Interviews are scary, right? You only have about 30–60 minutes to sell yourself and one wrong answer can cost you your dream job.
Even the best PMs I know are not always great at interviews. Cracking the PM interview requires a lot of good examples, solid practice and thinking on your feet.
To be successful, you need to spend about 2- 3 days preparing. You need to come up with:
- An Origin Story to match yourself to the role
- Answers to PM skillset questions to communicate your expertise
- Answers to behavioural questions to match the company’s core values
- Interview practices to confidently deliver your answers
In this post, I’ll share the mindsets, processes and tools that I use to help my students land their dream job. Hopefully, this would be useful for you too.
We have a lot to talk about, let’s get into it.
The first thing about preparing for an interview is matching your experience to the role. Hiring managers are looking for good reasons to defend your profile to their peers whilst rejecting other candidates. For example:
- “This candidate has the exact background we are looking for whilst the other doesn’t.”
- “Looks like this candidate can bring in a fresh perspective from various industries whilst the other doesn’t.”
- “This candidate has an entrepreneurial mindset required for this role.”
You want to provide these reasons to the hiring manager so they don’t have to craft it themselves.
Here are three steps to help you create your Origin Story:
- Look at your LinkedIn and list out all the relevant experiences you’ve learnt in your past roles. Highlight keywords in the job description and create a chronological history of how everything you’ve learnt has serendipitously landed you on this opportunity (Keep this within 5 minutes)
- Look at the job description, and point out unique skills that no one else can bring. Say you have an engineering experience you can bring to the company, and the job description is looking for “Collaborate with designers and engineers to identify opportunities that will impact our goals/metrics”. Mention your engineering background will help you make better build, buy or partner decisions when building products.
- Research the product and be specific on the experience you’re looking to gain in this company. For example, you want to join the Amazon Echo team because you’re a customer of the product and want to build experience in managing AI products.
I know selling yourself might feel a little strange to some, but if you don’t do it, who else will? 😁
Write down your “Origin Story” on paper and memorise the key points. Here is a template you can use to create an Origin Story for yourself:
The PM craft questions are designed to test your product management experience. Some questions you might come across are:
- Tell me about a product you managed from concept to launch? What was your role and responsibilities on the team?
- Tell me about a commitment you made that you later realised was unrealistic? How did you deal with it?
- Tell me about a time when a CEO taps on your shoulder for a Product idea, but you’ve already had a defined roadmap. How did you handle it?
To answer these questions, you’ll need to approach the response in two parts:
- The first part starts with a summary of how you’ll approach the situation.
- The second part talks about a real-life example you have encountered before.
Here is a framework to help you answer these questions:
- Situation: Talk about the business context and why you were in that situation
- Problem: Talk about the issues or challenges you faced
- Solution: Talk about the ideas you had to solve the problem and what did you do
- Impact: Talk about the outcome you saw because of the solution you implemented
- Lessons: Talk about a personal growth lesson you’ve learnt
Here is an example question with answers:
Question: Tell me about a time when a CEO taps on your shoulder for a Product idea, but you’ve already had a defined roadmap.
Your answer: Yeah, our CEO currently do a bit of that; he was pretty close to our customers when he founded the company. My approach will be to first understand the CEO’s point of view and flesh out the details with him a little more. Then I’ll look at the effort and value of the feature with my team and come back to the CEO if we need to make a tradeoff decision.
Then give a real-life example…
Situation: A good example was when I was working on an initiative to integrate multiple payment methods into our checkout page. The CEO wanted us to add crypto payments as one of the features.
Problem: Our team was already tight on the scope, and adding additional scope for crypto payments will delay our launch.
Solution: So I sat down the with CEO and mapped out what we need to do to support cryptocurrencies. We need to find a way to smooth out the currency fluctuations, provide a way to verify the customer’s wallet and offer refunds in cryptocurrencies. I also brought market data on credit card payments vs crypto payments, and the current market’s adoption of crypto payments is still low. Fleshing out the idea more in detail helped him realise the feature will require significant investment without a clear ROI.
Impact: In the end, the CEO wanted me to capture this idea in the backlog, but we agreed this would not be in the scope of the launch.
Lessons: What I’ve learnt is that high-level stakeholders often simply want someone to help them flesh out ideas to make a tradeoff decision together. Assisting CEOs to flesh out their ideas creates a lot of trust between us, and I often remind myself of this when I’m in the same situation.
The heart of the interview is answering the PM skills questions with examples to demonstrate your experience. Make sure you prepare for this.
Here are the 20 most common product interview questions I’ve come across in my career. Feel free to use these to get you started:
Behavioural questions check if your values align with the organisation’s values.
For example, when an interviewer asks, “Tell me about a time you’ve dealt with a difficult person.” — what they are asking is if you have the tolerance, listening skills, and the understanding to work in a diverse team.
The best way to come up with examples is to look at the company’s “Careers Page” and come up with examples that align with the company’s values.
Here’s an example from Airbnb’s career website. If I’m applying for a role at Airbnb, I’d come up with past examples that align with their values.
Ensure you draw on multiple examples rather than one or two situations. Watch the word “we” and talk about “I” in the situation.
Focus on your contribution. Change up your answers depending on the seniority of the role.
There are many examples of behavioural questions, but here are the common questions I’ve come across. Feel free to use these to get you started:
These guides are great if you’re interviewing for a FAANG company:
To prepare for answers, here is a spreadsheet with over 900+ Product Manager questions from FANG companies
Writing a good answer is only half of the work. The other half is to smooth out the narratives to show conviction.
Start with friends or close peers who can do mock interviews with you. Ask them to pick random questions from your Origin Story, PM Skills and the Behavioural questions. When you are answering, ask them to provide you with an evaluation based on the following:
- How confident was my verbal communication?
- How well did I demonstrate the mindset of an experienced PM?
- Did I show knowledge of the company I’m applying to?
- Did I demonstrate a culture fit for the company?
Close friends and peers can give you a safe space to get early feedback on your responses.
Here is an interview feedback template you can use to help you get feedback: Interview prep evaluation template
Once you’ve built your confidence in your answers, you can find external peers to give you more candid feedback. Tap into these product communities and find PMs to help you practice:
Preparing all the questions will take time — usually about 2–3 days or about 15-20 hours. But once you have prepared all the materials, it becomes infinite leverage you can use for future interviews.
Your prepared answers will free up your brain to think at a higher level and you can control the flow of the interview.
So the next time you come across an interview opportunity, don’t forget to do the following:
- Prepare your Origin Story to match yourself to the role
- Write down past experiences so you can talk about your PM skills with ease
- Prepare for behavioural questions so you can match the company’s values.
- Lastly, don’t forget to practice, practice, and practice.
Good luck with your following interview. I’d love to hear from you if this guide has helped! 🍀