Crack the Product Manager Interview with Gayle McDowell

Preparing for your first interview in any industry can be intimidating. It’s all about navigating the process, in-depth research and a lot of practice. This especially applies to the Product Manager interview.

That’s why we brought in Gayle McDowell, who wrote the book on the topic, to share her tips and insights with our community. She went through a handful of estimation, behavioral, case, product and technical questions, and the all-important “pitch.”

Here’s the breakdown of what you should and should not do to crack the product manager interview. 



Gayle McDowell

Gayle McDowell is the author of the book Cracking the PM Interview, the #1 interview prep book for aspiring product managers. She is also the Founder and CEO of CareerCup and the author of Cracking the Coding Interview and Cracking the Tech Career.

Gayle has worked as a Software Engineer for Google, Microsoft, and Apple and has extensive interviewing experience on both sides of the table. She has interviewed and received offers from Google, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, IBM, Goldman Sachs and a variety of other firms. She has also interviewed over 120 candidates at Google and served on its hiring committee.


How to Crack the Product Manager Interview?

In this talk, Gayle McDowell taught how to prepare for Product Manager interviews, what top companies like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft look for, and how to tackle the toughest problems.

Gayle discussed how the ambiguously-named “PM” (product manager/program manager) role varies across companies, what experience you need and how to make your existing experience translate. She also gave insight on what a great Product Manager resume and cover letter look like, and finally, how to master the Product Manager interview questions.


Bullet points:

  • The perfect product manager is skillful in these categories:
    • Technology
    • Business
    • Leadership and execution
    • Industry
    • Product
  • It’s difficult to find a product manager with all these skills. Therefore aspiring product managers need to find things from all the skill areas that they’ve done in the past and focus on those.
  • If you lack in one or more of the skill areas, get the skills. This doesn’t mean that you should spend $100k on a two year MBA degree, but you can do cheaper online courses, etc. that are faster.
  • On the other hand, if you have lots of experience from one field, for example, finance try and find a company that values those finance skills.
  • Tips for preparing for an interview:
    • Practice a 2-minute pitch about yourself where you demonstrate your success. Include your hobbies.
    • Practice engaging stories that you can answer questions with.
    • Make a list of your strengths and weaknesses.
    • Get ready to be real, compelling and tell stories about things that changed you.
  • Keep in mind in an interview:
    • Answer the questions, don’t dodge them.
    • Deliver positive message.
    • Be well-structured.
    • Show insight.
    • Don’t sugar coat the bad stuff, admit to your failures.
    • Keep the user in mind all the time!
  • Example questions
    • How would you design your favorite app?
    • How would you design an alarm clock for the blind?
    • How much money does Gmail make a year? 

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