“It all does come down to preparation. When it’s the job that you really want, and you’re not prepared it sounds like you’re wasting people’s time. But it’s not that – you’re going to an interview not match fit and going through the ringer.” – Miles Cunliffe, Founder of Fresh, a specialised product management recruitment firm
Congratulations. You’re invited to an interview for a job. You’ve jumped the biggest hurdle, which is to get in front of the hiring team as a person, not a CV. It’s likely you’ll have multiple meetings with multiple different types and sorts of people, and you will be wondering how to do well in each of them.
It is not only possible to prepare thoroughly and well for interviews, but interview preparation pays off handsomely. We’ll guide you through how to get match fit for your interview here and in our next article tackle how to answer common product manager interview questions well.
- How to ace an interview: Interview Preparation tips and Checklist ← this one
- How to answer common product manager interview questions
With thanks to Zach Nicholson at Wave Talent, Miles Cunliffe at Fresh, Caroline Clark at Caroline Clark Coaching for their insights
How interviews might be organised
You should always ask what your interview process will look like to have an 80-90% clear idea of what will happen. However it’s common for interviews to follow a pattern similar to below:
- Screening with recruiter or HR – 30-45 mins: a hygiene run through your CV looking for inconsistencies and holes, and a light cross check on your skills and experience. The HR lead often acts as a ‘what sort of person is this’ cultural check for the hiring manager, so don’t treat this as a formality.
- Meeting with the hiring manager – 30-60 mins: a deeper dive into your CV, your core competencies and some behavioural questions to assess your process and problem solving skills. This is where you meet your future manager, but it’s often a relatively light screen compared to what comes later. This is the surface check the manager does on the person behind the CV.
- Meetings with possible future colleagues – 30-60 mins each: a further series of screenings, with each meeting digging into a concern or competency which either hasn’t been covered, or where you are perceived to be potentially weak. For example, the hiring manager might want to test your ability to work with UX and your product design skills, and hence set up a screening with a UX lead.
- Meeting with a senior figure – 30-45 mins: in some companies the CPO or the founders will sign off on every hire. Make sure you get some advice from the hiring or talent manager as this meeting can be the end of your interview journey.
- Project or case study review – 60-90 mins: Setting a case or a project is becoming standard in many tech companies. It’s helpful for interviewers as a tool to see how you respond to a real world problem that you haven’t seen before, and it’s useful for you as well – since it gives you a live run through of how working there might really be day to day. Cases might be given out several days in advance, 120-90 mins in advance or in the interview. We’ve compiled some real world examples of responses to case studies here.
It’s not guaranteed that interviews will follow this structure: in smaller start ups or in cases where the product function is in infancy you may well experience looser or divergent interview types, usually shorter or more informal. While you should be open to this, it’s a good idea in all scenarios to push for more meetings as this is key to helping you assess the company.
Responding to an interview request
When you first get a request for an interview it can feel tempting to squeeze it in as soon as possible. However the best strategy is to
Schedule it for a time which suits you
Try to optimise your calendar to pick a good day for you and to give yourself a 30 min preparation slot beforehand. If you can add 30 minutes afterwards in case it overruns, and to give yourself time to reflect, send a thank you note and make some notes on how it went that’s also optimal.
Respond within 24 hours
If you get the request, either respond within 24 hours selecting the best of the proffered slots for you, or sharing your availability. Don’t feel like you have to take one of the proffered slots – you can always share multiple options of your own and see what is feasible. But do get back to them within 24 hours.
Make sure your Linkedin and digital profile is up to date and clean
While you might have sent in a CV or resume, the first thing any interviewer who has not been involved in the screening process will do is check your Linkedin or Google you in advance of the call.
The recruiter may additionally cross check your CV / resume versus your Linkedin profile. You should ensure that basic hygiene factors are in place (all the dates line up, your Linkedin doesn’t miss a job on your CV), and that your Linkedin profile shows off your experience as well as your CV / resume does – as it might be the only thing your interviewer looks at. If you have personal websites or if there’s other digital artefacts out there on the web that an interview might find – it’s a good idea to clean those too.
