Looking to prepare for Product Manager interviews but don’t know where to start? Don’t worry, you’ve come to the right place!
This article summarizes all you need to know about Product Manager Interviews – from recruitment criteria, interview process, interview question types, to instant performance-hacking interview tips. Of all these parts, I deep-dived into interview question types by explaining the logic behind each type and showing you detailed steps to tackle them. Let’s dive in!
As Product Managers are responsible for creating new products or features that fulfill both customers’ needs and key business objectives, at the minimum, recruiters look for candidates who exhibit intuition for customer needs, and can combine it with data insights to make informed product decisions.
In addition to these basic skills, other criteria include: exceptional problem-solving skills, prioritization skills, leadership skills, strategic decision-making skills, and design thinking. Of course, you’re also expected to understand the organization you’re applying to and their products.
Before going into Product Manager interviews, you should have a clear understanding of what Product Managers do, and what separates the average from the exceptional, which I cover below. I’ve also linked to two insightful articles going more in-depth into the roles and qualities of great Product Managers.
No.1: What do Product Managers do?
A Product Manager (PM) creates new products or features by first identifying customers’ needs and key business objectives. Based on these criteria, they design a vision of success for the product or feature, then assemble a team to realize this vision. While Product Managers oversee many steps of the process, from research, design, testing, to go-to market strategies, their key function is to decide what to build and in what order.
So what does it take to become a great Product Manager?
No.2: What makes a great Product Manager?
At the minimum, every Product Managers should be able to (1) draw customer insights through customer research (customer knowledge), (2) make data-driven decisions (data proficiency), and (3) create clear product requirements that match the capabilities of their team members (product requirements). Great product managers exhibit exceptional problem-solving skills, prioritization skills, leadership skills, strategic decision-making skills, and design thinking, in addition to these foundational skills.
Source: What makes for a good product manager
At large tech companies (Google, Facebook, Amazon), the Product Manager interview process typically lasts 2 weeks. Most companies require four interview rounds: Phone screening (15 minutes), video interviews (45 minutes each), take-home assignment (3-6 hours to complete), and on-site interviews (45 minutes each). You should expect additional coding interviews at some companies.
Round 1: Phone screening (15 minutes)
The purpose of this round is to filter out candidates who do not meet the minimum requirements of the job. Often, an HR team member will contact you for a 15-minute call, and ask questions pertaining to your background/ resume. The screener may also discuss job requirements and inquire about your expectations for the job. The phone screening will unfold more in a conversational manner than an interview manner.
Round 2: Video interviews (45 minutes each)
If you’re deemed a right fit, you’ll go through one or more rounds of video interviews that last around 45 minutes each, usually with your potential manager. The interviewer will often assess your skills and experiences against specific job requirements in this round. Questions for PMs will usually fall into the following categories: behavioural, technical, analytical, product sense, and strategy.
Round 3: Take-home assignments (3-6 hours to complete)
If you successfully pass your video interviews, you’ll be given take-home assignments, consisting of 3-4 questions, which you’ll typically submit before the on-site interviews. A typical take-home assignment presents several product problems, sometimes with associating data packs for highly data-oriented roles. There are three main types of problem-solving questions in take-home assignments: behavioural questions, product design/improvement questions (case-based), and analytical questions.
Round 4: On-site interviews (45 minutes each)
Finally, you’ll go through on-site interviews – the most decisive part of the interview process. This is basically an interactive version of the take-home assignments, containing case-based problem-solving questions that evaluate your analytical problem-solving abilities.
Afterall, what Product Managers do is essentially persistent problem-solving. Below, I broke down the different problem-solving question types frequently asked in Product Manager interviews. We’ll look at the logic behind each question and how you can approach them. Let’s dive in!
Now that you are clear about Product Manager interviews’ expectations and process, let’s look at the different types of frequently asked questions in on-site interviews. Broadly, there are two main categories of interview questions – problem-solving questions and behavioural questions.
Below, I further broke down the problem-solving questions category into two types (type 1, type 2, type 3). This is because each type tests different skills, has different logic, and hence different approaches. For each type of question, we will look at what different skills are tested, some example questions, and how to tackle each question type. What is the share of each question type?
Type 1: Product design and/or improvement questions
This question type tests your creative problem solving ability, analytical thinking, and communication skills. When asking these questions, interviewers mainly assess your problem-solving process, or how you approach the problem. This is similar to case interviews, the type of interview used by management consulting firms.
Oftentimes, you will not be given questions in familiar areas, such as “Design a new food-ordering app”. Companies often choose areas out of your comfort zone to observe how you react to new product problems, and how creative you are with the solutions.
1.2. Sample questions:
For example, here are a few product design questions often asked at Google and Facebook, according to Glassdoor:
- Design a navigation product for blind people
- Design an app for the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV)
- Design a pen for an astronaut
- Design a phone for deaf people
- Design a dictionary lookup for scrabble
- Design an app for a community of Celiac’s disease patients
- Design a bike-based delivery service
- Design an elevator
- Design an alarm clock
- Design a new computer keyboard
- Design Google radio
- Design Google search
- How would you improve Facebook?
- How would you improve Google Pay?
- How would you improve coffee machines used in offices?
- How would you improve throughput at an airport?
- Pick your favorite app. How would you improve it?
1.3. How to tackle:
For this question type, interviewers will most likely want to see a structured and coherent answer. Because you’ll likely be given difficult questions, a well-structured, clearly-communicated answer shows your ability to think analytically, solve challenging problems, and deliver solutions under time-pressure.
Whenever you need to structure an answer, I recommend using frameworks. A word of warning: always customize frameworks to the specific question asked, and never mention the framework’s name (framework-vomiting) in actual interviews. Otherwise, you’ll come out as extra rigid and bookish.
Specific to the product design/improvement question type, you should follow the 3-step BUS framework, which stands for Business Objective, User Problems, and Solution. The approach here is to start with the business objective in mind, analyze user problems, then recommend solutions.
Step 1: (B) Business objective:
Whether you’re designing a new product or improving a product feature, the first step is to clearly understand what the business is trying to achieve, or knowing the overall business objectives. Designing a new product with clear business goals in mind ensures that it will satisfy these goals.
For example, suppose the interviewer asks you to redesign an app for deaf people, what clarification questions relating to business objectives should you ask? Here are three:
- Why does redesigning this app matter to the business? Is the current state of the app affecting revenue, or cost?
- How do we know that’s a problem? (low conversion/retention/engagements, etc?)
- What are the business expectations for product redesign? (increase engagement/ downloads/retention, ect?)
- Do we already have a target user in mind or is that something we should explore/discuss?
Step 2: (U) User problems:
The second step when designing/ improving a product is to identify possible user problems. And I’m talking about the big, fundamental problems, not the symptomatic ones. For example, if you’re asked “How do you improve Gmail”, a big problem to look at should be storage, not the fonts or sidebar colors.
It’s also not very effective to list out user problems in an unstructured fashion. Instead, you should approach them with the following steps:
- #1. Select a user type: identify the different types of user for your product and select one that is causing the business problem. You can find these answers by doing user interviews, ethnographic studies, diary studies, quantitative metrics, etc.
- #2. Identify user problems: after selecting your user type, list out some problems you believe this type of user is facing. You can confirm your beliefs using the methods mentioned above. It’s important to understand what really constitutes these problems by being aware of surface-level problems.
- #3. Prioritize user problems: finally, you should prioritize user problems using some kind of metric, for example, how painful the problem is to your selected group of users.
Step 3: (S) Solution:
Keep in mind that if at this point the B or U of your framework is wrong, your solution is almost guaranteed to fail. If you don’t fully understand what problem you’re solving, you will most likely make something nobody wants!
After having a clear picture of what you’re trying to solve and achieve, you can generate solutions by following these three steps:
- List solutions: draw a table with two columns, one listing the problems you’ve identified and one listing out potential solutions for each problem.
- Prioritize solutions: a common way to prioritize solutions is to grade each of them on two criteria: (1) how much value they would deliver for the user, (2) and how easy they are to implement. After deciding on solutions, you should also talk about tradeoffs – the forgone benefits of other solutions that you did not choose.
Type 2: Analytical questions (market sizing and/or guesstimate questions)
The purpose of this question type is to test your analytical thinking skills. As a Product Manager, you’ll constantly make decisions based on reports, numbers, data, surveys, especially at the beginning research process, which requires analytical skills.
2.2. Sample questions:
Before moving on, I highly recommend you to check out this video where I explain everything you need to know about estimation questions. With that said, here are some examples of market-sizing and guesstimation questions:
Example market-sizing questions:
- How many pick-up trucks are sold in the USA each year?
- What is the total annual sales of the global laptop market?
- What is the size of the second-hand car market in Japan?
- How much revenue does your favorite restaurant make each month?
- If you open a lemonade stand, how much money can you get from it?
Example guesstimate questions:
- How many tennis balls can fit inside a Boeing 747?
- How many trees are there in Manhattan’s Central Park?
- How many bottles of champagne are there in France right now?
- How many weddings are being performed in New York at the moment?
- How many liters of white paint does it take to paint the White House?
2.3. How to tackle:
There are 4 steps to answer market-sizing and guesstimate questions, which I briefly summarize below. Alternatively, check out the comprehensive guide here.
Step 1: Clarify all unclear terms in the question to make sure you’re on the same page with the interviewer on every detail of the question
Step 2: Break the number down into 3-5 small, easy-to-estimate pieces
Step 3: Estimate each piece using math and background knowledge
Step 4: Consolidate the pieces to arrive at the final result
These steps will only make sense under the context of a problem, so I’ll walk you through each step using the following example. Let’s assume you’re asked this question:
What is the smartphone market size in Germany?
The first step is to clarify the ambiguous points. In the given example, at least four points need to be clarified.
- What is a smartphone?
- What is the unit of measurement?
- What is the timeframe to measure the market size?
- At which point in time is the market size measured?
For the sake of demonstration, suppose we receive these clarifications:
- A smartphone is a phone exclusively using a touchscreen, i.e without a physical keyboard.
- The unit of measurement is the number of smartphones sold to end consumers.
- The timeframe used is annual.
- The question concerns the German market size at present.
The second step is to break the problem down into pieces small enough to estimate reasonably. Each small piece has to be easier to estimate than the big piece – if you can’t estimate the small pieces, you’re not breaking down enough, or you’re doing it wrong.
In the example question, we can break down the “number of smartphones sold to end consumers” into four determinants:
- The size of the German population
- The percentage of mobile phone owners within the German population.
- The percentage of smartphone owners within German mobile phone owners.
- The average lifespan of smartphones in Germany.
The growth of the market will not be included because Germany’s population is stable and the smartphone market there is already saturated.
The third step is to solve each piece independently.
Here are some quick guesstimates for the German smartphone market:
- Germany’s population is 80 million
- The percentage of mobile phone owners is 80% (assuming German life expectancy is 80, the population is evenly distributed across age groups and they own mobile phones from age 15)
- The percentage of smartphone owners is 95% (assuming only 5% own mobile phone owners choose a “keyboard phone” since Germany is a developed country)
- The average lifespan of smartphones in Germany is 2.5 years (so the average consumer “uses” 0.4 phones every year)
In the fourth step, we will use calculations to consolidate the pieces into one final answer. Quick mental math is essential for this step – if your math is too slow, you will bore the interviewer to death. I wrote a separate article to help you with just that.
Here are the calculations for the example:
- Germany’s population: 80 million
- The number of mobile phone owners: 80 million x 80% = 64 million
- The number of smartphone owners: 64 million x 95% = 60 million
- Total annual unit sales of smartphone in Germany: 60 million x 0.4 = 24 million
In reality, 22.9 million smartphones were sold in Germany in 2020.
Getting this close is good, but in a real case interview, don’t try too hard to get the right number. I repeat: the only thing that matters is a structured approach.
Getting this close is good, but in a real case interview, don’t try too hard to get the right number. I repeat: the only thing that matters is a structured approach.
Type 3: Product strategy and roadmap questions
A product roadmap encapsulates the product strategy. It showcases how the organization will implement plans. Hence, product roadmap & strategy questions ask you to (1) set product vision for key user problems and (2) roadmap to deliver it.
These questions assess your ability to think through the wide range of aspects good PMs need to take into account when making product decisions. This includes competition, pricing, marketing, time to market, etc. Interviewers will expect you to take a structured approach to these aspects and be creative.
3.2. Sample questions:
- Imagine you’re a PM of Flipkart, can you build a 6-month or a 12-month roadmap for this product with your vision given what you know about payments products?
- Google has invented a technology that makes air travel 4x cheaper and 4x faster. What do you do with it?
- You are the CEO of company X. What new products would you launch and why?
- How would you increase the number of users on Youtube?
- If you were CEO of Microsoft, how would you increase usage for Internet Explorer?
- How would you prevent cyberbullying on Reddit?
- Why is Android strategic for Google?
- Tell me about a competitive move by a company in the past six months and what you think about it
- Should Samsung enter the gaming console market?
- Why is Google well-positioned for emerging markets?
- Should Google go into the ridesharing market?
3.3. How to tackle
Strategy questions basically ask you to do two things: (1) develop a vision for your product with good justifications and (2) describe the steps to realize that vision. This is equivalent to answering two questions: (1) “What is your product vision and why?” and (2) “How are you going to implement that vision?”.
Sometimes, the answer to the first question is given and your job is to figure out the second, but sometimes you need to answer both. Here’s how you can approach each question:
- For the first question, the key is to base your vision on the most pressing user problems, i.e. you need to prioritize key user problems. Two factors to logically think about prioritization are “how much impact is this going to have on my user” vs “what are the difficulties in implementing a solution”.
- For the second question, the key is to not worry too much about the implementation timeline. Instead, focus on visualizing every step of your product implementation plan in a structured manner. I recommend drawing an issue tree as you explain your roadmap to the interviewer. Issue trees are great visualization tools, and will make your solutions sound instantly structured.
For example: A restaurant business wishing to increase its profitability may look into the following ideas:
Type 4: Behavioural questions
In Product Manager interviews, behavioural questions are meant to assess whether a candidate exhibits the required traits to perform well in the role of a Product Manager. Additionally, they will also evaluate a candidate’s fit with the company culture and values (such as leadership ability or achieving mindset).
4.2. Sample questions:
Examples of behavioural Product Manager interview questions are:
- Tell me about a time when you used data to influence/persuade people.
- In layman terms, describe your day to day activities as a Product Manager.
- How would you keep Developers working on a product motivated and turning out quality work?
- You are a PM and you are about to enter the product launch meeting with all stakeholders. How would you prepare for that meeting?
- Tell me a time when you influenced engineering to build a particular feature.
- Describe a complex topic like I’m a high school student. Assume I don’t know anything about it.
- Tell me about a time you failed as a product manager.
- What product would you build if I were to write a blank check for an idea you have?
- Tell me about a time you had a disagreement with a team member.
- How do you know when to cut corners to get a product out the door?
- What is the toughest problem that you have solved as a Product Manager?
- How did you turn an adversary into a confidant?
4.3. Three tips to tackle:
When it comes to behavioural Product Manager questions, the key is to implicitly exhibit the well sought-after product manager traits I outlined above. Broadly, there are three instant tips you can apply:
- Prepare stories, not questions: Many candidates make the mistake of preparing on a per-question basis, i.e listing out the possible questions and the corresponding answers/stories. A much better approach would be to prepare 3-4 detailed, all-round, refined stories exhibiting all the required attributes, then fine-tune the stories according to the interviewer’s questions.
- Implicitly show your product manager traits: To prepare your stories, compare your past experiences with common product manager traits, along with personal values you’re most proud of. Then, select the stories best reflecting those traits and values. You want to show that your values and experiences perfectly match what recruiters look for.
- Use the STAR method: STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result. By structuring your answer based on these four criteria, your answers will sound more structured, logical, and easy for listeners to follow.
Below are the five tips you can apply to instantly improve performance in Product Manager interviews. These are the tips drawn from the “how to tackle” section for each question type above, and can be applied to any problem-solving questions you’ll encounter. Let’s dive in!
Tip 1: Ask for time-out to outline your answers
Whenever you’re asked a product design question or a guesstimate question, avoid answering right away. Instead, ask for a timeout to think through and/or draft your approach to the question. After that, walk the interviewer through the details of your approach. In candidate-led consulting case interviews, we call this “case-opening”. Learn the formula to perfectly open any case here.
Throughout the interview, interviewers might also ask questions to which good answers require careful thinking. In these situations, it’s always a good idea to ask for time-out to ensure your answers are always structured and logical, which signals good communication skills.
Tip 2: Number your items and keep them MECE
When tackling problem-solving questions, you’ll likely encounter two steps (as detailed above): problem listing and solution-listing. For list answers like these, two useful tips you can apply right away is to (1) number each item and (2) keep all items MECE.
First, numbering each item not only makes your answers sound instantly structured, but also makes the items easier to keep track of. Second, keeping all items MECE means ensuring that none of your listed items overlaps, and all of them combined creates a whole. By keeping your items MECE, you avoid repetition and missing items.
MECE is one of those defining concepts of the consulting world, and has applications everywhere. If you’re not familiar with this concept, I highly recommend checking out this comprehensive article, or this video for better visualizations.
Tip 3: Ask clarification questions
For all problem-solving question types, always make sure to thoroughly understand the problem you’re about to solve. Do so by asking clarification questions before moving on. Often, the best practice is to ask three questions:
1. What’s the objective?
2. What’s the timeline required?
3. Any quantified or well-described goals?
You can scroll back to the “how-to-tackle” section of question type 1 and type 2 for clarification question examples for each type. But to demonstrate my point, let’s suppose we are presented with a problem: “Dave lost his car key”. In tackling this problem, be sure you’re crystal clear about the following points:
1. Objective: Dave in fact just needs to be able to use the car.
2. Timeline: this is an urgent need. Dave is happy only if we can help him within the next hour.
3. Specificity: help the client put his car into normal operation like before he lost the key.
Tip 4: Pause frequently to summarize
Another useful tip is to pause frequently, summarize what you’ve done, where you are, and how you’re going to proceed in solving the given problem.
Problem-solving during interviews can often be stressful, especially in cases where you must process large amounts of information. It’s not uncommon for even the brightest candidate to derail from the objective or forget what they’ve just calculated.
Pausing frequently to summarize gives you a sense of direction and authority while making it easier for the interviewer to follow your case progress. It also makes you sound organized and systematic – a definitive trait of good communicators– and interviewers will love it!
Tip 5: Prepare a script in advance
Finally, it is best to prepare a personal script in advance, especially the part right after the interviewer gave you a problem-solving question. This is the time to deliver a perfect 3-minute case opening that leaves a good impression throughout the interview.
Here’s an example of a good personal script for the product design problem. Use the script after you’ve received the question:
The first step in solving any problem is to make sure we solve the right one, so before diving into the problem, I would like to ask a few clarification questions to make sure we’re both on the same page, and announce my overall case approach.
<wait for answers>
Thank you for the clarification. Is there anything else I should be aware of?
<wait for answers>
Thanks for all the insights. It’s great that we all agree on the key details.
For the overall approach to this case, I will start by looking at the business objectives behind this product design decision. After that, I will identify potential problems that our users are facing, then prioritize which problems to tackle first based on two metrics – (1) how much value they would deliver for the user, (2) and how easy they are to implement. From that knowledge, I will develop solutions for each problem. Does that approach sound reasonable to you?
<assumes the interviewer agrees with your approach>
It’s great to see that we’re on the same page regarding the key details as well as the overall approach to the case. I do need some time to gather my thoughts, so may I have a short timeout?