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How to Prepare for Product Manager Interviews

How to Prepare for Product Manager Interviews

Disclosure: This post might contain affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I’ll earn a commission, at no additional cost to you. Read my full disclosure here.

The goal of this post is to explain how to prepare for Product Manager interviews. I will give an overview of the interview structure, dive deep into the 5 types of interview questions, and provide resources for mock interviews.

This is part of a mini-series of posts related to career development. The other related posts are:

  1. Interview Preparation Guides
  2. Role-specific information
How To Prepare For Product Manager Interviews - Overview

Overview

A typical interview for high-tech companies consists of 2 rounds:

  1. Phone interview (45 minutes): The interviewer either calls the Product Management candidate via phone or uses a Communications app (e.g. Skype, Zoom, etc)
  2. Onsite interview (4-5 interviews, 45 minutes each): The Product Management candidate visits the company’s offices and talks to the interviewers face-to-face

There are 6 types of PM interview questions:

  1. Product design questions (aka Product sense), e.g. “How would you improve Google Maps?”, “Design a fridge for blind people”, etc
    • This is by far the most important type of question for PMs. It’s also the question that causes the most rejections.
  2. Metrics (aka Product Execution), e.g. “What metrics would you track to determine if Google News is successful?”
  3. Strategy, e.g. “Which company should Facebook acquire?” or “If you were the VP of Windows, what would be your strategy to increase market share”?
  4. Analytical questions, e.g. “How much incremental storage does YouTube need every year?”
  5. Technical questions, e.g. “Explain to me how Twitter/Google/FB/WhatsApp/DNS/etc is architected”
  6. Behavioral questions, e.g. “Tell me about a project that you’re very proud about” or “Tell me about your biggest failure” or “Tell me about how you resolved a conflict”

For more information about the types of questions, you can take a look at the following resources: 

Lewis Lin has created detailed study guides, explaining what items to study each day, based on your target companies:

I also recommend the following Product Manager interview preparation books:

  1. Decode and Conquer: Answers to Product Management Interviews by Lewis Lin
  2. The Product Manager Interview: 167 Actual Questions and Answers by Lewis Lin
  3. Interview Math: Over 60 Problems and Solutions for Quant Case Interview Questions by Lewis Lin
  4. Cracking the PM Interview: How to Land a Product Manager Job in Technology by Gayle Laakmann McDowell and Jackie Bavaro
  5. The Lean Product Playbook: How to Innovate with Minimum Viable Products and Rapid Customer Feedback by Dan Olsen

Finally, if you prefer the structure of an online preparation class, then I recommend the Product Manager interview preparation classes from:

  1. Exponent
    1. Complete PM Interview Course
    2. Google PM Interview Course
    3. Facebook PM Interview Course
    4. Amazon PM Interview Course
  2. Lewis Lin
    1. Facebook (3rd edition)
    2. Google (2nd edition)
    3. Amazon (2nd edition)

Product Design (aka Product Sense) Questions

This is by far the most important question for Product Manager interviews. Some companies, e.g. Google call it Product Design, whereas different companies, e.g. Facebook call it Product Sense. Most candidates are rejected because they did not perform well in this question. Fortunately, it is also the most standardized one.

Question types

The most common types of questions in the Product Design category are:

  1. What is your favorite (online/non-tech/household/Google/Facebook/etc) product? How would you improve it?
  2. How would you design a new product or new feature, such as <X> for <Y>, e.g. an alarm clock for the blind, or a fridge for blind people? etc?
  3. How would you improve <existing product>, e.g. Google Maps, Facebook Messenger, LinkedIn Search, etc?
  4. How would you design an app for <X>, e.g. museum visitors, birthday planning, etc?

The CAPTIVATE Framework

All the questions shown above are answered using exactly the same format. The best way to answer them is the CAPTIVATE framework, which is a step-by-step approach:

  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

For more information regarding the CAPTIVATE framework, read my blog post Differentiate Your Answers To Product Sense Interview Questions.

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.

Step 1: Clarify Question

Let’s say that the interview question is something vague like “improve a pen“. 

As part of the first step, we want to ask the interviewer, if he/she has any preferences regarding the “5 Ws and 1H” questions:

  • What is it?
  • Who is it for?
  • Why do they need it?
  • When do they need it?
  • Where do they want to use it?
  • How does it work?
  • 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.

Step 2: Articulate Structure

In this step, we tell the interviewer that “In order to solve the problem I’d like to set up a business goal, talk about users of the product, their use cases, the problems 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:

  • Goal
  • Users
  • Use cases
  • Problems
  • Solutions

The interviewer will now understand that we have a structure and verify that the approach looks good.

