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Navigate the Nuances of Hiring Program and Project Managers

Rana Mohamed
Rana Mohamed

Operations Manager

As freelancers continue to revolutionize the world of work, finding the right program or project manager has become even more crucial for the success of projects and impact delivery. This guide dives deep into the intricacies of the hiring process, shedding light on everything from the differences between these roles to best hiring practices.

Program Manager vs. Project Manager

Role of a Program Manager

A program manager oversees several projects, ensuring alignment with organizational goals, while a project manager focuses on individual projects. Program managers handle strategic alignment, stakeholder management, resource distribution, risk mitigation, and track program performance. They establish governance structures and ensure the organization reaps intended benefits. Project managers target single project outcomes, while program managers aim for broader objectives.

Here's our recommended Program Manager Job Description and Interview Questions.

Role of a Project Manager

A project manager plans, executes, and closes projects, ensuring they meet time, scope, and budget constraints. They set objectives, craft work plans, manage resources, and monitor progress. Serving as the primary liaison between the team and stakeholders, they address issues and make decisions for project success. Essentially, they guide a project from start to finish and ensure effective delivery.

Here's our recommended resources:

When to Initiate the Hiring Process

Determining the right time to hire a program or project manager is crucial for businesses. Hiring too late can compromise efficiency while hiring too early can lead to underutilization and extra costs.

Industry-Specific Hiring Tips for Managers

Recruiting for project and program manager roles is not just about leadership; it's about finding leaders who resonate with the industry's pace and the company’s culture. They need to understand its subtleties and drive teams towards sector-specific success using resonating strategies and incentives. Here are some industry-specific hiring tips:

Tech and Software:    

  • Look for candidates with agile or scrum certifications.
  • Familiarity with software development life cycles and tools like JIRA or Trello can be a big plus.
  • Experience with remote and cross-functional teams is often essential.


  • Prior knowledge of healthcare regulations and standards is crucial as the approach to product delivery must consider these contexts.
  • A hire should understand patient data privacy concerns and be familiar with tools specific to healthcare project management.


  • Candidates should have experience with risk management and compliance.
  • A background in financial software or platforms can be a significant advantage to be upheld as an expert by the team delivering the work.


  • Lean Six Sigma or other operational efficiency certifications can be highly beneficial.
  • They should be adept at overseeing complex supply chains and production timelines.

Screening for Success: The Interview Process

Common Mistakes in Hiring

Hiring the right Project Manager is crucial to the success of any project. Here are some common mistakes organizations make during the hiring process:

  1. Overemphasizing Technical Skills
  2. Ignoring Culture Fit
  3. Neglecting Past Performance and References
  4. Not Clarifying Role Expectations
  5. Overlooking Leadership Qualities
  6. Focusing Solely on Certifications
  7. Rushing the Hiring Process
  8. Not Testing Problem-Solving Skills
  9. Underestimating the Importance of Communication
  10. Failing to Provide Growth Opportunities


Our talent took it one step further discussing how having environmental - Enterprise, Global, Small, or Large - experience should also play a role in your hiring decision:

"The simple explanation has to do with: Book Smart vs Street Smart. They have multiple certifications, with little environment experiences. They can explain processes, and talk about best practices (Which is a red flag as this is mainly b.s.) but they can't tell good stories about experiences, lessons they learned, lessons the team learned. Project Managers will probably not have experiences in pivoting (mitigation), program managers should.

Regarding recognizing [top talent] would be someone who starts explaining what they would do short and long term, without asking a variety of questions regarding current state of operations, current environment, even the "Top 3 Pain Points" (My go to question). If they are not asking about what current state is, then they are a driver, not a steerer, so to speak. And not mature in their journey or their EI." - Steven Starosto - Verified Talent @ Braintrust with 23 years of experience in Project and Program Management.


