Interest in Product Management roles at top technology companies like Amazon and Google is taking off.
And it's easy to see why: strong compensation packages, significant responsibility, great perks and an opportunity to ship products that will impact the lives of million consumers.
Despite increasing interest in the PM career track, few candidates have a solid idea of what to expect on interview day.
In this post, we'll review the three most common type of PM interviews and shed light on what the goal of each type is and what type of questions candidates might be asked.
Three types of product management interviews
#1: General "product sense"
The goal of this type of interview is to answer the question: does this candidate think like a product manager? As a result, interviewers want to see candidates demonstrate a strong opinion about products, grasp how they work and be able to cite key ways in which products could be improved.
Since the interviewers are trying to get a read on general product sense, they'll ask a smattering of questions that test a candidate's product IQ from different angles. As a result, these interviews tend to feel a little haphazard and each question is an independent exercise. For example, they might ask "What's your favorite product and why?" then jump to "Pick a popular Google app and tell me three ways it could be improved," before ending on "Should Netflix be worried about Amazon Video?"
In the last decade, a majority of product management interviews tended to follow this "shoot from the hip" style of interview. At some of the bigger companies, like Google and Facebook, these types of interviews still happen frequently. Over the course of a full set of PM interviews, it's highly likely to get at least one interview (out of 5 or more) that adheres to this style.
#2: Product case study
In contrast to general product sense interviews, product case studies are designed to test two things: 1) how does this candidate demonstrate specific skills we're looking for in our PMs and 2) how deep is their relevant industry and product knowledge. These product case studies are almost always designed to simulate an actual product challenge that a PM and/or team faced on the job.
These interviews kick off with an open ended question which requires the candidate to propose a strategy (or framework) for working through it. Then the candidate is expected to navigate through the problem while including the interviewer in his/her thought process. Interviewers will probe for on key product considerations like: how the candidate might design the product (e.g., sketch or whiteboard rough wireframes), what analysis they might do to determine if it's working, key technical considerations (e.g., which data to save or what they'd want to be able to measure) and how they'd promote the product at launch.
For candidates familiar with the management consulting style case interviews, a product case study will feel very similar even though the content will be native to the specific company and team they're interviewing with.
#3: Cross-functional expertise
This is the type of PM interview that can give non-technical PM candidates nightmares.
In cross-functional interviews, candidates will speak with a broad spectrum of functions ranging from design to customer support to engineering. Each company and interview often has a different mix of cross-functional interviews depending on which functions are most critical for PMs to collaborate in that role and quite simply which type of people are available on interview day. For example, you might have cross-functional expertise interviews with engineers, data science, product marketers, designers and support and operations employees.
The goal of these interviews is to determine if you'll be a productive partner to that discipline. For example, engineers will want to dig into the depth of your technical skills and understand how you'd intend to partner with engineering to build products. In some cases, especially if the role is more technical or the product organization places strong emphasis on technical chops, they might ask you to write some pseudo code (e.g., what's the SQL you'd write to pull this information out of a database).
Overall, product management interviews are designed to test a variety of core skill sets that will be critical to on the job success. While every company has a different approach for the right mix of product sense, cross-functional and product case study interviews, candidates can count on leading tech companies going deep on their product knowledge. For more information on the product management career path, feel free to check out our Getting Started with PM Guide here.
Kenton Kivestu is the Founder and CEO of RocketBlocks, an online platform that helps students prepare for case interviews. Prior to RocketBlocks, he launched online ad platforms at Google, led the Zynga mobile poker franchise and was a consultant at BCG's SF office. He started RocketBlocks to help candidates hone their analytical skills so they can put their best foot forward on interview day. Kenton graduated as an Echols Scholar with distinction from the University of Virginia and holds an MBA from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth.
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