A quick search on LinkedIn will tell you that there are more than two million people with the title “product manager”. Glassdoor has put the product manager job in their top 10 of the best jobs list in the U.S. and the U.K. for 2022. At the same time, 43% of companies are planning on hiring more product managers.
Due to the popularity and the complexity of the role, hiring product managers can be very challenging. Most hiring processes involve interviewing a diverse group of candidates with different experiences and backgrounds.
Asking the right questions during the interview helps you understand how they think and how they will react in specific day-to-day situations.
- Background/experience questions provide the candidate with the opportunity to talk about their background, qualifications, and why they are interested in the role.
- Technical know-how questions evaluate the candidate’s understanding of the technology and their ability to communicate complex ideas.
- Strategic thinking questions deal with the why, how, and what of a product.
- Analytical competency questions are designed to help the interviewer see how the candidate approaches day-to-day problems.
- Execution questions help the interviewer understand how the candidate identifies and prioritizes opportunities for the product(s).
- Leadership and team management questions are asked to see how the candidate demonstrates leadership skills and potential.
Why are product manager interview questions so important?
Going into the interview unprepared is bad both for the interviewer and the candidate. While some interviewers can get a good sense of the person they are interviewing, it’s almost impossible to predict how they will operate day-to-day from just a conversation.
That’s why every interview must cover all the important points in the form of questions. Here are all the important points grouped into categories:
- Technical know-how
- Strategic thinking
- Analytical competency
- Leadership and team management
Strategies & examples for background questions
The purpose of background questions is to make the candidate feel comfortable while also providing them with the chance to introduce themselves and talk about their background, qualifications, and why they are interested in the particular role.
These questions should be easy to answer, as the interviewer is asking the candidate things that they already know.
Example question: Why do you want this job?
In the book “Cracking the PM Interview,” the authors suggest that the candidates answer the question by highlighting their experience, mentioning at least one specific accomplishment, and what attracted them to this job.
For example: “I’ve been working as a product manager for the past four years. During that time, I successfully drove two new product launches. I’m looking to broaden my skill set and take on new challenges. I love how your company focuses on products that are helping build a more sustainable future.”
Here are some other background/experience questions and prompts you can use:
- Walk us through your resume.
- Tell us about yourself.
- Why excites you about product management?
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
- Why do you want this job?
Strategies & examples for technical questions
Technical know-how questions ask the candidate to explain certain technical concepts in a simple, understandable language. The goal of these questions is to evaluate the candidate’s understanding of the fundamentals of technology and their ability to communicate complex ideas to the team.
Example question: How would you explain how APIs work to your grandparents?
A great way to answer a question like this is with an analogy: “If I had to explain how APIs work to my grandparents, I’d use a wedding analogy. For example, the couple requests a certain type of food that falls within a budget. It will be the job of the wedding planner to look for and communicate with various caterers and hire the one that is willing to cater the food at the right price. In this scenario, the event organizer acts as an API and performs multiple tasks like communicating with multiple entities, obtaining the needed data, and getting the job done.”
Here are some other technical know-how questions you can ask:
- How would you explain Google Cloud to your uncle?
- What technologies would you use to build a live stream video service?
- How would you store large images in a database?
- How would you write a program to randomly shuffle an array of numbers?
- How would you take in an unsorted array with duplicates and return it with no duplicates?
- Note that this question is more geared towards a technical product manager role.
Strategies & examples for strategic thinking questions
Strategic thinking questions deal with the why, how, and what of a product. They are open-ended and have no right or wrong answer.
Questions such as, “What should company X do next?”; “Why should company X acquire company Y”; and “Should company X enter a new market?” all qualify as strategic questions.
Example question: Facebook bought Instagram for about a billion dollars even when it wasn’t making any money. What do you think was the reason?
Product manager interview questions like this are designed to force the candidate to look at the overall picture, do some deep thinking, and come up with a logical answer. A good way for the candidate to answer is by tying the product to the strategic vision.
For example, a strong answer might be: “Facebook was already the world’s top social platform, but Instagram had captured a different niche in social media based on images. It was starting to gain influencers at a rapid rate. Facebook saw the buying of Instagram as a way to protect its flank and enhance its portfolio. In the end, it turned out to be a great decision. Today, Instagram is the third most popular social media platform. Facebook also applied the same logic when they tried to purchase Musical.ly, which eventually evolved into TikTok.”
Some of the other strategic thinking questions you can ask include:
- How would you sell plants at Amazon?
- How would you monetize Facebook Messenger in all markets?
