Interviewing Director of Product Management as a Product manager

I’ve been recently tasked with interviewing the Director of Product for our organization, along with other stakeholders. We’ve already narrowed down a few good candidates, and there will be multiple rounds of interviews with various team members, including me. I’d like your opinion on what I should focus on during the interview. I’ve previously interviewed junior PMs, focusing mostly on product cases, but because this is a senior and strategic position, I’d like your advice.

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If they are going to be your boss ask questions around how they have shown to provide opportunities to PMs. Name a time where they have had to resolve a conflict with other senior stakeholders. You want to make sure you can work with them and that they are not a pain.

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This. Can you work with them, are they a dick, can you learn from them, do you like their management style (do you give autonomy if you like that, or will the mentor and support if you want that).

Also, I have a head of product right now who is incredibly nice and good to work with, but he does zero fighting at the senior level to get product a seat at the table when it comes to other teams playing politics and it’s a huge problem, so I’d personally probably ask about the senior stakeholder/other team conflict question.

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Focusing on the management side,

  • What’s their leadership style. It’s fairly open and allows (requires) follow up questions.
  • How do they run 1:1s, what do they focus on and why?
  • Ask for specific examples of them helping other PMs grow and develop. You want to understand how they identified those growth opportunities, how much they collaborated with the individual, what the results were, etc.
  • Ask for specific examples of times where they had a challenge with a direct report, what the issue was, how it was addressed, what would they do differently if they had the chance.
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A product leader should focus more on developing teams. Ask about their approach in coaching, development and partnering across the org and how they deal with conflicts. Too many great IC PMs fall into the product leader role just because that was the next step but they don’t know anything about building teams.

Ask what they think makes a PM at your level successful. If you don’t agree with their answer, you’ll have to think about whether they are a good fit or whether you will enjoy working under them.

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I mainly test PM leaders for 2 broad things:

  • Leadership: do they know how/when to delegate? Build and inspire teams? How to communicate well with leadership and juniors? Ability to sell ideas?
  • Vision: can they think of a grand vision of the product? Can they come up with innovative new ideas? Are they able to identify hiccups and separate them from early indicators of big problems? Are they able to look into the future?
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This is really good stuff. Do you also find it important for a Director of Product to have coaching skills to help their team members get better at their job? If so, do you have good ways to test for this or good questions to ask them?

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Yes, definitely - I would cover that under leadership - being able to build and inspire teams involves gaining the trust and respect of your team which also includes coaching and mentorship. Ultimately, a leader has to have something that their team members look upto and want to imbibe.

Generally, if you ask someone directly if they think coaching/mentorship is important then they’d likely say yes, which may not bring out the correct picture. So I generally ask indirect questions such as - how do you manage your team in the short term and in the long term? As a leader, what do you think are your key responsibilities towards your reports? Then if they say something about coaching then dig them more on it.

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@RichardsonEva, I appreciate you taking the time to write this out. Great insights!

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First important question before I can give a recommendation, is it a product director or director of product?

Meaning, are you running a BIG product line and might have an APM or PO reporting to you, but there are other products the company offers.

Or, are you managing the whole portfolio?

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@MichaelYoffe, The role is for director of product.

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@NaomiNwosu, Ask them how they’ve operated in different product org cultures, what is their perception of this org’s culture and approach, what challenges do they have in adopting to it? what would they change?

Your boss will set 30, 60, 90, 180, 360 day OKRs and expectations for you, how do you see me playing a role in those expectations?

How is VP of Product / CPO / CTO / whomever this person reports into, what is the job to be done they are positioning to you?

A seasoned executive should have thoughtful responses to these questions.

When I interview for VP / Head of Product roles, most of the questions from the executives center around figuring out is the strategy wrong or are we bad at executing it? or yes? As someone in the front lines, you need to your director to believe your input is valuable and will come to you to generate a POV from the facts on the ground.

You’ll also be asked about how you manage products in varying stages of life, growth, decay, EBIDTA optimization, divesture etc. Whichever stage your product fits into, ask them what their experiences are with it. My expertise is 0-1, for example. I’m alright at scale / hyper-growth, couldn’t be more useless when it comes to maintenance / EBIDTA Optimization, not my interest / strength.

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Here is what I would ask:

  • What’s the process through which, I, as an execution focused PM will find out about how the strategic product direction is changing over time? (i.e. how will they tell you what they are up to - this is essential in a leadership role)
  • What criteria will they use to identify critical talent in the team that must be retained; what does (s)he consider an acceptable attrition rate?
  • What’s one tailwind that your organization is having that they are most excited about? How do they think this influences product opportunities.
  • If they had a bad day at work, what’s the most usual reason why? (You may want to leave this one to someone more senior to ask)
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@MichaelYoffe, This is super-insightful. Thank you for sharing this superb insight.

@NatashaMartin, Thank you so much for the super useful point. I will definitely keep them in mind.

Thank you all for your comments and replies. A[[reciated.

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