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Differentiate Your Answers to Product Sense Interview Questions

Product Sense Interview Questions

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If you’re interested in a Product Management (PM) role, you’ve likely come across one of the most decisive segments of the PM interview: the Product Sense interview questions. These questions are designed to evaluate a candidate’s ability to craft and improve products, ensuring they cater to user needs while aligning with business goals. In this post, we will learn how to use the CAPTIVATE framework, in order to differentiate your answers to all types of Product Sense Interview questions.

CAPTIVATE stands for:

  1. Clarify Question
  2. Articulate Structure
  3. Pinpoint Business Goal
  4. Target User Personas
  5. Identify Use Cases
  6. Visit Pain Points
  7. Analyze Solutions
  8. Track Success Metrics
  9. Elaborate Summary

Different Types of Product Sense Interview Questions

To begin, it’s beneficial to grasp the varied nature of these questions. They might revolve around:

  • Favorite Product: What is your favorite (online/non-tech/household/Google/Facebook/etc) product? How would you improve it?
  • Product Design: How would you design a <X> for <Y>, e.g. an alarm clock for the blind, a fridge for blind people, etc?
  • Product Improvement: How would you improve <existing product>, e.g. Google Maps, Facebook Messenger, LinkedIn Search, etc?
  • App or web platform: How would you design an app for <X>, e.g. museum visitors, birthday planning, etc?

While the nature of these questions might differ, the methodology to approach them remains consistent, rooted in understanding the user and the business’s primary goals.

Why Are Product Sense Interview Questions Important?

Product Sense interview questions often emerge as a significant pivot point in a PM interview. While technical skills and previous experiences are valuable, an interviewer is especially keen on understanding a candidate’s intuition about products, their creativity in problem-solving, and their methodology in decision-making. Given the weightage these questions hold, being prepared is imperative. In fact, many candidates might find themselves on the rejection side simply because they were not adequately equipped to tackle these questions.

How Do Interviewers Evaluate Your Answers To Product Sense Interview Questions?

Before diving into the proper way to provide a differentiated answer that stands out, it is important to understand how interviewers evaluate the answers to Product Sense interview questions.

Most big companies, such as Google, Facebook, etc have a specific set of evaluation criteria that they provide to the interviewers. Each interviewer evaluates the answer based on those criteria and assigns a specific rating. Obviously, if we had access to the exact evaluation sheet for each company, then we would theoretically be able to craft the optimal response for that particular company. However, these sheets are proprietary and they can change pretty quickly.

As an alternative option, we can use the interview evaluation sheet for Product Design interview questions that have been created by Lewis Lin (Source: PM Interview Workbook). Lewis has both professional experience in some of the tech giants, as well as an interview coach. His sheet provides a great guide to evaluating product sense interview questions.

Product Sense Interview Questions: Evaluation Sheet

We will use this sheet to define the evaluation criteria for each step of our framework.

Use the CAPTIVATE Framework to Differentiate Your Answers

In order to answer the Product Sense interview questions, we will use the CAPTIVATE framework:

  • Clarify Question
  • Articulate Structure
  • Pinpoint Business Goal
  • Target User Personas
  • Identify Use Cases
  • Visit Pain Points
  • Analyze Solutions
  • Track Success Metrics
  • Elaborate Summary

The goal of this approach is to design a product that:

  • solves the most important problem
  • for the most important use case
  • for the most important persona
  • that will lead to the optimization of the most important business goal

As part of our answer, we want to list some options for goals/personas/use cases/problems/solutions and prioritize them in order to find the most important one.

In the following sections we will:

  • Dive deep into each step
  • Explain common mistakes that need to be avoided
  • List the evaluation criteria
Product Sense Interview Questions: Clarification

Clarify Question

In this step, you ask clarification questions to understand the interviewer’s intent for this question.

If the question is generic, like “How would you improve a pen?“, then this step will allow you to dive deeper. Understanding the intended user (e.g., astronauts or toddlers) drastically alters your response trajectory.

