Smart candidates know they need to prepare thoroughly for their product management interviews. However, most candidates focus their prep exclusively on answering questions and completely overlook the importance of preparing questions to ask their interviewers. In this post, I look at the value of asking great questions, cover a few strong sample questions and suggest some exercises to help you generate your own insightful questions.
The Cardinal sin: no Questions for Your Interviewers
Do not go into a product management interview without preparing questions for your interviewer. Just because your interviewer asks if you have any questions for them doesn't meanthat you're off the hook. Winging it or asking generic questions here can kill your chances at landing a product management job. But asking great questions can boost your chances of landing a role.Product managers value candidates who ask great questions because:
- It demonstrates that you have enough interest to think about the product and/or company in advance. If you can't be bothered to do that, interviewers will be skeptical that you'll put the required effort in on the job.
- A primary driver of success as a product manager is knowing which questions to ask: whether it's probing for insights from your customer base or evaluating the risks of a certain product decision with your engineering lead. Showing that you're asking the right questions of your interviewer is a strong signal that you'll have a knack for this on the job.
- Product managers often index highly on intellectual curiosity and therefore screen for this in interviews. Asking thoughtful, well-prepared questions during an interview is an easy way to demonstrate your unique curiosity in the role and the company.
A Starter List of Solid Questions to Consider
This is not a "one size fits all" exercise. The list below is simply a starting point. You should riff off of it, expand upon it, and craft questions tailored to the specific role you're interviewing for and your unique perspective.
Questions on the Product Management Organization and Company
How would you define the organization's product philosophy?
Each product organization has its own values and operating styles. Some companies are extremely quantitative and do detailed analysis and experimentation before launching anything (social gaming companies like Zynga for example), while others rely on product intuition and belief in what users want (Apple is famously intuition driven). There is no right answer but an infinite supply of different philosophies.
What's the most important skill for product managers in your organization?
Expectations of product managers at different companies (and even within companies) can vary tremendously. Some companies strongly prefer to hire product managers with a strong technical background (like Google), while others, like Amazon, put significantly more emphasis on core business skills (as a result, it recruits heavily from MBA schools).
What does the lifecycle of a regular feature look like?
Every company conceives, develops, and releases features differently. Understanding a representative example can be helpful to highlight what tactical responsibilities a product manager might take on. Picking a particular feature from the product you like and asking "can you tell me about the process to launch X?" can be very helpful.
How often do you ship?
At the end of the day, a product manager's job is to ship products. Cadence will vary depending on company, specific product, and the product's lifecycle. For example, products might need multi-year product cycles to ship (for hardware like Fitbit or Apple Watch) versus consumer apps which might ship weekly or even daily (like Facebook, Twitter, or Netflix). The day-to-day life of a product manager on those products will be vastly different.
Questions About the Product, Roadmap, and Industry
What are the improvements the product needs in the next five years?
The goal here is to learn about the product vision. While it's a simple question, it can help illuminate how set (or open) the high-level roadmap is, give insight into a company's unique take, and illuminate the clarity of thought (or lack thereof) in a product strategy.
What is the most contentious feature the product team currently debates building? What are the arguments for and against it?
This type of question can be useful to understand what key trade-offs the team wrestles with, and the nature of important features they're considering in the future. It's likely to yield an animated response from the interviewer (because they'll likely want to advocate their position on the feature).
If your product disappeared tomorrow, what would your customers use to fill the gap?
A question like this illuminates how the team thinks about their industry, the product's space within it, and their competitive set. Often, startups like to say "there is no competition", but it is rarely true in practice - customers almost always have a credible alternative (even if it's "do nothing").
What's the biggest risk to this product succeeding? What's being done to mitigate that?
This question tests if a company is self-aware about risks and has considered how to mitigate them.
Why is now the right time to be building this product in this industry?
It's not uncommon for tech companies to have the right idea but get the timing wrong. For a large tech company, this can be a waste of resources (think Google Wave), but for a startup, this can be fatal (Webvan). Understanding why the timing is right for product success is important.
Generating Additional Questions
The sample questions should have got you thinking. Below, I'll outline three different tactics which can help you create a robust, insightful list of questions to ask your interviewers.
Tactic #1: "Bang" on the Product and Take notes
Be a student of the product. Without doubt, this is the best way to generate a solid list of questions. Using the product heavily is a great forcing function for teasing out natural questions - because they're the same questions that customers will have. If you can't use the product yourself (maybe it's a specific enterprise solution), your next best option is to find potential or current users and interview them to learn more.Regardless of how you study the product, you want to conduct a deep dive (there's more detail on how to do this here). The byproduct of that exercise will be a greater understanding and open questions - which is exactly what you want!
Tactic #2: Model the Business and User Engagement
Build a model to explain how the product makes money and how users engage with the product.This process forces you to do two key things: 1) understand the key levers in the product and business and 2) make assumptions about pieces of info you don't know. For more on the process, here is a sample model our CEO put together in 2014for a role at delivery company Postmates.Inevitably, building a model will reveal gaps in your understanding: those gaps are great question material!
