Product Manager Interview Preparation For The Win
How to prepare for a product manager interview can vary from business industry to vertical, from corporation to startup. But there are some essential things you can expect in an interview for a PM (product manager) role.
In this post, we’ll cover what you can expect from the interview structure and process. As for product management interview prep, there are a few smart moves you should make to present yourself in the best light – and some key ways you can “reverse-interview” the company to be sure it’s a good fit!
Product management interview prep
Great interview preparation for a product management role involves 4 steps:
- Understand the structure of the interview process
- Evaluate the case study before you begin
- Understand the types of questions they’ll ask and how to frame your experience
- Prepare questions for the hiring manager
Let’s go through each one.
What to expect in a product manager interview
The typical structure of a PM recruitment process involves
- An individual interview with the hiring manager
- A group interview or secondary interviews with other potential colleagues
- A case study, or case interview.
These elements could come in any order. Typically the hiring manager would meet with you first to decide whether to move you forward to the colleague interview or case study stages. That said, some companies might ask for a case study assignment first to qualify you before taking up team members’ time.
What is a case study in product management?
A case study, also known as a case interview, is a sample work assignment that’s designed to gauge your approach to product management and the processes you follow.
The hiring manager will give you a situation (sometimes hypothetical, sometimes a real issue the company is facing) and allow you to make recommendations or propose potential solutions.
Whether issued as a sort of homework assignment or taking place live during the interview, these case study “simulations” can be poorly framed. Don’t be afraid to get whatever clarification you need! Ask questions before you start answering. In fact, that’s a sign you’d be a great PM.
If a company asks you to whiteboard or build out a solution, watch out. This could mean one of two things.
1. It could be a trap.
Don’t walk into “solutioneering” territory! There’s no way you have enough information about their product or the problems they’re facing to immediately build a solution. Maybe they actually want you to say, “No, I’m a better product manager than that. I don’t go directly to solutions, instead I ask questions.”
So, have some courage to ask more questions about the problem in the case study. Then you can walk them through how you’d investigate and research this problem. You could also mention how you’d help them step away from solutioneering in the Product team. 😉
2. It’s a red flag.
On the other end of the spectrum, the company really wants you to build a straight-up solution to this problem – which could mean, once a member of the team, they just want you to shut up and build things. In which case, do not join this company! This is a severely limiting and even debilitating outlook on product management.
In the ideal scenario, you’re paid for your time working on the case study. It’s okay to ask if time spent on any assignments is paid, and to ask to be paid for reasonable travel expenses to the interview itself. Plus the end-product is something you can include in your portfolio, regardless if you get this particular job. The work they have you do shouldn’t be direct work for the interviewer – eg. you shouldn’t be solving their problems for free, or unless you’ve specifically contracted with them for this purpose (which is usually not the case).
Product manager interview questions
Interview questions can be formulated in all sorts of ways. But no matter what, the questions will aim to understand how you would approach the following elements of the job:
- Gathering and evaluating feedback (from customers and teammates)
- Prioritizing problems and opportunities (roadmap management)
- Conducting experiments and testing solutions
- Product design
- Release planning and launches
Plus, of course, they’ll want to hear about how you function in a team, how you communicate, how you handle stress when a system fails or plans change at the last minute, etc.
But how do you know what to say?
Well, in addition to being honest, you can look up resources about how to become a great product manager. We have loads of further advice that we’ll link throughout this article, plus a list of the best product management books if you have more time on your hands.
What to highlight from past experience
Talk about the problems that you’ve solved. Don’t just list what your responsibilities are or what tools/frameworks you can use. Actually name the specific outcomes you were a part of! For example:
“I worked on this project which increased user growth from X to Y, ” or
“I scoped and launched this feature which reduced customer churn by 1.5%.”
Keep an ongoing log of your wins, accomplishments, and results. Use this log to update your LinkedIn and CV on an ongoing basis. It will be super helpful when it comes time to interview, because you won’t have to wrack your brain for great anecdotes or concrete results!
How to frame any lack of knowledge or experience
If you’re coming into an interview without much product experience, don’t sweat it. Product management is in high demand, and you don’t need to have a certain degree or set of experiences to be qualified. The top skills for product managers can come from all sorts of educational backgrounds and life experiences.
Most of all, be eloquent about how you’ve identified what problem the company needs to solve – and be specific about how you can uniquely solve their problem! Make sure this messaging is consistent from the cover letter to how you’re answering the interview questions. Highlight side interests, a hack project, or any unique angle you bring to the table.
Show off side projects
If you already have side projects, this is pretty self explanatory. Treat your hack projects as real PM experience, because it is!
If you don’t have side projects yet, take on what you can. Start a little website or a simple app. It doesn’t need to be big. It doesn’t need to be an end-to-end product with a full solution. Just something to show that you’ve identified a problem in the world and have taken a crack at trying to solve it.
Personal projects will show your PM initiative! You don’t need the past job title or any expensive certification to do it.
Product manager interview questions for the company
Of course, part of any good PM interview prep is getting to know your potential employer. Here’s what’s important to know.
Research the company and its product
Above all, you should understand the company’s target user, the problem it’s trying to solve, and its product positioning in the market.
If you do have access to the company’s product through a free trial, test it out and turn up with notes and an informed opinion about what it is and how it works.
If there’s no free trial (i.e. you’re asked to schedule a demo and they keep those for qualified leads only), don’t worry about it. There’s a reason you don’t have access to the tool, and it’s not that important to test it before an interview. But still do the best research you can! Maybe there are videos or pre-recorded demos, white papers, sales documents, etc.
Also – make sure you pronounce the company’s name right!
Ask lots of questions in your own interest
Seriously, spend time interviewing the company as much as they’re interviewing you. This is crucial to finding an employer that will not only be a great fit for you now, but will nurture your professional development moving forward.
Ask questions such as:
- What’s it like to work there?
- Why are they hiring a product manager? What happened to the last one?
- Who will you be working with?
- Where are you going to sit? With developers and designers? (Hopefully as close to the design and research side as possible.)
- Who will you be reporting to?
- When’s the last time they promoted someone? What’s the promotion track like?
- Will you have access to customers?
- Who owns the roadmap? Will you own the roadmap? What does it look like?
- When’s the last time they failed or rolled back? Tell me an example of a time when something went wrong and how the team handled it.
If they get turned off by these sorts of questions, then it might not be a safe environment. Or they’ll be even more resistant later on when you try to push for what you need and deserve.
Besides, asking tons of questions is basically a product manager’s #1 job! Don’t feel embarrassed about displaying the right skills.
Now go kick some ass!