Mark Eriksson of Mind the Product defined product management as being at the intersection of UX, Tech and Business. Josh Elman of Greylock Partners defined a product manager as someone who helps their team and their company ship the right product to users.
This mix of hard and soft skills, heavily focused on product sense and design, strategy, business acumen, ability to estimate and size impact, and the skills to prioritise, communicate and execute is what product management interviews seek to test for. You may be asked questions as far ranging as ‘Tell me about a time you managed a difficult stakeholder’ and ‘Imagine you’re Google’s CEO. What’s your plan for the next 10 years?’.
In this article we’ll take you through how you can approach answering common product manager interview questions, from how to approach any question to how to structure and effectively answer all manner of product manager interview question types. It’s part of our two part series on acing interviews.
- How to ace an interview: Interview Preparation tips and Checklist
- How to answer common product manager interview questions ← this one
With thanks to Zach Nicholson at Wave Talent, Miles Cunliffe at Fresh, Caroline Clark at Caroline Clark Coaching for their insights
How to answer any question
“The worst thing that you can do is panic when you have a question that you’re not anticipating, followed by when you’re not really sure how to answer, go into an answer and start waffling. Even worse than that is when someone just continues on and on and on and on and repeats themselves and then the answer is left on a cliffhanger at the end or the interviewer has to interrupt to bring it to a close.” – Caroline Clark at Caroline Clark Coaching
We’ve all had that terrifying moment where we’ve just been asked a question in interview, and we realise that either we didn’t hear all the question because it made us so nervous, or it’s one to which we have no idea how to answer, and panic mode sets in.
There are techniques to turn a negative into a positive. A good interview will stretch you. Mental models and answer techniques can help you manage those stretching moments.
Listen intently and pause before answering
Practise active listening during the interview. Make notes as this will keep you focused and calm. Once questions come to a conclusion, get comfortable with silence. Take a moment to think. Don’t be afraid to ask clarifying questions about the initial question. Jot down key details and your thoughts.
“Take your time to collect your thoughts about it. It’s okay if there’s a pause. If there’s a silence, you can prime that by saying, I just need a few minutes to think about how I’m going to respond to this in order to manage the interviewer and the moment of silence. Write down some notes to try and be structured. Then engage with the question.” – Caroline Clark at Caroline Clark Coaching
Similarly you may receive feedback during the interview that you’re off track, or new information may come to light. Don’t be afraid to iterate.
Check in with the interviewer routinely to ensure you’re going in the right direction. Conclude your answer with a summary to make it clear you’re reached the end and remind them what you have said.
Using an interview framework can help keep structure and ensure you don’t miss key details
Don’t be afraid to say what you don’t know
If you’re asked a question about something you know nothing about, it’s absolutely fine (and preferable) to demonstrate ignorance. However you should be always trying to keep the conversation moving and demonstrate you are prepared to tackle the question, rather than ending in a roadblock.
“Let’s say you are asked to improve the product TaskRabbit. And let’s say you have never used TaskRabbit. Be willing to admit that, be willing to say, hey, I’ve never used TaskRabbit. I’ll not be able to talk about what they have done in the past, or what they’re currently doing, however, I do know that it is a marketplace for gig workers, and so if you wish, I can approach this question from a first principles’ perspective about how I might build a marketplace for gig workers if I was to build one today…”
Webinar: Unwritten Norms in PM Interviews by fmr YouTube Product Leader, Shipra Malhotra – Product School
Practise in advance to get comfortable
Getting match fit is key, and it can only be done via exercising your interview muscles. You can apply for a bunch of jobs and exercise them in public in interviews, or you can practise.
Some people practise by interviewing a lot, all the time – which can be a great approach to networking and staying on top of the market. However if you are in application processes you’re keen to win and you haven’t been interviewing all year, then the next best thing is to:
- Tap your PM network and arrange a partnership whereby a fellow PM does mock interviews with you. Build in feedback time, and self critique if you can by recording the session and watching yourself back. Google meets provides this for free, including a transcript functionality.