Your line of inquiry should follow the “5 Ws and 1H” framework, i.e.:

  • What the product is
  • Who the intended user is
  • Why do they need it (primary use-case)
  • When do they need it by (timing of its requirement)
  • Where will it be used (which environment)
  • How will it work (its working mechanism)
  • Are there any constraints in our solution (e.g. money or time)?

In our example, we might ask the interviewer “Who will use the pen?” and they might respond that this is a “pen for astronauts” or a “pen for toddlers“. These are very important details that will change our approach drastically.

In many cases, the interviewer might respond that it’s up to us to decide how we want to approach the problem, i.e. there are no constraints from his/her side.

After you finish with your clarification questions, you should summarize all the data that you have and the assumptions that you are making, in order to make sure that you are on the same page as the interview. Even if you don’t have any clarification questions, then you should still summarize your assumptions, in order to avoid any wrong assumptions.

Common mistakes

  • Not asking any clarification questions at all
  • Not summarizing the data and the assumptions, after finishing with all the clarifications from the interviewer
Product Sense Interview Questions: Provide Structure

Articulate Structure

Presenting a structured answer is pivotal. It guides the interviewer through your thought process.

In this step, you describe the structure to the interviewer by saying:

  • In order to solve the problem I’d like to
  • define a business goal,
  • dive deeper into the users of the product,
  • their use cases
  • their pain points with the existing solutions
  • and then I’ll brainstorm potential solutions.
  • Does this seem ok with you?”

If there is a whiteboard, we can also write the following list:

  • Business Goal
  • Users/Personas
  • Use Cases
  • Pain points
  • Potential Solutions

The interviewer will now understand that we have a structure and verify that the approach looks good. This not only demonstrates your systematic approach but also gives assurance to the interviewer about your comprehensive methodology.

Common mistakes

  • Not providing the structure of the response
Product Sense Interview Questions: Define the Business Goal

Pinpoint Business Goal

Aligning with a business objective is paramount. Without a clear goal, even the most innovative product can fall flat. Potential goals are the following:

  • Increase user engagement
  • Increase the number of users
  • Increase revenues
  • Improve the user experience
  • Improve retention

You can enumerate the potential goals and ask the interviewer if he/she has a specific goal in mind. If they don’t, then you can pick one of the above and justify your choice.

Typically, the “easiest” one to select is user engagement, as this will drive all other numbers.

Common mistakes

  • Not selecting a business goal
  • Not providing a list of potential business goals, but instead picking one business goal (e.g. user engagement) and telling the interviewer that this is your goal
  • Not explaining why you picked the specific business goal from the list
  • Not asking the interview if they have any particular business goal in mind

Evaluation criteria

  • Did the candidate define objectives before answering?
  • Were the candidate’s selections reasonable?
Product Sense Interview Questions: User personas

Target User Personas

In this step, you write down a list of 3-5 user personas that can potentially use the product. You explain to the interviewer what each persona is and how they use the product. This is a very important step that will help boost or tank your creativity score for any product sense interview question.

A very common mistake that people make is try to get to a MECE (Mutually Exclusive, Collectively Exhaustive) approach, i.e. try to classify every potential user in the world within these categories.

Examples of non-ideal classifications:

  • Based on age
    • Toddlers
    • Children
    • Adults
  • Based on the number of children
    • 0 children
    • 1-2 children
    • 3+ children
  • Based on number of times they use the app
    • Never
    • Rarely
    • Frequently
    • Daily

The problem with the above approach is that there might not be enough differentiation in the use cases between the personas, which will lead to generic non-creative solutions.

Instead, it is best to select creative categories that are not mainstream users of the product. The reason is that most products are already optimized for the mainstream user and there won’t be many creative solutions. By focusing on an edge case that is not served well, you will be able to find a much more creative solution.

In the following matrix, I have compiled a list of 50 user personas, their description, and their needs. This list is not exhaustive, but it gives you an idea of creative non-mainstream personas. Obviously, not all of them might be relevant to the question, so select wisely.

User TypesDescriptionNeeds
StudentIndividuals enrolled in academic institutionsStudy resources, collaboration tools, time management
Blind IndividualsPersons who lack the sense of sight, either completely or to a significant extentBraille resources, voice-assisted tech, mobility training, tactile maps, accessible public transportation
Remote WorkerProfessionals working from home or other remote locationsReliable internet, collaboration tools, virtual office spaces
Travel BloggerIndividuals documenting and sharing their travel experiencesCamera gear, travel deals, content management platforms
Fitness EnthusiastPeople dedicated to maintaining or improving their physical healthWorkout plans, nutrition guides, tracking tools
Digital NomadProfessionals who work while traveling, not tied to a specific locationCo-working spaces, portable tech, travel insurance
RetireeIndividuals who have concluded their professional careersLeisure activities, health services, financial planning
Small Business OwnerOwners and operators of small enterprisesMarketing tools, inventory management, capital loans
MusicianIndividuals who create, perform, or produce musicInstrument maintenance, recording tools, distribution platforms
VeganIndividuals who abstain from consuming animal productsVegan recipes, cruelty-free products, vegan restaurants
ParentIndividuals with children under their careChildcare services, parenting tips, educational toys
GamerEnthusiasts of video games across platformsHigh-speed devices, game recommendations, streaming tools
EnvironmentalistAdvocates for environmental protection and sustainabilityEco-friendly products, conservation events, green energy sources
FarmerIndividuals involved in agricultureWeather forecasts, farming equipment, sustainable techniques
FreelancerProfessionals not committed to long-term employersGig-finding platforms, invoicing tools, portfolio platforms
Pet OwnerIndividuals who own and care for petsPet food, training resources, veterinary services
TeacherProfessionals imparting knowledge in academic settingsEducational tools, curriculum guides, classroom management strategies
Book LoverIndividuals passionate about reading booksBook recommendations, reading lamps, bookshelves
ChefProfessionals in the culinary industryRecipe sources, cooking equipment, ingredient suppliers
Marathon RunnerIndividuals who train for and participate in long-distance racesRunning gear, hydration solutions, training schedules
DIY EnthusiastPeople keen on do-it-yourself projectsDIY guides, crafting tools, workshops
CollectorIndividuals who gather specific items as a hobbyDisplay cases, item catalogues, collector communities
BackpackerTravelers who prefer budget-friendly, off-the-beaten-path experiencesBudget accommodations, durable backpacks, local guides
PhotographerIndividuals capturing moments through camerasEditing software, camera gear, photography courses
Film BuffEnthusiasts of movies and cinematic artMovie recommendations, streaming platforms, cinema tickets
ResearcherIndividuals conducting studies in specific fieldsData analysis tools, research grants, publication platforms
FashionistaPeople keenly interested in fashion and styleFashion magazines, clothing brands, styling tips
Sports FanEnthusiasts following sports teams or eventsGame schedules, merchandising, streaming platforms
GardenerIndividuals cultivating plants for leisure or professionGardening tools, plant seeds, pest control solutions
InvestorIndividuals investing capital in opportunities for growthFinancial news, stock market apps, portfolio management
Graphic DesignerProfessionals creating visual content for various platformsDesign software, typography resources, design inspirations
Car EnthusiastPeople passionate about automobiles and their mechanicsCar magazines, maintenance tools, auto shows
Tech GeekIndividuals keenly interested in the latest technological advancementsTech news, gadget reviews, software tutorials
Outdoor AdventurerIndividuals who thrive in outdoor activities like hiking, camping, etc.Outdoor gear, trail maps, activity clubs
FoodiePeople who have a keen interest in trying diverse foods and cuisinesRestaurant guides, food blogs, cooking classes
VolunteerIndividuals dedicating time for social causes without monetary compensationNGO connections, fundraising tools, community events
PodcasterIndividuals producing audio content on platformsAudio editing tools, podcast hosting, monetization strategies
HistorianProfessionals studying historical events and figuresArchives access, research tools, history conferences
CyclistIndividuals using bicycles for sport or commuteBike maintenance tools, safety gear, biking trails
Makeup ArtistProfessionals skilled in applying makeupMakeup kits, tutorial platforms, client management tools
Real Estate AgentProfessionals assisting in buying, selling, or renting propertiesProperty listings, client management tools, market trends
ArtistIndividuals creating visual artArt supplies, gallery connections, art workshops
Sci-fi EnthusiastIndividuals passionate about science fiction genresSci-fi book recommendations, conventions, merchandise
Home BrewerPeople crafting their own beverages at homeBrewing kits, recipe guides, bottling equipment
DancerIndividuals expressing themselves through dance movementsDancewear, choreography resources, performance spaces
VloggerIndividuals producing video content for online platformsVideo editing tools, camera equipment, content ideas
TherapistProfessionals providing mental health servicesCounseling tools, therapy platforms, continuous education
Handicraft MakerIndividuals crafting items by handCrafting materials, design inspirations, selling platforms

