Acing the Product Management Interview – What They Don’t Tell you

BY Randy Silver ON OCTOBER 12, 2018

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before:

What’s your favourite product, and why?

Or how about:

You have to launch a new product for X. How do you determine the total and addressable markets, and what steps do you take to fill that need? How do you determine pricing?

I hate these questions.

I hate them as an interviewer, because they don’t tell me anything about what it’s like to work with you, how you’re going to help me, or why I might want to hire you. They’re just questions to fill the interview hour and see if you know the right jargon.

Recently, someone asked me for some advice ahead of their first product interview. I dashed off something during my lunch hour… and two weeks later, they came back to tell me that they’d aced the interview and taken the job.

While correlation does not imply causation and my sample size is limited, it’s an indicator that the advice has some value. Here goes.

1. Find out What Their Problems are. Any good hiring manager should know what problem(s) they are trying to solve by hiring for this position. As the candidate it’s your job to find out what that is, and, if you can help them, then you should demonstrate that.

2. Do Your Research. You should know the company, their competitors, the market, the customers, and what you believe their biggest challenges are in the short and medium term. It doesn’t matter if you’re not quite right – this shows that you’ve done your research, that you care about the role and you should display some critical thinking about the scenario. They will be privy to information that you don’t/can’t have.

3. How Will you Help Them? Humility is valued, but as a candidate you should explain how YOU will help them. It’s great that you may be a team player, but I’m not hiring a team. As an interviewer, I want to know what YOU will do for me.

This can be a massive cultural challenge. Some parts of the world are almost allergic to taking individual credit, and product managers almost always operate as part of a team. Keep in mind that the hiring manager is not interviewing the team: you are the one going for the job.

This can be hard to overcome, but it’s absolutely essential – especially when the interviewer comes from a culture that emphasizes the individual.

4. What Difference Will you Make? So you will undoubtedly be asked: What difference have you made at previous role? What was the problem you solved, and how did you measure the success? Make sure you have an example.

5. Acknowledge Your Mistakes. You’ve made mistakes. (We all have. Lots of them.)  An interviewer won’t believe you if you don’t admit to them, and would be terrified if you weren’t aware of them. Tell them what happened and what you learned.

This is another tricky one to get right, so it’s important to practise this story.

6. How do you get Better? Tell the interviewer how you improve your craft. We all have weak spots – what do you to do improve your mastery of the profession you’ve chosen. There’s no right answer to this, so long as you have an answer that you’re prepared to give a little detail on. If you mention that you like blogs, books or podcasts, be prepared to talk about something you’ve learned and put into practice.

7. Tell the Interviewer why you Want to Work HERE.

8. Have a Good Answer for the Standard Questions… the ones referenced above: favourite product, what you’d do to improve either that one or the one you’re interviewing for.  There’s plenty of resources about for these, including VentureGrit, Quora , Medium (and many more).

9. Be on Time.

10. Send a Follow-up. Thank them for their time and tell them something that you learned, if you want the gig.

11. Finally… Don’t end lists at 10 items, nobody believes that you haven’t padded it.

Randy Silver

About

Randy Silver

A recovering music journalist & editor, Randy Silver has been working as an interactive producer & product manager across the US & UK for nearly 20 years. After launching Amazon’s music stores in the US and UK, Randy has worked with museums and arts groups, online education, media & entertainment, retail and financial services.  He’s held Head of Product roles at HSBC and Sainsbury’s, where he also directed their 100+-person product community.   He's also spoken at Mind the Product Engage (Hamburg), at a number of ProductTanks (London, Zurich, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, Oxford,  & Brighton... so far!) and at conferences across the US and Europe.

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