- Source interview partners in community groups, if you don’t have willing peers in the PM community, such as Product School and Women in Product. There’s additionally interview focused groups at Exponent, PMExercises, IGotAnOffer, and Lewis C. Lin’s Interview Community.
- Figure out the benchmark and what the experience might be like via watching mock interviews online: Product Alliance, RocketBlocks, Exponent and Diego Granados all have great examples. Pause the video and have a shot at answering the question.
- For behavioural interviews anyone willing in your network can help you prepare – so spend the time with the PM friend on the specific PM questions and spend time with someone else (flatmate, partner, friend, colleague) on behavioural questions.
Popular question formats and frameworks to help answer them
“..the first thing that I think about when I think about acing interviews is making sure someone has got their personal historical narrative down. Most interviews start the same way with an informal introduction at the beginning. It doesn’t have to be anything groundbreaking or particularly long. But usually, those icebreakers are a very good way to say, Hey, this is me. Just a very quick overview and just having that down and practised, is a great way to help settle the nerves. That introduction is always going to happen and you don’t want it to be too long: max a couple of minutes. Any longer people are going to be dropping off and not interested.” – Miles Cunliffe, Founder of Fresh, a specialised product management recruitment firm
People ask you about your past career for a few reasons
- Get a feel for you as a person: how you describe your experiences gives them an insight into your personality
- Information: having read your resume or CV they’ll have questions about your past experiences, company choices or gaps on your CV. Additionally talking through past experiences is a chance to uncover information about their roles which doesn’t sing from the CV, and often when people talk about themselves, the big ‘so what’ or big learning from each job is narrated in a clearer and more compelling manner than is achievable within the CV format.
- Matching: do you match the role and job description and does that come across in your narrative.
How you describe yourself can convince an interviewer that you’re perfect for the role or see off any obvious questions they might have about you at the onset, so that no time is wasted on them in the interview. Performing a role mapping exercise can assist you to do that well and has the added benefit of mirroring their needs.
Get our Interview Checklist and Role Mapping Template: Google Sheets
Remember to be comfortable with the dates you started and ended jobs, and be able to explain what the companies did, how many people worked there when you worked there, and how the teams were structured. Saying things like ‘I think it was 2017….’ doesn’t come across as professional.
Make it clear and include salient details
You shouldn’t assume that everyone has heard of the companies you’ve worked for or that they have done more than quickly glance at your CV. Say it again. Explain what the company did.
‘I worked at Company A from 2017 to 2019 as an APM, before being promoted to Product Manager in March 2019. As an APM I was supporting a senior product manager on the Revenue Team, but as PM I stepped up onto my own team, which was the CVR team’
‘Company A was a SaaS company doing c. $50m in ARR selling licences to designers for design software, headquartered in the Netherlands, (with 110 employees / c. 8 years old)’
In order to get really comfortable with this, it can help to check in with previous colleagues to make sure your recollection is correct, check out what your previous employer says about themselves on their website, and take time to just jot it out in a paragraph format, so it sticks in your memory.
Teaser / in depth presentation:
When you’re presenting yourself, you want to be able to describe specific jobs in detail, and to be able to present your whole career succinctly, pulling out the relevant details. You should therefore practise a ‘teaser’ version which presents your career highlights, and be prepared to present on request the key information from each specific role.
This needs to be short, under 2 minutes long ideally, and it should really be no more than a few bullets which distil you down into a swift summary which feels relevant to the role. It’s always tempting to want to tell the interviewer absolutely everything about you and what makes you great, but much like a pitch deck – here you’re just trying to get their interest.
In order to do this effectively you want to
- Arc: Present your career arc
- Pitch: Deliver the ‘elevator pitch’ of you – the one professional thing they should remember, mirroring key requirements from the role description
- Match: Add why you think this is the next best role for you, demonstrating how it fits into your career development planning and aspirations
Example (interviewing for a senior growth PM role in a fashion ecommerce business):
Arc: I have 5 years experience in product management – I started as an APM in 2018 after 4 years in marketing and got promoted to product manager in 2020.
