What mistakes have you made when interviewing for PM roles?

Most recently, I’ve been interviewing for Senior Product Manager roles. I have 5 years of consumer product experience and the roles vary from consumer-facing to platform. The mistakes I’ve made have been around not clarifying the goals and user types for design problems, not being more succinct with my answers, not being more introspective about my rich experiences, and etc. Most of my issues stem from not practicing enough.

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Product Management interviews are such an absolute joke. Google and other top tech companies have created this weird world where you need to ‘study’ for the interview to assist top level university students who have studied back to back their entire lives to understand and differentiate themselves to people with actual experience.

I love Exponents content but the fact it needs to exist exhausts me.

  1. You often need to fake understanding of data that doesn’t exist and make a blind, strong opinion which is the opposite of what you would do on the job.
  2. You need to list frameworks before using them like you’re in university when in reality you’d be getting people onboard with no experience of your frameworks who require buy ins not strange thought experiment sessions. You then use frameworks with your team who ARE familiar and you don’t need to talk like you’re in a PM interview.
  3. Anyone who doesn’t like you can just rip you apart because the entire interview is based on assumptions, roleplay and agreed upon lies. The goal post can move an inch or a mile depending on your rapport with an entire team.

I have a great PM gig in London but the year before I missed out despite feeling like I was perfect for the role because one of nine of the PM’s spent the whole interview ripping assumptions of fake data apart and imaginary concepts like ‘the ceo’ of our imaginary business not liking this method.

idk just my 2cents. I just don’t think they help you hire the best talent and gate-keep the roles away from people who didn’t go to a top10 uni and usually bias towards white men because those in the roles are already men.

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@DhirajMehta, This. So much this.

Except the uni and white men bias.

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I know white guys born in Brighton and will always come across as well spoken, charismatic and affable just because they are what most people envision as an average nice bloke and when the process empowers individuals to make or ruin someone’s interviews, bias is baked into the process.

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I had an interview recently where I struggled to properly go through steps of making user personas, establishing their goals and commenting on solutions. Another oversight I did when I was being interviewed on analytical methods. I was so confident but I missed clearly spelling out various analytical methods I would consider to solve a case study. That was mentioned in the feedback.

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@JesusRojas, To be fair, user personas are more UX realm.

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@AhmadBashir, I think this is misunderstood. PM’s should understand the segment of people who share the problem / JTBD you believe you should solve. It’s expedient to call them personas, since useful personas are about needs and goals.

If a PM can credibly walk a panel through the process of quant/qual research, analysis, synthesis, high level hypotheses on the JTBD, a few (even throwaway) hypotheses on the solution… thru to how you’d measure, define an MVP, build it, iterate. You basically win the interview.

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Mistakes I’ve made were in not being properly prepared to discuss my successes and failures and not being crisp with terminology or process questions. There were some questions about metrics and making decisions that I know the basic answer to but I hadn’t reviewed the materials before hand so I stumbled over the terminology. This made it seem like I didn’t know the answer when in reality I just wasn’t being articulate. Before zoom interviews I wrote down a list of successes, basic info about metrics, acronyms like CIRCLES as reminders and kept the paper out of scene. This way when answering questions I could glance at the sheet discretely for a reminder if I was starting to stumble. I’m about to start a new job so it seemed to have worked.

I can’ stress this enough - practice, practice, practice. It has to be natural and a lot of what they’re probing for is whether you’re someone they’d like to work with or not. If you sound robotic or reciting something clearly memorized it will come across as insincere. Good luck all

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@NathanEndicott, Thanks. Your experience sounds very familiar :). How many interviews/ companies did you go through before you reached success? Are you a consumer-facing PM, enterprise, etc.?

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Enterprise in the security space. Had to go through several - it was difficult and had ups and downs but feel I ended up with a good fit.

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Currently interviewing candidates right now. Maybe this is just a pet peeve because I went to business school and they really put us through the interview prep wringer, but I’m surprised at how many people can’t nail the basic “tell me about yourself” opener.

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I worked at company A, then company B, then company C" is NOT a passing answer. Tell me about why you made those career moves, what parts of PM/what types of products you specialized in, or any kind of context to bring yourself to life as a candidate. A much better answer is “I started at company A as an business analyst, then transitioned an APM role at company A because I wanted to be involved building products. I moved to company B because I wanted to work in a more consumer-facing product, and C because…”

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In a PM interview once, I was told my analysis and user research work was top-notch. That said, in the interview itself I came off lacking a strong opinion and clear direction to the team. I personally felt that was a little unfair considering I’d just met the team, had only done one study of a particular problem, and so couldn’t speak to the holistic strategy or direction without all the information at hand.

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@Lawrence, A PM is supposed to always make data-driven decisions and weigh all factors, but also have a point of view. In the interview, you’re supposed to pretend to have data and weighed factors, and then express a strong point of view based on nothing, which is actually the opposite of what you’re supposed to do in real life.

I feel you, if your actual natural tendency is to wait for the numbers to come in or defer to data (generally a good tendency for a PM IMO) then it actually makes you look weak in interviews.

The process is pretty goofy sometimes.

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I recently started interviewing a couple of months ago and the biggest difference in my performance was - mock interviewing with peers.

The peers I interviewed with highlighted the following in various mocks:

  • completely missing a segment (this is an early mistake that can cause interview death. The only way to mitigate this is to ask the interviewer if your process is okay so far and closely watch/hear their responses. Their squirming is indication enough).
  • Prioritization (missing a higher priority item and going by our own experiences. Again, a good milestone to ask if there’s anything that is more critical for the context at hand).
  • Articulation (I meant something else, they heard something else. This is a good time to review the storytelling style).
  • Basic structure (one of the peers actually suggested a framework which has worked beautifully ever since I started using it).

I feel the interview is more of a sales skill, whereas daily product management is more of a team/communication skill (add prioritization as a skill at senior levels). I’m convinced that one can crack any PM interview with repeated practice (my milestone being 7 mocks and multiple failed actual interviews over the last few years).