Nice work. You just scored an interview for a product manager position—one of the hottest and highest-paying roles right now according to Glassdoor. Companies know that product managers play a key role in their success or failure. And they are making sure that hiring the best is a top priority.
You probably have no idea what to expect from this first interview—especially if you are trying to transition into the field from engineering or marketing. How can you pivot into this new role? What qualities are they looking for, and how should you present yourself?
The company needs a candidate who they are confident can quickly learn the key tenets of great product management and start contributing. Your goal during the interview is to remove any doubts that you can achieve this.
They want to see a confident candidate who knows their technology and market landscape. They want to see that you can grasp their strategic vision as well as manage cross-functional efforts and the details of a complex project. They will look for evidence of past creative thinking and problem-solving.
They need a PM who is smart and can work with a multidisciplinary team while standing their ground when necessary. This is an admittedly tall order—which is why awesome PMs are in such high demand.
I am the CEO of Aha! and before that, I spent over 15 years leading product and strategy at five other software companies. I know how challenging yet thrilling this role can be. I also remember what it’s like to get started. I too transitioned into product management. I came from a product marketing role.
There is no way to predict everything that will happen in your upcoming interview. That is why you must prepare for it by studying the company and market. You must build confidence and allow your knowledge to shine through.
Here is how you can prepare for any question they throw at you and win your first product management job:
1. Think about why they are hiring.
You want to be fully aware of what you are walking into. So, investigate on your own. Use your contacts to explore the rationale for the new role. Is the company hiring because they are growing fast and need someone to roll out a new product? Or did someone quit and they need to fill the vacant role immediately?
Whatever the reasons, keep this in mind: The company has a problem to solve. How are you going to be their solution? Draw on their organizational needs and your own work history. Find past accomplishments that you are proud of and be prepared to explain why you will be an asset.
2. Know the company inside and out.
Reviewing the company and their website can give you a goldmine of background information. So, study it from every direction. This will help you understand their history, team composition, product line, and potential weak areas. Sign up for any e-mail lists, and watch any videos they have posted. Take notes and begin a list of questions that are not answered on the website. These notes will allow you to engage in a thoughtful exchange during the interview.
3. Get to know the product.
This is a must. If they offer a free trial, use the product for at least a few hours. You should walk into your interview with a clear understanding of what the product does and how it works. While you are using the product, identify the problem that the product is trying to solve, and how effective it is at doing so.
Consider how you might improve the product to help distil the value it provides: which features would you add (or remove)? How would you redirect their strategy? Take the time to get familiar with the product and use it with a thoughtful eye. This will empower you to have more sophisticated conversations during your interviews.
4. Get inside the customer’s head.
Product managers must consider every customer perspective. For example, an educational services company would have completely different needs than those of an emerging tech company. If you are interviewing for a role as a PM, you should come with insights that show you have thought through each of the potential customer experiences — and bring suggestions for what you would do differently. This assures your would-be boss that you are solutions-oriented and have a high degree of empathy.
5. Research the field of competition.
Do keyword research using Google to find out where the company is positioned in the market. Find out if the company is doing well or falling behind. What challenges does the company face? What are their advantages over the competition?
Consider the company’s value proposition, and how their product is different in the market. This is another great way to put yourself on par with your interviewer. If you can demonstrate key knowledge of their market, that preparation will not go unnoticed.
6. Anticipate difficult questions.
The interviewer will assess how you handle tough situations because the good ones know the qualities they are looking for. So, think of a past challenge and how you mastered it. The company will consider your overall problem-solving ability, technical experience and perceived comfort level with the role.
Here are a few questions you might hear:
- How would you like to improve our product?
- How will you prioritize feature requests on our roadmap?
- What key usage metrics should we be tracking for our product?
- Tell me about a time that you failed.
- Tell me everything you know about our customers.
- Describe a time when you handled a conflict. How did you resolve it, and what was the end outcome?
- Which problems do you anticipate for our company next year?
Run through a mock interview with a friend. This will help you practice keeping your cool when faced with hard questions. Do not be afraid to ask follow-up questions to get to the core of what is being asked; you will have to do this anyway if you land the PM job. Remember that the goal of this interview is to see how much value you will create and how you will fit in with the team.
Product managers start with strategy, do their research, and always ask, “Why?” Take this same approach to your interview.
Product management is challenging — and so is interviewing for meaningful PM roles. But preparing for your first interview can be awesome practice. If you enjoy the preparation and feel a sense of accomplishment, this is a great sign that you are on the right track. So, walk into your first interview with confidence. This is your chance to show what you know and what you are going to do.
I hope you do great and get the job. Product management is the best career for those who love adventure.