Product Manager interview Strategy. 7 steps that will help you nail it

Author Credits

Afroz Mohammad writes articles on this page. He is a startup product manager, a visionary and a technology enthusiast. He is Carnegie Mellon University alum and lives in California.

Articles are edited and commented by Manikandan. Mani is a Technology Consultant, product analyst and a polymath. He is a Carnegie Mellon University alum and lives in Pittsburgh.

Product Manager interview Strategy. Seven steps that will help you nail it

   Product manager role has been one of the most sought after position by many college graduates. The position is so attractive because of the sheer responsibility and the ownership the person takes every single day at the job. This job is definitely not for people who want a routine work life.

The product manager role differs a lot depending on the product, the market, the team and the company.

     However all product managers should have deep data-driven decision-making ability. They should also have the agility of switching contexts, from engineering to design, from marketing to sales and customers. He or she must have the ability to focus on the present and have the foresight to manage the future.

    You have been pursuing the product manager job. However, you do not know where to begin. In this article, I will try to address the gaps, which you may not learn through books and online resources.

These tips are things I learned from experience. These steps are to ensure that while you are on your journey, you focus on doing certain things right that increase your probability of conversion.

Below are the most reviewed and bought product management books

Step 0:

Yes, you read it right. Step ZERO. This is when you sit down, introspect for three days, and try to answer the following questions

  1. Why do I want to become a product manager?
  2. What are the unique skills I possess that differentiate me?
  3. How do I position myself in the industry?
  4. What are the products, markets and industries that can use my unique skills?
  5. Do I have knowledge or experience on the above “products, markets and industries”?
  6. Do I have my own vision for the products, markets and industries where I am putting my skills to use?

     When you find the answers for all the above questions, you have a target.  You should look for job openings, ideally in your target area. The moment you start looking for product manager roles in random products, markets and industries, you start hurting your chances and lose faith in becoming a product manager.

Step 1:

Use as many channels to apply for job openings. What really matters is whom you are applying to. Each organization has its internal processes. Form my experience; the following are the people you should reach out. (Preference in decreasing order)

  1. Hiring managers: Hiring managers become the most crucial person because they initiate your interview process.  
  2. Internal referral:  This can be your friend, a LinkedIn in connection or anyone who has the potential to get you an interview. Cold calling for information has never been bad idea.
  3. Recruiters
  4. Apply on portals if nothing.

       You should take multiple channels to reach one, two or all of them. For example – you could ask your friend to make a referral directly to the hiring manager. When your resume reaches the hiring manager, the buck stops. If the HM decided you are not a fit, nothing else will work. This helps you demonstrate not to shy away from reaching out to people when you need to get your stuff done.

Step# 2:  

Be short, concise and straight to the point when you make contact. Let them clearly know the following

  • How you found their contact.
  • What are you looking for?
  • Give them details on how you fit the role.

 Attach your resume, and any relevant projects that you want to display – like a website/application /research or any other work sample.

     What you must not do is overwhelm with information or your sample work. Job descriptions are vague. You have no idea what exactly the hiring manager expects in a candidate. If you focus introduction on point 3 of the job description and that is really just a nice to have, you hurt your chances.

They may not have the time to read all the content. Respect their time.

     The best and safest approach is to focus on your positioning skills from step# 0. Keep the information brief and allow the hiring manager to contact you for more information or a screening call.

 Step# 3:

Once the hiring manager sets up the screening, be open minded. This is the call that will help you setup a navigation path for future interviews. Prepare everything you see on the job description, the company, their products, the market, their competitors and their products, and most importantly – your vision!

     80% of your interview preparation must be done before you even talk to the hiring manager. The screening interview will not test your raw technical skills. However, you can expect questions that test the depth of your product knowledge.  Your ability to strike a comfortable conversation related to the product, the vision you have for the product and your plan to execute will impress the hiring manager. If you can somehow bring that out, you are sure to get interviews lined up with the team.

     The reason to be open-minded during this round is that you will never have a complete picture about the job profile until the hiring manager explains.

     The screening call is the best time to ask more questions about the role and identify the gaps you should address during successive interview rounds.  Make note of any interesting questions that you did not answer satisfactorily.

     Most importantly, try to understand current challenges the company or the product is facing. Keeping all this is mind, you will have a complete picture of what they expect from you in the job. In addition, lets you also decide if that job is what you really want to do.

Your product-market fit assessment skills are determined here.

Step# 4:

After the screening call, take list the gaps or challenges you identified and by any means try to fill them. For example – suppose you identify you lack experience or knowledge in API design. Quickly learn about them by research. Prepare a strategy on how you would approach the problem. Send them back to the hiring manager along with a thank you note.

  • Doing this will show you are interested in the role and you have initiative.
  • You understand their problem and know how to approach it.
  • You can construct an executable plan on a document – this is something you will have to do every day as a PM.
  • This will also increase your chances of getting a response for the second round.

Step# 5:

How do you put together your executive plan that you want send to hiring manager? You have to demonstrate the following.

  • The complete picture about current state of the market,
  • Markets expected future state
  • What your vision is for the products and the market.

Try to show how diverse your skills are and how you can use them together to approach the problem. Product manager is a person of research, and have the capability to comprehend multiple subject areas to come up with one coherent solution. The document should contain evidence in the form of quantitative as well as qualitative analysis. Overall, do not give the hiring manager an impression to let you go.

Here you demonstrate

  • Top down and bottom up thinking capability.
  • Ability to comprehend big picture and its moving parts.

Step# 6:

 If you clear the screening and get successive interviews with the team, collect the names of your interviewers and look for the following.

Interviewer’s profile, background and skills.
  • What you have in common with them, what you do not.

  • Make a note on what you should not be bringing up if you are not confident enough.

  • After you do that and get a good, sense of what skills they might gauge you.

If the job requires you to have coding skills, sit down and practice code. In case it requires you to have a data science background, be sure that you can give them examples on complex algorithms.  Suppose it requires a design focused product manager, show the various UI/UX research techniques you know. Above all, BE HONEST. If you do not know or have not done something, this is not the time to show you can do it.

My advice to anyone would be to accept what you do not know and show how you can learn it or fill the gap with any another skills you have.

Every interviewer comes with an expertise in one area and possibly from a different team. For example – engineering, UX, marketing or analytics. There are few common things which all of them would expect

  • How thoroughly you can understand their subject area.
  • Whether you can translate them in to product team’s perspective.
  • If you can deeply empathize in order to resolve conflicts with other stakeholders?

Step# 7:

After you have completed the process, make sure to write a thank you note to the entire team within the next few hours. When you do that, make sure to re-iterate their problems and how well you can fit the job. Additionally, show the unique skills you would bring to the table adding to the team synergies.

Hope these help! Feel free to drop me a note on LinkedIn if you have more questions. All the best.


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