Tactic #3: Put on Your Investor "hat"
Product management is a high accountability role and requires a mindset of an owner: you need to be always thinking about what's broken, what could be better. The following exercise then is helpful: imagine the company you're interviewing for approached you and asked if you'd be interested in investing 100% of your life savings in them.What questions would you need to ask them and understand the answers to before you said yes? Again, that list of questions you generate will be gold.
Competition for product management roles is intense. Asking great questions is an overlooked, but extremely effective, tool to set yourself apart in the interview process. Better still, it’s a win-win process: the exercise of generating great questions builds your own knowledge and helps you prepare for the whole interview too.
- What technologies you've been working with the past 5 years?
- How do you stay fresh on new technologies and where the market is going?
- How would you describe your product roadmap process?
- How would people working for you describe your management style?
Some of the example questions I will be asking are: --What was your best resource in learning to be a product manager? --Have you ever ran into a situation where you were pigeon-holed into a certain field as a product manager simply because it's where you started?How do I ace my product manager interview? ›
The best way to prepare for your Product Manager interview is to practice, practice, practice. Create an action plan and ask a friend or peer to do a mock interview with you and go over potential questions. If possible, find an experienced Product Manager to go over interview questions with you.What are the four 4 critical skills of a Product managers? ›
- Writing Technical Requirements and Specs. Coming up with product optimizations and new product ideas is an integral part of a product manager's role. ...
- Conducting Market Research. ...
- Strategic Thinking. ...
- Excellent Oratory and Communication Skills. ...
- Excellent Negotiation Skills.
FAQs on product management challenges
Our research shows that the hardest parts of the job for many product managers are organizational comms, managing deadlines, team alignment, and balancing different responsibilities.
Aspiring PMs should consider three primary factors when evaluating a role: core competencies, emotional intelligence (EQ), and company fit. The best PMs I have worked with have mastered the core competencies, have a high EQ, and work for the right company for them.What are the top 3 qualities you have that would make you a good Product Manager? ›
Here are five of the many qualities that are important to making things happen and inspiring others.
- Empathy. ...
- Visionary. ...
- Strong Communicator – Verbally & Visually. ...
- Strategic Thinking. ...
Hiring managers usually ask candidates about their past experiences and how they would handle hypothetical product management scenarios. This helps them determine if candidates have what it takes to excel in the role, like the ability to accurately identify pain points and plan out a project's steps.What is your strongest skill set as a Product Manager? ›
- Critical Thinking And Analytical Skills. This is a must-have for any PM. ...
- Leadership And The Ability To Take Initiative. As with any management position, leadership skills are important for supporting and motivating your team. ...
- Flexibility. ...
- Problem-Solving. ...
- Time Management. ...
- Communication Skills.
There are three strengths that employers find particularly attractive in Product Manager candidates: The ability to make the company money. The ability to save the company money. The ability to save the company time.
During this initial conversation, you should expect the recruiter to cover typical resume and behavioral questions. For example, they'll likely ask you about your past experiences and how you've handled specific situations (i.e. “tell me about a time you…”).What are the 5 D's in product development? ›
Discover, Design, Develop, Deploy, Deliver TM
This is what we call the “5D vision of Product Management”. Product managers need to consider, plan, and execute in all 5 Dimensions to create great products.
It identifies the three primary areas of focus for product management, namely: Product discovery. Product Planning. Product Development.What are 3 characteristics of a high performing product management team? ›
- They are customer obsessed.
- Over communicate strategy and vision.
- Partner and influence.
- They are both strategic and tactical.
- Utilize data and their intuition to make decisions.
Lack of control in product development affects the effectiveness of a product manager. You as a product manager need to take the consensus of all other people associated with the product team before making any major decisions. This is another pain point that a Product manager goes through.What common mistakes are product managers most susceptible to? ›
- Trying to work backward from a preconceived solution.
- Substituting customer "wants" for true innovation.
- Misidentifying features or product specifications as benefits.
- Mistaking novelty for real value.
- Allowing communication gaps to compromise your vision.
As an example, many product managers lead with the weakness of “I wish I were more technical”, but it's rare that technical knowledge would fundamentally change the way that a product decision was made. We want to see that you understand where to focus your time, rather than just calling out random weaknesses.What is the highest salary for a product manager? ›
Salary Ranges for Product Managers
The salaries of Product Managers in the US range from $28,000 to $525,000 , with a median salary of $111,000 .
Improving the product innovation and management process and gaining consistency are top priorities.What is the most important thing a product manager does? ›
The most important thing a product manager does is “communicat[es] a clear vision and strategy. It's the only way to help the team create a product that serves the needs of both its target market and the business.
- AESTHETICS. ...
- ERGONOMICS. ...
- MATERIALS. ...
- MANUFACTURE. ...
- MODULARITY. ...
- SUSTAINABILITY. ...
- PROTECTION. ...
- PACKAGING & ASSEMBLY.
