Updated: April 4, 2023 - 12 min read
The secret to acing a product management interview isn’t just knowing what questions to expect. It’s getting inside your interviewer’s mind, and understanding why they’re asking you these questions, and what they want to know.
The Most Common Product Management Interview Questions
What do you see as a Product Manager’s main role within product development?
How do you stay user-focused?
What main changes would you make to [our product]?
How do you see your career developing in the next 5 years?
Tell us about a time you used data to influence an important stakeholder.
Tell us about a time you faced failure and how you bounced back.
What are your main strengths and weaknesses?
What’s your approach to prioritizing tasks?
Why do you want to work at [our company]?
Why do you want to be/what do you love about being a Product Manager?
Behind the Questions…
1. What do you see as a Product Manager’s main role within product development?
Why they’re asking: Product Management is not a well-defined role across company lines. Each organization has a slightly different approach to development, and so they have a different view of Product Management and its role.
On top of that, each individual Product Manager builds their craft in a slightly different way. You might start out doing PM one way at the start of your career and then have developed a completely different set of frameworks and techniques by the end.
An interviewer will ask you your approaches to PM, and how you see the role’s place within development, to make sure that you’re on the same wavelength.
What they want to know: Every interview takes place on the basis that there is a need to be filled within a company, and the interviewee has the potential to fill that need. When you’re asked ‘what do you see as a Product Manager’s main role within product development?’, the interviewer wants to know that you both see that need in the same way.
They want to know what you see as a PMs main responsibilities, the level of authority they have, and how far the buck stops with the PM in your opinion. If in doubt, quote the old PM adage… “with great responsibility, comes no power.”
2. How do you stay user-focused?
Why they’re asking: Most companies, especially product-led companies, pride themselves on being customer-obsessed. As a Product Manager, you’re expected to be the voice of the customer and to hold the most customer knowledge. No pressure, but how user-focused development is sort of depends on how user-focused you are.
What they want to know: The most important thing they want to know is that you are user-focused, so you need to make that absolutely clear, without a shadow of a doubt. You can talk about methods you’ve used in the past, and how you’ve revisited user feedback throughout development to make important iterations.
If you’ve ever had to say ‘no’ to stakeholders in order to be a better advocate for your users, this is the time to make that known. Think about times you’ve had to make tough choices in order to build a better product for your users, or talk about the methods you’ve used (they could be agile user-first frameworks like story mapping) or how you embed the voice of the customer into development.
3. What main changes would you make to [our product]?
Why they’re asking: Pointing out flaws in someone else’s work (especially when you’re trying hard to impress them) isn’t the most comfortable conversation to have. This is a mini-test on how you deliver feedback, whilst also testing your awareness of the product.
What they want to know: This (usually) isn’t a trick question. They really want to know how you would improve their product. Try to use your PM thinking skills to unpack this question. While you don’t have access to the data to back up your suggestions, you should be in a position to come up with a hypothesis.
For example, if you’re interviewing at Spotify, you might suggest adding a chat feature in order to easily share songs between friends, because you have personal experience of having to send links to friends via WhatsApp, which doesn’t make for the smoothest experience. Talk about how you’d find out if others had the same problem, and how you’d approach solving the problem in a user-focused way.
4. How do you see your career developing in the next 5 years?
Why they’re asking: Most companies won’t want to invest the time in hiring and helping to shape a Product Manager, only to have them leave because their growth trajectory is not currently the same as what’s on offer. They want to know that you’ll be able to grow with them. There are a few different paths that a PM can take as they progress. They could go more into people-management and lead a team of Product Managers, or they could go more technical.
What they want to know: They want to know that your career goals are a match for their company. If your goal is to get a couple of years of experience with them before moving over to a different industry…that’s probably information that’s best kept to yourself if you want to get hired! Saying that, try to be as honest as possible. If there’s no room to grow within a company, and you’re ambitious with your career goals, you might be better off somewhere else.
Product Management is a fast-growing career, and if you’re interviewing for a big company, they’ll want people who are hungry for that growth and who will work towards making a bigger impact and having more responsibilities.
5. Tell us about a time you used data to influence an important stakeholder.
Why they’re asking: Really, this question could have been about any situation a Product Manager is likely to face. They could just as easily ask about how you used data to validate a new idea or how you managed the change from office-based to remote working. They’re asking because they need to know how you handle yourself in the day-to-day situations that PMs find themselves in. It’s a way of making sure that you can walk the walk as well as talk the talk.
It’s also about gauging the kind of experiences you’ve had in the past, and whether you’re able to solve problems, resolve conflicts, and lead their teams.
What they want to know: They don’t need to know all of the details (they don’t have time to hear your life story), they want to know whether or not you’ve faced typical PM challenges and that you are adept at overcoming them. If they ask you about a situation you’ve never faced before, you can do one of two things. You can say “that’s not something that’s happened to me specifically, but in a similar vein…” and go on to talk about the next closest situation. Or if you’re transitioning to PM from another discipline, and have yet to face any real PM situations, you can talk about how you would hypothetically face that situation.