Pitch: I’ve worked across revenue, conversion and organic growth teams for Company A, which is a marketplace business selling household products from over 10k suppliers. I’d describe myself as very experienced in structuring and leading engineering teams’ work, managing stakeholders to create transparency around delivery and good at working cross functionally, especially with marketing.
Match: I’m really interested in moving into [Your Green Product ecommerce business] due to the mission while thinking my growth experience is highly relevant because of the similarities between B2C marketplace and ecommerce growth strategies. After 2.5 years at the PM stage I additionally think I’m ready for the step up to senior and have been working as a senior at my current firm for some months already with the expectation of being promoted next cycle.
Get our Interview Question Framework Flashcards: Google Slides
Tailor your answers to the audience
Remember to tailor your answers to the listener. The HR screening likely doesn’t want a lot of technical detail; but does want to check the job description bullet by bullet to see if you’ll make it through a full interview process. The hiring manager will be more interested in the specifics.
See off any obvious questions
Maybe you’ve been unfortunate enough to have 2 roles which were under 1 year because the company ran out of funding or the founder decided on a radical restructure. Explain why but keep it brief and factual; avoid negative remarks.
Product skills questions
Product management interviews test for a variety of hard and soft skills. You should expect questions on product design, product sense, product execution, and data understanding / estimation skills. You should expect behavioural interview questions probing your soft skills and focusing on your execution experience and delivery style. The rationale behind these is to understand from real situations in interview or case study, and from descriptions of your past tasks and challenges how you might perform in day to day scenarios in the company.
It can be tempting to prep for interviews in a ‘type’ format, i.e. to focus on acing a product design or product sense series of questions, and to have nailed a format or process for doing these. While you should be prepared for questions focused on core competencies for your function and you should be comfortable with framework steps, you should not turn into a framework robot, as you lose connection with the interviewer.
The trick is to be comfortable with flexibly applying frameworks and discovery logic to the questions which might come up; and that ultimately only comes with interview practice and getting comfortable with the skills themselves. We’ve listed some common frameworks below to help you feel comfortable with any interview situation, but it’s best to attempt to apply them naturally, rather than stating ‘I will now apply xx framework’. This is definitely tough, but on the flip side if you articulate the framework out loud it can create the impression that you’re not able to think independently.
There are two exceptions to this rule: Interviews at Meta, where specific frameworks can help you be successful, and interviews at Amazon, which are close to 100% behavioural in nature, and where use of the STAR method is strongly encouraged.
According to Exponent’s analysis of 1.7k+ questions in their database, the most common product manager interview questions listed by their candidates broke down into:
- Product Design questions – 35%
- Behavioural questions – 20%
- Product Strategy – 15%
- Analytical – 10%
- Estimation – 5%
- Technical – 5%
Get our Interview Question Framework Flashcards: Google Slides
Product sense / design questions:
Designed to test your empathy, creativity and craft (Jules Walter’s definition of product sense), very common formats for product sense / design questions are ‘Improve [name of product X]’ or ‘Improve this [customer journey X, which might be a real one at the company you’re interviewing for]’.
Best practice in these is to use the CIRCLES framework or a variant thereof.
CIRCLES has 7 steps and is an acronym which stands for
- Comprehend: understand the goal, the customer, more about the journey or feature you’re being asked about (who, what, why), more about the context
- Clarify the goal or purpose of the question you have been asked (i.e. reduce churn, increase revenue, etc). It’s important to know what a good outcome looks like in this scenario.
- Understand the constraints: do you have one engineer? Do you have infinite money? Do you have only 1 month?
- Understand the context you’re facing: let’s say you’re asked a question about a product you have never heard of. Don’t bluff. Ask all the questions upfront that you need to be able to answer the question well.
- Identify the core target customer (key personas, or HXC, “high expectation customer”) to drill down
- Report customer needs. The best framework to use here is ‘As [User X] I have [XX needs] and I want [XX feature or product] so I can have [XX benefit]’. Aim for multiple options (10), simply coming up with 1 scenario here is insufficient.
