Updated: April 4, 2023 - 5 min read
It’s getting spooky around here at Product Skull (see what we did there?), and it’s true that some parts of PM life are truly terrifying. If bugs and crashes and creepy coworkers aren’t the stuff of nightmares, what is?!
But let’s face it…there’s not much in a career that’s scarier than interviews! Is there anything more gut-wrenching, skin-crawling, or face-melting than a bad interview?
We asked our community of Product people to share some of their interview horror stories with us. And they are…truly ghoulish!
Editor’s note: some posts have been edited for clarity/anonymity
Interviews to Make Your Blood Run Cold
“At the start of my career as a PM, I once interviewed with a household name tech company. After one of my on-site interviews with a VP, he tore my resume and put it in a bin right in front of me, and told me that he didn’t have a spot for me in his team.”
“Panel interview – one of the interviewers asked a question (very specific to one of their internal products). I wasn’t able to answer it, so I knew things weren’t going to work out. That’s fine. However, the interview proceeded, and at the end, when they asked if I had any questions, I asked a question – the first interviewer answered, then the second, but when we got to the third and he just…stared in silence. That was a first for me. Awkward silence. Then I ask if they have any other questions or comments for me – and we proceed to go to the same round of: answer, answer silence.”
“For over 9 weeks, I did 7 rounds for a Growth PM position. During the final one I had to present a take-home assignment to their entire product team. The prompt was to outline my ideas and approach for how I would take their product to the next level. They loved everything; my ideas, research, thoughtfulness, delivery, etc. I got an email the next day from their HRBP emphasizing how impressed they were and that it was down to me and one other candidate—they just wanted to do “a reference check before making a tentative offer”. They said my references were exceptional (I am blessed to have some heavy hitters in my corner). After the calls, their HRBP informed me in an email that they went with the other candidate and wished me luck. Over 3 months later, I discovered they had implemented at least three of my ideas into their product/strategy and never hired anyone for that position. What did I learn? Ideas are free and companies don’t owe you anything.”
“I traveled for an interview that was scheduled with 6 people. They added 3 more people to the schedule at the last minute. I arrived at the hotel the night before and the SVP wanted to meet me for dinner before meeting the CEO the next day. I felt that it would be awkward to be meeting a man I didn’t know late at night. I told him I couldn’t but had lunch with him the next day. He spent the first 15 minutes scolding the waiter for switching up the menu, bringing him a dirty glass, and a bunch of other things. In that moment I could see how he would interact with me. Even though I got a great financial offer I turned it down, as I sensed it would be a very toxic culture. If he treated the waiter so disrespectfully, chances are he would treat his staff the same way. When I turned it down, he got very angry and accused me of wasting his time.”
“I interviewed to be the first PM at a small start up. The CEO and CMO interviewed me, didn’t know what PRDs were, and semi-mocked me for writing them.”
“I had an interview for a newly-created role within a large company, as PM for an internal-facing platform. Going into the interview loop, I was hugely excited as this was one of my target companies and the job description sounded perfect for me.
I was interviewing with people who would be working directly with this new role, including the hiring manager and another team member.
Everything was going well until I asked each person about the role’s scope of responsibilities and nobody said the same thing–the hiring manager talked about driving adoption and letting the other team member handle UX and features; the other team member described the new role as complete ownership of the platform. The skip-level manager pessimistically described the environment and likelihood of success for the role. And the last person I spoke with said, “Well…I’m not sure this role actually exists.”
I mean, come on, that last comment was a dead give-away. But because of my excitement at scoring the interview (plus REALLY wanting to leave my then-job) I started gaslighting myself — telling myself that I was probably reading too much into the differing stories and the negativity from leadership, it wasn’t them it was ME and my own misinterpretation. But everyone that I told about the interview had the same reaction: run.
What I learned from that experience was not to get so invested in the possibilities of a new role that I lose perspective. I found that by talking it through with friends and family, or even writing down the narrative in third person like a story, helps me to process everything and find the right degree of objectivity.”
And finally, the most terrifying interview story we all know far too well…
Updated: April 4, 2023