3 Common Product Management Interview Formats

You've read Cracking the PM Interview, you’ve read my article on when to move and when to stay put, you've sent out resumes, and you're ready to get this interviewing show on the road. You know exactly what to do during the initial phone screen(s), but then what? What should you expect as far as lead time, interview length, and what's expected of you during the interview process?

Here are 3 different types of product management interviews you may encounter.

Note: Some companies combine more than one of these!

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1. The take-home project

The take-home project has become a staple in the product management interview process, and I can only remember a few interviews in the last 6 years where I didn't have to do one. The hiring manager will most likely give you a problem with the task to solve for it. You may have to sketch out the process you would go through the solve the problem,and/ or write out user stories for the fix/ feature enhancement.

I've also gotten spreadsheets with accompanying SQL tests, requests for write-ups about products I love or hate (and why), and ideas around how to improve their current product (what a big question to answer!)

As a general rule, I like to time-box these exercises, and get a clear expectation of what the hiring manager is looking for in terms of length and depth of the deliverable.

 

2. The brainstorming session

This can be a similar set up to the take-home project, except this occurs on-the-spot rather than taking it home and thinking about it. You may be given a problem, and asked how you would go about solving it. This could be a very hypothetical scenario, for example: "Devise a fire-escape plan for a building with x number of floors, x number of people on each floor, and x number of elevators with x capacity." Or it could be an actual problem within the company, for example: "When users migrate to our platform from another company, we need to know x so we can put that customer in the right funnel. How would you go about figuring out what x is and ensuring it's accuracy?"

A few tips for these types of questions:

  • Be sure to verbalize your thinking process. Otherwise, there will be a lot of dead silence on the phone or in the room.

  • Take your time. You don't need to provide an immediate answer.

  • Ask questions. This should be a conversation between you and the interviewer. Asking questions will show them that you know how to ask the right questions! A very important part of being a PM.

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3. Behavioral questions

Otherwise known as “question about specific experiences and how you dealt with them.”

I've been through hours-long interviews where each of the many interviewers have asked me behavior questions. For example: 

  • Talk about a time when I would have done something differently.

  • Talk about a time when management disagreed with me and I had to convince them to see my point of view.

  • Talk about a time when the team didn't agree with the product vision and how I handled it.

Practice answering these questions in STAR format. What's STAR format?

  • Situation: Set up the problem by explaining the situation you were in. Don't go into too much detail.

  • Task: Describe your responsibility in the situation; what was your job, your task to complete?

  • Action: How did you meet the challenge? Focus on what you did. (Not what others did - what you did.)

  • Result: What was the outcome? Don't sugar-coat it. Be honest, and explain what you learned if the outcome wasn't ideal.

Learn more about STAR format here.

Pro tip: STAR format is the preferred format for answering interview questions at Amazon. I know this from talking to multiple people who have interviewed there recently. Read more here