Step 3: Pinpoint Business Goal

This is an extremely important step that is overlooked by most candidates. We cannot build a good solution for anything if we don’t know what we are trying to improve.

Some options for the business goal:

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

You can enumerate some of the potential goals and ask the interviewer if he/she has a specific goal in mind. If they don’t you can pick one of the above and justify your choice. Typically, the “easiest” one to select is user engagement.

Step 4: Target User Personas

In this step, you write down a list of 3-5 user personas that are the target audience for this product. You explain to the interviewer what each persona is and how they use the product. For example:

  • Travelers
  • Elderly people
  • Students
  • Content creators
  • Business owners
  • Parents

After giving some details about each persona, you can ask your interviewer if he/she has a preference for the target market. 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 have the biggest market size, i.e. 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.

Step 5: Identify Use Cases

Now it’s time to think how your target persona will use the product. We will create a list of 3-5 use cases and select the most important one.

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

Sometimes, depending on the problem, your solution should address all use cases. Typically, if the question was “Design XYZ”, then you probably need to address everything. If the question was “Improve ABC”, then you prioritize one use case to improve. 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.

Step 6: Visit Pain Points

In this step, we will write down all the problems with the existing solutions. 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

Step 7: Analyze Solutions

Now it’s time to show your creativity. In this step, we will brainstorm 3 solutions, explain their tradeoffs and recommend one.

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 is to be as creative as possible.

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

  • A wristband that has voice recognition and vibrates to wake up the user
  • Earpiece 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

Step 8: Track Metrics

In this step, we will discuss the types of product metrics that we will track, in order to determine whether this was a success.

We will use Lewis Lin’s AARM framework (documentvideo)

  • Acquisition: How many customers sign up for the product
  • Activation: How many users have done at least one simple action (E.g. logged in)
  • Retention: How many users have used the products multiple times
  • Monetization: How many users have paid for the product

Step 9: Elaborate Summary

In this step, we summarize the solution. We explain to the interviewer that we have

  • solved 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

For more information regarding the CAPTIVATE framework, read my blog post Differentiate Your Answers To Product Sense Interview Questions.

Quick Note Regarding the “Favorite Product” Question

During a Product Manager interview, sometimes the interviewer will ask a “Favorite Product” question, followed by the “Product Design” question. This is structured as follows:

  • What is your favorite (online/non-tech/household/Google/Facebook/etc) product? How would you improve it?

The second part of the question (“How would you improve it”) is explained in the above steps. One way to answer the first part (“What is your favorite product?”) is to format your answer using the following structure:

  1. I evaluate products based on 3 criteria (pick 3 criteria, examples shown below):
    • Usefulness
    • Innovation
    • Ease of use
  2. Product <X> is my favorite product because it excels in all 3 categories.
  3. I find it very useful, because…
  4. It is very innovative, because…
  5. It is really easy to use, because…

Additional resources

How to Prepare for PM Interviews - Metrics questions

Metrics (aka Product Execution) Questions

Question types

  1. Success questions: What metrics would you track to determine if <feature/design/product> is successful?
  2. Change questions: Engagement/Usage/Revenue for <product> is down by X%? What do you do?
  3. Prioritization questions: What features would you prioritize for <product>? (e.g. Facebook Messenger)

Metrics framework

In order to answer all the Product Manager interview questions in this section, you will need to use a framework that describes the product metrics, such as:

  • AARM (documentvideo)
    • Acquisition: How many customers sign up for the product
    • Activation: How many users have done at least one simple action (E.g. logged in)
    • Retention: How many users have used the products multiple times
    • Monetization: How many users have paid for the product

Methodology

  1. Success questions: What metrics would you track to determine if it is successful?
    1. Determine business goal (i.e. which part of AARM we are optimizing for)
    2. Brainstorm what actions a user can do with this product that will impact the business goal, e.g. create a post, send a message, upload a picture, etc)
    3. Associate metrics with the above actions, e.g. # users, # posts, # messages, etc
    4. Evaluate the metrics and select the most important one
    5. ExampleWhat metrics would you use to determine success for the Facebook Newsfeed?
  2. Change questions: Engagement/Usage/Revenue for the product is down by X%. What do you do?
    1. Understand the exact metric, e.g. was the drop within the last 30 days or 5 days? Was it worldwide or in one country? Was it in all operating systems?
    2. Do a Root Cause Analysis to identify the causes
    3. Summarize your findings
    4. ExampleYouTube traffic went down 5% — how would you report this issue to the executive team?
  3. Prioritization questions: What features would you prioritize?
    1. Determine business goal (AARM metrics)
    2. Create prioritization criteria, e.g.
      1. Impact, based on our business goal (e.g. # expected users, revenues, etc)
      2. Customer satisfaction
      3. Ease of implementation (easy, medium, hard)
    3. Evaluate all features based on the above criteria and provide an overall prioritized score
    4. ExampleYou are a product manager for Facebook Groups. Can you talk through your prioritization process?

