10 Questions For Your (Product Role) Interviewer

John Cutler
Jan 12, 2016 · 3 min read

It’s that nervous time of the product manager interview. You’re tired, need to re-caffeinate, are worried you don’t have enough “domain experience”, and have just had to calculate the number of airplane passengers currently airborne in the United States.

The dreaded question is coming … “do you have any questions for me?” Oh crap!

Let me try to flip the script for you. You are interviewing this company for the opportunity to have you work there, and not the other way around. Product Management is extremely org-specific. It’s the perfect example of product/market fit (with you being the product). What works in one company will leave you burnt out, ineffective, and maligned in the next. It is vital that you find a place where you can thrive. So use this opportunity wisely.

During the hiring process there may be a lot of talk about empowerment, ownership, and customer-centric thinking (sidenote, if you hear the one about the mini-CEO just leave immediately). Are they putting lipstick on a pig and rolling out a gravity challenged magic carpet? Or describing your next dream job? Below I’ve listed 10 questions to ask when the interview tables are turned. Be curious and respectful, and let’em rip.

  1. Knowing what you know at the moment, what weakness might I need to work on if I were to get this job? How would we go about structuring opportunities to improve on that weakness?
  2. If you were to hire a product manager internally from another department/group, what is your best bet at the department they would currently work for? Why?
  3. How would you rank the following in terms of your overall priorities: speed, rigor, quality, harmony, outcomes, and empathy ?
  4. Are there recurring sources of tension between functional groups in the organization? Are they healthy? If so, how do you make sure they stay healthy?
  5. How does your approach to product differ from that of your competitors? Who do you admire in your space (or another domain)? How are you differentiated?
  6. Has the product team established any core values? What are they? Could you tell me a story or two that would help me understand those values? How has the role of product management evolved here over the years?
  7. Let’s say I was to go out and ask one of your engineers about their relationship with the product team … what would they say? What would be their foremost gripe? How would they describe the value you deliver to them personally?
  8. If the 80/20 rule holds true (and it tends to), what is the 20% of my work that will generate 80% of the value? Where will I have the most leverage in my day-to-day work? How do you help the team focus on this area?
  9. In Geoffrey A. Moore’s Crossing The Chasm he mentions a Technology Adoption Lifecycle comprised of three primary markets: Early (Innovators and Early Adoptions), Mainstream (Early Majority and Late Majority), and Late (Laggards). Where is the product and market currently? Where will we be in a year? How will the team and dynamics change as we make this transition?
  10. What is the most frequently misunderstood aspect of the product role internally? And how do you work to bridge that misunderstanding?

Choose wisely, or better yet just let the freak flag fly. There is no hiding in product management. If you are passionate about what you do then don’t plan on just flying below the radar. Don’t plan on things changing (they rarely do). PMs are always above the radar and exist at the confluence of major forces and pressures in the organization. So choose wisely!

Go forth and find the right match!

Shameless Pitch: When you’re there, consider giving Pendo (my employer, and an all around swell place to work) a try to guide the team towards better collaborative decisions and improved user experiences. We’d get to work together and you could give blistering and honest feedback to make our product great.

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