Common Product Manager Interview Questions
One of the key steps in hiring the right person is asking the right questions. This is why during interviews, hiring managers try to ask the kind of questions that they think will help them get a rounded view of the applicant. They’ll usually ask questions to determine how efficiently you can do the job, how well you’ll work with others, and how you fit into the company’s overall culture.
In an earlier article on Preparing for your Product Manager job interview, we suggested that the candidate review potential interview questions.
However, the range of Product management interview questions is quite broad. Interviewers are tasked with figuring out, usually from a large number of applicants, how well one or two of those applicants will fit into and execute a role based on only a few questions. How well does this person prioritize problems? How does he implement product strategy? How does he relate with stakeholders? And questions like that.
For some, such as Jen Yang-Wong, a Director of Products, a non-negotiable category of questions you’ll encounter when applying for a Product Manager role are ‘product questions designed to assess whether you think like a Product Manager.’
She puts forth 5 of the most common questions and how she would answer them.
Source: Jen’s Twitter account
But Product Management interview questions could also be technical, analytical, behavioural and even personal. So, in addition to Jen’s suggested question, here are a couple more common questions asked during Product Manager interviews and the approach you can take to answer them.
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“What does a product manager do?”
Sounds pretty straightforward, but it’s astonishing the number of people who are confused by the role of a Product manager, even aspiring Product Managers. Understandably so, honestly, because what does a Product Manager do?
You could start by answering it directly and saying something like, “Product managers know the why, when and what of the product and lead cross-functional team activities for its development.” But remember that each organization is different, and the role of the product manager in a telecommunications company will differ from that of one in, say, banking.
Acknowledging this, you could extend your answer to include a variation of this sentence “, but I imagine that a Product Manager in *insert company name* would perform duties such as …” A good place to get an idea of what the duties of a Product Manager in that company would be is to look at the job description and fit your answer to that. That way, you prove that you are aware of the expectations of that role and that you are capable of taking it on.
“How do you determine customer needs?”
This question is phrased in a way that allows you to share any experience that you might have had figuring out customer needs and why exactly you have chosen the answer that you did. Companies look to hire Product Managers who have experience with User Research or at least someone eager to try. They want to see your skill with data collection and research as this is a very important part of Product Management.
You could say, “At my last company, I determined user need by first studying market trends and patterns. Then my team and I would conduct multiple user interviews as part of a one-on-one approach to product building” then describe how you used the data to inform future decisions.
It would also be helpful to go through this article to learn more ways that you can Identify User Needs as a Product Manager and answer this question more seamlessly.
“How do you determine what or what not to build?”
An excellent answer to this would be the building blocks that Muse, a Product Manager at theScore, uses.
“(1) Framing and structuring complex or vague problems into specific, targeted solutions;
(2) Narrowing scope through ruthless prioritization;
(3) Communicating with various stakeholders
(4) Problem-solving flexibility/agility.”
You need to demonstrate that you’re a person who knows what needs to be launched and when, that you can make quick, sometimes difficult decisions, meet deadlines,
“Why should we hire you?”
In life, there are many places and many opportunities for humility. This is not one of them. Let them know of your experience, your degrees, your skills or whatever else you think qualifies you. Where you’re running low on experience, let them know about the things you’ve done before and how those skills can be applied and transferred to this new role as a Product Manager at that company.
Don’t start repeating your entire resume as an answer to this question. Try drawing attention to something they might have glossed over in the resume, yet you think will help you establish a solid case..
Your answer to this question determines your self-confidence and preparation. The name of the game, as always, is balance. So try not to come off as cocky and don’t reel out irrelevant points that do not necessarily build up a case for you for that role. Keep it simple, relevant and irresistible.
“What development methodology does your team follow?”
We’re not saying you need to use agile methodology, but like, what else? Seriously though, whatever development methodology that you use, whether it is Agile, Waterfall, or DevOps, on;y you can fully understand why you use it, and you should be able to speak about it confidently. In the end, if you’re hired, you’ll learn to use what works best for your new company.
Your answer could sound something like, “I currently use Agile Methodology because I find that delivering iterations of a product instead of waiting until I had the perfect product was more feasible for my team and allowed me to deliver faster to my clients.”
“Describe a failure you’ve had as a Product Manager”
Be sure to include why the failure happened, obviously, but more importantly, what you would do differently. It reflects on you as someone who completes their work and takes stock. A Product Manager who ensures that things are done properly and who makes sure that mistakes don’t repeat themselves is exactly who a company wants to hire.
What they’d like to see in your answer to this question is the analysis behind the decision, the result, what you learned and what has changed since then. They’re also listening to how you apportion blame. Do you never take responsibility even for the things that were your fault in the process?
“My team was working on a project that required us to pull data from hospitals. However, the data was relatively new to the hospitals, and I underestimated how difficult it would be to get the data or even to get the hospitals to cooperate. I had to reprioritize the roadmap, and we decided to take another look at the project from an angle where we could access the data more easily.”
The distribution of I’s and ‘We’s, where appropriate, properly shares the responsibility between team members.“How would your co-workers describe you?”
This speaks to your character. As a person likely to control multiple teams and work cross-functionally with others, the employers need a feel of what they’re getting into. It goes without saying that you should tell the truth because this question also speaks to your ability to read a room which comes in handy when dealing with stakeholders as a Product Manager.
If the situation is so dire, use the less negative synonym of work such as “opinionated” instead of “bossy” or “adamant” instead of ‘has to have her own way’ You want the job, don’t you?
“Tell me about a product you launched”
This teaches the interviewer about your experience and track record of success as well as provides insight into your thought process and how to work with others. So walk them through a product that you launched either by yourself or as part of a team. It could be a website, it could be a phone. Just be sure to walk the interviewer through your contribution to the launch of that process, your learnings and maybe why you considered the launch successful or not.
The interview process is jarring for many. You don’t want your answers to sound too rehearsed yet you’ve practised so much you’ve pretty much memorised the answers. Some companies try to shake things off and ask completely unexpected questions but for the greater number of companies, you can get an idea of the kinds of interview questions that you might be asked. Practice a wide range of questions – product questions, behavioural, analytical, just a little something from each category. This way, you’ll be as prepared as possible for your interviews. Best of luck!