Do you feel not impressed by the hiring managers/product leadership at interviews?

I’ve been interviewing for product management positions and have not been very impressed by the hiring managers or the product leadership at some companies.
(This is something I look for when I interview since it’s important for me to be able learn from the leadership at the company.)

Company 1:

Interviewed with the VP of Product in the 2nd round. I thought she was okay but she asked me some questions that made no sense. When I asked follow-up questions, she took the back the questions. I felt her questions weren’t thought through.

Then interviewed with the CPO in the next round. During the first 5 mins or so, I felt he wasn’t listening at all. He kept asking me about things I had already answered. The rest of the interview was fine but short. I asked him if we could go over time since I didn’t get a chance to ask questions. He agreed so we spoke for 20 more minutes. I feel the interview would have gone on longer had I not said thank you so much for your time and ended it. After that he mentioned he was late for a meeting, but didn’t bring it up earlier.

Company 2:

Interviewed with the Group Product Manager in round 2. He sounded impatient and wouldn’t let me finish answering before jumping to another question. Also wasn’t a good listener since he asked me questions I had already answered. I also felt he was “virtue signaling” by saying how good he was at critical thinking, strategy and thinking out of the box, and how much influence he had over the CEO and the direction of the company. Oh, and he also said that I might not be good at strategy given that I had never worked at a start-up. He still asked me some ideas about how to grow the product (that’s the only product at that company).

Next round was a case study, and the whole thing was really unprofessional. The HR sent me the assignment on Friday and I could ask questions over the weekend. But when I sent the questions, the email was no longer active. They finally responded late Monday and told me to make assumptions and not ask any questions. No thanks.

Am I the only one experiencing this?

On a side note: I do see people moving up the ranks/titles without the experience. For example someone I know went from PM to Director at a start-up with less than 1 year of experience as a PM.

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Thank you for sharing this. I’ve been feeling the same way about all points.

To help me keep calm and focused, I think of this from 2 perspectives:

  1. I like to use the dating analogy here: you will meet a lot of people who may not be compatible to you and you know when you see those signals. But it’s a numbers game and you need to keep trying and be open to be patient. If you end up committing to a “meh” date will you be happy? And, is it fair to that person that they’re not making you happy?
  2. think from the hiring managers perspective and what they must be thinking? Interviewing dozens of candidates and wondering the same thing “how’s this bro a director of product at startup A when they can’t even do X?” Customer empathy here LOL. They also may be having a bad day as well. Sometimes I’ll ask others in the loop their experience working with the manager: watch for those signals :wink:

I think you have a good sense of what you’re looking for. A great boss is underrated; I prioritize a great boss (doesn’t need to be ex head of product at FB) because having someone kind, organized, and a good person means I can learn to trust them to have my back when it matters (conflicts, promos, etc) which will allow me to do my best work.

Something I do is build a framework on traits I look for in a great boss and then determine how much of it the “candidate” satisfies. I find this helps make trade off decisions much easily.

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Agree with you on both points. We think the same way :metal:

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One of the more common things I see in Product Management Leadership (more so in startups and “small to medium” organizations [i.e., 10-500 employees]) is that they often haven’t any experience outside of the organization that they’re in at the moment. They get roped into the culture that they, themselves, created or supported and haven’t found a way out of the labyrinth. This means you will see Vice Presidents of Product who were SMEs turned Director of Product to VP of Product within the span of 8-15 years.

I’m not criticizing this situation heavy-handedly. These individuals will often know their users pretty thoroughly; they will know the pain points and the expected behavior. Still, they will not have established processes that generally make sense outside of their own organization. What this looks like to someone that has more external experience would be:

  • Inconsistencies in questions to follow-up questions
    • More often than not, these leaders have little to no understanding of what they really want in a candidate. A gap in their team may be obvious to them (I need a data analyst so we can interpreter the data we have to support our direction. I need a Senior Product Manager to mentor and drive the inexperienced PMs we have on our team) except there isn’t enough focus on product management that they know what makes a good Senior PM/Data Analyst.
    • This causes them to ask rather ambiguous questions yet also repeat themselves several times over. Many of the interview questions these types of leaders have are directly provided from a GoogleFu of “data analyst interview questions” or “top 50 product manager interview questions.”
    • Additionally, they’ll also ask the generic “gotcha questions” that focus on catching the interviewer in antipatterns from existing questions online or a question that requires industry expertise to have the “right” answer.
  • Lack of user-focused questions, comments, or processes.
    • Many smaller product management departments/teams lack the resources or buy-in to push user-centric decisions fully. I know this sounds insane, but it happens. Stakeholders, executive teams, and board of directors seem to have this firm stance of "We invested in this product, we were the users of a competitor, and these were our pain points, so everyone has these pain points - how dare you suggest that we don’t know our customers/users."
      • This causes many startups to be in an echo chamber of use cases until the PM team can break out and start performing surveys, interviews, or even get buy-in for analytical tools to understand user behavior better.
    • When questioned/challenged on processes, they will often repeat very generalized and well-stated processes. In previous interviews, it’s been obvious that other PMs have questioned the product lifecycle process at the organization enough times that the leadership has Googled a few key buzzwords and flowcharts to respond with the “expected response.” (even though no such process exists internally)

By that time I’m interviewing a candidate, I often have listened in on a panel interview with the rest of the team and have insights on what questions have been asked - the responses - and a list of notes from the rest of the team members on their views on the candidate. Which means… what, exactly? It means that I’m not going to bore the individual with high-level questions, won’t be repeating the same questions, and want to drive a conversation to understand the candidate better.

