Preparing for product interviews

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There’s a lot already written about this topic, but it’s a question I get asked often. So this is more for my own future reference than anything else. 

The role of a product manager carries a lot of responsibilities, so interviewing for those roles requires a lot of preparation. You’re pitching for a company to give you control over the direction of their product, the thing they sell – they’ll need to really trust you so they’re looking for certain things. 

Here’s some things to prepare for, no matter the senioriity, or company. I’ll group them into two themes: showing that you care about the company, and showing that you will add value.

Show that you care about the company

No company is ever accidentally successful, and hiring people that are passionate about what they’re doing is important. Obviously you’re not 100% passionate yet – you don’t work there and may never work there. But this is a signalling exercise, like appearing in court. Obviously you don’t wear a suit every day, but in court is where you present your best self, so you don’t wear shorts and a t-shirt. It’s the same here, they’re expecting an exaggerated version of you, so it’s critical to show that you care. 

Also, the person interviewing you should believe in the company. If you show you care as well, it validates what they’re doing. So it’s just an easy way to get them to like you. 

Overall, enthusiasm and interest will carry you a long way, even if your experience falls short.

So – how do you show that?

Try out their product – this is a non-negotiable. Try out on web, and native apps. Bonus points if you actually buy something from them. Try out as many aspects as you can. Just spend some time really getting to know what they’ve done so far.

Research their competitors – you at least need to know the differences between different companies in the market. Understanding their offerings, relative size, and generally what the market looks like is super useful.

Understand how it works – what tech do they use? How does that broadly work? How do their customers function? How do they charge? This is useful so that you can talk about the company clearly. Big bonus points if you have some ideas how the future might change things for the company, for example by cultural trends, or technological improvements.

Think about why this company – they will ask why you want to work for them. Have something prepared that makes clear that you’re excited. I normally go for a combination of the market, the business, and the people, as this is what investors look for. Also worth having a think about why you’re a good fit for the company – it’s a hard question to answer, but if they ask it they’ll want a good pitch.

Show that you will add value

Product management is a very high-leverage role; if you do the job well, you have a huge impact. That also means that the risk is high if they get the wrong person in the role. Here’s how you can convince them you’re the right person.

Have ideas about how you’d improve it  – if they’re a small company, they’ll want you to pull your weight from day one. If they’re successful, they’ll want you to help making them even more successful. I’ve interviewed a few people that have answered this with “nothing to improve, it’s already pretty great”. That’s fine, but you can’t really hire that person. They don’t want to hire someone that’s just a fan.

Articulate the market forces – how might the market play out? One winner, or multiple? Are there network effects, so that whoever grows fastest probably wins? Where is the company well-placed to win, and what are their weaknesses? This can be difficult and, honestly, you don’t need to be correct. But showing that you have thought about it in some way is a big, big plus.

Understand their stage – companies at different stages will be looking for different things. Tiny companies will probably be looking to get their first customers, and a lot of hustle. Scaling companies probably have some success, and are keen on processes that are scalable to match the hustle. Larger companies probably need less hustle, and more smart people to fit into their existing processes. Just be aware of roughly what they’re trying to achieve as a company.

Ask questions – mainly, this is an important signal that you care about the company. It also makes them feel like they need to sell to you a bit, which is a good thing. Finally, it gives you information you can use later on; ask what they’re looking for in the role, or what their current problems are and write it down somewhere

As interview stages progress, you can frame yourself in whatever way you know they need. If they say the product team just isn’t shipping stuff, you can focus on your can-do attitude, and how you get shit done. If they say they don’t talk to customers enough, you can focus on how you speak to customers all the time. This is how sales people do it, and it really helps you to sell yourself. 

That’s it! If there’s anything else that should be on this list, let me know on Twitter

Best of luck, you’ve got this! (probably)