/ Product Management

Leveraging your PM Superpowers

Product Managers come from a wide variety of personalities, backgrounds, and career paths which can uniquely shape their experience.

You’ve probably also been asked “what’s your greatest strength (or weakness)” once or twice while interviewing for jobs. You may have also read the famous article ‘Good Product Manager/Bad Product Manager’ by Ben Horowitz.

In this article, I’ll discuss some of the more common PM superpowers and weaknesses, how to leverage them, and how to answer the common strength/weakness question.

PM Superpowers

PM superpowers can manifest in many ways. In some cases, you can train your superpowers through experience. Other times, your personal preferences will drive your super powers.

In an interview setting, you want to highlight what you think this superpower means, as well as provide a personal example of how this superpower has helped you in your work.

Here are some of the more common PM superpowers:

Love of learning

What is it: You may have this superpower if figuring out new tools or processes excites you. Maybe it’s a new framework, a new product, or even a new industry altogether. You don’t shy away from unknown territories and instead find opportunities to improve.

How to use it: ‘Love of Learning’ is great when you’re working in an ambiguous problem space. You may need to change direction frequently and employ new tactics from time to time, and this superpower will help you do that.

Interview example: “My greatest attribute is my love of learning. I typically find myself in uncharted waters when it comes to my product work, and it’s really fulfilling to dive in deep and learn all the nuances. I’ve since become a subject matter expert for my company and my colleagues look to me for answers in X space.”

Data-driven

What is it: You likely have this superpower if you like objective analysis utilizing data. You find yourself pouring over product metrics, running queries, or comparing benchmarks.

How to use it: Being data-driven can really help align stakeholders to objective truths. For example, if you tell someone you feel like product adoption is down - they may or may not trust you. But if you show them real data that this is the case, it becomes harder for them to refute. You can also use data to dispel any preconceived notions you may have, so it works as a great equalizer.

Interview example: “I strive to be a data-driven decision maker for my teams. Because we have so many users on our platform, data can really help us quickly identify product opportunities or test features. For example, I hypothesized that improving our checkout experience would increase conversion. Once we launched an MVP, I measured the results and found that conversion indeed lifted by 5%, helping us decide to double down on the feature and expand the scope.”

Eye for design

What is it: You know a great user experience when you see one. You can quickly understand why a user would click this button, when they might be confused, and what they’re trying to accomplish.

How to use it: This is a great superpower to have if you work on an externally facing product (like consumer products). You can leverage your experience or appetite for design to help make your product more intuitive for users, minimizing confusion and helping to drive better adoption.

Interview example: “I’d say I have a knack for design. In a previous life, I worked as a designer and helped design the user flows for X product. That experience has really helped me understand the motivations of users and how they might navigate through a product. In fact, I once led the redesign of a product which led to a 40% increase in user adoption.”

Self-aware

What is it: If you have this superpower, you know where your blind spots are. This could mean knowing you’re not very technical, that you need a second pair of eyes looking at data, or even knowing your specific PM weakness.

How to use it: Being self-aware helps you minimize your weaknesses and allows you to know when to lean on other experts within your team.

Interview example: “I’d like to think I’m fairly self-aware. For example, I don’t come from a technical background, so I know when to defer to my technical leads whenever it comes to making engineering decisions. I’ve found that it reduces the amount of wasted time in doing a task I’m not good at when I have smarter, more capable folks on my team that I can partner with.”

User-obsessed

What is it: You’re the ultimate user advocate. You love being the voice of the customer and echoing the feedback you hear on the street (or forum or social media or whatever).

How to use it: You’re great at capturing user needs and articulating them as pain points for your product team to work on. You can convert these pain points to product opportunities, constantly building a funnel into your product roadmap.

Interview example: “I’ve always tried to be a customer-centric PM. I spend a lot of time talking directly with customers to understand their pain points and consider building solutions for them in our product. I’ve even make parts of our product roadmap publicly visible, which has improved our NPS scores.”

