Updated: April 18, 2023 - 7 min read
While securing your first Product Management interview deserves celebration, it's important not to let the excitement get the best of you as you prepare for your big day. Succeeding in a PM interview and breaking into Product Management requires a clear strategy and adequate preparation.
I spoke with several experienced Product Leaders and hiring managers to learn their top interview preparation tips. Here’s what I uncovered from these experts:
How to Prepare for a Product Manager Interview
1. Conduct adequate research on the company, product, and competitors.
Nikki Werner, Principal Product Manager for subscriptions at Walmart, suggests that you begin your interview preparation by watching the mock interview videos that Google, Meta, and other big tech companies have produced to educate candidates on their interview standards. She explains that this initial research will not only help calm any potential feelings of overwhelm, but will also provide you with a focus for your interview preparation.
Zac Hays, Chief Product Officer at Luxury Presence, agrees and recommends that you, “Practice, practice, practice!” He goes on to say that “There are tons of sources of interview questions for PMs; make sure you practice them, ideally with a partner who can critique your responses.”
He says it’s also important to complete preliminary research on the product you’re interviewing to manage. “You should be as familiar as you can be so that you can ask thoughtful questions about the product strategy and direction,” he explains.
Speaking of research, you similarly want to spend time learning about the company you’re interviewing at. Team Blind and Reddit are two of my favorite online communities for gaining an in-depth, behind-the-scenes look into the company’s culture.
“Understand the competitive landscape as you walk into that interview,” advises Mita Mallick, Head of DEI at Carta. “Ensure you have insights on what’s working well and where competition is falling short. It’s an opportunity to share how you think your future employer could continue to win and make additional traction.”
2. Learn how to answer Product Management interview questions.
Next, you’ll want to learn how to answer interview questions like a Product Manager. Hays recommends that you prepare by practicing scenario-based questions. Then, once you’re in the actual interview, you should treat your interviewer like a user and ask probing questions before presenting a solution, he says.
You’ll also want to be well-versed in Product Analytics, shares Hays. The same rules of asking clarifying questions, confirming your questions, and treating the interviewer like a user apply here too.
I share common Product Management interview questions, including scenario-based questions, as well as how to effectively answer them using the STAR method, later in this article.
3. Identify stories to share during your Product Manager interview.
As you conduct your interview preparation, you’ll also want to make a list of examples, or stories, from your career that you can share during the interview.
One way to uncover these stories is by reviewing the responsibilities listed in the job posting, then mapping them to examples from your career, explains Charlotte Shimko, a Senior Product Manager, Technical at Amazon. She also recommends uncovering these stories by identifying transferable skills, such as stakeholder management, that you have demonstrated in other positions, yet are relevant to a Product Manager role.
If your experience isn’t a perfect fit, Shimko says that’s okay. “Think about skills that are needed and how you've exhibited that skill.” According to her, interviewers occasionally won’t ask for an example, but will rather seek to understand your approach, so be prepared to speak to your methodology.
4. Put yourself in the interviewer’s shoes.
As you conduct your preparation and head into the big day, Werner advises that you, “Put yourself in the recruiter or hiring manager's shoes.” Because the hiring manager is interviewing each person with the hopes of meeting their “dream candidate,” she recommends that you ask yourself the following questions.
How can you make sure each response showcases your unique superpowers?
How can you avoid generic statements while being compared to a slew of other Product Managers with similar competencies?
Are you self-aware and coachable?
How can you demonstrate that you’re someone the interviewer should want to spend 40+ hours a week with?
5. Ask thoughtful questions at the end of your interview.
Lastly, be mindful of the questions you ask the interviewers. Werner says you can use question time at the end of your interview to learn about the team culture as well as what the interviewer is looking for in a candidate. “This way, you can update your interview answers to be more catered to their vision of the ideal applicant,” she explains. “If you are extended the role, you'll have plenty of time to get your questions answered and assess if the opportunity is a good fit.”
Common Product Management Interview Questions
Now, what topics should you be prepared to discuss during your first Product Management interview? Here are some of the most common questions according to the experts I spoke with.
Strengths, Mistakes, & Lessons Learned
For starters, you’ll want to be prepared for standard job interview questions. As an interviewer, Werner is a fan of asking questions about key strengths and areas of opportunity as she seeks out candidates who are self-reflective about the activities that drain or zap their energy.
“If a candidate can’t go to bat for themselves in an interview, it’s hard for me to picture them going to bat for their customer,” explains Werner. “Similarly, I worry that candidates who aren’t specifically aware of improvement areas don’t demonstrate a growth mindset,” she adds.
Shimko agrees and says that you shouldn’t be afraid to talk about mistakes you made over your career. She says that, “The important thing is whether you learned from the mistake that you made.”
Functional & Behavioral Interview Questions
In addition to the typical questions about your strengths, weaknesses, and lessons learned, you’ll also want to be prepared for behavioral and functional interview questions.
Werner explains that behavioral interview questions allow you to illustrate your skill sets and experiences, as well as how you show up professionally. She recommends that you review the STAR method for answering these questions, in addition to crafting stories that show your key development moments or professional milestones.
According to Shimko, while not all companies ask behavioral questions, you’ll also want to be ready for functional interview questions related to topics like stakeholder management, strategy development, and roadmap management.
Product Management Case Study Interviews
Finally, you’ll want to be prepared for case study questions, as they’re becoming more popular, explains Werner. She recommends that you practice structuring your thought process aloud and walking through an end-to-end example. “There are no wrong answers in a case study, but there are more effective ways to connect the dots for your interviewer,” she explains.
Hays shares that interviewers often rely on scenario-based questions because first-time Product Managers don’t have a lot of pure Product experience. “Some of these feel like odd riddles at first, but the goal is for you to approach them like you would a product problem,” says Hays.
Early in his career, Hays was asked, “How many ping pong balls fit in a Boeing 747?” during a job interview. At the time, he thought it was a “silly volumetric math problem,” but has since realized it was a market sizing problem and suggests asking probing questions like, “What's the total addressable space in the plane? Is it a passenger plane, a cargo plane, an empty shell? According to him, “If you ask the right questions and confirm your assumptions, it doesn't matter what your final answer ends up being.”
On a final note, don’t be disheartened if your interview doesn’t convert into an offer. Werner says that, “You should feel confident that if this role doesn’t end up being the one there will be others. The pressure of a single conversation can’t outweigh the opportunity to shine.” You’ve got this!
Updated: April 18, 2023