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Favorite interview questions to ask a product manager?

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Curious to hear what are others favorite interview questions to ask a product manager? Not looking for broad base advice, but rather actual example questions or processes.

7 Replies

Leo Frishberg
3
0
Leo Frishberg Advisor
UX Strategist, Product Manager, Phase II
Hmmm...interesting question. Of course, part of the problem is what you mean by "product manager." Just in the past several months I've witnessed my prior, rock-solid definition get blown away by a variety of different roles.

So, perhaps that would be the first question to ask the candidate: How do you define the role of product manager?

Others include:
  • Tell me about your recent experience researching <the market your company is serving>
  • Describe your optimal arrangement/organization for the product definition team (who should be on it, what is its role, who is responsible for what)
  • What is the difference, in your experience, between a Product Manager and a Product Owner?
  • What is your working relationship with UX? Between the two disciplines, how is the product lifecycle addressed?
And so forth.
Stevan Vigneaux
1
0
Stevan Vigneaux Advisor
Director of Product Management and Marketing at Mimio
Agreed, definitions are changing. Then again, I have always found them to vary from company to company. In some places product management includes much of what product marketing does in other companies. In other firms product management is narrower. Which model is right? Truly not meaning to be flippant - the one that works for your people in your culture at your time.

My definition has always been broad - the product manager is responsible for making sure the company builds and launches products that generate profits for the company. That doesn't mean the product manager builds them, that's engineering's role, but this is a team that needs a leader - the product manager. It doesn't mean the product manager necessarily runs the launch, that may be marketing's role or it may fall to product management.

One of the most important interview goals is determining if this candidate will be able to "see around corners" so we can spend the next few months or quarters building the product that is at the exact intersection of market wants and needs the day it launches.

The product manager absolutely must understand the customers. Great product management has never been primarily about the technology. Getting the product built - that's heavily about technology. But figuring out what we ought to start building today for delivery 6-24 months from now, that's about people.

It's about coming to understand their work (my career has been 99% B-to-B), seeing inefficiencies that are just "the way things are" to the users, finding out what motivates the Choosers (who actually, or effectively, make the buying decision), divining who are the Influencers and what are their concerns/wants/needs, and developing a view of what could be, a view of what customers will pay for - even if they might laugh at you right now if you described it. After all, we're not shipping this new product tomorrow.

By the time we are sitting down with each other the first set of questions are about the people side of the candidate. I ask questions along the lines of:
  • To candidates currently working as a product manager
    • What product or features are you working on now in your current position that most customers would say they don't want or need?
    • How do you prioritize features in a new product or a release of an existing product?
    • Who are your three favorite customers? If they have a hard time answering that they likely do not have three favorite customers which probably means they are not in customer facilities often enough and/or are not breaking bread with them (an incredibly effective way to enable people to talk about work without feeling they are being interviewed or pumped).
  • To candidates currently working in engineering
    • How will you determine products and/or features to recommend to the team? This can reveal whether the candidate is an "I'll figure it all out and tell them" product manager or a "I'll spend time with the team to learn how they think, to get a sense of how they have worked together thus far and then I'll work with them to develop lines of research and I'll ask some of them to come along on customer meetings" kind of product manager.
    • What makes a good product? I always hope "one that sells many units at a large profit" is at least part of the answer. If the majority of the answer is about elegance, feature set, and UX - bad sign. Zillions of such products have crashed and burned - along with the companies that offered them.
The second major area is about communication skills. Even the most glorious product plan is of little value if the engineers do not clearly understand what they have been asked to build and why this is a good thing to be building. And they need to understand the timeline and why this is the timeline. One of the best tests of a well communicated product plan is to ask the engineering team to describe what they have been asked to build and see if it matches with the product manager's view. If not, the product manager has a problem, and so does the company.

In this area I usually ask the candidate to explain his/her current product. I don't generally say much more than that just so I can see where the presentation goes. Does it unreasonably assume certain knowledge on my part, does it start with some basics to assure we have sufficient a common knowledge to enable communication, does the explanation start with target market/Chooser/User or benefits or value proposition or, bad sign, the technology.

Then I'll usually ask them to tell me about the product they least liked. Again, not a lot of framing, just an open question to see where it goes. Same general goal on my end - determining if they can communicate clearly and concisely to a range of audiences.