PM Weaknesses

Much like superpowers, every PM has a few PM weaknesses.

Having weaknesses don’t inherently make you a bad PM, but being aware of them can help you navigate around the issues.

Additionally, you can discuss how you’ve overcome weaknesses in the past during interviews to demonstrate how you handle difficult situations.

Here are some of the more common PM weaknesses:

Being overbearing

What is it: Part of being a good PM is knowing how to lead without authority. However, you may fall into the trap of treating peers as subordinates, which can strain relationships with teammates.

How to use it: Build trust and empathy within your development teams. Know when to defer to others and continually improve your collaboration skills.

Interview example: “I’ve been known to take too much control in the past and it’s gotten me in trouble before with my development team. Since then, I’ve been more trusting of my teammates, and have actively tried to check myself when I feel like I'm crossing lines. It’s helped us develop more trust as a team and we’ve avoided more issues.”

Imposter Syndrome

What is it: Especially as a new PM (or on a new team), you can sometimes doubt your abilities and develop imposter syndrome, questioning how you even got there.

How to use it: Imposter syndrome is normal and most people experience it at various times in their career. Understand that you weren’t accidentally hired, and that you earned your PM position. Lean on previous ‘new job’ experiences and find repeating patterns to learn from.

Interview example: “I’ve come across times when I’m a bit more passive when I first join a new job. It may take me time to warm up and feel like my opinion matters. I’ve since tried to utilize previous experiences to help me navigate this feeling of imposter syndrome a bit better, helping me to ramp up faster.”

Paralysis by analysis

What is it: You’re the ultimate perfectionist and you try to make the right decision every time. This could be a product decision, trying to gain consensus among teams, or even figuring out the right way to communicate to customers.

How to use it: Making decisions aren’t always black and white, and it’s easy to fall into the trap of finding the perfect solution. Try things like the 80/20 rule, building more MVPs, or rapidly iterating more.

Interview example: “In the past, I’ve gotten stuck with making product decisions which take too long. I tried to look at too many data points to find the perfect solution, which caused me to be unsure of how to proceed. In the end, I’ve found that making decisions to move on and then changing course later to be a much more effective methodology.”

Taking on too much

What is it: You try to boil the ocean as a PM and attempt to solve all the problems at once, leading to no meaningful progress in any particular area. You may often be a ‘yes-man/woman’.

How to use it: Know when to prioritize. There’s always improvements to be made in a product and the work is never done. Don’t try to solve everything at once and focus on what’s at hand. It’s also good to know when to tell others ‘no’.

Interview example: “When I first became a PM, I really tried to build 200 features in my first quarter. I realized that I was stretching my team thin and we didn’t make any impactful changes to the product that could provide true value. Since then, I’ve focused on fewer, more strategic product features in any given time, which has led to better success.”

Stubbornness

What is it: The inability to take feedback or direction from someone else

How to use it: Solicit constructive feedback from your teammates and don’t take it personally.

Interview example: “I used to be very stubborn when it came to product management. I would think that no one knew more than I did because I was the supposed ‘subject matter expert’ in this area. I’ve come to realize how wrong I was and now welcome outside feedback. In fact, an intern once gave us product feedback that led to a 10% increase in X metric.”

Conclusion

There are tons of different superpowers and weaknesses when it comes to PM. Additionally, you can expect to be asked about your strengths and weaknesses in an interview at some point in your lifetime.

Knowing which strengths and weaknesses you have can help you prepare for how to leverage or navigate around them.

Need help figuring out what your PM superpower is? Exponent provides coaching from experienced product managers who can help you prepare for your next interview or jumpstart your PM career. Check it out at tryexponent.com

Jeff Lee

Jeff Lee

Product Manager @Robinhood. Former @Autodesk PM & Startup PM. Co-founder @Roughdraftgames. Georgia Tech & Berkeley Alum. Fluent in Rocket Science & Slack. DM about Technology, Board Games, ATL sports.

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