Product Manager Interview Questions: What You Need to Know
Product manager interview questions are often intense, and with good reason: It’s an absolutely vital role within companies, and hiring managers want to thoroughly evaluate a candidate’s suitability. No matter how large or small the product, its success hinges on how well a product manager does their job.
Product manager roles will grow 10.1 percent over the next ten years, according to a projection by Burning Glass, which collects and analyzes millions of job postings from across the country. Currently, product managers are in high demand, with the average time needed to fill a role currently at 37 days. Median product manager salary is $92,461 (but can vary depending on skill-sets and experience).
Product managers oversee the launch and maintenance of apps and services; they often act as the conduit between teams and upper management, which places a premium on their “soft skills” such as communication and empathy. A hiring manager and/or a recruiter will probe all of these skills in the course of asking product manager interview questions.
According to a Burning Glass analysis of job postings, top skills for the role include:
In dealing with senior executives, product managers must also provide honest forecasting about launch timeframes, and proactively bring up any issues that arise. A discussion of how you dealt with such challenges is inevitably the focus of many product manager interview questions.
How should I prepare for a product manager interview?
Preparation is key to any job interview process, but when it comes to product managers, particular attention must be paid to the candidate’s experience and their ability to deal with complex and unexpected situations.
“First, the candidate should be able to speak clearly about their product management experience,” suggested Alex Willen, former product manager at TalkDesk and author of the book “The Product Management Interview: How to Find the Right Job as a Product Manager and Crush the PM Interview Process.”
“Inevitably, they will be asked questions about the core skills needed to be a product manager: communication, organization, ability to define a problem, the ability to take different inputs and make the best decision, as well as predictable challenges like, ‘What happens when you have multiple stakeholders that all want different things?’” Willen said. “A good candidate should have prepared answers that illustrate their strengths and provide examples of their experience with these topics.”
Aspiring product managers should educate themselves on the company and its products; many product manager interview questions will inevitably ask about that research. “They should be able to answer questions about the company and product,” Willen continued. “‘What would you change about the current product? Why? Why do you think that change hasn’t been made already?’ The candidate should also ask intelligent questions that shows they’ve done their homework.”
It helps to also be prepared with the perfect product manager resume that will showcase your skills and experience.
Why would you want a product manager job?
If you’re the kind of person who likes taking a big-picture approach to problems, dealing with many different kinds of challenges, and producing something that actually ends up in end-users’ hands, then a product manager position might just be for you. In short, it’s interesting and rewarding.
“A product manager gets a level of perspective within a company that few others outside of the executive team have,” Willen noted. Rather than just thinking about one thing, such as how to engineer a product or market it, they can consider the full scope of the product—from design to customer support and more.
That holistic view gives product managers a real say in a company’s strategic outcomes. They must think of the “big picture” at all times.
How do I succeed in a project manager interview?
Two potentially frustrating components come into play for job-seekers when it comes to project manager interview questions: experience and soft skills. Nor are those the only things that matter.
“Having the right level of experience for the level of the job (a senior product manager should have worked on more than one product from creation to launch, for instance), as well as the general soft skills required for the job” are vital, according to Willen.
Domain expertise is often important as well. A product manager for a hardware company has a different set of concerns than their professional equivalent at an enterprise software firm, for instance. During the product manager interview questions, domain expertise and the needs of a particular industry will often come up. For example, product management for consumer software (such as games) might involve lots of focus-testing and marketplace awareness, whereas enterprise software usually requires a product manager’s awareness of cybersecurity and privacy issues.
“Finally, there is culture fit,” Willen added. “I don’t mean whether the candidate is someone the interviewer would want to have a beer with, but rather whether it’s someone who will be able to work well in the management, structure and processes of the company.”
For example, Willen has spent much of his career at “relatively small startups,” so he focuses on whether candidates have worked in that sort of environment before. “At an early-stage company, product managers operate with significant autonomy and a lack of structure,” he added. “They also often have to pick up slack where needed—there may not be a project manager or enough marketing help, in which case the PM needs to step up and take care of those things. Before hiring someone from a large company, we want to make sure that they don’t need to be in a highly structured environment to succeed.”
How do I answer why I’m the best candidate for a product manager job?
Product managers are entrepreneurial in spirit. That doesn’t mean they need to constantly be launching “the next big thing,” but they do enjoy progress and seeing things brought to life. If you’re asked during the course of the product manager interview questions why you want the job, and what makes you the best candidate, you can always point them to your teamwork abilities, as well as how you can take a big-picture perspective on a particular problem.
Jorge Perdomo, founder of goTenna, a decentralized-communications startup, added: “If you want the opportunity to be super creative and have an outsized impact on an organizations success, the product manager role is for you. But just like in Spiderman, with great power comes great responsibility.”
In other words, tech companies’ success hinges entirely on the quality of their products. “Unless you have a massive network effect, there is little to no barrier to entry for someone to replace you,” Perdomo added, “so you have got to be on your game all the time. But the reward at the end is commensurate with the pressure in getting there.”
Every team within a company plays a crucial role—the sales team actually sells it, the engineering team builds the code and components, and so on—but product management is the glue that brings it together. Per Perdomo: “If sales/marketing is desire and engineering is execution, then product is invention/creation.”
Someone passionate about the product and industry are also important; to appear as the best candidate for the role, you must exhibit that passion during the product manager interview questions.
For example, if you’ve spent a few years as a product leader for artificial intelligence services, your passion for A.I. is a positive trait. Other A.I. firms will look for someone like you, especially if you demonstrate that you can answer questions and find solutions before a c-suite executive even asks.