- Cut customer needs via prioritisation: specify criteria you’ll use to prioritise user problems and pain points, apply a score, and see what rises to the top. Ideally use multiple inputs, such as technical complexity, strategic impact, customer delight, ROI. Try not to skip ROI.
- List solutions to customer needs: Take several minutes to brainstorm as many solutions in silence as you can and list them out. It’s important to list multiple solutions to push yourself to expand your thinking, and to create a good conversation with the interviewer. Your goal is to have multiple solutions listed and to have figured out your top 3. Then start talking through these with the interviewer.
- Evaluate trade offs: critique the 3 solutions you’ve shared with the interviewer. We suggest articulating confidence levels across 4 key risks: value, useability, technical feasibility, business impact or risk; if you have time by noting them down in a grid and applying a score. This is useful because you can demonstrate to the interviewer that you’re considering weaknesses to your proposal, and it also allows them a natural and less jarring way into the critical conversation.
- Summarise your recommendation: wrap up and state what you would do given the conversation you’ve had.
Recommendation: Watch Lewis C. Lin, the inventor of the method’s video, and internalise why step one (comprehend) is especially key.
The CIRCLES framework
Product strategy questions
These are designed to test if you can set out a logical and credible vision and if you have business sense alongside product sense.
Big picture examples of these types of questions include: ‘Imagine you’re the CEO of Netflix [or company X]. What is your strategy for the next ten years?’ or ‘How would you revolutionise or solve [industry or space or problem]?’
In order to answer a strategy question effectively, it’s key to break down and structure your question well. You can take many of the learnings from the CIRCLES framework into this exercise as well. Having clarified the purpose, constraints and gathered any necessary context around the question, we recommend the following structure, which you can find in more detail here:
However some questions will be more granular and drill into specific GTM or growth strategies, such as growth, market entry questions, monetisation or pricing questions. Examples include ‘How can Airbnb increase their bookings?’ or ‘What’s the best GTM (go-to-market) strategy for Amazon grocery stores?’.
For these it can be useful for use the below framework from Lenny to structure your response, loosely based on the Minto Pyramid principle:
- What is the current situation?
- What is the complication?
- What is the solution?
- How do we achieve this solution?
Here’s an example of how it might look in practice:
‘Improve the monetisation rate of Hustle Badger.’
- What is the current situation? Hustle Badger currently monetises via paid for email subscriptions, i.e. the Substack model. The business would like to double the monetisation rate with the aim of doubling revenue per user.
- What is the complication? Hustle Badger currently monetises at the benchmark for paid email subscriptions, i.e. it monetises well for the business model, so there are limited gains to be made via optimising the existing product.
- What is the solution? Hustle Badger could add additional products which increase the value of the service to the user.
- How do we achieve the solution? We can explore user needs to understand which additional products or features that might change the fundamental monetisation rate might be appealing to them. Additionally we could explore whether improving the monetisation rate of Hustle Badger is the right growth question, and whether strategies aimed at increasing traffic to site or designing viral growth loops would result in the same outcome (2x increase in revenue).
Product metrics questions
You may also be asked to estimate the size of an opportunity, or the impact that making a change to the product might have on the business’ input metrics (for example traffic or CVR) or output metrics (for example cost base or revenue).
We’ve covered the principles of how to model impact here. There’s really no shortcut on this one barring getting comfortable with those principles, and spending some time to understand site metrics. However a basic funnel framework, such as the AARM method can help to structure your thinking here and ensure you don’t miss any stages in your calculation.
The Lewis C. Lin AARM method
Get the Hustle Badger Interview Question Framework Flashcards: Google Slides
Favourite product and trends questions
As a product manager you’re expected to be enthusiastic about product of all sorts and be on top of industry trends.
Be prepared to be asked ‘What is your favourite product?’ and ‘How would you improve your favourite product?’. It’s better to have thought these through in advance and have jotted down some thoughts than it is to work through them on the fly.
