Landing a product management role at a top tech company like Google, Amazon, and Facebook is tough. Putting aside the high level of competition, one of the critical challenges is that PM interviews cover a large swath of topics—from critiquing UX wireframes to talking about engineering details—that directed preparation feels daunting. Indeed, prepping for every eventuality is a Sisyphean task. However, there is hope. And below, we offer a three-part framework that can help you divvy up your time and focus on high level areas that matter most to interview success.
1. Understand the core business
Every tech company is a business, so regardless of whether your interview is for a core revenue generating product (Google’s AdWords) or a free product (Google Photos), it’s critical you understand how that company makes money. The reason why is all products align behind the company’s mission and support revenue generation. Thus, a free product like Google Photos might, at first glance, seem to be completely detached from revenue generation. However, Google might see Photos as defending against user loss to Facebook or a way to improve its image recognition algorithms for search. In both cases, Google Photos is contributing to the core business by keeping users in the Google ecosystem and improving the algorithms that drive revenue generation, respectively.
Thus, it’s critical for an interviewee to understand 1) how the company generates the bulk of its revenue and 2) how the different products directly or indirectly support that business. A great primer on Google, Amazon, and Facebook’s strategies and business comes right from the source: investor presentations (Facebook puts out helpful slides and Amazon has great annual letters written by CEO Jeff Bezos).
2. Hone your product sense
Product managers love to hire other product managers who obsess about products. So if you walk into a PM interview and can’t easily discuss your own favorite products, what makes them great, and how they could be made even better, you’re in big trouble. This is a huge red flag because most PMs consider this type of “product discussion” to be the most alluring part of the job. Furthermore, if you can’t discuss your own favorites, the interviewer will rightly wonder how you’ll ever form strong product opinions on the job.
Our advice: pick one product daily (like Gmail or Facebook Messenger) and debate its merits with a friend. Practice defending why the product is great (or not) and three things that could be done to improve it further. Be specific in your feedback and challenge yourself to provide detailed, tactical guidance on what could be done to improve the product. Doing this type of exercise daily will help build your “product sense” muscle and build your confidence in articulating your ideas to others.
3. Brush up on your skills
Finally, you want to make sure your product manager skills are in ship-shape. What skills really matter? The role of product management requires a diverse skill set but in our interviews with more than 15 ex-Google, Amazon, and Facebook PMs, a handful of common themes emerge: strong prioritization skills, technically fluent enough to work with engineers, analytically sound, strong communication skills, and a great product sense (as we discussed already).
Each PM candidate will approach the interviews with his or her own sets of strengths and weaknesses, so we recommend you assess where you stand and invest time to hone the skills you need the most work on. If you’re coming from a liberal arts or business background, you might need to brush up on your technical skills and make sure you’re comfortable conversing with engineers about building products. On the flip side, if you’re coming from a technical background, it makes sense to focus on skills you haven’t had as much of a chance to develop, like prioritization, communication or product sense.
A final note
If you’ve got PM interviews coming up, step one is: don’t get overwhelmed! By taking a page out of the product manager skill set, you can prioritize three core areas to dig into for your interview preparation and focus your efforts there. This will direct your efforts and help you allocate your time to different types of preparation. Finally, for additional insights on the product manager role, interviews and how to prepare, check out our Getting Started Guide here.
Kenton Kivestu is the Founder and CEO of RocketBlocks, an online platform that helps students prepare for case interviews. Prior to RocketBlocks, he launched online ad platforms at Google, led the Zynga mobile poker franchise and was a consultant at BCG's SF office. He started RocketBlocks to help candidates hone their skills and break into product management and consulting. Kenton graduated as an Echols Scholar with distinction from the University of Virginia and holds an MBA from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth.
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