Lewis C. Lin’s 2 Week Product Management Interview Prep Plan
About a year ago, I put together this well-received 2 week PM Interview Prep Plan.
I never explained the thinking that went through each line-item recommendation. So here it is. Apologies for the long ⏰.
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Lewis C. Lin
Day 1–3: Product Design
Master the SCAMPER framework in Thinkertoys (~40 pages) to develop a creative thinking mindset.
Many of us are convergent thinkers. That is, we take the world of possibility and narrow it down to the best possible solution. I hope that doesn’t surprise you. If you’re a PM candidate, you’re likely analytical by nature. And analytical types are very good at convergent thought.
Brainstorming requires divergent thinking. And analytical types don’t practice divergent thinking often. To change how we think (and increase brainstorm effectiveness), apply brainstorming frameworks in Thinkertoys in your everyday life.
Try the framework without a time limit at first, then push yourself to define problems and solutions within 60–90 seconds to simulate an interview environment.
All product design should be based around solving current and potential customer problems. Exercise your ability to empathize with the customer by ranting about products you currently use. Move onto developing other personas and define the problems they might face.
The CIRCLES Method™ in Decode and Conquer is the key framework you need to know to answer product design interview questions. Pair up with a partner and breakdown core products of your target companies.
Interviewers love it when you can draw your product ideas on a whiteboard. Unfortunately, many of us are afraid to do so. Author and researcher Brené Brown says that a third of us have a creativity scar. That is, we recall a specific incident when we were told that we weren’t talented as an artist, musician, writer or singer. And Dan Roam says that roughly 75 percent of business people are afraid to pick up a whiteboard marker to do anything beyond highlighting other people’s drawings.
So to get comfortable with drawing wire-frames on a whiteboard, we need to do what designers do: build a UX vocabulary of common elements. Start by reviewing Web UI Design Patterns, Mobile UI Design Patterns, and the UX Guidebook for Product Managers. From there, it’s about overcoming that fear and practice doodling on the whiteboard canvas.
Goal: Think creatively, utilize a framework, and use relevant UX vocabulary when answering questions about product design.
Day 4–5: Metrics
Review the AARM Method™ in Decode and Conquer to learn how to evaluate and brainstorm top metrics for certain products or companies. Use the pros and cons approach to help you best determine which metric is the most important. From there, get into the practice of building issue trees to diagnose why metrics may be under or over performing.
Goal: Identify key product metrics, develop strong arguments on why one metric is more important than others and use issue trees to root cause metric performance.
Day 6–7: Estimation
Practice the exercises from Chapter 3 and 4 in Interview Math to develop research and critical-thinking skills for analytical problems. Start with a clear plan on how you plan to derive an answer. Then learn how to identify reasonable assumptions for a broad range of products and services. Be prepared to explain reasoning behind your assumptions.
Goal: Develop issue trees, identify assumptions, and estimate the value of products and services. This is also an area to expand your communication skills by asking clarifying questions to the interviewer.
Day 8: Lifetime Value
Continue practicing Interview Math questions by finishing up Lifetime Value (LTV) estimation questions in Chapter 8. LTV determines product development and marketing retention strategies. Be sure to know industry-specific churn rates and customer acquisition costs.
Goal: Understand the implications of LTV in the product cycle.
Day 9–10: Behavioral
Master the DIGS Method™ in Decode and Conquer to pass the behavioral portion of the interview. Write down at least 5 stories that incorporate the highlights of your professional career. If you’re interviewing at Amazon, you might find this template helpful to organize your behavioral interview responses.
Practice modifying these stories to similar types of questions and have solid responses for the ubiquitous “Tell me about yourself?” and “Why do you want to work for this company?” questions prompts. This is another section that would be perfect to verbally practice with an interview partner.
Goal: Articulate your past work experiences by incorporating them into general behavioral questions. This section would be the most beneficial to practice with a partner.
Day 11–12: Technical
Review technical concepts in How to Ace the Software Engineering Interview, and create your own technical ‘cheat sheet’. Be comfortable explaining algorithms and data structures, as well as the pros and cons of different design approaches. Next, read ‘How to Approach a Technical Question’ in Decode and Conquer and practice solving the problems in the chapter. If you need more questions, be sure to check out other resources online. Google is one of the only companies that emphasizes technical questions, so focus on other sections, if you are pressed for time.
Goal: Handle technical questions that involve key concepts of the SE interview. Focus on the implications of product development, in relation to the methods of algorithms and data structures.
Day 13: New Market Entry/Go to Market Strategy
Memorize the new market entry checklist in Decode and Conquer and learn how to apply these concepts to tech products and services. Be mindful of customer empathy and cultural differences when introducing products to a new international market.
Walk-through the Big Picture Framework in Rise Above the Noise and study how popular marketing strategies fit into this model. Practice developing your own campaigns and pitch your ideas to your interview partner.
Goal: Introduce a product into market through campaigns and strategy. Use the Big Picture Framework when brainstorming ideas to your partner.
Day 14: Company Specific Preparation
Research your target company, its top competitors, and current industry trends. Perform a SWOT analysis and brainstorm potential product strategies that would benefit the company. As always, emphasize how your skills can contribute to the mission and goals of your employer.
Goal: Cite the major strengths and weaknesses of your target company, as well as its position in relation to current trends. Showcase your skills in relation to the responsibilities and requirements of the job position.
Final Thoughts on PM Interview Prep
Feel free to modify the 2 week PM Interview Prep Plan template to your own situation including target companies and deadline. For more PM interview practice questions, with sample answers, check out my new book, PM Interview Questions.
Thank you to Joseph Watabe for drafting the first version of this post and Daanish Khazi for reviewing.
Originally published at www.lewis-lin.com on August 16, 2016.