How to Absolutely Kill Your Product Manager Interview

Three essential tips for aspiring product managers.
david wang
David Wang
Expert Columnist
September 23, 2020
Updated: July 13, 2021
david wang
David Wang
Expert Columnist
September 23, 2020
Updated: July 13, 2021

When trying to break into product management — whether it is from a more entry-level analyst position, or from a different type of industry/role — it is important to consider a few things before a product management interview. Below, I’ve highlighted three key points that I have found personally helpful for recruiting in the product management world. Some of these points may also be applied across the board for more senior-level positions.

 

Tip #1: Find Your Angle

The single most common mistake I see when talking to many new/aspiring PM interviewees is the lack of an angle. Most candidates tend to just highlight what they did, not why they did it. Experience definitely matters, but many recruiters are looking for how the experience ties together in order to determine how a candidate can contribute to the company as a PM. This is why developing an “angle” is important — it helps the recruiter determine at a base level if your mindset aligns with the role opening.

For example, if you had a technical background and worked primarily in data analytics and data warehousing, your angle could then focus on “passion, knowledge, and innovation for all things data.” By adding this perspective to your work experience, it lends credibility to what you can bring to the table. As a recruiter, this could potentially let them know that you’re more suitable for a technical product manager role focused primarily on back-end services and related products. On the flip side, you could also take a similar experience set and build an angle around a “data-driven focus on the customer experience,” allowing for a recruiter to see you slot into work on front-end, customer-facing products and experiences. Developing an angle helps a candidate tell a compelling story about why their work experience is relevant, and shows how they can contribute and grow with the company.

 

Tip #2: Find Your Own Products

Another common mistake I see when coaching potential PM candidates is they aren’t always used to thinking about products (as they are coming from a different industry, have different experience, etc.). Even a simple question such as “What’s your favorite product and why?” can cause these candidates to stumble. There should be no hesitation in answering this question, as a product manager should constantly be evaluating multiple products and leveraging best practices from those products to help innovate and come up with new ideas.

The question also gives insight into the thought process of potential PM candidates. Does a candidate like a product just because it is “popular and cool”? Or is there something else — such as the design and UX or compelling features of the product — that makes it stand out from its competitors? While this may not exactly be the most difficult question to prepare for, it still merits some thoughtful preparation time, as it could be a make-or-break question for determining whether a candidate has a product mindset and is suitable for the position.

 

Tip #3: Find Your Next Steps

The last thing I want to highlight here isn’t a mistake, but a personal tip I always share with prospective manager candidates to help stand out from the crowd. It’s something that I look for when interviewing. After sharing a work experience or answering a question, where possible, a candidate should add a “next steps” to their summary.

For example, if the interview question was “Tell me about a time when you had a deadline and weren’t able to make it,” most candidates would highlight their experience, and then explain the outcome. This is an acceptable answer, but the best managers are forward-thinking and need to think about their teams as well. As a result, just highlighting the experience won’t cut it — the candidate should elaborate on what processes/next steps were put in place in order to prevent the mistake from cropping up again. This indicates thoughtfulness, an ability to learn from mistakes, and an ability to leverage that data for future learnings. As a product manager, I think having this forward-thinking mindset for the improvement of the team and the product is critical to success.

Ultimately, there is no single way to ace an interview. But any new or aspiring PM can benefit from keeping these tips in mind before their interviews.

More From David WangWhy the Berkshire Hathaway Site Is a Master Class in Human-Centered Design

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