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18 Jan 2023

How To Prepare for a PM Interview

Career and Recruiting
CONTENTS

Product management is difficult, and some would argue that the hardest part of it, is getting the job in the first place.

In this article, we’re going to talk about the product management interview process, get insight into some of the common interview questions that will happen during the interview process, and mistakes to avoid as you are preparing for the process.

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Product management interview process

The product management interview processes vary, however, there are some commonalities between companies, like:

1. Recruiting screen 

A recruiting screen is often the first step in the process and usually happens on the phone/virtually. This is where a recruiter will talk to you about your history in product management. To be successful in a recruiting screen as a product manager, make sure the story you talk about on the phone matches the story you have on your resume. 

2. Product skills screening

A product skills screening is when a product manager or someone close to the team asks you questions about how you think about product management. To be successful in a product skills screening, it is important that you come into the conversation knowing what the company is known for, and merge your story with what they are looking for. For example, if they are looking for a product manager to help them launch a new product, then come in with a few stories on how you got something out the door. 

3. Product presentation/cross-team communication

A product presentation is when a company asks you to present something to a room full of stakeholders. To be successful, it’s important to be crisp - know that you’ll almost always spend more time than you think per slide. A good rule of thumb is 5 minutes per slide. You’ll want to leave room for questions at the end. Sometimes a team will not go through a presentation but a panel of PMs with the same concept. 

When it comes to communication skills, there are a few things that will serve you not just in the interview process but during your career. Tools such as small talk to warm people in the room up, leading the conversation with empathy by engaging with their point of view instead of fighting it, communicating clearly by being concise, listening actively, and over-communicating with questions all help. 

4. Manager conversation

This is when you’ll meet your potential boss. These meetings vary, but the other parts of the interview process are good training for this conversation, as you’ll know what is important to the organization just by the questions others ask.

Common product manager interview questions and their best answers 

Let’s talk about some questions you’ll encounter when you go through this process.

Remember, these are prompts designed to get your mind going. Blending these answers with your own story is the best way to prepare for a product manager interview. 

job interview

How would you explain product management to a stranger? 

Here they are trying to get an idea of how you think about product. Use this to find a way to show your personality along with these answers for the best results. 

  • You know how one person can imagine and build a new product from home? When groups of people are building something, I’m the one who keeps them all working well together. I speak engineering, marketing, finance, tech support, design, and strategy. And, when I do my job well, I get to know customers so I can speak for them so that we build a product that matters.

  • Product managers possess product expertise and make decisions based on innovation, strategy, and market conditions. They are a part of product development from the conception of the idea through a product’s launch and beyond. Product managers know the why, when, and what of the product and lead cross-functional team activities for its development.

How do you identify a well-designed product?

They want to understand how you think about design. Think about how you can include in a story with a designer how you solved a problem.

  • For me, a well-designed product is simple and user-centric. It solves XYZ problem by doing ABC. I also appreciated the design updates, as they had a subtle design interface.

What is your favorite product by XYZ? How would you make it better?

They are looking to understand how you see the marketplace. This is less about getting the perfect answer and more about how you think about iteration and market trends.

The best way to answer this question is to start with a brief introduction followed by a detailed description, using these as planks to build your answer.

Pick a company and talk about:

  • Use: how the product is useful in resolving key pain points

  • Efficiency: discuss how the product enables easy problem-solving for the user

  • Innovation: the features that make the product simple and unique.

How do you know when to cut corners to get a product out the door?

This answer is about how you think about shipping and delivery. Have a story ready when it comes to when you’ve had to make tough choices to get something shipped. 

For example: I would cut corners and launch a product if:

• The product has been long overdue  - insert story here.

• The prototype is ready to be launched - insert story here.

• The product is situation centric  - insert story here.

It’s important to show you do this without being sloppy, so give the person some caveats about boundaries you wouldn’t cross. For example, you can say: I would ensure that the product is ready to perform and meet customer expectations before giving a go-ahead on product launch so that the company's reputation is not affected.

Based on what metrics would you measure a product’s success?

The company is looking to understand how you measure success

Base your answers on numbers you’ve seen in the past. This is a great place to insert a story on how you used metrics to push a decision forward and how those metrics are tied to a company or product strategy.  For example, I built XYZ and saw that the utilization rate was XX%, this was impactful to the strategy because…etc.

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Mistakes to avoid when preparing for an interview for a product management role 

online interview

There are a few things you want to avoid to help you be better prepared.

  1. Don’t just walk in unprepared - If you are interviewing at a company, it’s important to do research. This will help you calibrate your answers. 

  2. Not ask questions - the product management role is largely understanding context and communicating. If you don’t ask questions, the interviewer can’t get a sense of that. 

  3. “Solutioning”  - don’t focus on solutions, the team is there to understand how you see problems. When you get the job, you’ll have a whole team working with you on how something will work.

Interviewing is hard

Product management takes work, but with some preparation, you’ll be able to take on and have an amazing interview.

If you want to learn more about being a product manager, you can check out our ebook on the Modern Product Manager, or our Ultimate Guide to a Product Manager's Job.

Adam Thomas

Adam Thomas

Lead Product Manager @ SmartRecriuiters
1 Article
Adam Thomas is a technologist and product management expert based in Harlem, NY. He’s passionate about social justice and the behavioral psychology at work within product teams. Adam is a pro when it comes to strategy, team organization and product management. But what really sets him apart is his talent for communication and his psychological insight.
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