I’ve interviewed at dozens of companies and answered hundreds of Product Management questions in my career. These companies include NASA, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Ticketmaster, Live Nation and Yelp.
Here are the 4 most common types of questions asked in an interview.
- Product Vision Questions
- Behavioral Questions
- Estimation Questions
- Instructional Questions
Here’s why each type of question is asked.
1. Product Vision Questions
Here are some examples product vision questions:
“design an alarm clock for me”
“tell me how to improve my company’s product”
“What’s your favorite product”
They ask this for 3 reasons.
Reason #1: They want to gauge your product vision. They want to see whether you can thoughtfully think about the future path of the product and have that product instinct about what users care about and would want.
Reason #2: They want to see if you have structured thinking. Whenever companies hire product managers, they’re looking for someone who they feel is wicked smart and can learn anything. Sometimes they’ll even pick candidate who they feel is wicked smart but doesn’t have a lot of domain experience over a candidate who has a lot of domain experience but they feel is wicked smart. When I was getting interviewed at Apple, I had no consumer products experience. All I had was space experience working at NASA. When I was hired at Ticketmaster, I had know live entertainment or ticketing experience, all I had was consumer product experience and space experience. So how to do you present yourself as being wicket smart? You do by showing structured thinking.
Reason #3: They want to see how creative you are. Product questions like this are pretty open ended and it gives you an opportunity to demonstrate that you can think outside the box. A good product manager candidate will answer the bare minimum question, a great candidate will come up with new ideas related to the product that the interviewer didn’t even think of.
2. Behavioral Questions
Here are some example behavioral questions:
Describe a major change that happened in a past job. How did you adapt?
How did you show leadership at your last company?
How do you handle changing priorities?
There are many different types of behavioral questions. The interviewer can ask you how you would respond to theoretical situations or how you’ve overcome an obstacle in the past. They may also ask you to talk about parts of your resume.
There are 3 reasons that companies like to ask behavioral questions:
Reason #1 – they want to fact check you and make sure you’ve done the things you put on your resume. Let’s say you saw a resume and one of the sentences said “Designed the fastest mobile ticket purchase flow in industry, reduced # of steps to purchase by 50%+” Sounds pretty impressive doesn’t it? I had this on my resume and was asked how I came up with 50%. I came up with 50% because I took the number of screens needed to purchase a ticket from 7 down to 3. That answer made sense to the interviewer and eventually led to the job offer.
Reason #2 – they want to figure out whether you’ve made an impact and brought value to the team. One of the questions they might ask is: “Tell me about an obstacle that you’ve faced” This is a pretty open-ended question. There’s at least a thousand ways that you can answer this question. You could’ve had personal obstacles, technical obstacles, or even team obstacles.
The obstacles that you end up sharing talks about the scales of the challenges you’ve faced in the past. Someone doesn’t have a lot of professional experiences might pick obstacles that were tiny in the eyes of the interviewer. Furthermore, the interview want to hear how you managed to overcome that obstacle and what kind of impact it made to the team. Every hiring manager wants to hire a product manager that has experienced and overcome many obstacles.
Reason #3 – they want to see how well you communicate. As a product manager, you’ll have to work with many types of people. You’ll work with engineers, designers, QA, upper management. The list goes on. These behavioral questions will gauge how quickly and clearly you can explain complex ideas.
3. Estimation Questions
Here are some example estimation questions:
How long would it take to empty a swimming pool using only a drinking straw?
How much does the US spend on cat food each year?
How many pairs of sunglasses are sold every year in the US?
Estimation questions are used to gauge your analytical skills. The final answer of the estimation questions doesn’t actually matter. It’s more the process that’s important. When you get these questions, focus on the thought process and don’t worry if you won’t get to the right number. Heck, the interviewer probably doesn’t even know the right number. They want to see if how you came up the final number followed a logical process.
Companies also ask this question to test mental math abilities. They do this because having the ability to do simple math questions is a pretty valuable skill in a product manager’s line of work and is an indicator of how well you’ll be able to do tasks like size the market or problem solve with the engineering team. Not every company will ask an estimation question. Highly data-driven companies like Google will have a higher chance of asking estimation questions.
4. Instructional Questions
Here are some example instructional questions:
How do you make a cup of tea?
How would you cook a pack of instant noodles?
Can you teach me something complicated that I don’t know?
Google’s founder, Sergey Brin, loves to ask instructional questions. Companies want to hire Product Managers who are detailed oriented. They can test how detail oriented a candidate is by asking an instructional question. An instructional question is a question that requires the candidate to teach the interviewer something. One of the hiring managers that interviewed me asked me to teach him how to make a cup of tea.
The hiring manager told me later that one of the reasons that they hired me was because of how I answered that question. He told me that documentation was a huge part of the job because the product that we were planning to build was going get scaled out to tackle other markets. And when our team starts to grow in size, we want to make sure that the knowledge of how the product worked gets easily passed on to new members. In addition, knowing how to answer an instructional story will give the company confident at you’ll be able to write clear requirements that engineers will understand.
Interesting piece. Thank Charles. – JA
Thank you, Charles! Very interesting and insightful
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Very helpful – thanks!