The best way to prepare for Product Manager (PM) Interviews in 2021

The goal of this post is to explain how to prepare for Product Manager interviews. I will give an overview of the interview structure, dive deep into the 4 types of interview questions, a framework to answer each topic, and provide recommendations into books to read.

There are 4 types of questions in a PM interview:

  1. Product design questions (aka Product sense), e.g. “How would you improve Google Maps?”, “Design a fridge for blind people”, etc
    • This is by far the most important type of question for PMs. It’s also the question that causes the most rejections.
  2. Metrics (aka Product Execution), e.g. “What metrics would you track to determine if Google News is successful?”
  3. Strategy, e.g. “Which company should Facebook acquire?” or “If you were the VP of Windows, what would be your strategy to increase market share”?
  4. Technical questions, e.g. “Explain to me how Snapchat is architected”

Two Product Management books I would recommend:

  • Decode and Conquer: Answers to Product Management Interviews by Lewis Lin
  • Cracking the PM Interview: How to Land a Product Manager Job in Technology by Gayle Laakmann McDowell and Jackie Bavaro

Ok, now lets deep dive into the 4 types of questions..

Product Design (aka Product Sense) Questions

This is by far the most important question for Product Manager interviews. Most candidates are rejected, because they did not perform well in this question. Fortunately, it is also the most standardized one.

You’ll want to use the CIRCLES method for Product Design. This website does a great job going in depth about this particular topic.

Sorry, circle what? Don’t worry I’ll explain. Here’s a beautiful diagram from Lewis Lin’s (FYI, he’s a Product Management icon in the industry) page:

The goal of this approach is to design a product that:

  • solves the most important problem
  • for the most important use case
  • for the most important persona
  • that will lead to the optimization of the most important business goal

As part of our answer, we want to list some options for goals/personas/use cases/problems/solutions and prioritize them in order to find the most important one.

Product Design (aka Product Sense) Questions:

Question types

  1. Success questions: What metrics would you track to determine if <feature/design/product> is successful?
  2. Change questions: Engagement/Usage/Revenue for <product> is down by X%? What do you do?
  3. Prioritization questions: What features would you prioritize for <product>? (e.g. Facebook Messenger)

Metrics framework

In order to answer all the questions in this section, you will need to use a framework that describes the metrics for a product, such as:

  • AARM
    • Acquisition: How many customers sign up for the product
    • Activation: How many users have done at least one simple action (E.g. logged in)
    • Retention: How many users have used the products multiple times
    • Monetization: How many users have paid for the product

Example of a metrics question.) Uber ridership has decreased by 10 percent in China, how would you solve this problem? Leave a comment below if you have an idea on how to solve this one! Would love to hear your take on this problem.

Strategy Questions

Question types

The range of questions in this area in tremendous, which makes it very different to prepare for. I believe that this set of questions is the toughest of all, since it is very easy to get a question that haven’t prepared any frameworks for.

Some sample questions:

  1. CEO: You are the CEO of Uber. What would you do to Uber Eats to improve revenues by 50%
  2. Acquisition: Should Google buy Groupon?
  3. Market entry: Should Apple create an enter the electric vehicle market?
  4. Implications: What are the implications of Machine Learning in Snapchat?

For these questions, I use the following frameworks:

  • 5 C’s
    • Company
    • Competitors
    • Collaborators
    • Customers
  • Porter’s framework
    • Competitive Rivalry
    • Supplier Power
    • Buyer Power
    • Threat of Substitution
    • Threat of New Entry

Technical Questions

Before starting to prepare for technical questions, you should check if your target companies ask these types of questions. For example, engineering focused companies will ask architecture questions. A design focused company, may not ask for a technical deep dive into what happens when you upload a picture to Google Drive.

The goal of the technical interviews is to evaluate whether an interviewee can actively participate in technical discussions with Software Engineers. It is VERY important to build trust with your engineers.

The most popular type of question during a PM technical interview is a technical explanation, e.g.

  1. What happens when you type “www.google.com” in your browser?
  2. What happens when you upload a picture to Instagram? (explain the technical aspect)
  3. How does a search engine work?

I read everything, does this mean I’m ready to interview?

Firstly, nice job getting through all this material. I know firsthand how dense this can seem. Mock interviews help you test your knowledge and get feedback from another person.

Here is how you can find interviewers for mock interviews:

  • PM Interview practice community by Lewis Lin (free): Slack channel, where you can directly connect with other peers, who are studying for PM interviews
  • Pramp.com (free): This website connects you with other peers, who are also studying for interviews, so that you can all learn together
  • ThePmInterview (free): This site presents you with random questions and has a timer so that you can practice your answer. It is a great way to practice General, Behavioral and Estimation questions (you can select them using the filter on the right side of the screen), but there is no feedback for your answers
  • IGotAnOffer (paid): This website will match you with experienced PM interviewers, who have experience from top high-tech companies
  • Use your network: You can talk to other developers that you know (either from your own company, via LinkedIn, etc) and ask them to do a mock interview for you

Best of Luck! You got this, and I hope you do well on your PM interview. Please please please provide me with any feedback, happy to help in any way.

Cheers,

Nikki

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