Start interview preparation: due diligence
Map the role and be clear about why you want it
Almost every company will ask you these two questions, often multiple times:
- Why do you want to leave your current employer?
- Why us?
Know why this company fits into your personal career development plan:
One of the biggest turn offs for any interviewer is to hear you complain about your old employer. You may dislike your current job, but you should be running towards something rather than away from something. Knowing your personal career development plan, and how this specific role, at this specific company, working for this specific person fits coherently into that is key. This doesn’t necessarily mean crafting a long answer: 1-2 killer reasons tend to be good enough. Example: ‘I’ve been working at a Head of Level in Series B marketplaces for 3 years. This role would allow me to step up to Director level (in your Series B marketplace company). I’m particularly interested in your company because your green mission aligns closely to my personal values, and I would like to be driving change’
Why this company
One step often missed is not being able to articulate well why this company in particular meets your goals. Industry, stage, customer base all tie into it but you need to be able to articulate well why this particular company is special. Take a moment to think about what excites you in particular about how this company is solving the problem and know why you want to work for them versus their competitors. You might in fact be applying to all of them – but you should know why they are different and what is interesting about their individual approaches.
Prepare your answers to both of these questions by taking 10 minutes to jot down responses in advance of the interview cycle beginning. This will help cement a credible answer in your head and make it easy for you to answer this question consistently throughout the process.
Mirroring, or the practice of imitating (consciously or unconsciously) the body language, gestures and language of counterparts in a social interaction has been shown to assist with building rapport. In the context of a job interview, ensuring that you mirror the company’s requirements, skills and the values they outline in their job spec can fulfil the same function.
Go through the job description in detail, mapping your experience to the required experience section, and really interrogating the details given about the role remit, the work the team do, and how the company is presenting itself.
It’s a simple 1 hour maximum exercise where you
- Copy paste a screenshot of the job description into a doc
- Go through the role requirements line by line (what sort of person they are looking for, what the role involves) and pull out the key points
- Highlight the keywords in each line
- Think about what is being said and what it means you should do in the interview
- Then craft an answer using their keywords mapped onto your experience
- Then think about what questions are being thrown up for you as you do this – what are you now curious about when it comes to the role?
Role mapping template
The goal isn’t that you’ll be able to recite answers which match the job description word for word, but that you’ll pick up the key requirements and phrasing of the document in depth. This will prepare you to show that you’re right for the role by speaking to the interviewer’s needs in language they’re comfortable with during the screening.
Worked role mapping template example
This is also the moment to mentally re-score your enthusiasm for the job: do you really want it? What questions do you have about it? If you sense you’re not actually very keen or you feel like there are red flags, get ready to ask your questions to the hiring manager and the recruiter. If the answers don’t feel like you or you have concerns, it’s ok to discontinue in the process. Of course there might be times when you’re under pressure to land something – and in that case, see what you’re able to change at the offer stage.
A job description with few details is in itself a bad sign, so if there’s nothing to hang your role mapping off that in itself should be a question mark for you.
Do your due diligence by leveraging your network
Check if you have any 1st or 2nd degree connections who have either worked there in the past or who currently work at the company. Reach out to them explaining you’re interviewing there and asking them for a quick chat. Your success rate should be high; most people will see this as part of their role responsibilities.
If you don’t have any connections who work there, consider reaching out to people with similar profiles to yours who used to work there in the last year. Do cold outreach in a similar method to the ones we’ve covered in our mentor and getting a first round interview without applying articles, and see if you can land a chat. Obviously the longer ago they left the less current their information will be.
When you get to the call your goals are to try to understand the current executive concerns, company focus, and any business or competitive pressures. This is also a great time for you to ask leading questions about what working at the company is like and anything which works well or doesn’t work well.
If you have no success with connections, check in with the recruiter or HR partner and see if they’re prepared to have a quick conversation with you about these topics. Having passed you through to the hiring manager they’re now invested in your success and may be prepared to have another chat. Consider making these questions your questions for them at the HR screen stage.
