Path to PM is a series of interviews with product leaders about breaking into product management. In this session, we interview Raphael Korach, founder of The PM Interview, a site with online virtual product manager interviews.
1. Tell us about your current PM career.
I’m a Senior Product Manager at Drivy where I have been working for 4 years now. Drivy is the leading carsharing marketplace in Europe, or you can describe it as an “Airbnb for cars” to be short.
2. How did you break into product management?
I’m an engineer by training (not that you need to be one to break into product management). After graduation, I founded a software startup and this is how I started getting into Tech and Product. To grow our product, I had to care about what users need, prioritize our roadmap, assess implementation constraints, track feature usage, and so on. After we shut down 2 years later, and because I naturally worked on these product topics, I applied for product management roles without much hesitation.
3. How many companies did you apply to? How many did you hear back from?
Around five I think, all of which I interviewed for. And I think there’s a couple interesting things here: I would never recommend to mass-apply to tens or hundreds of companies. You’re just dividing your focus. Plus applications should be personalized to the company. When recruiting at Drivy (we are recruiting constantly in our several countries by the way), I can see quickly if the application is not primarily targeted at Drivy. I always pass quickly on those.
Conversely, I’d highly recommend to apply for one or two companies before your dream one. One thing for sure is that you’re bad at interviewing before you actually practice. The first rounds of interviews will help you improve if you perform poorly in some areas, and will boost your confidence if you succeed. That’s important.
4. What was your most successful interview question?
I have always been comfortable with the typical “sizing” questions, the ones such as “How much storage does Youtube need?” where you make assumptions and structure your reasoning. First: you can stick to a very simple framework to answer this type of questions, and second: I tend to have fun thinking about those problems even just with friends, not in an interview context. Solving those really became an automatic reflex in the end.
5. What was the most challenging interview question you faced?
I can’t recall a particular nightmare interview question. What I do remember though is that the context of the interview really changed everything. For instance, I know I didn’t perform as well during video call interviews versus onsite interviews. Or if I had an extremely cold interviewer, I got destabilized (but to be honest, it made me think the company was probably not a good fit for me).
My advice to companies this time: it’s critical in my opinion that you put the candidates in the most comfortable position to really evaluate their potential. Let them know what the process and interview will be about. You don’t need trick questions to see how a candidate thinks.
I do recall a question where I had to design a product for motorbike enthusiasts. I started tossing around ideas based on my view of what the motorbike community was. I should have stated that I know nothing about the user, and start by asking many more questions. (Again, structuring your approach is key). So I wouldn’t say the question was more challenging than another. I just performed poorly at this moment. That happens, and if it happens to you, it doesn’t mean the whole interview process is ruined.
6. How do you answer the “what’s your favorite product” question?
I used to be torn apart when getting this question. Should I find something original to impress? Or should I go for my real favorite product? Ultimately, my advice is to go with a product you genuinely love, you’ll be more convincing. The real (hidden) question here is “why is it your favorite product”, and the important part is how you’re going to structure your explanation.
I personally have a deep admiration for Google Maps, so I would answer by breaking down all areas where it shines, then for all of them explain why: Business & Strategy (its intrinsic value as a B2B service, the amount of data it collects, how key it is for new verticals like self-driving cars), Tech (from routing algorithm, to map tiles generation, to 3D mapping, etc.), and of course Product Implementation (and how it does an amazing job at packing several products into one). A good idea would be to stay succinct on most areas, and dive deeper on one particular. Product implementation is a good candidate I guess (laughs).
7. If you were applying for product management careers all over again, what advice would you give yourself?
Don’t be too “theoretical” about product management. And talk to experienced product managers. As I could discover later on, each company has a different type of product managers. And even inside a company, every PM has a different approach. If you stay theoretical, you’ll think that there is ONE definition of a product manager. That means you don’t really understand it. At Drivy for instance, we all have different core skills. One will be more technical, another one excels in user research and testing, another one passionate about organization topics, etc. That helped us create a super strong product organization.
As I could discover later on, each company has a different type of product managers. And even inside a company, every PM has a different approach. If you stay theoretical, you’ll think that there is ONE definition of a product manager. That means you don’t really understand it.
I wouldn’t have been able to learn about all these different versions from the very start, but I think recognizing this helps understand how large the PM role can span. You need to go further than a simple UX/Tech/Business Venn Diagram.
8. What’s your favorite blog post, book, or website that you’d recommend to a current PM interviewee?
The PM Interview of course! (laughs) The fun story behind actually is that I happened to build it first only for myself, as a tool to practice in more realistic conditions. Because I found it so useful I then put it online for everyone to use.
But apart from this, here are some resources I like:
- If you’re interviewing for big, processed companies, Gayle Laakmann’s Cracking the PM Interview is a good book to learn what to expect.
- For more startup-y interviews and a wider understanding of what it is to be a PM, have a look at the product section of this collection, it’s a great place to start: https://www.startupschool.org/library
- In the past couple of years, I’ve seen some more interactive things come up, like online courses, or 1-1 mentoring sessions. These are great investment of time and money. Exponent's PM Interview Course is a perfect example of it.
9. Any last comments you’d like to mention?
I do! Keep in mind that all you can read in blog posts or books will remain an image of what you understand. I mean, it’s like trying to tell you about a color you’ve never seen. It’s a good start, it to learn about the topic, but not sufficient in my opinion.
I highly recommend people to work on some side projects of any kind when getting into product management. If you truly like product management, you probably like to build things anyway. It will confront you with practical dilemmas (as a Product Manager you’re constantly arbitrating), and it will also provide you with great topics for discussions during the interviews. There’s a big gap between having a few ideas, and actually trying to build those (even if they’re just mockups!). Find a topic you’re excited about, and then start from the user and work backwards to see what you should build to bring them value. There’s another leap between doing pet projects and dealing with actual company-wide projects, but it’s already a great way to start, and will give you a big plus during the interviews!
For more great product management prep, visit Exponent's PM Interview Course.