Additional resources

How to Prepare for Product Manager Interviews - Strategy Questions

Strategy Questions

Question types

The range of this type of Product Manager interview questions is tremendous, which makes it very different to prepare for. I believe that this set of questions is the toughest of all since it is very easy to get a question that haven’t prepared any frameworks for.

Some sample questions:

  1. CEO: You are the CEO of <company>. What would you do to <X>, e.g. improve revenues by 50%
  2. Acquisition: Should <company A> acquire <company B>, e.g. should Google buy Ebay?
  3. Market entry: Should <company A> enter <new business>, e.g. should Google create is own cell phone?
  4. Implications: What are the implications of <technology> , e.g. Machine Learning, AR/VR, IoT, etc

Methodology

  1. CEO questions
    1. Ask clarification questions to understand the problem
    2. Determine business goal (using the AARM metrics that were discussed above)
    3. Create the customer journey
    4. For each step in the customer journey, think about the levers that change the final output
    5. Brainstorm solutions by thinking about how to modify these levers
    6. Discuss tradeoffs between each solution
    7. Select optimal solution
    8. Example: How would you turn Facebook events around?
  2. Acquisition questions
    1. Ask clarification questions to understand the problem
    2. Determine business goal (using the AARM metrics that were discussed above)
    3. Create a SWOT analysis of the target company
    4. Think about how:
      1. Your company is making money
      2. The target company is making money
      3. Potential synergies
    5. Discuss how the competition will be affected
    6. Create a list of tradeoffs (pros, cons) for the acquisition
    7. Provide final recommendation
  3. Market entry questions
    1. This about the 4 Cs:
      1. Company
      2. Competitors
      3. Collaborators
      4. Customers
    2. Also, think about Porter’s 5 forces
  4. Implication questions
    1. Talk about the implications in the PESTEL areas:
      1. Political
      2. Economic
      3. Social
      4. Technological
      5. Environmental
      6. Legal

Additional resources

How to Prepare for Technical Program Manager (TPM) Interviews - Analytical Ability

Analytical Questions

These questions evaluate analytical skills. I have written a detailed analysis, including sample questions, interview preparation guidance and their evaluation criteria at my post “How to Prepare for Technical Program Manager Interviews” (section titled “Analytical Ability”) 

Additional resources

How to Prepare for Product Manager Interviews - Technical Questions

Technical Questions

Before starting to prepare for technical questions, you should check if your target companies ask these types of questions during a Product Manager interview. For example, Facebook and Amazon do not do technical interviews as part of Product Manager interviews. However, Google and Microsoft do. Also, Amazon does have technical interviews for “Product Manager – Technical” (PM-T) positions.

The goal of the technical interviews is to evaluate the interviewee’s technical skills, i.e. whether an interviewee can actively participate in technical discussions with Software Engineers. PMs do not need to write code in their jobs, so there are no coding questions during the Product Manager interviews

Technical explanation questions

The most popular type of technical question during a Product Manager interview is to test technical knowledge using an explanation, e.g.

  • What happens when you type “www.google.com” in your browser?
  • What is the CAP theorem?
  • How does a search engine work?

In order to avoid duplicating information that already exists elsewhere, I would like to recommend the following great resources that will help you prepare:

System Design questions

Another type of question is a System Design question, e.g. How would you design Twitter/Facebook/Uber/Skype/etc.

In order to answer these questions, you can look at my post “How to Prepare for Software Engineering Interviews” (section “System Design questions“).

How to Prepare for Product Manager Interviews - Behavioral Questions

Behavioral Questions

The behavioral interview questions are the best way to test your problem-solving skills and your communication skills by evaluating your past experiences in real-world scenarios. Most of the questions focus on how you handled technical problems on past projects. The goal is to determine whether the software developer is a good fit and a team player.

Some examples of the most common questions are:

  • Tell me about the project, where you faced the biggest challenges
  • Tell me about a time that you made a trade-off call that involved engineering
  • Tell me about a project that you’re most proud about
  • Tell me about a time that you failed
  • Tell me about a time when you had to resolve a conflict
  • Tell me about a time when you led a team

The SCRIPT Framework

The most common framework to answer behavioral questions is the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) framework. However, I believe that his framework is not enough. As I explain in my blog post STAR is Not Enough: Tips For Behavioral Interview Questions, I recommend that you use the SCRIPT framework.

