Every company has become a technology company in a way and this has led to an explosion of digital services and products being produced in the market. In a technology company, products are the central core of the organisation around which all the functions revolve and all customer touch points, support activities, marketing channels, distribution value chains are linked to. Success of the product defines success of organisations. This has led to massive interest in the field of product management. The role of Product Management has become a quintessential career choice among people from varied disciplines such as design, copywriting, engineering, management, psychology etc.
Given the importance of product and such wide variety of skill sets required to build it, it is very important to make sure that you have some of the smartest people responsible for it. But being a product manager is often quite misunderstood and if you go ahead and ask 10 different people about the roles and responsibilities of a Product manager, you will surely get 10 different answers. The reality is that the roles and responsibilities of a PM varies a lot based on what specific part of product is the PM handling and what business metrics is he responsible for. As Ben Horowitz nicely puts it that being a product manager is like ‘being a CEO of the product’.
Since it is such a cross functional role overlapping so many disciplines and functions, it becomes very difficult for companies to hire the right candidates for the job. Senior management finds it very difficult to focus on what set of skills should they be testing the candidate for and specifically what questions should they be asking while conducting an interview for the role. Companies like Amazon, Google, Facebook who hire aggressively for position of product managers have their own playbooks and frameworks to evaluate candidates for the role.
Although product managers don’t need to have any specific background, but experience, skills and knowledge about these core areas are fundamental for any candidate :
- Product - Does the candidate have the knowledge of digital products.
- Business - Does he have the right business acumen
- Industry - Does he have some contextual knowledge about the specific industry of the product
- Technical - Does he have a technical bent of mind
- Leadership and Execution - Does he have the right leadership, management and execution skills.
So effectively a product manager is the champion of the product who constantly feeds the voice of customer back into internal team efforts and works together collaboratively with a cross functional team spanning engineering, marketing, sales and support to deliver differentiated business value to customers based on their needs.
Now lets take a look at what sort of interview questions should you be asking to potential product management candidate to see their fit for the role.
Design is the core integral part of product management role. Although the Product manager doesn't necessarily have to be good with hands-on design per se, but he should be able to differentiate between good design and bad design. You can ask some of these question to see where he stands on design skills and knowledge.
- What tools do you use for wire-framing and feature design ?
- How do you know if a particular design is “done” ?
- What makes a good design ?
- Can you critique on the design of our company’s homepage ?
- What is difference between UX and UI ?
- What is difference between material design and skeuomorphic design ?
- What process will you use to design a new web page for app ?
- What is cognitive overload ?
A product manager should know as much about promoting and marketing a product as much he should know about building it. Here is a list of questions to test marketing knowledge for product management candidate.
- What all channels of marketing do you know of ?
- How will you increase the adoption of a newly launched feature within a product ?
- What would be on your content promotion checklist for company blog ?
- What online niche communities are you part of ?
- What does your product launch checklist look like ?
- How do you gauge search volume for particular keywords ?
- What tactics will use to increase the open rates of product email campaign ?
- What steps will you take to build out an outreach marketing strategy ?
- How would you plan and execute a marketing event for our product ?
- How will you scale our inbound marketing efforts ?
- What factors will you analyse to determine the market positioning for a new product ?
- How do you start a developer evangelism program for our apps marketplace ?
- What can you tell about product adoption lifecycle ?
- Which online marketing blogs or podcast do you consume ?
- What is engineering as marketing ? Give us some good examples of it.
- How do you drive cross promotion of a new product to our current app users ?
- How will you go about setting an email drip campaign ?
Out of all the skills required for role of product manager, User Science is probably one of the most important and difficult to acquire skill. It requires candidate to have empathy towards users and capture it quantitatively and qualitatively through various tools to gauge people’s needs and their behaviours. Some questions you can ask during product management interview to test out user science skills of candidate.
- What is user persona ?
- What tools will you use for collecting user feedback ?
- What is the difference focus groups and 1:1 interviews ?
- How would you conduct a survey for new product category we are trying to enter ?
- How can you leverage customer support for getting customer feedback ?
- What are some of the biases that come into play while talking to customers ?
- What is difference between user intent and user behaviour ?
All product management decisions should be led by data and analytics. To build hypotheses based on user behavioural data and validating it through analytics, requires a strong analytical bent of mind. Here is a list of product manager interview questions for analytics.
