Can You Answer These Product Manager Interview Questions?
If you're interviewing for Product Manager roles, you should be ready to answer some product-management-specific interview questions in addition to the more generic ones we've all come to know and love.
These more specific questions will give you an opportunity to highlight your experience with user testing, data-driven decision making, and stakeholder management, as well as any other skills that allow you to excel as a product manager.
To help you prepare, we asked Product Managers at 9 of our partner companies to share their must-ask product manager interview questions, and what they look for in candidates' answers. Here are their responses:
1) How would you describe a healthy relationship between a PM, an engineer, and a designer?
Respect is the primary ingredient that lays the foundation for a healthy PM/Engineer/Designer relationship. Each role brings a unique perspective and set of skills, so respect and trust in one another creates a constructive tension that builds better products. - Irena Lam, Product Manager at Karat
2) Tell me about a time when you had to educate yourself on a new type of user/customer. What did you learn and how did you learn it?
I'm looking for thoughtfulness, strategy, and rigor in the answer. I want to see that understanding users was valued and that the candidate took complete ownership of that challenge. And, that they are willing to walk through walls to understand those customers' goals and needs. A red flag answer would be something like: "We have user personas so I just used those" or "We have a research department and they talk to the users." - Jeffrey Domke, Head of Growth at Blockstack
3) What motivates you for work day to day? What motivates you when you think about the next 5 to 10 years?
This is an open-ended question that can provide many insights into a candidate. Do they have something driving them? Are they ambitious? Are they pragmatic? Are they thoughtful? How do they think about balancing the near vs. long term? Is their motivation in line with our motivation as a company? Do they structure their answer well? This isn't the type of question you can study to answer well (like how many golf balls can you fit in a 747?).I look for:
- Genuine answers
- Structured, non-rambling answers
- Examples of how their past experience influences them today
- Ambition balanced with pragmatism
- A sense of purpose
- A lifelong learner mentality
- A sense of ownership
- Alignment with the role
4) Walk me through a complicated new feature or product that they've recently worked on, taking me through the process from initial idea through launch.
The answer to this question can go in all sorts of interesting directions but I look for a number of different things in the candidate's response. First, can the candidate explain a complicated subject in a structured way that's easy to understand. Effective communication is a key skill for a product manager. What part of the process do they focus on – the business objectives, getting feedback from customers, working with engineering, the launch, etc.?
This often reveals not only their experience but which of the many different product management responsibilities they really enjoy doing. Last, I look for how they talk about their role and accomplishments within the context of the team. Did they have unique contributions but also give credit to their teammates. - Andrea Beckman, Director, Product Management at Relativity
5) What are two to three pain points of traditional linear TV?
We like to give candidates a new problem space and ask them to identify problems and build solutions.
We look for candidates to set a framework that helps them structure their thinking and response. A good candidate should explain how they would research and understand the problem. The candidate should should identify clear objectives and the main stakeholders. Finally, the candidate should speak to how they would balance tradeoffs and prioritize. - Joshua Lee, CTO and Head of Product at EDO
6) Tell me about a specific time you were working with a colleague or customer and they weren't communicating the reasoning behind their request, just the end feature. What tactics did you employ to dig deeper to uncover the real meaning of their request? What was the eventual outcome?
This is an important question because being problem-focused (vs. solution-focused) is really really important for a Product Manager. I also like the phrasing of this question because it allows people to highlight transferrable skills: this is an experience a lot of people can have, and how they respond to it can say a lot about how they think through problems.
What we look for in an answer: We like to see that candidates are communicating with the requestor to dig into the root of the challenge and how they came to make the request. It's also great to hear that candidates are actively collaborating to come to a compromise or solution rather than rejecting a challenging original request as-is. A good answer might sound like:
"I sat down with them and talked through what the challenge was they were facing and why they wanted that specific request. We went through it and it turned out that what they really wanted wasn't X, but to help them do Y. They didn't think Z was possible so they asked for X because they figured we would say yes to that. After talking through it through, we settled on how something we were already working on could address this same need."
7) Tell me about a time that you had to make a trade off or prioritization decisions. How did you decide on your course of action? Who was the most negatively impacted by your decision? What might have happened if you did the next thing on the list instead?
This question helps me understand how they make prioritization decisions which is one of the most important aspects of PM, but also the empathy they have for who and what those decisions impact. The last part digs into how well they understood the problem they were solving. Generally if they can't talk about the next option, it wasn't that hard of a prioritization decision. - Sergi Isasi, Product Manager at Cloudflare
8) Tell me about a hobby of yours. Give me a product idea that would fit in that area and explain how it could disrupt or assist the current products in the landscape.
I like this question because it helps me learn a lot about the person as well as how they think. One of the most important things I look for is a person's ability to empathize with their user. If the candidate can truly put themselves in the shoes of the person they are serving, and prioritize those needs, I'm pretty impressed.