Do your due diligence by checking publicly available sources for questions that might get asked
There’s two components to this one:
- Check Exponent, Glassdoor and Product Management Exercises for real interview questions which have been asked by tech companies in product manager interviews
- Check Glassdoor for the company specific interview experience
- You can do this by searching for the company on Glassdoor, then selecting the interview filter, and then drilling down by job title –
- As an added bonus this will also give you a sense of what interviewing at the company is like
Glassdoor example of product manager interview experience at Netflix
Check out the interviewer on Linkedin
Don’t only rely on what the hiring manager or talent manager tells you about the interviewer alone: always do a Linkedin check.
It’s helpful for you to see what sorts of backgrounds and experiences are valued at your possible future employer. Chances are that they post on Linkedin allowing you to understand their concerns, personality and interests. Finally, since it’s always good to expand your network, connecting with your interviewer after the interview on Linkedin (with a thank you note) is a great way to make new connections for the future.
“I’ve got lots and lots of different use cases where someone’s gone to an interview; they haven’t got the interview for whatever reason, maybe that business runs products a little differently, or maybe the rest of the team didn’t quite like them, then they [the hiring manager] has moved. And they’ve been the first person that someone from that interview process has called and hired in the next company.” – Miles Cunliffe, Founder of Fresh, a specialised product management recruitment firm
Investigate the product
This is a step which often gets missed – we’re all busy people, perhaps you’ve spent hours reading about your interviewers on Linkedin, and your current boss is on your back, but:
- You will get asked about the product since it’s what they live and breathe every day. If you don’t look at the product, most interviewers will interpret that as a sign you don’t care about the job.
- If you plan to work there, knowing what the product is and how it works is essential to knowing if it’s the right job for you.
- It gives you an opportunity to turn tough interviews into winning interviews. For example, let’s say you’ve been asked to think through estimating the impact of a change in traffic or conversion or activation or retention and you’ve not been having a great interview so far. If you’ve observed something interesting about how the site currently does these things, you can start to turn the conversation towards what you observed, and ask the interviewer questions about their concerns and what metrics they’d like to move based on those observations. This will result in a stronger performance overall since interviewers tend to value interest and enthusiasm about their day to day reality over theory.
Set aside at least an hour to play around with the product you’ll be working on, treating it almost as a customer journey mapping exercise as you move through the service.
For any B2C product this should be reasonably easy. Even if it’s a B2B SaaS product without a self-serve funnel or a high priced B2C product you can still seek out demo videos on Linkedin and Youtube, check G2 for product reviews and audit their blog and white papers for inspiration. You can also always try to find someone in your network whose company uses the product and who can give you a walk through.
“The amount of product managers that I have had through interviews that have not used the product…is absolutely remarkable…Remarkable because most good product organisations will then ask that candidate their opinion on the product or what they might change and if they’re stumped you get no answer. It just shows a complete lack of curiosity which is a huge thing that people are looking for.” – Miles Cunliffe, Founder of Fresh, a specialised product management recruitment firm
Audit the company
An interview process is a cycle of information gathering. You’re gathering information about them, they’re gathering information about you. But just how you might present your career or yourself, the company similarly is putting their best foot forward in front of candidates. Not all information will be disclosed by interviewers.
You should do a solid audit to understand what you might be getting into to avoid later regrets. At its most basic level this should be a mix of review sites, social media pages, the news section on Google search and checking out the product itself. If you’re applying through a service like Otta they help you with this by sharing a useful company summary.
Additional benefits to doing this exercise include being fully prepared for the ‘Why us?’ question.
Interview preparation checklist
Other interview preparation tips
Quora, What as a hiring manager instantly turns you off?
If you’re visiting an office, ask about the dress code and match it – too formal can be as bad as too informal, and noticing that you’re out of step with the rest of the company can be unsettling.
When you’re entering the building or waiting for a call, try to take some deep breaths. Deep breathing has been shown to lower your heart rate thereby promoting calm, and being calm helps you interview well.