Finally you might occasionally get some questions about landscape trends and how the industry might change in the next ten years. Remember the mobile platform shift? Remember AI? Remember blockchain? This is the really big idea stuff. You can find clues to what’s likely to happen by reading TechCrunch, the Verge, or checking out what the FAANG CEOs are talking about. Jot down some crazy ideas. Have a decent blue sky think and do it in advance of interviewing as answering this one on the fly can go particularly poorly. The point is not whether you’re right but to demonstrate that you’re engaged with the industry and can reason coherently.
Behavioural interviewing is an interviewing technique where candidates are asked to describe a professional experience or example from the past in order to reveal to the interviewer how they approach certain types of situations, with the logic of revealing how they might approach similar questions in future.
Examples of common behavioural interview questions for product managers include:
- Tell me about a time where you managed a difficult stakeholder. What happened? What would you have done differently?
- Tell me about a time where you used data to influence a decision.
- Tell me about the most successful / least successful product you ever managed? What made it successful / fail?
- Where do your ideas for new features come from? How do you decide which to build?
- Can you share something you learned from your last feature launch?
There are an endless number of possible behavioural interview questions (our Amazon interview guide has 92) but the most common ones test:
- Failure: Did you fail and how did you respond to adversity: did you learn something, did you turn it around
- Collaboration: Winning stakeholders over with evidence & your ability to lead through influence
- Strategy: How do you think, and are you a big or a small thinker
- Impact: do you understand the impact of your decisions in a business context, and can you size that
- Execution: how you approach getting things done: what your structure and process is
Thinking through moments in your career where you can demonstrate behaviours which align to those 5 themes should cover you in the majority of cases.
Get the Hustle Badger Behavioural Question Mapping Template Google Sheets
Having got your examples ready, the next step is to ensure your answer is well structured, clear, and comprehensible to your interviewer. There are several useful techniques to structure answers to questions like this.
The STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Result) is one such method. It’s considered by many to be the gold standard when it comes to answering behavioural interview questions, and is a key technique to master if you are interviewing at Amazon.
- Situation: ‘Insufficient B2C users were migrating to our B2B product. We knew from the data that 30% of them had signed up with a corporate email address (indicating that they were using the product for work), and we knew that when we put both B2C and B2B products on sale that about 10% of purchases migrated to B2B. But we weren’t seeing the same behaviour in product.’
- Task: ‘Figure out why and devise a roadmap to migrate as many users as possible as swiftly as possible.’
- Action: ‘I prepared customer journey mapping workshops, and collated data in advance, including funnel, click and complaint data. I realised that the UX in the B2C product was completely silo’ed with no bridge to the B2B product. I devised a small low cost test, whereby I showed a button to logged in B2C users with ‘Add members’ as the CTA. The purpose was to validate if there was interest in migration between the pools and to demonstrate the case for further bridges.”
- Result: ‘I saw that 5% of users clicked on the button and 1% completed the entire funnel stages, which was a significant uplift resulting in over an extra thousand licences being sold over the control.’
Alternatively you could apply the DIGS method (Dramatise the situation, Indicate the alternatives, Go through what you did, Summarise the impact) from Lewis C. Lin, which aims to ensure that the story is engaging, and which gives some space to the other things you could have done to show that you thought around the topic. Here’s a worked example:
- Dramatise the situation: ‘The company’s overall CLV was in decline, which was putting pressure on our marketing and sales budgets, which had to reduce in line with the decline. That put pressure on growth which was concerning for the company. The decline in CLV was because the mix between B2C and B2B users had shifted, with a long term trend of declining numbers of users migrating from B2C to B2B products.’
- Indicate the alternatives: ‘It could have been down to acquisition strategy, pricing changes or removing B2B options from the checkout funnel, but after analysing each of those areas, I determined that it was very common for future B2B clients to start off with a free B2C account to experience the product, and once in the product, the CLV decline was likely because bridges to the B2B product had been eroded over time, meaning possible future B2B users remained in the B2C ecosystem.’
- Go through what you did: ‘I prepared customer journey mapping workshops, and collated data in advance, including funnel, click and complaint data. I received some pushback from the workshop so in order to test my hypothesis I devised a small low cost test, whereby I showed a button to logged in B2C users with ‘Add members’ as the CTA. The purpose was to validate if there was interest in migration between the pools and to demonstrate the case for further bridge works.’