Traits of a Successful Project/Program Manager

Dive deep into the qualities and skills a project or program manager needs. Here are 10 traits of a successful hire and sample questions:

1. Big-Picture Thinking
  • Can you describe a complex project you've worked on where you had to consider multiple variables and factors? How did you approach the project from a big-picture perspective, and how did your ability to see the larger context contribute to its success?"
  • "Imagine you're tasked with launching a new product in a highly competitive market. How would you approach this challenge from a big-picture perspective? What strategic considerations would you take into account, and how would you ensure that your decisions align with the company's overarching goals?"
2. Excellent Communication Skills
  • Describe a situation where you had to explain a complex concept or procedure to a colleague or client who was unfamiliar with the topic. How did you approach it, and what steps did you take to ensure understanding?
  • Tell me about a time when you had to mediate a disagreement within your team or between team members and stakeholders. How did you handle it, and what was the outcome?
3. Leadership
  • Can you share an example of a project or initiative that you led from concept to completion? What were the challenges, and how did you overcome them to achieve success?
  • Describe a time when you had to lead a team through a difficult period, such as meeting a tight deadline or navigating through organizational changes. How did you keep your team motivated and focused?
4. Strong Decision-Making Abilities
  • Describe a situation where you had to make a high-stakes decision with limited information or under a tight deadline. What was the situation, how did you approach it, and what was the outcome?
  • Can you share an example of a decision you made that was initially unpopular but ultimately proved to be the correct course of action? How did you handle the dissent, and what was the result?
5. Risk Management
  • Tell me about a time when you identified a significant risk in a project or operation. What steps did you take to manage it, and what was the outcome?
  • Describe a situation where you had to balance short-term gains against long-term risks. How did you evaluate the trade-offs, and what decision did you ultimately make?
6. Adaptability
  • Can you share an example of when you had to quickly adapt to a significant change at work, such as a shift in company strategy, team restructuring, or a new technology platform? How did you handle it?
  • Tell me about a project or task that didn’t go as planned. How did you adjust your approach, and what did you learn from the experience?
7. Stakeholder Management
  • Can you describe a project where you had to manage a diverse group of stakeholders with conflicting interests or priorities? How did you ensure everyone was aligned and satisfied with the outcome?
  • Tell me about a time when you had to deliver bad news to stakeholders, such as missing a deadline or going over budget. How did you handle the communication, and what steps did you take to mitigate the impact?
8. Time Management and Organizational Skills
  • Describe a situation where you had multiple projects or tasks with conflicting deadlines. How did you prioritize your work to meet those deadlines?
  • Tell me about a time when you had to juggle both short-term tasks and long-term projects. What systems or tools did you use to keep yourself organized?
9. Negotiation Skills
  • Describe a time when you successfully negotiated a deal or resolved a conflict that had significant positive outcomes for your organization. What strategies did you employ to reach a favorable agreement?
  • Can you tell me about a negotiation that did not go as planned and how you handled it? What would you do differently next time?
10. Emotional Intelligence (EQ)
  • Can you describe a time when you had to manage a difficult relationship at work, either with a colleague, manager, or direct report? How did you handle it and what was the outcome?
  • Tell me about a situation where you had to adapt your communication style to effectively collaborate with team members who were different from you. What adjustments did you make and why?

Post-Hiring Steps: Onboarding and Negotiation

Onboarding New Managers

The 30-60-90 day plan that Forbes covers is a great framework that ensures that the employee can create an impact from the start. Here are several success tips our talent also recommends:

Onboarding process

Negotiating Salaries

A crucial step, salary negotiation can seal the deal or break it. Stay informed to make a fair offer by using resources like Payscale or ZipRecruiter for the most updated market rates.


Embracing the Evolution of Work

Program and project managers remain pivotal as companies progress to rapid company impact and manage the intricacies of multi-team project delivery. By leveraging these best hiring practices, you, too, can ensure the success of these professionals at your company. 

For tips on hiring other company builders, check our past posts: 

Whether you're looking to hire a Program Manager or Project Manager, Braintrust has you covered. Simply sign up today to get started. We’ll help you craft the right job description and find the top talent.

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