/ Product Management

Product Manager Interview Tips

I’ve been approached by many young, aspiring PMs asking me how to get noticed by recruiters, land interviews, and close on job offers. Much like writing a PRD or prioritization, interviewing for PM jobs is a skill worth mastering.

During one particularly busy year, I had gone through 50+ phone screens, 25+ hiring manager calls, 10+ on-sites, and a handful of offers. Since PM is a very popular profession, the competition can be tough, and I encourage you to stick with the job search.

In this article, I’ll give you tips for every stage of the PM job hunt process, from sourcing opportunities to the final interview. Hopefully, you can utilize some of these tips the next time you’re in the job hunt yourself!

Sourcing Opportunities

The first step to your job hunt is finding PM openings that feel like good fits. Here are some tips I recommend for sourcing opportunities:

  1. Search far and wide: Make sure you look across multiple job boards. Combine LinkedIn, Indeed, and even Angel List for a complete 360 view of the PM job opportunities in your area.
  2. Consider smaller companies: Startups are a great way to accelerate your learning opportunities and ownership, especially when it comes to product. Don’t be afraid to join a small or mid-stage startup if you find yourself looking for a place to grow! Here’s a great list of smaller companies to check out!
  3. Ask your network: Your friends can vouch for you as a person, and might even be thrilled to recommend you to a hiring manager or colleague. Consider chatting with your network about potential openings and how they like their jobs.
  4. Consider internal moves: While a fresh start may sound fun, sometimes you need to de-risk your candidacy. Moving internally if possible is a great way to land a PM position. You’ve already passed the bar to be a current employee and you likely know the domain very well.
  5. Keep a spreadsheet: It’s easy to get lost in the process during a job search. For this, I recommend keeping a spreadsheet. Tracking things like last contact date, where you are in the interview process, and which jobs you’ve applied to can help you get a temperature check of your candidacy. Treat your job search like a product and track your ‘success metrics’ in this spreadsheet. You can try this one to start!

Getting Noticed

After you find job openings for PM positions you’d be happy to fill. It’s time to get your foot in the door. Many candidates complain about getting noticed by recruiters. Here are some tips that may get your resume moved into the short-list for opportunities:

  1. Work on side projects: Doing is learning. Nothing beats real experience when it comes to learning Product Management and making product decisions. Consider working on a side project to improve or design a brand new product and document the process where recruiters can find it. Get people (preferably real PMs) to give you feedback. Rinse and repeat. You can also talk about these projects during the interview process.
  2. Publish something: Side projects are great, but can be time-consuming. Writing/publishing is also a great way to hone your PM skills. This will help you expand your knowledge by researching subject-matter, as well as practice your communication skills (extremely important for PMs).
  3. Fit the Description: Recruiters are scouring the internet every day to find the perfect candidate for their openings, and PM is no different. You can make their jobs easier by using common terminology found in PM job descriptions. I recommend taking 3-5 PM job descriptions for jobs you are interested in or feel are a good fit for and analyze the common language between them. Additionally, you can rework your resume to highlight experiences that fit the key responsibilities they’re looking for. You’ll come up in more searches this way and hopefully, recruiters will reach out to you instead of the other way around.
  4. Cold message: Lastly, try cold-messaging recruiters, hiring managers, or even PMs at the companies you’d like to work at. Not everyone will reply, but you’d be surprised at how many people are willing to help. Make sure your message doesn’t come off as generic or all about you.

Preparing for Interviews

Once you’ve applied for a job and the recruiter thinks you’re a good fit, it’s time to prepare yourself for the PM interview. Here are some things you can do to sharpen your interview skills:

  1. Mock Interviews: I can’t stress this point enough. Practice makes perfect. Find others who are also looking for PM positions and exchange interviews. They may give you invaluable feedback that you would have otherwise not utilized. Also, playing the role of the interviewer helps you gain empathy for what your hiring manager might be looking for. I found Exponent’s slack channel to be a great place to look for mock interview partners!
  2. Keep up with Industry Trends: Keep in touch with major technology trends and news. You don’t want to go to an interview talking about extremely outdated processes or technologies. You should also try to understand as much as you can about the domain that your job will be in. Check out podcasts (How I Built This with Guy Raz), tech blogs (like Stratechery), or even follow technologists (@Carnage4Life and @noah_weiss are some of my favorites) on Twitter.
  3. Mentorship: Look for a strong PM mentor to help guide you in your career. This person is someone who should have extensive PM experience and who resonates with your core beliefs with regards to a PM career. Alternatively, you can also mentor others! I’ve personally mentored many early career PMs, helping them land their first APM or PM jobs. By helping mentor others, I sharpened my own skills to better prepare me for interviews as well!

Acing the Interviews

PM interviews take many formats. Usually, you will encounter a phone screen, hiring manager interview, take-home assignment, and a final onsite interview. Each part of this interview process deserves its own article, but here are some general tips you should know:

  1. Have an opinion: As a candidate, you want to have an opinion. When I say this, I mean pick a stance on a subject and have defensible reasoning for your choice. The PM world isn’t always black and white and you need to demonstrate your decision-making process to the interviewer. Having an opinion demonstrates that you can back up your ideas/decisions with evidence that you’ve analyzed and interpreted. It also makes you a more memorable candidate than someone who’s too agreeable.
  2. Don’t be stubborn: While having an opinion that you’re steadfast on is great, you also don’t want to be stubborn. A great PM can take new information and reanalyze the entirety of a situation.
  3. Focus on your expertise: Sometimes, interviews will take you beyond your comfort zone. They’re abstract measures of a candidate’s ability to do their job well. Whenever possible, model your answers around themes and examples from your personal work experience. This will keep you rooted in your comfort zone and better convey your abilities to the hiring managers.
  4. Create a dialogue: Some people think of interviews like a test, where there are specific correct answers and everything else is wrong. As such, some candidates answer the question presented and leave it at that. Instead, try expanding on your answer by discussing trends, how it relates to your work, and asking a follow-up question to the interviewer. It will demonstrate depth to your answers and give them insight into your communication style.

Conclusion

Hopefully, you were able to take a few key tips away from this article. The PM interview process is a marathon and there are many talented runners. Keep focused on the end goal and you’ll land a PM position that suits your career growth in no time!

Additionally, if you’d like to boost your interview skills, I highly recommend checking out Exponent. Exponent offers great PM interview courses, connect you with seasoned interview coaches, and lets you meet other aspiring PMs to exchange mock interviews with. I highly recommend you check us out!

Jeff Lee

Jeff Lee

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

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