- What are some common analytics tools for digital products ?
- How will you conduct an A/B Test ?
- What is cohort analysis ?
- What are top 3 metrics you would like to track in our product ?
- What is logo churn ?
- What is net negative revenue churn state ?
- Which tools would you use for log data mining ?
- Describe an incident when you used data to make a decision.
- Tell me about a business or product metric that you were responsible for and how you went about attaining it.
Pricing plays a critical role in determining that the product resonates with the target customers. And for ultimate success of the product, the Lifetime value of the customer acquired should be multiple times higher as compared to customer acquisition cost. So pricing is a science which requires constant tweaking and intricate understanding of product financials and positioning. Here is how you can test candidate’s knowledge about same.
- How would you drive expansion revenue from existing users ?
- How do you determine pricing for a software product ?
- What are different product levers you can use to drive expansion revenue ?
- What steps will you take to increase ARPU ?
- What does Payback period depend upon ?
- Can you briefly describe pros and cons of various pricing models for software products ?
- What are the advantages of tiered pricing structure ?
- What are the advantages of per user pricing model ?
- How will you increase conversion of customer from free trial to paid customers ?
- How do you calculate CAC ?
- What is Lifetime Value ?
- What is value based pricing ?
- What is blended CAC ?
Part of job of PM is to make sure that product releases ship out in time and how is the resource allocation optimised for maximum efficiency. To judge a candidate for his project/product management skills you can ask following questions in the interview.
- How do you prioritise backlog features ?
- Which all software development methodologies are you familiar with ?
- What is Continuous Delivery ?
- What is Agile Development ?
- What do you think is the ideal sprint length ?
- What is difference between epics and user stories ?
- You have a release deadline approaching, will you cut corners or push ahead the deadline ?
- How do you identify and resolve issue blockers ?
- What is sprint velocity ?
- What is sprint turndown chart ?
Product execution deals with actual intricacies of building the product and delivering the features tactically. Here is a list of questions to test the candidate’s product execution skillset.
- Tell me about an on-boarding process of an app you love and why ?
- What are key tenets of a self serve software application ?
- How will build a quick feature POC to test viability ?
- How will build an Alexa version of our product ?
- We need to convert our legacy web app into SPA, how will you go about it ?
- Describe user invitation process of your favourite app and tell us how can you improve it.
- What will be the sequence of mails you will send ands at what instance during onboarding ?
- Sketch out an analytics dashboard module for our app.
Every day roles and responsibility of a product manager will include resolving conflicts between various parties. How does he manoeuver the conflict to keep the focus on an efficient resolution, understand various points of stance and reach a consensus which all parties support.Here is a list of interview questions for product management role to test his conflict management and negotiation skills.
- Your immediate senior wants a feature to be done in a certain way and all of your team wants it to be done other way, how will you go about solving this conflict ?
- Engineering team needs to work on a new a feature and design team is not ready with designs yet. What will you do in this situation ?
- Is consensus always a good thing?
- “How do you make decisions when disagreeing with exec team members or key stakeholders? How do you manage conflict in these situations?”
- Sales team wants to add a major feature for an important deal which you think shouldn't be built, how will you handle this situation ?
- A large loyal customer is asking for customisations which you cannot provide as core product offering, how will you explain it to them ?
- Your CEO wants new features which doesn’t align with product roadmap, how will you handle him?
- One developer keeps pushing commits which is breaking the build, how do you solve this situation ?
Technical expertise or background really helps for product managers to write holistic feature specs which can be easily understood by engineering teams. Also many times a particular feature needs to interact with another API , SDK or technology and a PM would have to read its technical documentation to come up with a solution. Possessing technical expertise is also essential for a product manager to build the right rapport with the engineering teams. So here is a list of technical product manager interview questions you can ask,
- Explain version controlling ?
- What is a typical git workflow ?
- What are different ways to authenticate APIs ?
- What was the tech stack in the last product you worked on and what challenges did you face with it ?
- Because of high level of technical debt, tech team is insisting on a system rewrite which will enable better performance in the long run , but massive service failures in short term. What will be your stand ?
- What is Single Sign On?
- What is SSL ?
- Which web development framework will you prefer to work with for an API first product ?