  1. S: Story Title
    1. Begin with a captivating title for your story to grab attention and set the tone for your narrative.
  2. C: Context Explanation
    1. Detail the context, including the project, the team members involved, and the important task at hand, ensuring you paint a vivid picture of the situation.
  3. R: Role Definition
    1. Clearly define your role in the scenario, highlighting your job description, leadership skills, and how you contributed as a team player.
  4. I: Issue Identification
    1. Identify 3 specific problems you encountered, like a tough decision or a challenging situation under a lot of pressure.
  5. P: Problem-solving Actions
    1. Describe 3 actions you took to address each problem, emphasizing your time management skills and your approach in similar situations.
  6. T: Tangible Outcomes
    1. Conclude with the positive outcomes of your actions, such as meeting a tight deadline or achieving better results, showcasing your ability to handle stressful situations.

Answering A Question using the SCRIPT Framework

To demonstrate how the SCRIPT framework can be applied, we need to look at specific examples.

Let’s take the question “Tell me about a time you faced a difficult problem at work. How did you solve it?” and a sample answer using SCRIPT:

S (Story Title): “Navigating the Feature Conundrum”

C (Context Explanation): In my role as a Product Manager at XYZ Corp, we faced a challenge during the development of a key feature for our software. The feature was highly anticipated but was proving to be more complex and resource-intensive than initially planned.

R (Role Definition): My responsibility was to oversee the feature’s development, ensuring it met user needs while aligning with our business goals and timelines.

I (Issue Identification):

  1. Technical Complexity: The feature was technically more complex than anticipated, causing delays.
  2. Resource Allocation: Our team was overextended, with several key members already engaged in other critical tasks.
  3. User Expectation Management: There was a high user expectation for this feature, and any significant changes or delays risked customer dissatisfaction.

P (Problem-solving Actions):

  1. Feature Scoping: I led a re-evaluation of the feature, scaling down to a more manageable version without compromising core functionality.
  2. Team Restructuring: I realigned team members, bringing in additional resources and adjusting priorities to focus on this feature.
  3. Stakeholder Communication: I maintained transparent communication with stakeholders, managing expectations by explaining the revised scope and timeline.

T (Tangible Outcomes): The revised feature was successfully launched, meeting the revised deadline. It was well-received by users, maintaining customer satisfaction, and our team’s revised structure improved our overall efficiency for future projects.

 To get a better idea about SCRIPT, take a look at my blog post STAR is Not Enough: Tips For Behavioral Interview Questions.

Please note the following:

  • Prepare 5-10 practice questions and write down answers using the SCRIPT framework before the interview (in a text file, on paper, etc). These hours of preparation will save you a lot of headaches during the interviews
  • Your answers should not be longer than 2 minutes
  • Remember to use “I” instead of “we” in your answer, because the interviewer is interested in the actions that you took and not in what the team did
How to Prepare for Technical Program Manager (TPM) Interviews - Mock Interviews

Mock Interviews

After going through all the materials above and getting ready to start the Product Manager 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:

  • Product Manager Interview practice community by Lewis Lin (free): Slack channel, where you can directly connect with other peers, who are studying for Product Manager 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 Product Manager interviews, so that you can practice together
    • Top Product Manager Interview questions (free): This is a list of the top Product Manager 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

Salary negotiations after a job offer

Did you get a job offer and you want to maximize the compensation that you are being offered? If so, then you have 2 main ways:

  1. Ask for the help of a professional
  2. Do It Yourself (DIY)
How To Prepare For Product Manager Interviews - Conclusion

Conclusion

By following the tips and strategies outlined in this blog post, you can prepare yourself to ace your next product manager interview. Remember, the key is to be well-prepared, articulate your thoughts clearly, and demonstrate your passion for product management.

As you embark on your product management journey, it’s important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to landing the perfect pm job. However, by arming yourself with the right knowledge and preparation, you can put your best foot forward and increase your chances of success.

Here are some additional tips for acing your product manager interview:

  • Be confident and enthusiastic. Show the hiring manager that you are passionate about product management and that you are excited about the opportunity to work for their company.
  • Be prepared to answer specific questions about the company’s product and customer experience. Do your research and be able to articulate your thoughts on how you would improve the product and make it more successful.
  • Be able to explain your thought process and decision-making skills. Product managers need to be able to make tough decisions under pressure, so be prepared to walk the interviewer through your thought process on a complex decision you have made in the past.
  • Be able to talk about your experience working with cross-functional teams. Product managers need to be able to collaborate effectively with engineers, designers, and marketers, so be prepared to share examples of how you have successfully collaborated with others in the past.
  • Be able to articulate your core values and how they align with the company’s culture. Companies are looking for product managers who share their values, so be prepared to discuss your personal values and how they would make you a valuable asset to the company.

By following these tips, you can increase your chances of landing your dream pm job and becoming a successful product manager.

Good luck!

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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