- Summarise the impact: ‘I saw that 5% of users clicked on the button and 1% completed the entire funnel stages, which was a significant uplift resulting in over an extra thousand licences being sold over the control. This gave me the proof points and the confidence to propose a 3 month roadmap to the CEO of other things we could do in this area.’
The DIGS method
By using one of these techniques you can ensure you explain the situation appropriately and clearly. Don’t make your answer longer than about 3-5 minutes – the interviewer will dig in as and when they are interested in more detail.
You can prepare for these questions by doing a behavioural mapping exercise, whereby you map your experiences to this format.
Get the Hustle Badger Behavioural Question Mapping Template Google Sheets
“I think you can have a bad interview and in the last 15 minutes of Q&A, save the whole thing. If you ask smart questions, that really puts the interviewer in a different place, giving them a completely different perspective and view on you versus the other 10 candidates who interview.” – Zach Nicholson at Wave Talent
If you’ve done the job mapping exercise you’ll find this throws up lots of questions, but if you haven’t there’s a couple of shortcuts:
Show interest in the team and who you’ll be working with
- What are the team working on right now?
- What are the biggest problems the team are struggling with right now?
- If i joined, what would I be working on in the first quarter?
Ask questions around the business
- What competitor threats are you facing?
- What is top of mind for the founders / C-suite at the moment?
- How do you see the business scaling in the next year?
Ask questions about culture
- What’s the biggest thing which is holding you back right now?
- What do you like about working here?
- What do you think needs to be changed to succeed?
- Tailor your questions to the audience: ask design questions to the design lead, and so on
- Reflect on your own ambitions: what your values are and what matters to you and try to dig into those areas
- Try to ask everyone you meet at least one question that is the same: see if they agree, as otherwise this could be a red flag
- At offer stage ask to speak to someone else on the team: to get more detail about what it’s like to work there
Get the Hustle Badger Interview Question Framework Flashcards: Google Slides
Knowing how to deploy techniques like clarifying questions and being able to structure your responses in a format which matches the question type can assist in acing interviews. It’s important to get comfortable with interviewing as a technique, actively listen to questions and pause and structure your responses.
Frameworks can help you work through cases or questions effectively, but remember not to deploy them robotically – get comfortable with them through practice and it will come naturally in the moment. If it doesn’t pause, ask the interviewer for a moment and jot down your ideas before you talk. Simply practising and preparing for interviews will improve your performance. Good luck.
Hustle Badger Resources
How to answer interview questions?
In figuring out how to answer interview questions there’s a technique that you can apply in almost every scenario. While the interviewer is asking the question, actively listen, and write down what they are saying. Playback the question to the interviewer. They will likely rephrase it which will make it clearer it for you and give you more context.
Then ask clarifying questions about the question. The interviewer is primarily interested in how you think, and secondarily interested in answers, so don’t feel like you can’t do this. Equally well take the signal if they’d like you to move into answering. Pause for a moment and structure your thoughts. A pad and paper can hugely assist here. Start walking through your answer, checking in with the interviewer if you’re on the right track. Finally summarise your answer and remind the interviewer what you’ve discussed.
What questions to ask in interview?
If you complete a role mapping exercise, you’ll find that the detailed exercise of going through the role description, skills and responsibilities will throw up many questions. However other great general questions to ask are: ‘What are the greatest challenges the team are facing right now?’, ‘If I joined, what would I be working on for the first 3 months?’ and ‘What do you like about working here, and conversely, what do you think needs to be changed?’.
How to send a thank you note after interview?
Interviews are a great way to meet people for the long term as well as a way to get a job. Connect with your interviewer on Linkedin. It’s less intrusive than an email to their inbox, but just as effective and also a better long term strategy. Add a simple note to the connection request, something along the lines of ‘Thank you for your time today, it was a pleasure to meet you. I enjoyed our conversation. All the best [YOUR NAME].’ This is unthreatening, undemanding and polite. If possible when scheduling your interviews, try to make sure you have some time after the interview to complete tasks like this.