- What product would you eliminate if you were the CEO of Apple?
- In your opinion, why did Microsoft buy LinkedIn?
Strategies & examples for analytical competency questions
Analytical competency questions test the candidate’s analytical approach. They are designed to help the interviewer see how the candidate thinks and how they approach day-to-day problems.
Example Question: What is your favorite website and how would you improve it?
In product management, sometimes it’s best to follow frameworks. The candidate can explain why they think something needs improvement and how they would do it.
This question can be answered by following these four steps:
- Provide a structure, such as discussing a logical progression from goals to features to implementation to evaluation.
- Consider the needs of users and customers.
- Identify the weak points.
- Mention your ideas for improvement.
A great answer to this question is something such as:
“Don’t laugh, but my favorite website is [the name of your favorite PM-related website]. They have great content with tips and tricks of the trade from experts. One thing that’s missing though is a way to connect with other product managers. I would suggest they find a way to facilitate comments and build a community to increase engagement and let us all learn from each other. If that was a success, they could even offer a premier tier with direct access to top product managers or monthly meet-ups to generate additional revenue.”
Other typical analytical competency questions are:
- How would you improve Netflix?
- How would you increase the adoption of high-speed internet in rural areas?
- Let’s say you were charged with developing a new product for Amazon. What metrics would you use to measure success?
- How do you decide what is the right price for a product?
Strategies & examples for execution questions
The goal of execution questions in the product manager interview is to reveal to the interviewer how the candidate identifies and prioritizes opportunities for the products. These questions are asked to find out how the candidate uses their resources, develops roadmaps and KPIs, and how they can use data to build better experiences.
Example question: Should Facebook require users to upload a profile photo at sign up and how would you make that decision?
Note that this is a question Facebook has used for interviewing product managers:
When answering this and other similar execution questions, the candidate can think about employing the GAME framework:
- G = Goals
- A = Actions
- M = Metrics
- E = Evaluations
One of the ways to answer this question is by following the framework and highlighting the value of A/B tests: “Requiring users to upload a profile pic might help prevent fake accounts, but it could also hurt user acquisition. You’d need to run some experiments to find out. I’d suggest an A/B test asking randomized user groups to upload photos at onboarding. You can then compare activation rates from the control group to others as a whole. If activation doesn’t suffer, you’d want to move forward. If it prevented new users from joining, we’d need to go back and refine the idea further and test again.”
Other types of execution questions the interview can include are:
- How do you go about reducing the amount of friendly fraud on our ecommerce site?
- The number of abandoned shopping carts suddenly spiked. What do you do?
- You’ve been named the product manager for Facebook’s newsfeed. How do you rank posts?
Strategies & examples for leadership questions
The success of a product manager will most likely be driven by their ability to lead a team and help them do their best work. When preparing product manager interview questions, make sure you ask the candidate for some specific examples to see how they’ve demonstrated leadership.
Example Question: Think of a time when you had to work with people who didn’t report to you and they disagreed with your direction. How did you handle the conflict?
This question isn’t really about what the candidate did, but how they acted in a specific negative situation. A great way to answer this is by describing the situation and how the candidate navigated through it. For example:
“When we went to the sales and marketing team with a product, they were vehemently opposed to the suggested selling price. They believed it was priced too high for the market, especially given our competitor’s offerings. So, we pulled together the key stakeholders and asked them to help the product team prioritize feature sets. We then took the list to a focus group of our customers and compared the answers. Once we had the information, we got back together to discuss it. It turned out we could pare back on a few features to meet the price point and make our customers happy.”
This answer both demonstrates the ability to negotiate and resolve conflict productively but also shows a willingness to listen and adapt for the greater good.
Other types of leadership questions might include:
- How do you manage team conflict?
- How do you create an inclusive and equitable environment?
- One of your team members won’t speak up in meetings, what do you do?
- How do you get your team moving when they’re stuck?
- How do you decide to delegate?
Expert tips and resources for acing the product management interview
The better you prepare for the interviews, the better your chances are for acing the interview — no matter if you are the interviewer or the candidate. If you have the time, consider holding mock interviews with colleagues or other product managers.
If you’re looking for more tips and insights, check out these past interviewers from expert product managers:
- Charlie Huang, WeWork and Spotify
- Andrew Wynn, Looker and Instacart
- Abbie Kouzmanoff, Amplitude
- Shayna Stewart, Y Media Labs
- Rachel Kaplan, Coinbase
And if you’re looking to build great products and enable your team to create better customer experiences, be sure to explore the free version of Amplitude today.