Advice on how to check for role and fit

I have been burnt twice by joining companies to then learn how bad of a cultural or role fit it was. I then built a framework to figure these things out better. PM role is so vague, that people expect all sorts of things and sometimes those expectations may be unreasonable or simply not a good match for your strengths. I have also interviewed 100s of people for my company, and used this framework on management candidates.

What doesn’t work? Asking open ended and forward looking questions. Good talkers will conjure up a convincing answer if they are keen on hiring you.

Eg: How do you handle disagreements? How would you make a product decision? When do you use data vs intuition? you get the idea.

Some improvement - Instead of forward looking, ask them how they handled it in the past. This will bring up examples that you can drill into further.

Eg: How did you handle a disagreement recently? What was the last major product decision you had to make recently? When did you use intuition to make a decision?

Framework - Now all questions can’t be asked based on their past experience, so I came up with this framework to help figure our role, expectations and culture fit.

  1. Frame questions such that they are
  2. tangible and definitive
  3. action oriented (past)
  4. or result oriented (future)
  5. DIG DEEP. Dig really deep. Ask follow up questions. Ask deeper questions even for obviously seeming replies.
  6. Keep the tone and conversation positive. This will feel like an interview unless you work to make it feel like a conversation!

Here are some sample questions

What I want to know What questions I ended up asking.
What problems am I walking into (culture) What are the top 2 things you hope to improve in your org?
What is working well in their opinion What are you really proud off?
What do they really expect from the advertised role (expectations) What are the top two most impactful things I can achieve in next 6-12 months?
What do they expect PMs to do (role) What are the 2-3 major contributions of PMS at your company? OR Who is the best PM at this company and why?
Why do you want me (as a person) to join? What from my resume or experience do you think is immediately valuable to the company?
Why did they last person leave What are the 2 areas of improvement for the last person? What were their top strength?
Are they data driven or intuition driven When did you use intuition to override data? Why was data missing? What did you do after to build data points? OR when did you last regret using intuition? OR in what ways did DS help recently? OR how can DS/BA be a better partner to you?

Some others things to note -

  1. Typically you would ask these from people in leadership roles, but you can also ask variations of these to your peers or anyone with a senior role. Usually once you get an offer, setup time with your hiring manager and another with their manager. Do their answers resonate with each other or did they throw darts in the air?
  2. If they don’t have good answers to most of the above questions, there is a good chance that they are not a good leader or are not thinking about their product, org or team.
  3. If their answers are vague, hand wavy or high level, they are not being honest. Anyone who has run a team or org and cares about it, will have tons of detailed talking points without any preparation. This is their day job!
  4. Even though these seem like “broad strokes”, the follow up question will help you assess how they prioritize, make decision or handle disagreements. These serve as good starting points for discussions.

I discovered so much more about the HM, company or role once I started asking questions like these. The PM role is so vague across the industry that sometimes the role really was a product owner or program manager role, and neither of those work for me.

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