Interviewing Senior Product manager when you are not in the PM path yourself

My friend has been assigned to interview a Sr. Product manager for his team. He’s a Software Engineering Manager and has worked with PMs all his career but never interviewed them before. Can you point me to the best resources/tips I can help him use to prepare himself to take the best interview and hire the right person?

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I have a friend who’s an Dev Manager, and here’s what he told me when I asked him (for my own interviewing purposes):

In my role as a Dev Manager, my primary concerns regarding product managers, so things I would try to determine in an interview, are:

  1. Do they think we are collaborating peers or I work for them?
  2. How do they prefer to balance the tension between agile and roadmap
  3. What % of developer resources to they expect to be dedicated to creating customer value?
  4. Do they have an understanding of how to develop software?
  5. Are they adaptable?
  6. Do they have vision for a product or are they just aggregating requirements from their stakeholders?
  7. Do they communicate well in general, with low context, and in a sufficiently specific manner that is comprehensible to engineers?
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@KaranTrivedi, Exactly this – you are an Eng Manager and interact with PMs all the time. What do you need from them? What makes a good PM to you? Where have you run into hang ups in the past?

As a PM I try to address these things when I am interviewing with developers (and from my experience are things that are relevant to them in terms of where our jobs intersect). So I’d ask the PM (not exhaustive, but hopefully gives you a start):

  • What’s their process for defining a feature? When do they consider something handoff ready?
  • What’s their expectation of responsibility between PM, Design, and Eng
  • Who is in charge of testing? How are we certain the feature is working as expected?
  • How do they think about tech debt in the roadmap?
  • How are timelines for projects determined?
  • When is Eng brought into a project? How is their input incorporated into the solution?
  • How do they think about tracking, prioritizing, and triaging bugs?
  • How do they determine something is a problem worth solving? How do they determine what is a good solution for that problem? How do they know their solution solved the problem?
  • How do they build a roadmap? How often does that change or get updated?
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The point of you (your friend) interviewing is to check how well they work with your team.

  1. Keep in mind the ideal business partner you like to work with, how they will make your life easier.
  2. Assess if they have worked in an organization structure like yours in the past.
  3. Check the level or teamwork and collaboration they have with engineers, do they make decisions with your input or not? Ask about specific examples.
  4. Technical - ask them to walk through an old product and have them explain the tech architecture. (checking to see how well they know and explain things to engineers)
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Are you meant to be the main interviewer (like at a small startup), or are you representing the engineering manager perspective?

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@MarcoSilva, He’ll be the main interviewer since he’s working directly with the company owners and they just shortlisted someone.

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What have been good or bad qualities of PdMs you’ve worked with? Find questions to help you discover which qualities they have.

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Talk to them to understand their process on involvement of engineering when it comes to

  1. Building the short and long term roadmap
  2. Addressing a high priority issue or concern
  3. Sprint related activities. That’s where you have max interaction with the person and you can see if you like to work with Them and can be a productive team together. Wdyt?
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Great post. I’ve recently been interviewed by engineering managers who did not ask one of these. And they were all terrible interviews. @DonovanOkang, good on you for doing the research!

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I always preface this question by giving them my 90-second summary so they have context and know the general purpose of the question.

The reason why this is important to me is that I’m looking to match a person’s skills and mindset to the right role. What they choose to highlight about themselves tells me a lot about their interests, how they’ve approached their career, and how they own their career.

I have many diverse openings so I want to match a candidate’s interests and strengths to the right role on my team. How they answer guides the rest of the interview:

  • Do they focus on their entrepreneurial roots? Great for innovation and risk-taking portfolios.
  • Do they focus on their diverse work experience and how they learn quickly? This is your generalist that you can deploy into broad problems.
  • Do they do a great job packaging and positioning themselves? I’ll get them on something that requires them to inspire business stakeholders with storytelling.

By the time someone is a Sr. PM, they should have a fairly clear idea of who they are and what they bring to the table. How they choose to communicate this leads to a much more productive, two-way interview.