I expect the bulk of the conversation will be questions aimed at my position, the company’s stance on specific processes/tools/functions around product management, and around the role itself (frequency of performance reviews, average raise and timing, the salary, and any remaining clarification of the responsibilities of the role). On my side, I want to understand how this candidate thinks (what drives their product analysis, what are the OKRs that they feel better helps drive the product, why they enjoy being in product management, etc.) and get a feel for how the individual will fit within the team as a whole.

Even with all of the most well-intended, thoughtful hiring processes - it isn’t always the best experience for the candidate. Maybe the Group PM had walked out of a stressful meeting, or they’re feeling stressed on that particular day. In some situations, that individual may already have a candidate they’ve approved, and you end up being a “time-waster” that HR threw at them. Startups often fail communication, and HR will push their potential candidate to the next hiring manager without considering existing candidates and where they are in the process (unfortunately).

At the end of the day, many people in product management haven’t spent much time in product management, between medium-sized organizations trying to have a PM team to please investors/board of directors to startups promoting a standard PM to a c-suite position within a year or two. Product Management has become an “up and coming” industry/role, and everyone wants to jump to the top or into a FAANG organization. This means you’ll have inexperienced leadership and inauthentic candidates.

As a candidate, you have to ensure that the company you’re interviewing with meshes with you - just as much as they expect you to mesh with them.

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@MichaelYoffe, This is such a great comment. I think you articulated really well what might be happening behind the scenes, and what may be happening in general in the start up space with product management.

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The Peter Principle explains why a lot of incompetent people are promoted, especially with rapid growth. People who are in the right place at the right time and present themselves effectively could ascend quickly.

These kinds of strong reactions in interviews are red flags. The management or values are not a good fit. It’s much better to work with people you respect and will help you grow in your career.

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@RisaButler, That is definitely true. Good thing I already have a job and don’t need to compromise on those things.

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I think it’s a symptom of bad culture / leadership.

This is just an anecdote but out of college I interviewed with a super promising, well-funded startup. I was interviewing with their “Director of PM” who was a “PM intern” with them just 3 months before. You see the problem with this lol

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@JuanAllo, This used to throw me off at the beginning of my career. Then I stopped viewing employers as bodies corporate and started viewing them as “gangs”.

So, if you wanted to join a gang, let’s say D-gang. How would you do it?

If you were a junior member of a gang, how would you progress to senior?

If you were at one gang and wanted to join another one instead, how would you go about it?

Using this lens gave me many insights that helped me make sense of situations and advance my career.

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@Pauline, That is such a unique way of looking at things. Do share with us what new insights you got?

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Been interviewing with 20 or so different companies the past few months. Not sure if it’s a startup thing or covid thing since I recently moved here but…

I’ve been moved to the next round of interviews at the end of an interview multiple times. 3 of those times I’ve been emailed that they changed their mind and went with someone else, 1 time I’ve been ghosted despite following up.

I’ve been the preferred candidate after case studies and then grilled with an extra interview outside of their scheduled process and then rejected leaving them to restart the month-long hiring process.

I’ve presented case studies no one read despite needing it a week before my presentation of it.

I’ve been asked the dumbest questions by interviewers in a higher position than I was interviewing for despite them having much less experience than me.

I’ve been in 7 step interview processes while interviewing with 6 diff companies in the same week which made me feel like I had forgotten which examples I had talked about already or hadn’t mentioned yet due to how formulaic it all is.

They tend to hire internal (and have made this decision prior to any interviews), some underpaid lateral mover from a near identical SaaS company, or their friend.

It is a complete shit show out here and I’m starting to think I’ll just go be a 80 hour per week consultant instead, I mean that’s what my interview prep is like anyway and it’s not like it’s paying.

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@JoelSchulman, It’s pretty crazy the number of rounds some companies have. Case study assignment are my least favorite thing. I would rather they ask me whatever questions during the interview than me spending several hours on the case study.

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I’ve been burned by company that asked me to do a case which took two days, felt confident about the case, then didn’t even get invited to present. The reason being, someone ahead of me in the pipeline “seems promising” and the hiring managers want to “see them through”. That’s the moment I realize these hiring managers don’t give a shit about hiring the best talent, they just want to fill the role. Respecting candidates’ time? That never even crossed their mind.

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I dislike take homes as well, but I’ve surprisingly found the most success getting to the final stage because of them.

I think it is the fact that everything is written down and there’s no room for misinterpretation.

My least number of successes are over-the-phone case studies. Way too much room for the interviewer not being able to remember or misinterpreting what you said.

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I feel like this comes down to

  1. Terrible culture,
  2. Product Management be fairly nebulous at startups.

When you talk to someone who know PM well it’s obvious.

One thing I will add is that your supervisor doesn’t have to know PM better than you to be a good supervisor. Maybe they are in their role because they bring a different set of skills to the table that allows them to succeed.

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@MariaWilson, I kind of have mixed feelings about this. I currently have a manager who doesn’t come from a PM background and would rather have someone who does. He doesn’t understand certain product aspects of my job. That being said having a great leader I can learn from even if they don’t have the PM background would be better.

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Could be just a bad luck.

I also wouldn’t worry about titles too much, people straight up make shit up on LinkedIn (if that’s where you see the title changes). Start ups can also fail spectacularly, so if someone’s sole background consists of being a director at a start-up and nothing beyond that, it won’t translate to a director role in say a fortune 500.

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@DamianMarshall, Totally this would be totally shooting yourself in the foot type of situation. It’s hard to even take somebody seriously when they claim to have no experience matching their job title.