I manage the product for a startup that is still young but expanding quickly. I’m finally going to be recruiting another PM to report to me, and I’ve already discovered some pretty cool people" (3-5 years of experience range). In order to evaluate prospects, I’m searching for advice, interview questions, or even exercises. I have experience conducting case interviews for applicants because I used to work in management consulting, but I have never conducted a traditional PM interview.
I have a plenty of experience/fit style questions, but I’d really like to know your ideas and experiences. Do you think answering questions in a case-style is helpful in any way? Do I need to plan an activity, such as presenting a case study with a metric we want to enhance and then waiting to see what kind of feature they come up with?
Awaiting your responses. Thanks in advance.
I work at a B2B company, but I’ve always found a variant of this to be a good way to test a composite set of skills:
Your largest customer comes to you demanding feature X by date Y. What do you do?
I then probe along a number of dimensions, expecting them to clarify the following:
- Business’s objective (e.g. is it revenue? Logo growth? etc)
- Opportunity (e.g. does this impact renewals? does it block a deal?)
- Ask (e.g. what is actually being requested by the customer? Who talked to them?)
- Stakeholder mgmt (who needs to be in the room to make the call?)
- Tradeoffs (what do we not get by doing this?)
I’ve found it to be a rich source of understanding skill, clarity of thinking, and seniority.
We are actually B2B as well and this is spot on. Just to clarify, do I specify what the feature they requested is or let them probe for it?
@BobbyDuncan, I do just give it to them normally. I’m not testing their capacity to consider what features the consumer would like with this particular inquiry. I’m evaluating their capacity for making decisions under stress and for gathering the data they need to do so.
Definitely do product exercises. Just like case interviews give you a more apples to apples comparison of someone’s ability to break down a problem, so do product exercises.
I test for product execution (can you get things done?) and product intuition (can you think of new ideas that our customers will love?)
On product execution, would pick a solution you’re working on, and ask them how they would improve it, prioritize their ideas and hit a specified goal.
On product intuition, would pick a problem you’re working on, and ask them how they would approach solving it.
Here’s a site where you can read more about product lessons - might give you some additional ideas to test.
Great insights and blogs. Do you do these exercises in an interview setting or do you ever give written assignments/“homework”?
We do both. Exercise is mostly to screen out candidates, so they don’t overwhelm the pipeline, and what their thinking is like in a less time sensitive setting. Interview setting confirms they’re the real deal.
To separate the idealists from professionals, one question I ask is:
The largest investor wants you to launch your product in Nicaragua. You have a suspicion that it might not be a good market fit. How do you go about it?
Their approach will tell you a lot about how they function. Can they pivot? Do they understand stakeholder power dynamics? Can they negotiate, stand their ground? Can they do things they consider useless but are vital for the company? Can they challenge their assumptions? I’ve rarely had a bad hire call with this question.
I’m always interested in hearing how people have gained knowledge. either positive or negative events. So, I ask folks to share their successes and lessons learnt from successful ventures. The idea that people may make mistakes, talk about them, and learn from them interests me. I also want to know how they inform stakeholders about their successes and failures. I thus question people about getting that kind of information from them.
We’ve done the elephant carpaccio exercise, is good to assess if PM or PO knows how to slice projects, delivering continuous value to customers. Similar to define an MVP and increment value later.
I would like to do another exercise to see if a PM can assess if an idea aligns with vision and strategy, I haven’t put it in place yet.
I’m the exact opposite - I come from a PM background and now switching over to management consulting! While I loved the traditional PM interview, there is a key component of consulting case interviews which I love - they are all based on projects that have already happened.
The best PM interviews I did were at a top 3 online travel website. Every product “case” that I got was based on work that the startup had already done 1-3 years earlier. This ensured that they could validate if the candidate would seek the same data and insight that PMs who worked on that problem did as well as see if the candidate would arrive at the same conclusions. This brought a certain amount of objectivity to the problem and ensured that you could have multiple members of your team conduct the interview and arrive at similar conclusions about a candidate.
When using a more open-ended PM case such as “how would you increase rides for Uber X?” the interviewer has a tendency to bring in their biases about what they think the solution should be. They then tend to prefer candidate who would propose the same solution as them.
Personally, I really like this question.
Imagine you are a PM at some company. Someone comes up to you and recommend we do random product idea. How will you go about assessing whether this is something worth pursuing?
We leave it open & will provide more info only if the interviewee asks us to. You’ll get a better sense of frameworks the interviewee uses and how they can handle ambiguous requests.
That’s great @AnushkaGarg! And do you prefer to use “out there” examples from other companies/products or a feature suggestion for the product you’re interviewing for?
Could you provide us with what kind of an answer you are looking for?
Congratulations on your expanding startup and your new hire! Here are some interview questions and exercises that may help you evaluate prospective Product Managers:
- Tell me about a product that you’ve worked on in the past. What was your role in developing the product, and what were the results?
- How do you prioritize features and decide what to build next? Can you walk me through your process and how you balance the needs of the business, the team, and the user?
- Give me an example of a time when you had to make a tough decision about a product. What was the decision, and how did you approach it?
- What’s your experience working with cross-functional teams, such as engineering, design, and marketing? How do you collaborate with these teams to ensure successful product launches?
- Can you tell me about a time when you disagreed with a colleague or manager about the direction of a product? How did you resolve the disagreement?
- What is your approach to user research and product testing? Can you provide an example of a time when user feedback influenced a significant product decision?
- What is your experience with agile development methodologies, and how do you adapt your approach to fit the needs of a project?
- Describe a situation where you had to work under a tight deadline to deliver a product. How did you manage your time and prioritize your tasks?
- Can you give me an example of how you’ve communicated product updates or changes to stakeholders or users in the past?
- Finally, I would recommend conducting a product case study exercise where you provide the candidate with a product scenario relevant to your company and have them walk you through how they would approach the product development process.
Remember that the best interview questions and exercises are tailored to the specific role and company culture you are hiring for. It’s also important to focus on behavioral-based questions that allow the candidate to provide specific examples of their skills and experiences rather than hypothetical situations. Best of luck with your interviews!
I think candidates might see it as spec work (if it’s unpaid) since you’re essentially asking them to work on your product. However, I personally enjoy these kinds of exercises during the interview process.
One exercise you could consider to assess a PM’s ability to align an idea with vision and strategy is a product prioritization exercise.
- Provide the candidate with a list of potential product ideas or features that the company could work on.
- Ask the candidate to prioritize the list based on how well each idea aligns with the company’s overall vision and strategy. You could provide them with more information about the company’s vision and strategy, or ask them to research it on their own before the exercise.
- Have the candidate explain their thought process and reasoning for each item on the list. Ask follow-up questions to understand their decision-making process and how well they can articulate the rationale behind their choices.
- After the exercise, debrief with the candidate to get their feedback on the exercise and any insights they gained from the exercise. This is also an opportunity to provide feedback on their performance and ask any additional questions you may have.
This exercise can help you assess a candidate’s ability to align product ideas with the company’s vision and strategy, as well as their ability to prioritize effectively based on business objectives. It also provides an opportunity to evaluate their communication and decision-making skills.
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