Interesting PM interview

I am from HR (Tech space) and had this interview with an HR Tech giant. The interview was supposed to be of 45 mins but it went up to 55 mins. I got the following feedback at the end:

  1. I need to be nudged by others to arrive at great ideas
  2. I don’t ask enough questions. I presume a lot of details (this is because I have in-depth knowledge of the domain)
  3. I may not be able to work in a pure product management set up.

The first two points are ok and I will work on them. But what about point number 3?

A little background about me:

I work as product manager in a start-up which is hyper growth phase on a shoe string budget. We don’t have any experts and knowledgeable people about product management. My self don’t know the theory of product management and its terminology. We are just maneuvering through the problems using spreadsheets and emails and delivering profits for the first time (in our 3 year).

So I don’t do PRDs and other stuff. I interact directly with the founders, client CXOs. I design the wireframes myself on Figma and sometimes also code. I don’t interact with all the stakeholders which a typical PM does. Because the stakeholders and role don’t exist.

Hence, to be able to work in a pure product firm, I should invest in learning about product management? I mean I know how to create, ship and scale a product, but I am not familiar with the jargon. Should I invest time in learning the theory and science of it? And if I do, will it be still valuable because I haven’t implemented them at my workplace.

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Nailing the PM interview is a slightly different skillset than actually doing the job. Knowing the frameworks, jargon, and buzzwords is key for the interview phase. You could have no PM experience but if you know the right way to answer the interview questions you can get through the interviews.

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@PriyaVarma, This. So much this. I’ve seen PMs that can talk/ interview well but when it comes to actually doing the work of product management and delivering quality products to production/ launching they cant. They fall flat. They can spin and say buzzwords with the best of them but they have no clue as to how to actually get a product to production. Imo there’s a lot of bs out there and we don’t do ourselves any favors or our craft for future generations of PMs if we don’t call this out.

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PM interviewing is the bane of my existence! I am not a talker, I’m a listener and a leader. Hard to show off in an interview unless it’s set up for it.

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@JesusRojas, I second that. I checked some mock interviews of TryExponent on YouTube and they were great. I tried use keywords like design thinking, sprints, customer segment, discovery, etc… But he understood that i am from stone age.

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There are a lot of good frameworks out there, and none of them will by itself give you all the skills required to ship excellent software. On the flip side, soft skills with no structure will also only get you so far. You are in one of the rare situations where I actually recommend biting the bullet and taking a class on product. I can personally say Product School’s program will give you all the foundational knowledge you need. I also know some PMs that speaking highly of Pragmatic Institute. If you are not ready to drop the cash on something like that “Cracking the PM Interview” is great.

Good PMs are able to help out where their team needs them to help out, but remember the role focuses on strategy and market opportunities. We identify what to build, and the let BAs, Designers, and Developers actually build it. It is good to know a little about requirements, design, and programming, but none of those are your job. You own the strategy and roadmap not the exact solutions .

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@Naomi, I completely resonate with you here. Some even say that a PM is a mini-CEO.

I think I should invest sometime in understanding fundamentals like PRDs and scrum. I can also try to pilot them in my team. If it goes well, great. If not, i learnt.

Thank you for such a great answer :heavy_heart_exclamation:

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The tools (frameworks, templates, etc.) are just there to give you leverage. The goal for a PM startup is to deliver the product no matter how. If the tools help you to achieve the goal, go for it. If you need to use different skill sets to finish a product, you gotta just do it.

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@KaranTrivedi, Exactly. I mean I literally told that guy that i know how to ship products with no time and resources. But his point was valid too. He said we are not in that phase. We are a series B startup with decent funding. We have a team of PMs and a matured hierarchy. This is their way to scale things up. Whereas, i am like Fred of Flintstones who knows how to get things done but my ways are not modern

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It’s not that your ways are not ‘modern’, your ways are not scalable. What you lack is the experience to execute and prioritize at scale. You can’t survive with maverick moves when you have a significant user base and quality commitments and interdependencies across many teams. It’s also not about shipping products it is about shipping the right things at the right time against your product strategy to maximize user impact and against the organizations goals. You are accountable to your investors also.

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@Michael, Yeah. I am getting a sense of it. I think I have to learn the official way of managing strategy. I do manage strategy but not the way it is managed in the industry.

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@CathrynCui, I think being open and honest about how you wish to grow in this area would be first steps. I’ll be honest with you, it could just be choice of words in this particular thread but what I’m hearing is that you already know it all and you just have to learn to use different terminology. This would be a hard pass from me in an interview, sounds like you think you have it all figured out and you’re not going to be engaged in the growth. You have lots of opportunity to grow here, you are missing key experience for this role, and I will tell you without a doubt moving from ‘mercenary build and release’ to business, process and bureaucracy of scale is going to be very challenging.

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@Michael, No no. I haven’t figured it all. I am yet discovering. My choice of words have been inspired from my frustrations; my chief point is that i am not a noob.

My start up which has shoe string budget is not a true start up. It’s an incubated one. I have dealt with filthy bureaucracy before.

I definitely acknowledge that it’s going to be too hard and there’s a lot to discover more. I am investing time now in understanding how to deal with UX professionals.

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Just to touch on item 2…

You have to be careful when having deep knowledge as a PM. You want to encourage the team to solve problems on your roadmap, not dictate solutions for them.

So you should use that deep experience and knowledge to develop the necessary questions to drive the team in the right direction.

But if you’re not asking many questions because you know answers based on your past experience…. you’re likely doing the team a disservice by not using their skill sets, opening up risk where your past experience may differ from the work at hand, and potentially annoying key contributors by bypassing them.

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@MarcoSilva, This is something I caught while reading too. I have personally let me own “technical knowledge” create biases because I often don’t bring things up to the team and resolve them by myself.

Being more collaborative by discussing things may take more time but potentially a result in stronger solutions and a more “together” team. I think many companies would value being collaborative in this job.

Not sure if that was what the feedback meant though but hope this is helpful.

Lots of the mock interviews I have seen seem to value asking lots of clarifying questions so this might just be something you gotta do for the interview process.

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@risa, Same, I think most people who transitioned from technical IC to PM have done this at least a few times.

Not just stronger, more robust solutions…. But also a more engaged team. Engagement is important for retention.

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I was a PM at a 6 person startup where I did everything but code. In hindsight I sucked and made a lot of mistakes or missed a lot. But it paid off big time in a more established PM role because I have no question that I can work with the often ambiguous situations that arise. Difference is that now I have other people who can help me put the product together; it’s a relative breeze.

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@MariaWilson, I think this is a positive way to look at my situation. After all, this interview is not the last one. This company is not the last product company.

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Given your background, point #3 doesn’t hold water.

I got the distinct impression the interviewer let some (as yet unidentified) biases creep in.

Jargon changes from one firm to the next.

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He said it’s very elementary stuff. Like PRD and all.

Anyways, thank you all for your super helpful insights, comments and suggestions. The thread was worth posting with all your wonderful inputs.
THANK YOU once again. :pray: