What to expect at your PM interview
Interviewing for product manager roles can be tough, exhausting and nerve wracking. But it doesn’t have to be like that. Over the past decade, I have interviewed candidates and been interviewed for many positions. I have seen both success and failure — and here is what I learnt from it.
To improve your chances of converting the interview you need to know three things:
1.The format for product management interview. (covered below!)
In this blog we will learn about the interview format that most companies follow. Each hiring team will tweak it to meet their own specific needs. But the general flow usually remains the same.
The entire interview process can divided into four stages. Each stage has a different goal. If you meet the goal you reach the next stage. Sounds simple enough :).
Let’s dive right into each interview stage!
This is your first official interaction with the company. You might have networked with different people to reach this point. This is where the company has looked at your resume, LinkedIn profile and online avatar and said ” We like this candidate on paper”. Let’s get to know them better and find out if they will be a good fit for the role.
How do they get in touch with you?
If it’s a small company the hiring manager might reach out to you . In larger organisations someone from the HR team will email you to find out your interest in the role.
How should you respond?
Make sure of the following in your response:
1. You should respond to the email on the same day you get it.
2. Thank the sender
3. Reiterate your interest and excitement
4. Provide your availability for the call
What to expect on the call?
Companies talk with many candidates for the same role at a time. The goal of this round is to find candidates who:
1. Meet the basic criteria of the job posting
2. Have the soft skills required to be successful on the job
3. Display behaviour that matches the work culture of the organisation. It is common to ask behavioural questions to surface the desired qualities.
What should you do after the call/interview round?
Send a “Thank You” email to your interviewers within a few hours of speaking with them.
This applies to each round. It is important to do this after each round. We won’t keep repeating it in each section but can’t stress enough how important it is to do. Here’s why:
1. You are not the only candidate they are talking to. A well written email keeps you fresh in the minds of the recruiter
2. It is important to reiterate your interest in the role
Try and end your email with a question or building on a discussion that you might have started during the call. It helps build a rapport with the prospective employer.
What happens after the call?
The interviewer will share their notes with the hiring manager. Based on that you might get called in for the next round. In that case Yay!. You’ve cleared the first hurdle.
If you get through don’t feel disheartened. Keep at it! Trust me when I say this “ Hardwork always pays off in the end”.
Interview with Hiring Manager
The second round is often conducted in person. It depends on where you’re located. While every round is important, this one is right there at the top.
In this round the goal of the hiring manager is to find the following:
1. How strong is your foundation in product management?
2. Is your previous experience relevant to the role?
3. Are you data driven?
4. The different kind of stakeholders you have managed in the past
5. Will you fit in with the current product team?
Product Management roles in each company are different. It is very rare that a company will find everything in a candidate they are looking for. What is important for you is to:
1. Demonstrate the skills you have that are relevant for the role
2. Show that you have learnt new skills when needed to perform your job
The focus in this round is the work you have done and the achievements you have highlighted on your resume. This round usually lasts for about 45 minutes to an hour. You can look at some common PM interview questions here.
Take home assignment
Product Managers spend as lot of their time writing. Your written skills and analytical thinking is put to test here.
What is the assignment?
You will be presented with a scenario that you are likely to face as a product manager. You are required to submit a two page analysis of how you would go and work through the scenario. You are expected to spend around four hours on them. Some that I have seen in the past are:
1. You are the product manager for the search results page of our app. Page views are down over the past few months. How will you go about improving the experience and bringing them back up again.
2. Pick your favourite app that you use everyday. It can be anything you like- fitness, music, travel, food, e-commerce etc. How will you improve it.
3. We have a “X” feature in the discovery phase of our roadmap. How will you define the requirements for it?
Most of the time these are open ended exercises. Some things to consider when working on them:
1. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you are not clear about a particular aspect of the assignment make sure you get clarity on it.
