Product managers (PMs) are de facto team leaders; taking ownership of a problem space, rallying teams around a solution, and relentlessly removing executional blocks. The product management career path relies on PMs being able to think on their feet and own the decisions they make.
This involves dealing with conflicts, misalignments and failures. Facebook PMs need to have strong initiative and be introspective to thrive in a fast paced bottom up culture. Behavioral interviews assess your ability to do that.
Leadership and drive (otherwise known as "behavioral" or "cultural fit") product management interviews test a candidate’s ability to support, build and lead their team. In most cases, you’ll be talking through past examples of working with others rather than answering hypotheticals. The focus is on understanding how you build relationships and get alignment. There are a lot of great resources out there dissecting PM behavioral interviews. If you're interested, check out Exponent's guide to PM behavioral questions or try this Facebook PM insider's guide. Instead, I will focus on how to prepare.
My personal interview preparation process
The first time I prepared for PM interviews, I realized how hard it is to remember stories and details from your past. After that, I began documenting stories regularly while they were fresh in my mind. When the time came to prepare for the interviews, I only had to pick and practice the stories I wanted to pitch.
I spent approximately 6 hours split over 3 days to prepare, including 2 one-hour mock interviews.
The actual interview felt like a conversation. The interviewer was inquisitive, and asked follow-up questions. There were prompts that I hadn’t anticipated and had to think on my feet to find a story. Quickly responding to changing dynamics is a part of the PM job description.
Let's look at the framework I used to prepare.
Step 1: Dig into the company culture
Read your target company’s values by researching the website. But don’t stop there - talk to people who work at the company to better understand what those values mean in everyday work. If you don’t know anyone who works at the company, ask your recruiter about it or reach out to someone on LinkedIn.
Don’t go by face value. One of Facebook's core values is to “Move Fast” ...but not at the cost of quality. Facebook empowers teams to move fast with a "bottom-up" culture, giving teams autonomy to make decisions and, when necessary, a quick turnaround from leadership. Facebook PMs must be able to efficiently manage multiple stakeholders, build relationships, and concisely lay out different options for leadership.
Step 2: Write down relevant past experiences
After building a strong understanding of the company culture, write down relevant past experiences in the S.T.A.R (Situation, Task, Action, Result) format. Highlight your role in achieving those results. Even just writing the key pointers helps frame a better narrative.
Take a look at some of my stories written in the STAR format (abstracted to comply with NDA):
I use a Google Sheet with the company values in the first column, past experiences in the first row, and stories written in each cell. When you are trying to prepare for multiple companies or haven’t yet identified the specific companies to interview with, you can use the Amazon Leadership Principles as they cover most of what you'd run into.
You can start documenting stories today by copying my template, here.
Step 3: Practice your pitch
Don’t memorize - instead, work on confidence in the interview. Nailing a few key elements will help you stay on track no matter what question the interviewer might throw at you. You don't need to remember every single word. This shouldn’t be difficult because you’ve lived through those experiences.
3 practice techniques that I found helpful:
- Mock interview with a peer. Especially if the person works at the company you are interviewing for. You can always find a mock interview partner through Exponent's 6000+ peer-to-peer mock community. Mocks run daily.
- Record a voice memo on your phone and play it back. Heads up, hearing yourself talk seems really awkward at first.
- ORAI is an app to practice public speaking and get feedback on the narration. I like how they provide analytics for the speaking speed (in words per minute) and number of filler words used.
And finally, some tips for success:
- Only pitch genuine stories. It's hard to back up stories that aren't 100% true. If the interviewer senses that you are exaggerating your contribution, it'll throw doubt on everything.
- Summarize the entire story in the first sentence. By giving up the entire story, the interviewer will know what to expect and they’ll be able to follow along better. If they think that the story is not a good response to their prompt, they’ll tell you before and you can pivot. An example framing for the opening is “let me tell you about the time when I did [action] during [situation] to [result]”
- Document experiences even when you aren’t actively interviewing. Writing them down when they are fresh in your mind will allow you to capture the full depth. You might not remember the details after a couple of years. Performance reviews are a good time to document these stories.
- Only use stories that pass the “would you want to work with this person?” test. If the answer is no (or even maybe) to any story, don’t use it. However, don’t let imposter syndrome creep in and make you feel like your experience isn’t great. If you are confused, use a friend or mentor as a sounding board.