Product management interviews can be daunting. You’ll receive a wide range of questions, you’re expected to have a high level of expertise, and you’ll likely have to meet with a variety of functional experts—from designers to engineers to customer support professionals.
An emerging field
Twenty years ago, you’d have to work hard to find a single person with the title product manager. But today, Google and Amazon have thousands of PMs helping conceive, build, launch, and iterate on their products. Also today, the growth of the field has outpaced the standardization of interview best practices, which puts aspiring PMs in a tough place.
31 flavors of interviews
Due to this lack of standardization, PM interviews can feel a little bit like the famous ice cream joint, Baskin Robbins: there’s 31 flavors (or even more). Which is to say that every company has a slightly different flavor of PM interviews they like to use.
Some companies, like Uber, prefer to test candidates on product cases, which dive into a company specific problem that the candidate needs to collaboratively work through and solve (e.g., similar to a case interview that consulting firms like McKinsey and BCG use).
On the other hand, companies like Google give their interviewers a wide remit to ask whatever questions they feel most appropriate to gauge a candidate’s fit, which can lead to a seemingly scattershot list of questions covering a wide range of topics.
And then there’s Amazon, which has yet another flavor: it prefers to focus all questions on testing the candidate’s fit for their 14 leadership principles.
This range of styles can make preparing for PM interviews extremely stressful: how exactly should a candidate prepare for interviews, especially if they’re planning to interview with two, three, or even more companies?
A skills-based approach
There is some good news, though. Despite many different interview styles, product management leaders at companies like Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Uber, and Stripe agree that there is a common set of core skills that matter.
Tanya Koshy, whose been a PM at Google, Facebook, and Groupon, and now leads product at UserTesting, put it this way: “You often face a pretty standard set of interviews that test 1) product sense and strategy, 2) analytical skills, and 3) your execution skills. Technical skills are tested, too, depending on the role and company.”
For aspiring PMs, this is extremely helpful because it means that rather than going through a bunch of bespoke, custom preparations for each individual PM interview, they can focus on building a core set of skills that are likely to crop up in every single PM interview, even if the framing of them is different.
So, what skills really matter? At the end of day, the vast majority of PMs are assessing candidates on this core set of skills:
- Product design and strategy: does the candidate know to how to design a product, create a cohesive experience, and position it in the market?
- Analytical ability: does the candidate know the right questions to ask and will they be capable of using data and logic to drive their decisions?
- Technical ability: is the candidate capable of earning the trust of their engineering counterparts?
- Execution: can the candidate role up his/her sleeves and get things done?
- Communication: are they a strong communicator who can effectively act as a hub for a product organization and keep everyone aligned, motivated, and on-schedule?
At the end of the day, every product manager interview is different. Even within companies, the style can vary significantly from interview to interviewer.
But, aspiring PMs can take comfort that regardless of the form the interview takes, the same set of underlying skills is what’s being tested and focusing on those skills is the best way to prepare.
If you’re interested in a deep dive on the product management interview, including a detailed discussion around the core skills and sample interview questions from leading companies like Google and Amazon, check out the Demystifying the PM Interview webinar.
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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