2. State ALL your assumptions
3. List out all your sources(with links)
4. Start with the problem before diving into the feature
5. Adhere to the word/page limit or prescribed format.
6. Always submit a PDF file unless stated otherwise
7. Use rough sketches, handmade drawings and wireframes if needed.
8. Don’t spend more time than what you’ve been asked to on the assignment
On Site Interviews / Video Interviews
This has always been my favourite part of the interviewing process. For a candidate it’s a chance to:
1. Meet your prospective teammates.
2. Absorb the general vibe and atmosphere of the company.
For employers, it is an opportunity to:
1. Get different stakeholders to spend time with you and get to know you better
2. Evaluate how you interact with with people in-person
Who can you expect to meet and what do they generally ask?
You will meet people from different groups. Some of them are:
1. Hiring Manager: They will continue the conversation started in the earlier round. Give you more in-depth understanding of the role. Your take home assignment is also discussed in this interaction.
2. Product Teammates: You will meet the larger product team. People you will work with day in and day out. They will:
1. Test you on your product management concepts
2. Do a white-boarding exercise with you
3. See if you are a cultural fit
3. Product Designers: They want to know how strong your design background is. They are keen to find out:
1. What is your design philosophy?
2. Design Systems and Frameworks that you’ve worked with
3. How you took the design decisions while working through the home assignment
4. Engineering: You will meet the engineering manager and senior developers. They want to find out:
1. What is your technical background?
2. Development principles and methodologies you’ve used in the past
5. Skip level: These are more of conversations than interviews. They are looking to understand:
1. What your longterm goals are?
2. How you’ll fit the role
3. What drives you?
At the end of your onsite interview you’ll have a feedback session with the HR manager. They will want to know how your day went, your impressions of the place and if you see yourself working there.
I have seen a few different ways companies communicate their decisions to candidates:
You GOT the Offer
If you’ve made it and got the job, the HR manager or the hiring manager will call you.
They will congratulate you and present you the offer. You should thank them for the opportunity. I know you’ll be super excited and must have worked hard for this day. You might even want to accept the verbal offer without taking the time to go through everything. I did that at the beginning of my career. My advice would be to hold your horses. Take your time to:
1. Go over the written offer
2. Negotiate your salary and perks
3. Ask questions or clarifications you have about company policies and your role
Don’t worry, nobody is going to take away your offer! Companies expect candidates to negotiate!
You didn’t make it:
1. A lot of companies go MIA on you if you don’t move beyond the first round. Sad but true. So don’t feel disheartened if you don’t hear back. Send a polite “nudge” to the recruiter if there is no communication for a week. Then move on!
2. If you go beyond the first round you might get a generic rejection email.
It would be great if companies provided you feedback on how to improve. What didn’t go well, where you were lacking. Unfortunately I have never been able to get feedback after rejection. It is because of two reasons:
1. The hiring team does not have the bandwidth to collect, process and present feedback
2. They want to avoid any legal complications that could arise from the feedback. It can be misconstrued and used against them
Irrespective, you should try and stay in touch with everyone you meet throughout the hiring process. Some ways to do that are:
1. Search for your interviewers on Linkedin. Though some companies do not share the names of the interviewers.
2. Add them to your network if possible and thank them for talking to you
3. If you really enjoyed talking to anyone in particular try to stay in touch with them. Share articles with them, ask them to become your mentor.
That wraps it up. We’re done! I know this sounds like a really really long process. But don’t worry. Enjoy the ride and make every interview a learning experience for the next. Best of luck in your product management journey. Let us know if we can help in any way getting you ready for your interview!
When I first started applying for internships, I was VERY UNPREPARED. I did not know what to expect, I thought I could just wing my way through phone screens and focus on preparing for the final round. I was wrong! Every step of the interview needs focused preparation. To learn about the types of questions asked in an interview and how to prepare for them and other PM concepts — be sure to check out the Dezkr Blog.
For more preparation help, you can also check out our Interview Prep Playlist on Youtube.
Originally published a Product Management Interview Format.