To sum it up, the most important KPI in product management is the customer. Using the above product management KPIs, you can be on top of the business' performance, product quality, customer satisfaction, customer usage, and so on.What value do product managers bring? ›
Summary. Product managers are valuable in today's workplace because they manage a product's lifecycle, taking ideas from the executive level and creating a strategy and guiding the execution of the product to market.What are the core competencies of a product manager? ›
- Coding and Understanding Web Development. ...
- Product Manager Competencies in Customer Service and Market Research. ...
- Microsoft Excel Expertise. ...
- Analytical And Critical Thinking Skills. ...
- The Ability to Lead and Take Initiative. ...
- Agile Methodology Expertise. ...
You will love Product management if you are a person with great vision. If you know how to break that vision into tangible chunks and layout a plan to fulfill that vision, you will be a good PM. If you are empathetic and can put yourself into customers shoes every time before you think, you will be a great PM.Is product manager a high level role? ›
Product managers are mid-level roles. While you don't necessarily have to have a direct product management background, you should have professional experience and demonstrable skills in communication, leadership, and strategy. Product managers are responsible for the strategy, roadmap, and features of a product.Is it stressful being a product manager? ›
With great responsibility, comes great stress. Due to its versatility, the role of a product manager is extremely challenging. Although this career is also very rewarding and fulfilling, it can often be frustrating for many reasons.Is being a product manager stressful? ›
Every day is different for a product manager. If you like structure and planned sprints for your tasks, product management may be an unpleasant and stressful job for you!What are the critical skills of product manager? ›
Product managers should have a solid understanding of the product life cycle, audience segmentation, the project management process and forecasting sales. Additional strategic thinking skills include problem-solving skills, mind-map software, risk management and goal orientation.What are 3 examples of weaknesses? ›
- Lack of knowledge of particular software.
- Public speaking.
- Taking criticism.
- Lack of experience.
- Inability to delegate.
- Lack of confidence.
Answer “what is your greatest weakness” by choosing a skill that is not essential to the job you're applying to and by stressing exactly how you're practically addressing your weakness. Some skills that you can use as weaknesses include impatience, multitasking, self-criticism, and procrastination.Why should we hire you product manager? ›
“I decided to apply for a product manager role with this organization because I'm attracted to the company culture. After looking into the company for a bit, I came to the understanding that you value putting quality products on the market, and you're looking for someone who also values the customer.
Each interview will last 30 to 45 minutes. Most of the interviewers you meet will be product managers, but occasionally you might also interview with an engineer who will assess your technical skills and ability to communicate with developers.What questions should I ask a senior product manager? ›
- What is the strategic vision for this product?
- How do you develop your product roadmap?
- How does product management work with executive leadership?
- What type of customer research do you conduct and how often?
- What do your customers say they love most (and least) about the product?
The VP of product management leads the product team at a company. In this role, you monitor a product from conceptualization through the planning and development. You develop new products, design and execute plans, test the product, and launch it on the market.What questions should I ask my VP of operations interview? ›
- What is the one thing you would change about the company if you could today? ...
- Tell me about your communication skills. ...
- What has motivated you in your career? ...
- How would you reorganize and restructure an organization that the company wanted to take in a completely new direction?
The VP of Product role is responsible for leading the product team and other cross-functional teams to achieve a product roadmap. This often involves creating the product vision, overseeing the product development, and working with other teams to launch and revise the product.Who is higher than a product manager? ›
A Chief Product Officer (CPO) is the most senior product person in an organisation. They usually manage more than one team of product managers and represent product in the C-suite or management team.Who gets paid more product manager or product owner? ›
One thing that can come into the equation when deciding who a company needs is salary. That can affect annual budgets and profit margins. A product owner makes on average $110K US per year and the product manager starts at $112K US. Learn more about product manager roles and salaries in this guide.How do I ace my VP interview? ›
- Talk about transferable skills, experience. ...
- Ask questions—lots of them. ...
- List accomplishments, but don't make it all about yourself. ...
- Take ownership of your mistakes. ...
- Personal agility. ...
- Show that you work well with others.
A third interview could mean that the hiring manager is close to making you an offer, or someone at a higher position wants to meet you.What questions should you ask when interviewing for a CEO position? ›
- What do you think our company's mission and vision are?
- What changes would you implement during your first year in the company? ...
- What would you do in your first 30 days as CEO of our organization?
- Who do you believe are our biggest competitors?
The VP of product is often considered a leader of people in the product management group and in the organization overall. They work closely with the c-suite, other senior stakeholders, and sometimes in smaller companies with the board of directors.How do you nail a VP interview? ›
- Be ready to show off specific accomplishments. ...
- Make them picture a future with you. ...
- Make it personal. ...
- Research the people you're speaking with. ...
- Practice storytelling. ...
- Prepare open-ended questions to create a dialogue. ...
- Reference past conversations.
Flexibility. A successful head of product must be comfortable dealing with a bit of uncertainty. The everyday workload will vary, and you need to be able to manage problems as they arise. A successful head of product will have the ability to prioritize based on what's important at the moment.