After giving some details about each persona, you can ask your interviewer if he/she has a preference on the target. If not, then you identify your most important persona and explain why you are focusing on that persona.

Some sample reasons to select a specific persona:

  • They are the majority of the users
  • They are not served well by the current version of the product
  • All other personas are served well by competitive products

IMPORTANT: One thing to note here is that even if the interviewer specified a persona when he asked the question, e.g. “Design an alarm clock for blind people” you should still create a list of the secondary users for that item. For example, there might be caretakers (for blind people), teachers/parents (for children), etc. After enumerating them, you should pick the main persona that was initially identified by the interviewer as your main target. However, this way you showed your understanding of other secondary users of the product.

Common mistakes

  • Doing a MECE classification on the potential user personas, instead of a creative list of edge case personas
  • Not focusing on an edge case persona but on a mainstream user of the product, which is already well served by the product
  • Not explaining why you picked a specific persona
  • Forgetting to list secondary user personas for the product, if the interviewer already picked the main persona, e.g. an alarm clock for blind people might also be used by caretakers, etc.

Evaluation criteria

  • Did the candidate choose a target persona?
Product Manager Interview Questions: Use Cases

Identify Use Cases

In this step, you create a list of 3-5 use cases and then proceed based on the question type:

  • For Product Improvement questions (“How to improve …”): Select the most important one
  • For Product Design questions (“How to design …”): Prioritize, but keep all of them

Important: You can also ask the interviewer if he/she wants you to focus on one use case or to find a solution for all of them.

Now it’s time to think how your target persona will use the product. Let’s say that you are designing a “bookcase for toddlers”. Some potential use cases include:

  • Adding a book
  • Removing a book
  • Searching for a book
  • Storing a toy
  • Retrieving a toy

If you are designing an “alarm clock for the blind”, then some use cases include:

  • Setup an alarm
  • Snooze the alarm
  • Stop the alarm
  • Check the time
  • Change the time

Common mistakes

  • Ignoring your target persona, while forming the list of use cases
  • Not prioritizing your use cases
  • Not explaining what criteria you used to prioritize the use cases

Evaluation criteria

  • Did the candidate demonstrate the ability to prioritize competing use cases in a compelling way?
Product Sense Interview Questions: Pain points with Existing Solutions

Visit Pain Points

This is a bit of a brainstorming exercise that will help you when you identify the solutions in the next step. Think about the most important problems that your target persona has with the current product. For example (depending on the problem):

  • Blind people cannot
    • Locate the buttons
    • Check the display
  • Older people cannot easily
    • use the latest technology
    • walk long distances
    • move heavy equipment

Common mistakes

  • Ignoring your target persona, while forming the list of use cases, e.g. even if your target persona is “children” you provide pain points that are generic and applicable for adults

Evaluation criteria

  • Did the candidate explain the persona’s pain points to the extent that demonstrated true customer insight?
  • Did the candidate demonstrate the ability to prioritize competing pain points in a compelling way?
Product Sense Interview Questions: Brainstorm Solutions

Analyze Solutions

In this step, you brainstorm 3 potential solutions, dive into the pros and cons of each, and recommend the best fit.

