Pushups. Power pose. Pace back and forth. Freak out. Breathe. Repeat.
How do you prepare for PM interviews? Honestly, if the individuals who interviewed me ever read these posts, they are really going to second question who they hired. Luckily, I work with all of them now and they like me… I think… I hope…
To give you some insight into the challenges I faced getting into product…I had interviewed with a total of 18 people over the course of 9 actual interviews. Over the course of ~4 months.
- Phone interview with the recruiter
- Phone interview with the VP of Product
- Phone interview with Senior Director of Product
- Onsite – VP of Product, 3 x Senior Product Directors
- Onsite – Lunch with Senior Product Director
- Onsite – VP of Product
- Onsite – VP Product, 2 x Senior Directors of PM, Director of Product Marketing, Director of Strategy, Director of Engineering
- Onsite – CEO
- Onsite – COO, Eng manager
This is not a reflection on the company I work for and I don’t want to discourage anyone from thinking about applying there, because everyone is fantastic and it is a great company work for. The recruiter and the individuals who interviewed me called me the ‘special case’. We’ve hired plenty of PMs and it wasn’t this crazy, I promise. I do want to point out though that most engineers that transition into product have more interviews or have a longer process. This can be discouraging at times, but if you truly want to be a PM, you’ll stick through it.
I’m not going to go into the details of every interview because that would turn into a term paper. After my interviews (and I took the job), I spoke to the recruiter and some of the people who interviewed me about the process. In short, they REALLY liked me and knew that I had the skills to become a great (or good?) PM. The issue was that they were really looking for someone with industry experience (which I didn’t have) to take on the two open roles they had. But, they didn’t want to lose me. That is when I got the ‘final’ call from the recruiter to come onsite and have my final interviews with the CEO and COO. Funny thing, it wasn’t the final onsite because they couldn’t get the CEO and COO on the same day, so I had to come back twice!
I will say it was mentally exhausting. Typically, you go in for an interview once and you’re done. In some cases, they will want to bring you back to talk to other people as well. Regardless, when you get a call from the recruiter, you’re expecting a ‘Yes’ or ‘No. In my case, ‘They really liked you, but they want you to talk to X again or talk to Y. Can you come back in?’. The worst was when the recruiter said ‘This is your LAST time onsite.’ and then they call you the next day asking you to come back. Again, my recruiter was FANTASTIC and I am ultimately happy of the outcome of this craziness. Hey — It allowed me to write this cool series.
Luckily — I took notes during everyone of my interviews. Here are some of the questions I was asked and I believe are good preparation questions for any PM interview:
- Talk me through how you would size the market for your company’s product?
- Define a market.
- For your current product, if you had a $100K marketing budget, how would you distribute the funds? Then, how would you measure success early on and pivot?
- What would make your product better?
- Walk me through trade-offs you’ve taken when designing a product and when you had to weigh that vs features.
- Talk me through how you would create a launch plan.
- You’re seeing an unusually high support case load on a feature you just released, what do you do?
- You’re thinking about releasing a new product, how do you decide which features to build before and after launch?
- Why do you want to leave engineering?
- How do you go about building rapport with engineers?
- For the product you’re currently working on, tell me your proposed roadmap and why.
- How do you determine when to announce the next version of the product and release new features?
- What do you think is going to be the most difficult transitioning to PM?
- Your job is to report to the new CEO and give him the rundown of everything that is going on… how do you do it?
You can imagine with 18 different interviews, there were no shortage of questions. In addition, I found these resources helpful for other questions and tips:
- How to Hire a Product Manager – Ken Norton
- How to Prepare for a Product Management Interview – Vishal Sood
- How to Work With Software Engineers – Ken Norton
- Best Way to Prioritize a List of Features – Quora
- Sitting in a room in the middle of the floor that was surrounded by 3 walls of glass. Everyone walks past you and looks in but you need to stay focused. I think they did this on purpose 🙂
- Changing into a suit in the backseat of my car before I went in for an interview
- During one of my interviews, my interviewer had to leave for an emergency. I ended up taking over that emergency when I came onboard. Foreshadowing…
- I had a ton of great ideas for my current company to attack the market and grow
- I got to meet with the CEO and it was a really good conversation. Rather than just hammering me with questions, we were able to talk through the challenges the company currently faces, what makes a good PM in his eyes, etc. Honestly, it was more of me interviewing him rather than the other way around
- Ultimately, the COO sold me on the job. We also had a really good conversation about his role, success as a PM, the role that I would have, etc.
Most of the time, you don’t get a second chance to meet with that person or answer the same question in a different way. It is good to replay the questions/answers in your head and think through how you would answer them differently (if you would’ve). But don’t stress over it. At the end of the day, there isn’t much you can change about THAT interview. But you can learn from the questions or shortfalls and use it for the NEXT interview. Everyone always says ‘If I would’ve said this, they would’ve liked my answer more!’. You are probably correct, but remember that for the next time you’re asked that question by a different interviewer, and be sure to have the new, updated answer ready to go.
Now, I just had to wait for the final call…
Pushups. Power pose. Pace back and forth. Freak out. Breathe. Repeat
I am writing a series of blog posts about my transition from engineering to product management. Click here to get the master list.