Hiring product managers is one of the most challenging and important tasks for product team leaders. There’s no perfect template for an ideal PM candidate; it’s about finding the best fit among a sea of unicorns.
The diversity of backgrounds in product manager applicants increases the level of difficulty in making a good hire. Moreover, product manager roles and job descriptions also vary wildly from one organization to the next. The combination of both of those elements makes an effective product manager a hard role to fill. Sometimes you need a technical whiz, or someone with marketing chops, while other opportunities demand deep experience in a particular industry.
Since a cookie-cutter approach won’t fly, hiring managers need a solid handle on the requirements of their specific PM role. They must then determine if a candidate will be a good fit from a few brief interactions.
Get it right, and you’ve added an invaluable asset to your product team that lifts the product to new levels. However, if you get it wrong then schedules slip, prioritization falters, and your reputation is at risk.
So how do you make sure you’re hiring the right person? It’s all about asking the right questions.
Why the Right Product Manager Interview Questions Matter
Many people approach an interview with a “let’s just see how it goes” attitude. They think they can get a sense of the person and their fit for the role regardless of which direction the conversation may go.
Entering an interview unprepared is just as bad for the interviewer as the interviewee. You may luck into a deep and diverse discussion that provides a great sense of the candidate, but you may also have a lot of uncomfortable silences when you struggle to come up with the next question.
And there’s no assurance the dialogue will cover all the pertinent points unless the interviewer makes a concerted effort to get there. That’s why every interview should include the most relevant topics to ensure everything’s covered.
While the specifics of the role and the candidate’s background may dictate which of these to include and which to skip, here’s a set of basic categories of questions you’ll likely want to touch on:
- Strategic thinking
- Marketing savvy
- Business acumen
- Technical chops
- Research mindset
- Communication styles
- Conflict resolution
- Creative problem solving
- Management style (if applicable)
- Product management experience
- Other relevant experience
Don’t worry that this will lead to a disjointed interview. Multitasking and context switching are essential to the job. If the interviewee can’t hop from one area to another easily in an interview, they’re likely to struggle with that on the job. Now, let’s review the eleven product manager interview questions that will reveal whether a candidate is a good fit for your position.
11 Revealing Product Manager Interview Questions
There’s no shortage of possible questions to ask a product management candidate. But to make sure you hit on the main points every interview should cover, these eleven product manager interview questions are the best for you to reveal your candidates values and intentions:
1. What does a product manager do?
Come in hot out of the gate and get them to share their understanding of the role. Since there is so much variety from one organization to the next, many people have a different set of expectations for what a product manager does. This question helps ensure they’re applying for a job they actually want and won’t be overwhelmed/frustrated/disappointed when they start working in your available position.
2. Why do you want this job and how does it fit into your overall career trajectory?
Lifers are pretty much extinct these days, so everyone is always plotting a long-term career path toward their ultimate job. This question gives you a sense of whether they’re thinking of this position as a short-term stepping stone or someplace they’ll want to stay for a while because it complements their long-range plans. If they can identify the professional gaps this role will fill for them, it shows both humility and drive. Keep an eye out for both of these key traits. If they want your job in six months or don’t have a cogent rationale for wanting the job, their resume can go to the bottom of the pile.
3. How would you figure out…?
Product managers need data and metrics to make good decisions and gain the support of stakeholders. This often requires doing some research to come up with the right facts and figures to make their case. Asking a candidate how they would find a fact they don’t already know will indicate whether they can not only enter a query into Google but do the up-front thinking on what are the right questions to ask and explain how they got there.
4. How do you determine what customers want and need?
Customer research is essential to the job. Asking this question will give you insight into how the candidate connects with real, live users to gather feedback and their approach to customer centricity. They should be conversant in the different methods for ascertaining this information and have some examples from the past. If they don’t mention multiple ways, that could be a red flag, or simply an opportunity for mentorship and growth.
5. Tell me about a time you had trouble building consensus and how you overcame it.
Achieving stakeholder alignment, getting engineers on the same page, and overcoming objections are pretty standard fare for a product manager that isn’t just along for the ride. Requesting a specific example gets them to speak with specificity versus vague platitudes about this vital topic.
6. How would you prioritize these four things?
Prioritization is a top-line responsibility for product managers, so get a feel for how they attack it or if they have a framework they prefer. You want to give more than just two items, but not so many that this takes up the entire interview. Provide a little context and be prepared for some follow-up questions (if they don’t ask any, that might be a major concern right off the bat).
For example: How would you prioritize adding a new feature your No. 1 customer has requested vs. fixing a UX problem that generates lots of support calls, adding an enhancement your top salesperson swears will close lots of deals, and adding functionality that your main competitor already has?
7. “Sell me this pen.”
This famous scene from The Wolf of Wall Street puts people on the spot to create a compelling case for why someone should buy a pretty pedestrian object. While you don’t need to choose a writing instrument, pick an object the interviewee already understands to see how compelling their messaging is and whether they’re quick on their feet.
8. What’s your biggest failure as a product manager and why did it happen?
This question has two benefits. It gets them to look back and provide critical thinking as to why something went awry, which is useful in a post-mortem situation. But what they select as their failure also tells you a little about them and how broad and developed their sense of ownership is.
9. What’s one of your favorite products and what’s something you’d change about it?
This question tells you about what they value. Asking your interviewee what they would change identifies where their initial instinct takes them. Is it usability? Appearance? Technical? Endurance? This question flips it on it’s head and asks them to find think critically and find a flaw in something they love. It’s a particularly relevant exercise because we often fall in love with our products but need to keep finding ways to improve them.
10. How do you communicate your product strategy?
This question explores which methods and tools the candidate utilizes to get the job done. It also checks to see whether they’re employing consensus-building tactics or merely broadcast their vision. Are they using data to back things up? Are they meeting one-on-one with key stakeholders or holding a large public forum? Are they using a roadmap to provide a planned timeline or just skipping to the endgame?
11. What will you do in the first 90 days if we hire you?
This is a practical question to uncover how the candidate will approach their first 30, 60, and 90 days on the job. It will show what things they value the most and may unearth some worrying behaviors before they get on the payroll. If they want to make changes and push for new features instead of learning about the product, process, and people, then they might be a little too ego-driven.
Interviews are one of the final steps in determining whether a candidate is right for the opportunity. This may not be the last step in the hiring process. However, you should have enough insight to evaluate them and compare them to the other candidates.
While no two interviews are identical, using a consistent roster of questions with every candidate accomplishes two essential things. First, it guarantees all the bases are covered every time. Track those questions and their answers in a document to review and share after the interview. Second, it provides a standard comparison between candidates. If every interview is unique, it’s hard to judge the applicants against each other objectively and not be skewed by whether or not it was a great conversation.