local city]?
- What is the daily revenue for a [fruit smoothie brand] location?
- Calculate the value of adding advertisements to a previously ad-free website.
2.2.5 Other (program management skill questions)
Finally, there are a few other types of questions that get asked in program manager interviews. These remaining questions are asked infrequently enough that we decided to bundle them all together in this final skill category.
Below, you'll find questions about prioritization, brain teasers, and questions about general program management experience and knowledge.
For the prioritization questions, you'll need to show that you can balance competing priorities and make well-informed decisions. The brain teasers can be tough, and may seem completely unrelated to the role, but they are usually intended to test your cognitive and problem solving skills, which can definitely help you as a program manager. The remaining questions are more generally about your program management knowledge.
Example other questions
- How do you prioritize tasks?
- How do you prioritize competing projects, goals, or stakeholder requests?
- How do you prioritize features?
2. Brain teaser
- How many ways can you choose 3 desserts from a menu of 10?
- What is the angle between the hour hand and the minute hand on a clock at 4:20?
- What would occur on earth if the sun "went out"?
3. General program management
- Tell me about a program you’ve managed before
- What would you include in a program management 101 course for new grads?
- Describe some of your program management experience
Program manager interviews tend to focus primarily on behavioral and program management questions. However, not all program manager jobs are the same, so you should also do your homework on the job description and any other details about the role that you can find.
You'll want to be prepared to speak knowledgeably about the functional area where you'd be working. If your role would be in a technical area, or if you'd be working closely with engineers, then your interviewers may also decide to ask you a few technical questions to evaluate your depth of knowledge and your ability to communicate about technical details.
The below example questions are focused on technical topics and specific product or functional areas, to give you a sense for how these questions tend to be asked. When you begin practicing for your own interviews, you'll want to customize the questions below to a product or topic that is relevant to your target role.
Example role-specific / technical questions
- What are some challenges facing cloud technology?
- Suggest 5 ways to improve Google Maps & Gmail
- Describe the logic for writing a doubly linked list
- Explain how TCP works
- Explain what happens in the back-end network when you use Facebook
- Suggest a new product or market segment that Google should develop
- Tell me the difference between AC and DC power transmission
Now that you know what questions to expect, let's focus on how to prepare. Here are the three preparation steps we recommend, to help you get an offer as a program manager.
3.1 Practice by yourself
As mentioned above, you'll encounter three main types of interview questions: behavioral, program management, and role-specific / technical. Below, we've compiled resources and tips to help you prepare for each of these. Let's get into it!
3.1.1 Behavioral interview preparation
For behavioral interviews, we recommend learning our step-by-step method and creating a bank of 10+ personal stories that demonstrate your qualifications and top skills.
Once you've got a bank of stories, you can practice using them to answer the behavioral questions we've listed above. You should emphasize different aspects of your story depending on the exact question asked.
With practice, you'll get used to tailoring your stories to fit the question. And when you have a few stories mentally outlined in advance, it can help you to communicate clearly, and to come across as well prepared during your interviews.
3.1.2 Program management questions
To prepare for the program management questions you'll face during your interviews, it's important to brush up on program management basics. A big part of a program manager's role actually comes back to project management skills. As a result, we also recommend brushing up on project management fundamentals using a free guide, like this one published by Wrike.
This will give you an opportunity to refresh your memory on the key aspects of project management, like scope, schedule, resources, stakeholders, etc.
In addition, you should make sure you're on top of common concepts used in Agile project management. A great resource for this is Atlassian's 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.).
Once you've refreshed your memory on project management best practices, you should go through the list of program management questions we've listed in the previous section and draft answers for those.
3.1.3 Role-specific / technical questions preparation
You should also make sure you're well prepared for role-specific questions, and you should learn as much information as you can about the role, industry, and/or functional area to which you're applying.
You can begin by doing online research and carefully understanding each part of the job description. It's also a great idea to reach out to any connections you have that are involved in similar roles. Your recruiter may also be able to provide you with some additional information in advance.
If you anticipate that you'll have a technical role, or you just want to make sure you're prepared for any technical questions that may arise, then our Technical Program Manager guide would be another helpful resource.
3.1.4 Practice out loud
One more thing we recommend you do when you are preparing on your own, is to practice out loud. This may sound strange, but it will significantly improve your confidence and 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. Trust us, it works.
3.2 Practice with peers
Practicing by yourself will only take you so far. One of the main challenges of program manager interviews is communicating your different stories in a way that's easy to understand. As a result, we strongly recommend practicing with a peer interviewing you. A great place to start is to practice with friends or family members if you can.
3.3 Practice with ex-interviewers
Practicing with peers can be a great help, and it's usually free. But at some point, you'll start noticing that the feedback you are getting from peers isn't helping you that much anymore. Once you reach that stage, we recommend practicing with ex-interviewers from top tech companies.
If you know a program manager or someone who has experience running interviews at a big tech company, then that's fantastic. But for most of us, it's tough to find the right connections to make this happen. And it might also be difficult to practice multiple hours with that person unless you know them really well.
Here's the good news. We've already made the connections for you. We’ve created a coaching service where you can practice 1-on-1 with ex-interviewers from leading tech companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon. Learn more and start scheduling sessions today.
If you have any questions about program manager interviews, do not hesitate to ask them below and we will be more than happy to answer them. All questions are good questions, so go ahead!