It’s mostly a thought exercise, so don’t worry about not having the right experience. Most product leaders will tell you that it’s more important to hire someone with the right instincts than to hire someone who’s been through a situation before.
6. Tell us about a time you faced failure and how you bounced back.
Why they’re asking: Everybody fails now and again, and more and more we’re learning that failure is nothing to be ashamed of. Any tech leader will tell you that failure is an essential hurdle on the road to success. Self-awareness is a very important trait for Product Managers, and so is being able to learn from failure. They’re asking you about your failures to see how self-aware you are, and to also understand how you process and learn from failures.
What they want to know: They want to know how you respond to negative experiences, but it’s important to select an experience that ended positively for you. Put yourself in the shoes of an interviewer and look at these two answers:
“In my previous role, I was told off by my manager for always being on my phone and taking personal calls. She gave me a disciplinary warning, because I didn’t realize that the company had such a strict policy on taking personal calls at work. So I learned to save my phone-time for my lunch breaks.”
“Last summer, I launched a side-project that didn’t take off the way I expected it to. It turns out that it’s going to take more resources to properly promote and market than I expected. So I’ve learned that resource-planning ahead of launch is incredibly important. I’ve put my project on the back burner for now to give me more time to strategize and up my marketing skills.”
Which person would you hire? Person 1 was objectively doing something wrong. Person 2 was trying something new with the best intentions that ended up not working. Both learned from their mistakes, but Person 2 was learning from a commonplace and justifiable mistake.
So choose your scenario carefully!
7. What are your main strengths and weaknesses?
Why they’re asking: This is another question that’s all about self-awareness. Recognising areas you need to improve on, or gaps in your skill set is the first step to growth and development. It’s also important for them to know if there are any areas you’re particularly weak in. For example, if they have an AI product and you don’t have strong AI skills, it’s not necessarily a deal-breaker, but they’ll want to factor in the extra training you’ll need.
What they want to know: They want to know that you’re genuinely aware of your weaknesses. None of this “I’m just too obsessed with work.” They want your real and raw flaws.
Think about a genuine weakness of yours, and tell them how it affects you/your work, but back it up with a plan on how you’re working on it. For example, if you find yourself trying and failing to multitask effectively, you might tell them that you’ve started implementing the pomodoro technique.
But the other part of the question is just as important. They also want to know what your strengths are. Think about the things you pride yourself on, and try to tactically identify what would be most valuable to the role.
8. What’s your approach to prioritizing tasks?
Why they’re asking: Prioritization is the name of the game in Product Management, so you can probably expect this question to come up at some point in the interview process.
What they want to know: You might be tempted to throw around the names of some popular prioritization techniques, and that’s fine. But it’s probably more important to talk about the soft skills around prioritization. How to say no, how to make sure you’ve listened to all of the right opinions and asked the right questions, and how to get everyone aligned on your prioritization decisions.
9. Why do you want to work at [our company]?
Why they’re asking: Bigger companies know that their name carries a certain amount of clout. So if you’re interviewing at the Googles and Apples of the world, they want to know that you really want to work at Google or Apple, not just that you want to say you do.
Even for smaller companies, they want to know that they’re hiring people who have the same goals and values that they do. There’s no shame in applying for jobs because you need the bills to be paid, but it’s in a company’s interest to find the people who are going to be passionate about the work they’re doing.
What they want to know: Here they’ll be looking to learn more about your goals and values, as well as what your understanding of the company’s mission is. A great position to be in, is to be able to see the future potential of a company or product, and to be able to express your eagerness to help fulfil it.
Think about where the company is going, and talk about how you’d love to fit into it.
10. Why do you want to be/what do you love about being a Product Manager?
Why they’re asking: Product Management isn’t just about getting through your days work, and letting the days add up until eventually you have a product. Product Management is about hunger, and drive, and passion. You’ve got to wake up every morning excited to be doing what you’re doing, otherwise how are you going to motivate your team to feel the same?
What they want to know: You should have this question answered already. And no blog, no matter how great (if we do say so ourselves) can answer it for you. Be honest, and talk about what got you started on this journey and why you’re excited to be in Product Management.
The hard part won’t be picking one. It’ll be picking only one.
Summary: What Do Interviewers Want to Know?
No matter which questions you get asked in a Product Management interview, the two best strategies for acing it is to be honest whilst thinking about what’s going on in an interviewer’s head. Cut through all of the things you could talk about, spend your precious time talking about the things they really need to know.
It’s very easy to say a lot without saying anything – everyone who’s ever sat through a useless team meeting will tell you that! Getting into an interviewer’s head isn’t about telling them what they want to hear, it’s about making the most of your time with them and making each second count. You want them to walk away from your interview full of reasons to hire you.
Want to learn more about acing the Product Management interview? Check out The Ultimate List of Product Management Interview Questions!
We’ve also put together a whole playlist of talks over on our YouTube channel. Try this one on for size:
Updated: April 4, 2023