Arriving and presenting yourself at an office
In addition, don’t arrive more than 5 minutes in advance of the interview. A lot of start ups don’t have a waiting area, and being in a public place and scrutinised, or waiting alone in a room can disrupt their day to day operations.
Remember that everyone in the building is assessing you – so no matter how flustered or worried you might be, remember to be courteous to everyone you meet.
During the interview
“You’ve got to be in control of yourself. That’s the only thing that you have 100% control of is your reaction to what comes up in the interview. And I think the people that have impressed me the most in interviews and have been those that have managed their own state. So they can get curve balls. Questions that they weren’t anticipating but it’s the people that say, okay, let me just take a couple of moments to think that one through, then embraced the silence without being scared, really thinking about how they’re going to structure their question, and what are they going to say before they spoke. Because to me that shows that when they’re under pressure in another situation, that’s how they’re going to respond. ” – Caroline Clark, from Caroline Clark Coaching
Pause. Consider the question. Ask for a moment. Then structure your response.
Similarly pay attention to what they are saying to you, the way they present themselves and their concerns. It can be easy to latch onto questions, but you’ll receive many other signals and pieces of information during the interview.
This one is obvious – but try to avoid swearing, or at least, too much swearing. Not everyone is on board.
Equally be true to yourself, and don’t try to disguise or fake your personality. Hopefully you will match the company and the company you.
After the interview
Note down what you noticed and observed – this should only take 5-10 mins but if you continue to progress, these notes will be valuable to you in future rounds. Notice if any red flags came up in the interview and evaluate them clearly if you get an offer.
If interviewing for a US company, thank you notes are almost mandatory, so don’t forget to send one. This should be pretty simple: ‘Thank you for your time today, it was great to meet you. I really enjoyed the chat and found the information you shared on XX insightful. I look forward to hearing about next steps.’
For companies in other geographies it’s much less necessary, but it can create a good impression, and if you’re using interviewing as a networking tool, the note can be your message to them as you connect on Linkedin.
Preparation for interviews can significantly improve your performance in them. A lack of preparation shines through in interviews and can create the impression that you’re not interested in the role – when really you’re out of practice and have been busy. Make space for your interview prep in advance: what we’ve outlined here should take you no more than 2 hours. Completing job mapping exercises, and ensuring that you audit the company, the product and who you’ll be talking to can mean the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful interview. Good luck!
Hustle Badger Resources
How to prepare for an interview generally?
Completing a job mapping exercise and a company audit are two helpful tools to get match fit for interviews. A job mapping exercise is when you go line by line through the job description and role requirements in order to analyse in depth what they are looking for, pull out the keywords or phrases used and map your experience to those keywords or phrases. This also provides you with a rich source of questions you can raise in interview. A company audit is when you search for company news, check out employee and user reviews on popular review sites, and check out management on Linkedin. This can also be useful in giving you a rounded sense of the company and making it clearer in interview where questions might be coming from.
How to prepare for a product manager interview?
The best way to prepare for a product manager interview is to: 1) clean your digital profile, 2) complete a job mapping exercise, 3) reach out to contacts for information on the company, 4) audit the product, 5) audit the company, 6) get comfortable with common frameworks for product skill specific questions, 7) get comfortable with common frameworks to structure behavioural interview questions.
How to ask a recruiter about interview preparation?
Recruiters will be happy to help you prepare and put your best foot forward. Ask them directly about the interview process, what they think will be covered in each stage, and leading questions about your interviewer, the hiring team, company goals and concerns. This will help you gain critical contextual information about the company which will lead to a better interview performance.
What is job mapping?
Job mapping is a practice of mapping your skills and experience directly to a role description and requirements. It’s done by taking a screenshot of the job description, and going line by line through the areas covering required skills and experience, and describing the day to day job to highlight keywords used (such as ‘5 years’ experience, or ‘churn analysis’). By selecting out the keywords, you can then identify which skills or past work experiences closely match those keywords, and link the two together (i.e. I conducted a user churn analysis last year). Free template and example here.