A Product Manager needs to be really adept at communicating because usually he is the interface between various siloed teams which are aligned towards different objectives. Additionally he should be able to clearly articulate his thoughts in written and spoken language to convey the value proposition of the product to his audience. Copywriting on the product can really make a lot of difference and having some experience with crafting refreshing copies really help. Here is a list of interview questions for the role product manager to test his communication skills.
- Give title of product blog for a new feature update ?
- You are doing a focus group event, what will be your opening line to the in person audience there ?
- You are conducting a live webinar. How will you engage the live viewers ?
- Your website just suffered a minor outage which affect all of your customers, craft an email to inform and reassure them.
- How will you describe our product suite in one sentence.
- Write a push notification for promoting upcoming webinar on our product demo.
Building products for mobile requires a PM to understand different set of nuances for an altogether different form factor. Is the candidate able to understand the subtle design principles and product decisions which go into building a mobile first experience ? Here is a list of mobile product manager interview questions you can ask.
- What are your views on native app vs hybrid app debate ?
- What are some common App Store Optimisation tactics ?
- Which tool would you use for your mobile app’s analytics ?
- Which tools would you use to track app store rankings of your app and do competitive app ranking ?
- If you have to build a mobile version of our product, which features will you choose to keep and which features will you leave ?
- What are some common product design differences between android and iOS ?
Product Thinking and Strategy
Key strategic decisions in the lifecycle of product development end up defining the the success of product and hence the success of company. How will the candidate go about building the product strategy in a detail oriented manner is the cornerstone of an ideal product management candidate and you can gauge this skill by asking following questions in interview.
- How do you gauge market demand for a new product ?
- How do you decide which features to build and which features to hold?
- How do you build a product roadmap ?
- How do you decide what not to build ?
- How do you see the industry evolving from a prodigy perspective 2 yrs, 5 years and 10 years from now ?
- What do you think about competitive landscape in our product vertical ?
- How will you define product management ?
- Describe your average day as a product manager ?
- If you had to build another complementary product line, which product would you choose to build ?
- What is product market fit in your own words ?
- Do you have bias towards innovation or iteration ?
- What are the table stake features for selling your product to large enterprises ?
- How will you architect the role based permissions in a SaaS product ?
- What is your favourite product and what do you like and dislike about it ?
- If you had to strip out one feature from your favourite product, what would it be ?
- If you had to add one feature to your favourite product, what would it be ?
- Can you tell us what you think about API first product design and few examples to illustrate your definition ?
- How do we evolve the current application product suite into a platform ?
Testing and Performance
A good product manager should have a detailed eye for quality of product which is being shipped out. Although it is QA team’s responsibility to make sure that all the bugs get reported and documented on issue trackers, but it is responsibility of the product manager that they get conveyed to the engineering team during appropriate time of sprint for their fixes. To judge a candidate for an eye to quality and his knowledge on testing/performance tools is critical for the long term success of the product and here is a list of interview questions to test it.
- How do you ensure that product releases are below a certain threshold of bugs ?
- How will you break the silos between QA team and Engineering Team ?
- What workflow will you use for bugs reporting, escalation and resolution ?
- How do you classify different types of bugs based on priority and types ?
- What do you know about automated testing ?
- How will you help in building an automated test suite for our product and what all tools will you use?
- What are some common performance testing tools?
- How will you help in optimising page size of web application
- How will you help in optimising the size of native mobile application ?
- How will you help your engineering team to work on database level architectural performance issues ?
- What is BrowserStack and how does it help in QA?
- How do you test APIs ?
- What is Selenium and how do you use it for automated web application testing ?
- How will you encourage users to submit crash reports?
- What actionable metrics will you use to track the performance of product ?
Market /Industry Knowledge
Having a textured understanding of the market landscape and domain specific knowledge is important when it comes to building specialised products such as in finance, advertising etc. Market knowledge is also important to articulate a differentiated product direction and positioning. To test how much a candidate knows about market landscape , you can ask these questions during the interview.
- Name some of our competitors.
- Tell us about your expertise in X industry. ( X is particular industry like content advertising networks )
- Can you briefly tell us about the historical evolution of X industry ?
- What according to you is the future of X industry ?
- Name one of the major disruptions according to you in this industry.