Also, I always pay attention to how the candidate speaks about other people in general—whether stakeholders or teammates. This helps me assess leadership skills. Oftentimes, candidates can focus so much on the abstract problem (competition, design, etc), that they forget to factor in the most challenging part—getting the rest of the team bought in. - Fontaine Foxworth, Product Manager at Google
9) Imagine I'm calling an engineer who you worked closely with at your last job. What three words or phrases would they use to describe what you're like as a product manager?
The redirection to asking colleagues makes them think more objectively about their strengths/weaknesses.The candidate almost always provides 3 positive qualities, or strengths, such as "curious" or "dedicated to understanding customer needs."
I will then ask them to dive deeper into one of the 3 answers they've provided, usually focusing on the most vague response. Such as, "tell me a way in which you demonstrated dedication to understanding customer needs."
Then I say to them, "Let's pretend I'm calling that same colleague above. What is one area they'd say you could be better at or need improvement on." I then ask them to explain that one a bit more with a real example.
10) Explain a time that you met opposition in your approach or prioritization to a project. How did you navigate through it?
Here I'm looking for a couple things. 1) what tools/approaches do you leverage to help make your argument and 2) how do you handle confrontation.
Do you use data to drive alignment with stakeholders or are you a storyteller who is a customer centric decision maker? Do you adapt your argument based on the stakeholder you're engaging with, knowing what will help lead them to align with your prioritization? This is one of the most common challenges a product manager faces and each situation may be different, but I'm confident you have faced some version of this and can speak to it from your own experience.
Have a story that didn't turn out so hot in the end? Great! Use it. Tell us what didn't go well about it and what you'd change if you could go back! Being vulnerable and sharing examples of failures you've learned from is almost a sure fire way to get a hiring manager bought in on you. It tells us that you're mature, self-reflective and can take constructive feedback well. All key characteristics we look for in product leaders.The gem in this question is really how you approach confrontation. As product leaders, we are constantly challenged by engineers, stakeholders and other product managers, as such, we have to be comfortable dealing with confrontation.Crucial Conversations is my secret weapon and I highly encourage every single person to read it multiple times in their lives. I usually have a copy on my desk as a constant reminder. The ability to be comfortable navigating through an uncomfortable discussion not only builds relationships, helps to resolve issues quickly and promotes self-esteem and confidence, but it is a great reflection of one's maturity. When an applicant can tackle a difficult conversation with differing opinions successfully, it instills confidence that they can self manage. - Amory Borromeo, Senior Technical Product Manager at Carvana
11) How do you empathize with your stakeholders?
In addition to being incessantly curious and comfortable dealing with uncomfortable situations, I want to make sure that my product leaders know how to empathize. Can you get to the root of a problem and really help craft a solution that will delight the end user? A favorite quote of mine is Henry Ford's, "If I asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses." Product managers are often presented with solutions and we have to take the time to peel back the onion layers to truly understand the issue. I'll almost always ask this question in an interview, although I'll often word it differently with the hope of getting a story or two out of it:
This is a great opportunity to pull in some experience examples, where you were able to really understand the need your end user or stakeholder was asking for and craft a thoughtful solution that met their needs more than their ask for faster horses. A great product manager will be able to speak for the stakeholder and/or end users when working with their engineering teams because they are so fully aware of the issue, workflows, process, product, etc.
Take the time to shadow the end user, sit with the stakeholder and ask deeper investigating questions until you are so fully entrenched in the ask, that you could answer questions the same way a stakeholder would. You'll be surprised how often you find that the users have come up with workarounds or have completely overlooked alternative solutions because of their own biases based on their day to day interactions. This amount of empathy can also directly impact your ability to align with stakeholders because it builds a stronger relationship and proves your genuine interest in creating a better world for your end users. - Amory Borromeo, Senior Technical Product Manager at Carvana
12) Which two adjectives would you use to best describe your ideal work environment?
How you answer will help us understand what your values are. What matters most to you and what drives you? Do you need a collaborative environment? Do you like the autonomy to figure things out on your own? Does being surrounded by curious or ambitious people help push you to be a better version of yourself? So much can be pulled from these two simple words, but there is also something to be said about how you answer.
Do you simply say the two words and leave it at that, or do you elaborate to explain? Do you ask if we'd like you to explain your reasoning and create an opportunity to have further discussion? One of my favorite responses was when someone said the two words. Paused to say she could explain more if I'd like, but would be curious what my answers would be. This indicated that she could follow direction, was comfortable with a bit of ambiguity, knew how to navigate through the awkwardness I had laid out for her and cared about connecting and building relationships! - Amory Borromeo, Senior Technical Product Manager at Carvana
Now get practicing and get ready to nail your next interview!
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Jasmine Harvey is pursuing her MBA while working full-time as a buyer for Viasat, a global communications and satellite internet company. Balancing home, work, and school while maintaining a 3.9 grade point average has been quite a challenge. Jasmine had a perfect 4.0 until she took one of the hardest classes in her program, Managerial Economics and Global, during this COVID pandemic. She finished a full 15 percentage points above the class average, but was still 0.6 points away from an "A".