This is your moment to shine – showcase creativity, technological insights, and user-centric thinking. Think about the problems that your users are facing, as well as your business goal. How can you use the problem and optimize your goal? The goal is to be as creative as possible.

Some questions to ask yourself:

  • Did you find a creative solution that really addresses those pain points?
  • Is your solution specifically important for this problem or is it a generic one (ie did you spend all this time to find a great user segment just to end up with generic problems and a solution that is totally unrelated with that user segment)?
  • Was your solution really a creative 10x improvement or just something really trivial/obvious (eg we’ll integrate product a with b or we’ll send an email to notify people about x)?
  • Does your solution really solve the pain point that you selected (or did you just forget about the pain points and just thought about random solutions that sound cool to you?)

Do you end up with meh/boring/mainstream ideas like:

Problem statementProposed solution
Improve Search for blind peopleAdd voice to Google search
Improve YouTube for toddlersAdd some type of parental control

Or do you end up with creative/innovative/non-standard ideas, eg:

Problem statementProposed solution
Improve Google Maps for blind peopleCell phone app that uses camera to guide blind people inside the house or even outside
Improve Google Search for blind peopleMake it possible to search for any object in the house via voice. Integrate with Google Maps to guide person to object
Improve Google Maps for blind peopleCreate audio tours dynamically, so that blind people can virtually “visit” any place/museum/etc in the world from their house
Improve YouTube for toddlersCreate a marketplace for kindergarten teachers to create virtual classrooms from their home

Some creative ideas for the “alarm clock for blind people” might include:

  • Wrist band that has voice recognition and vibrates to wake up user
  • Ear piece that is modified as an alarm clock
  • Modification to the bed
  • IoT device with Alexa/Google Assistant integration

After you list your creative ideas, you should explain the tradeoffs (advantages, disadvantages) of each approach and select one solution as the recommended one.

IMPORTANT: It is super helpful to have some “backup” creative ideas that work with multiple problems, in case you cannot think of something exciting during the interview. The following ideas might be helpful:

  • IoT device (Internet of Things)
  • Machine Learning
  • Augmented/Virtual Reality

Another way to think about it is whether the interviewer learned something from your approach or found something they hadn’t thought about. They’ll be asking the same product sense interview questions to all the candidates. The ones that stand out are the ones that provide an insight that nobody else thought about. Listening to people pick the same user segments (eg children, professionals, and old people) and end up with some boring solution (add a button, send an email, integrate products, change colors, add the warning, etc) does not help you stand out, even though you might follow the framework perfectly. However eg if you have an insight about a point for vloggers that no social network solves yet, then you caught their attention.

Common mistakes

  • Not being able to list 3+ potential solutions that solve the pain points of the target persona
  • The potential solutions do not solve the pain points of the target persona
  • The solutions are not creative
  • Not explaining the criteria that you used to determine the best solution

Evaluation criteria

  • Did the candidate demonstrate sufficient creativity?
  • Or were the ideas copycats of competitive features and products?
Product Sense Interview Questions: Sucess metrics

Track Success Metrics

After finalizing your recommendation, it’s crucial not to stop there. Ensuring the solution’s efficacy is just as important. How can you be confident that your recommended changes are moving the needle in the right direction? This is where setting up key metrics and measuring success comes into play.

1. Define Clear KPIs (Key Performance Indicators):

  • Relevance to Goal: Ensure that the KPIs chosen directly align with the business goal stated at the beginning. For instance, if your goal was to “increase user engagement”, a suitable KPI might be “daily active users” or “average session duration”.
  • Quantifiable Metrics: Opt for metrics that can be quantified. Examples include conversion rates, average time spent on a feature, or monthly active users. Quantifiable metrics are less ambiguous and provide a clear measure of success.