- What is total market size of this industry ?
- Who are the key players in this market’s value chain ?
- What are the bottlenecks for growth of this industry ?
- Tell us something that you really like about our competitors.
- Why do you like this industry/market ?
- Which phase of growth do you think the market is in currently ?
- How will you segment this market based on customer types ?
- What do you know about GDPR and what implications will it have on product and marketing efforts
Leadership and Management
An important insight from the trenches of product management is that a product manager doesn’t lead by authority but by influence. He formally doesn’t have authority over teams that he has to work with and yet he is responsible for making it a success. He would need to influence engineering team to get his way and at the same time work with management team on top to make sure product and business goals are aligned. To test the leadership skills of a candidate for product management, here’s a list of good set of interview questions.
- Within first few weeks how will you earn the respect of engineering team?
- What questions will you ask while hiring a junior product management associate?
- What are some common challenges while managing people ?
- When was the last time you made your role redundant from a particular task which was assigned to you ?
- How will you motivate your team to put in extra hours when they are already burnt out from previous sprints?
- Which leader do you look upto and why ?
- Have you ever been in a situation where your team has let you down and you’ve had to take the blame?
- Can you tell us what are the common reasons why a team dysfunctions ?
For a A+ product manager, it is not enough to be simply good at just product management, he also needs to understand the bigger picture and how does the product fits into goals of the business. So candidate must posses good business acumen as well if he has to succeed in the role of product manager. Here is a list of product manager interview questions to test how much he knows about business.
- What are moats in a business?
- What do you know about network effects in platform product business ?
- If you are made CEO of this company for a day then what tactics will you use to grow the business faster?
- Can you articulate an one liner vision statement, mission statement ,strategy and tactical activities for this product ?
- How will you drive a shift from current red ocean to blue ocean whitespaces for the company ?
- What do you think we can do to increase the gross profits from our current product line ?
- How will you run a P n L statement for your particular product function ?
- How do you think we can increase the sales efficiency of our sales process?
- What do you know about dynamic CAC allocation in sales process ?
- Can you do a back of envelop calculation to prepare financial budget of a legacy product line and walk us through it ?
Role of product managers requires making assumptions about lot of things like - customer demand, product design, target market, marketing campaigns etc. Ofcourse these assumptions needs to be validated with data, but initially deducing underlying logical assumptions for theorising a hypothesis is required by the product manager in his day to day activities. So the skill to build up logical assumptions and estimates based on very limited data is must-have skill. Guesstimate questions are a great way to ask product managers during the interview.
- How many flights fly everyday from India to United States?
- How many copies of windows do you think Microsoft sells in an year ?
- How many messages get exchanged everyday on Slack ?
- What is the monthly profit of your favourite fast food chain ?
- How many Computer Science Professors are there in the world ?
- How many Trees are there in San Francisco?
- How many cars does Tesla manufacture every month ?
Personal and Cultural Fit
During the interview you need to also test if the candidate not only has the required skills but also the ‘will’ to succeed in the given role by analysing his background, motivations and also if he would a be culture fit in your organisation or not. Here is a list of questions you can ask during the interview to understand the candidate’s personality and culture fit.
- Describe one misconception your co-workers in your last job had about you.
- Why do you want to join as a product manager and what really attracts you towards product management field ?
- What has been your greatest achievement so far and which personality traits of yours helped you achieve it ?
- What has been your greatest failure in life so far, what did you learn from it and what would have you changed to avert it?
- Why do you want to work in this company?
- Can you tell us what have you learned about the art of saying ‘No’?
- Where do you see yourself professionally 5 years down the line?
- What kind of people do you like to work with ?
- What is one point of view which you believe to be true but vast majority of people in your circle don't agree with you?
- What are you least and most passionate about?
- What types of people have you found it difficult to work with?
You can see interviewing a candidate for the product manager role is quite complex and there is more work which goes into hiring someone for this role than any other function. But all of this effort pays off when your organisation ends up building great products which are loved by your customers putting your organisation on a path to success. To make the process of interview more rigorous, you need to make sure that same set of questions are asked to different candidates to remove any biases and errors in the hiring process. Hopefully these questions will help you to build an interview framework for product managers which you can use to get consistent results and minimise the cases of wrong hires.