Working on a variety of high-profile products first within Google’s Associate Product Manager Program in mobile advertising, later at Lyft as the head of passenger engagement, and now at Waymo building self-driving cars, I’ve seen firsthand the difference between the force multiplier product manager who makes their products and organizations successful, and the average product manager who doesn’t understand how to deliver on the product roadmap.
In this post, I will explain which skills separate the top performers from the run-of-the-mill, and how companies have structurally designed the interview process to evaluate and identify whether or not a candidate has those skills. I’ll break the interview down into its constituent parts, describe the type of skills and questions each interview type assesses, and explain why each skill is necessary to achieve success.
In future posts, I’ll cover the leadership and culture fit portions of the Product Manager Interview.
The Skills (To Pay the Bills!)
Product managers are expected to be the number one champion of the end user, optimize for the company’s performance, ensure the integrity of data and reporting, and develop the technical roadmap — all at the same time! They’re expected to develop a nuanced understanding of each domain, translating that insight into a vision for the future while managing their team’s execution towards that vision.
To excel at this task, you must have:
- product intuition
- strategic acumen
- business understanding
- analytical ability
- technical skills
- strong verbal and written communication skills
With all of those skills required, it’s no wonder the product management interview process is so hard to prepare for!
Your typical interview process involves 6–8 conversations, with each interviewer testing for a subset of skills: product design, analytical ability, and technical depth. Depending on the seniority of the role, you may also go through leadership interviews as well.
The Product Management Interview: Product Component
As a product manager, your first responsibility is to the customer because the customer is both the evidence and the result of product-market fit. Product-market fit can only be achieved and maintained through obsessive customer focus.
As a result, product interviews are designed to gauge your ability to get into the mind of a customer or a market (which is nothing more than a set of customers) and translate that insight into a well-designed product.
Popular topics covered in this section include your ability to:
- empathize with the user
- drive towards a deep understanding of the problems
- design a solution that addresses those problems
- identify and make tradeoffs in pursuit of a well-designed product given a reasonable set of constraints.
Product management interview questions can range from asking you to discuss your favorite products and how you’d improve them to designing a product for a particular purpose to coming up with an intelligent go-to-market strategy for a new product.
Here are some example questions you might be asked. In future posts, I’ll provide quality answers, but for now, think about how you might address the following product challenges:
- How would you improve Gmail?
- Design a refrigerator for the blind.
- Design an elevator system for a busy skyscraper.
- How would you launch a YouTube for Kids product?
The Product Management Interview: Analytics Component
Having an analytical mindset is essential. We are increasingly moving to a world where decisions and strategies need to be backed up with supporting data. This includes being able to define key metrics, using those metrics to drive prioritization, and measuring the impact of your products. The purpose of the interview is to identify how you can use data to achieve clarity around what your teams should be building and whether or not they’re succeeding.
If the team you are interviewing for lacks a data scientist, many interview questions and job requirements can become more technical, involving data access and cleanup using SQL and leveraging data visualization tools and dashboards to track your metrics. Your analytical interview will assess your ability to thrive in a data-heavy environment.
Here are some example questions you might be asked to test your analytical skills:
- Assume you’re a PM at Lyft, and you’re tasked with designing the scheduled rides product. How do you decide when to dispatch a Lyft to the passenger?
- Imagine you’re the head of a public transit agency in a city. How do you determine whether your transit system is successful?
The Product Management Interview: Technical Component
As a product manager in a tech company, you will be paired with an engineering manager. Product managers and engineering managers should develop a common view of the product vision and roadmap, one that is both deep and broad enough that either should be able to speak on behalf of the other with high fidelity. In order to achieve that optimal mind meld, it’s critical that a product manager understand the technical complexity of the engineering landscape in sufficient detail.
Some companies, usually the more established ones, will vet general technical ability; smaller organizations will have you interface directly with the engineering manager you’d work with to work through problems testing “on-the-job” competencies.
You’ll be asked questions ranging anywhere from high-level design questions to granular questions about algorithms and other computer science fundamentals to actually writing pseudocode in the interview. We’ll help you develop the right level of technical depth depending on the company you’re interviewing at.
Here are some example questions you might be asked to test your technical depth:
- How would you speed up the loading of images on the internet?
- Design a URL shortener.
- How would you design a messaging service for 1B users?
Product management requires a sharp and diverse set of skills. I’ve seen too many candidates focus on only their product skills and neglect the analytics or technical components because they think those skills are only nice-to-have, and as a result, struggle through the interview process unnecessarily. While preparing for the product management interview can oftentimes be daunting, our team at interviews.tech is passionate about equipping candidates with the tools, knowledge, and acumen so they can perform their best on the day of the interview. Reach out to us to learn more.