Lastly on the communications front, and assuming things have gone well so far, I'll ask about the product they would love to build, their dream assignment. Most don't do well at this but the ones that do get loads of points - and it doesn't need to have anything at all to do with our company.

All through this I am looking for personality and culture fit. Can they handle the culture of our company, will they complement it or be drawn into it and thus possibly not be an addition to us. Will they be comfortable being contrarian when needed and then getting on board with whatever is decided, or will they remain a grousing and dissonant voice if it doesn't go their way?

I hope that helps a little. Obviously, it's not the most scientific approach, there's no point scoring system, no super clear in/out metric. But it's worked well enough. Not perfectly, but well enough.

Lastly, Matt LeMay published a great piece recently - herethat has many similar sentiments and is very well presented.

Stevan


Andrea Raimondi
0
0
Andrea Raimondi Entrepreneur
Computer Software Consultant and Contractor
Hi!

So far, I haven't seen a lot of product managers around. However, one thing that strikes me about the "good ones", or - at least - the ones I consider good ones, is their industry knowledge. I do not think that a product manager can reach certain high levels of success without industry knowledge.

So, here are the things I would be looking for in a product manager:

1) Industry knowledge
2) Understanding of SDLC and understanding of programming (two different things)
3) Understanding of pro/cons of every major technology/platform

This basically means they must have been in a software development role in the past and must keep themselves up-to-date.

Hence, the most important question I'd ask would be something like this:

"$Product uses $Technology: what is the missing feature that you think would be best to implement and why?"

This gives you all the insight you need in the following areas:
1) Industry knowledge: he/she knows $Product and its features/limitations
2) Tech knowledge: Does the technology help in implementing it? Does it go against the grain?
3) Customer understanding: best bang for the buck

A
Gloria Luna
0
0
Gloria Luna Entrepreneur
VP Marketing - Brand builder and creative problem solver
Personally, I believe when you are dealing at the PM level, ability to execute is critical. It should become clear very early on in the interview if the candidate has a good grasp of the industry and the technology. However, you can have those qualities in spades but if you can't execute, you don't have much except some great ideas.

I will ask the candidate to take you through a project they took from concept to delivery and probe on specifics on the process they used and how they worked with their cross-functional team members.

Hope that helps.


Will Murphy
1
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Will Murphy Entrepreneur
Cofounder & VP Product at Talla
It depends a lot on factors like what industry are you in and what phase your company is in. Off the top of my head, here are some thought-starters:

1) What products and services are you are passionate about and why?
Good: They will get excited - and tell you about design, customer experience, price, performance of how the product or service works,the operational design (how it is built), how it gets to customers, how it gets sold, and how it is branded/ marketed.
Bad: XYZ product, because they look cool

2) Tell me how you resolved a conflict between people.
Product Management is about leading people as well as the product.

3) How many years experience in software development (or some other area for different industries) do you have and what did you accomplish?

4) How many years of customer research experience do you have and what did you accomplish?

5) What do you do to uncover customer needs?
Good: They look for customer needs and why they are needed in context of the customer's life, sometimes unspoken - also track macro trends and what the future will look like
Bad: Ask the customers to provide feature requests

6) How does the job change as your product grows?

7) How do yo balance incremental product improvements with game-changing improvements?

8) How do you prioritize features?
Good: Based on roadmap/ vision validated by what you know from customers, trends, etc.
Bad: First-in, first out based on feature requests

9) How do you know which customer requests to ignore?

10) Tell me why you do research. What to you want to discover?

11) How do your competitors impact your feature planning?
Good: Good to be aware, but we set our own vision
Bad: We create a comparative feature grid and match it

12) How do you collaborate with the people building the product?
Good: We meet to make tradeoffs based on the future vision
Bad: I ask for features, they code the features with little context of the future
Nataliya Starostina
0
0
Product Marketing Manager consultant
Hi Bill,Being a PM myself I can always tell if interviewer has a good understanding about the PM role. Questions are very indicative.I would say questions the best questions are like following: what product line/s you have managed (revenue, SKU, profit margin), what phase of the life cycle youenjoyed the most and why, how such/such methodology/implementation helped you on such/such stage and what was the outcome; lunch strategy, roadmaps.Hope it helps,let me know if more questions,Nataliya
Helen Chao
0
0
Helen Chao Entrepreneur
Career Blogger & Headhunter
Here's the link to the article I wrote on how to interview a product manager. Hope you find it useful.
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