One of the major challenges of a product manager role at any company is the wide variety of responsibilities. Every day, PMs juggle a diverse set of tasks, from technical engineering discussions to meeting with key customers to help pitch a new beta. As a result, PM interviews test candidates across a vast range of skills.
Below, we cover the five key types of PM interview questions that you should expect to face—and that you’ll need to ace to get a PM job.
As a PM, you’ll be called on to make hundreds of decisions a week. Some will be quick, inconsequential decisions that can be easily reversed if they’re wrong, while others will require serious consideration, analysis, and discussion. It’s the latter category that drives interviewers to probe deeply on a PM candidate’s analytical skills.
Sample analytics questions include: “What metrics would you look at to measure success of product X?” and “If you learned that revenue was down 9 percent week over week on your product, how would you investigate what’s going on?”
Here, interviewers want to understand the analytical approach you bring to problem solving in a product environment. They want to know that you can successfully frame the challenge and propose a reasonable path for working through it.
One key part of a PM’s job is knowing which products and features to build. An integral skill in getting that right is estimating outcomes accurately. For example, if we built X, how many users would actually use that feature? How big is this new market? Is it worth it to launch a new offering in that space? To build these estimates, PMs rely on internal data, external benchmarks and, critically, their own judgment.
Sample estimation questions include: “How many photos get uploaded to Instagram in any given day?” and “How many scooters would Bird (the scooter company) need to satisfy all of the demand in Santa Monica?”
For example, to answer the first question, a PM might use a known estimate of Instagram’s user base (one billion monthly active users) and then make some assumptions about how many users engage daily, what percentage of users post photos, etc. Since PMs use these types of estimates frequently on the job, they’ll want to see that candidates can break down these questions easily and arrive at a directionally accurate number.
3. Product design
PMs are a driving force in deciding what gets built, the look and feel of what gets built, and the value that it offers to customers. Thus, PM interviewers will probe on this skill set in a variety of different ways. They will want to see that a candidate can propose interesting ideas and back them up with logical steps on how to build/improve a product experience.
Sample product design questions include: “What’s the best user experience you've had in a consumer mobile app, what made it great, and what you could build to make it even better?” and “How would you design a new to-do list app, and what would you build to help differentiate it from other products in the market?”
The key to approaching these questions is to structure your answer and successfully navigate from high-level concepts to nitty-gritty details that are critical for launching successful products. In addition, interviewers will want to know that you can not only propose a design that makes sense but also solve a clear customer pain point.
If PMs don’t need to code on the job, why do companies like Google and Facebook still assess candidates on technical ability? The answer is simple: PMs need to be technically fluent in order to communicate effectively with engineering teams. To do so, they need a base-level understanding of how technical products work and fit together.
Sample technical questions: “How does the Internet work—walk me through the steps of what happens when an address is entered into a web browser?” and “What is a database and how would you explain it your non-technical grandfather?”
On these questions, interviewers will be asking themselves: would our engineers be able to follow this explanation? Has the candidate just memorized an answer or can they easily answer follow-up questions? Ultimately, they’re trying to assess whether the candidate could have a productive conversation with an engineer about how to build a feature or triage a bug.
Finally, most PM interviews will include a series of behavioral examples to understand how a candidate will operate on the job. In particular, the behavioral questions that PM candidates get typically focus around leadership skills, collaboration skills, and cultural fit with the particular company.
Sample behavioral questions include: “Tell me about a time when you and your engineering lead disagreed on an approach; what was the disagreement about and how did you solve it?” and “How would you motivate an engineering team to complete a particularly challenging task on a tough timeline, and what are the key motivational tactics you'd rely on and why?”
Ultimately, interviewers are trying to understand if a candidate will have enough grit and drive to lead a team through all of the roadblocks that present themselves along the path from concept to launch (and beyond). And, when those roadblocks do present themselves, will they navigate them productively with a team or try to steamroll everyone?
Successfully answering this wide range of questions during the PM recruiting process is a significant challenge. Each candidate will approach the process with his/her own strengths and weaknesses—which is totally understandable. The most successful candidates typically find one to two areas to really shine in (e.g., incredible on product design and analytics) and then “clear the hurdle” in the other areas. The key to success is practicing each type of question and honing your skills, especially where you’re weakest.
If you’re preparing for PM interviews, our RocketBlocks PM prep product can help with real interview questions across each area, including sample answers from Google, Facebook, and Amazon PMs. And if you’re just beginning your PM job search, our Getting Started guide will help you ramp up quickly.
Kenton Kivestu is the Founder and CEO of RocketBlocks, an online platform that helps candidates prepare for 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 land their dream job as a PM or management consultant. 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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