2. Set Up A/B Testing (if applicable):

  • This allows you to compare the effectiveness of your new solution against the old one or against another new solution.
  • This method provides direct feedback on whether the changes are beneficial and which version users prefer.

3. Feedback Loops:

  • User Surveys: Short, focused surveys can provide insights into user satisfaction and areas of improvement. They can validate if the solution is addressing the users’ pain points.
  • Feedback Sessions: Organizing feedback sessions with select users can offer deeper insights. Direct interactions can sometimes uncover nuances missed in surveys.

4. Monitor Long-term Impact:

  • While short-term metrics can provide quick feedback, it’s essential to monitor how your solution impacts the product in the long run. This can help identify if the solution has any unintended consequences or if its effectiveness diminishes over time.

5. Financial Metrics:

  • If one of your goals is to increase revenues or reduce costs, then financial metrics like ROI (Return on Investment) become crucial. They can offer a clear picture of the solution’s economic value.

6. Adjust and Iterate:

  • Based on the success metrics, always be ready to make adjustments. If a particular metric isn’t hitting the target, delve into why and be prepared to iterate on your solution.

Common mistakes

  • Not discussing success metrics
  • Not picking a metric that is relevant to your business goal
Product Sense Interview Questions: Summarize

Elaborate Summary

The final step is to summarize your solution and findings. Remember that your goal is to show that you have designed a product that:

  • solves the most important problem
  • for the most important use case
  • for the most important persona
  • that will lead to the optimization of the most important business goal

Evaluation criteria

  • Did the candidate summarize their main argument at the end, including next steps?


Remember, the essence of answering Product Sense interview questions lies in showcasing a structured methodology, deep user understanding, and an alignment with business goals. The CAPTIVATE framework will enable you to show all the above and differentiate your answer. The more you practice it the more creative your solutions will become. Good luck acing your next interview!

Additional resources

Mock Interviews
Mock Interviews

Mock Interviews

After going through all the materials above and getting ready to start the interview process, it is always helpful to get some feedback in a low-stress environment. Mock interviews help you test your knowledge and get feedback from another person.

Here is how you can find interviewers for mock interviews:

  • PM Interview practice community by Lewis Lin (free): Slack channel, where you can directly connect with other peers, who are studying for PM interviews
  • Pramp.com (free): This website connects you with other peers, who are also studying for interviews, so that you can all learn together
  • ThePmInterview (free): This site presents you with random questions and has a timer so that you can practice your answer. It is a great way to practice General, Behavioral and Estimation questions (you can select them using the filter on the right side of the screen), but there is no feedback for your answers
  • Exponent: This site has 3 options for mock interviews:
    • Peer interviews (1 free, rest are paid): Every day at 6pm PST, you can be matched with another person doing PM interviews, so that you can practice together
    • Top PM Interview questions (free): This is a list of the top PM interview questions that are asked by top companies. You can see how other peers answer these questions or you can answer them yourself and get feedback
    • Mock interviews (paid): You can select mock interviews from a list of experienced Product Managers in the top tech companies
  • IGotAnOffer (paid): This website will match you with experienced PM interviewers, who have experience from top high-tech companies
  • Use your network: You can talk to other developers that you know (either from your own company, via LinkedIn, etc) and ask them to do a mock interview for you

About Me

I am an engineer with 15+ years in the tech industry, including roles at Google, Amazon, and Microsoft. I've been a Software Engineer, Product Manager, and Technical Program Manager. I also have an MBA from Kellogg School of Management with Majors in Finance and Marketing.

What drives me? A passion for empowering engineers to achieve Financial Independence and Retire Early (FIRE). I reached FIRE, when I turned 40 years old. Whether it's through personal finance strategies or career insights, I'm here to guide you on this path. Have questions or need advice? Feel free to reach out!

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