You've made it to the product management interview. You've solved every problem and brain teaser thrown at you. Now with a few minutes left, you have one final question to answer.
"Do you have any questions for me?"
Interviews are a two-way street where not only is the company interviewing you, but you are also evaluating the company for their fit. So, finding the right questions to ask your interviewer is an art form. You want to ask questions to convey that you're interested in the role. However, you don't want to ask the wrong questions. So, what are the best questions to leave a lasting impression upon your interviewer?
In this article, we will explore what to ask and what not to ask your interviewer, and how to avoid getting vanilla canned responses.
Interviews should not feel like interrogations. Engage with your interviewer. Treat this opportunity as if you're speaking with an old friend you haven't seen in a year. After your interviewer has answered your question, take something they said and add some insight.
If you're having trouble being conversational with your interviewer, categorize everything your interviewer says into topics. Then, pick one to ask a relevant question.
Suppose your interviewer says their day-to-day activities involve tracking metrics, attending meetings, and staying up to date with current events in the product's space. Here, you can dissect this response into three topics: tracking metrics, attending meetings, staying up to date with current events. You can pick any of the three topics to ask a relevant follow-up question. Perhaps you would respond with "how do you stay up to date with news in the product's space"? Soon enough, you and your interviewer will land on a topic of mutual interest and the conversation will flow smoothly from there.
Also, don't be scared of silence. There's no need to try to fill in every silence with some words.
Questions to Ask Your Interviewer
Which Product Do You Work On?
Put yourself in your interviewer's shoes by asking what they do in the company. Do some research on the company's portfolio beforehand and form some opinions about their products.
Perhaps your interviewer works on a product you use regularly. The conversation can potentially go something like this:
Interviewer: I work on the profiles here at Instagram. We've recently added some new capabilities to support profiles for small businesses and content creators.
You: Interesting! So your team determines which call-to-action buttons to add to profiles?
Interviewer: Yes! Through user studies and multivariate testing, we determine which action buttons to offer to our business and creator profiles.
You: Makes sense. Has the team considered building profiles for events?
Interviewer: What do you mean?
You: Thinking about how different demographics use Instagram, I know at least in the United States, high school kids create Instagram profiles for the purposes of organizing and managing events. They may create an account called @Kevins21Bday and set that profile to private. Then if the private profile follows you or if your follow request is approved, then you're invited.
Interviewer: Hmm interesting. I wonder if this concept would catch on with adults.
In this conversation, the candidate asked which team the interviewer works on. Upon learning this information, the candidate dug deeper and tried to figure out what the PM does day-to-day (determining which call-to-action buttons to add to profiles). Finally, he/she realized this is something they have an opinion on (considered building profiles for events). So, he/she shared their opinion and gave some background information on why their opinion is relevant.
What Is One Change You Would Make in the Company?
Every organization has its quirks and features. Most employees have opinions about how the organization can do things differently. Maybe there's a broken process. Or there's some disconnect between teams.
An interesting discussion you can have with your interviewer is how they would change how things are done at the company. Weigh the pros and cons of how the company implements its current process. Ask how you, as a new hire, can bring out change. Perhaps the company does not do a good job onboarding new hire product managers. Share how previous companies you've worked at onboarded PMs well. Share insights as to what works and what doesn't.
The hardest part about change is not making the change, but sustaining it. With the right idea, it's easy to then get people involved. However, many employees who are used to the old way of doing things will fall back into old routines.
This helps to show that once you are hired, you will not merely be another cog in the machine. Rather, with your fresh mind and perspective, you are willing to bring change and proactively improve how people work. Whether such change would be receptive or not in the company may also help you decide if this role is the right fit for you.
Advice and Mentorship
It's often difficult to cold-reach out to experienced product managers at top companies on LinkedIn. That's understandable, as everyone is busy. But when you get rare face-time with senior product managers, then you should take advantage of the moment.
Perhaps the senior product manager interviewing you is working in a role that you see yourself in one day. Take this opportunity to learn. Share your background and ask for some career advice. Your interviewer will recall that they were once in your shoes.
If you're like most folks, your own opinions are your favorite topics of conversation. Asking your interviewer for advice is less of a burden than you may think. They will be more than happy to share their thoughts.
Examples of questions:
- How did you become x (eg. director of product management)?
- Which traits do you consistently observe in junior product managers that are successful?
- Follow-up: How does this role fit within the company's broader strategy?
- Which common mistakes do you see junior product managers make?
What to Avoid
Don't Ask Trivial Questions
Don't ask any questions whose answers you can easily find with a Google search. That just shows you are unresourceful. Asking a question for the sake of asking a question is not a wise use of your time.
Examples of trivial questions not to ask:
- What are the company's values? - This is something you can usually find on the company website. Oftentimes, company values are over-hyped and provide very little tangible value. While words matter, actions matter more. A better question would be to ask what challenges your interviewer has faced in his/her journey to achieve the company's mission.
- Describe the culture of the company - You can glean this information from speaking with your interviewer(s).
- Who do you consider your top competitor, and why? - While many like to ask this question, it just makes you seem like you have not yet done your research. Instead, you could mention "I believe x, y, and z are competitors because" of some given reason. Then you can follow-up by asking if there are any other competitors in the market. Don't forget about indirect competitors!
Instead, think about what excites you about this potential role. Is there an exciting technology stack you are looking forward to working on? If your interviewer mentions something you genuinely are excited about, dig a little deeper to make a lasting impression. Show your interviewer that you are ready to learn.
Don't Ask About Benefits
Every candidate wants to know about the exciting benefits that await them. We want to know how much free food we can eat, how much money and shares of stock we can expect in bonuses, and how much vacation time we can take. However, interviews are not the time to ask about these.
Leave these for HR. Instead, you can turn these into questions more related to the job to demonstrate that you are already imagining yourself on the job.
For example, instead of asking about the free food, try "where do people usually eat at lunch?" This could unravel a number of insights. Maybe this team likes to mingle with the salespeople. Or perhaps they have a tradition where they get Chipotle every Friday. Each of these insights will show you what kind of team culture to expect.
The 2 biggest mistakes candidates make at the end of interviews when asked if they have any additional questions are:
- Not having any questions to ask
- Not asking a meaningful question
You show that you're excited about the job by asking a question. You show that you would be interesting to work with by asking a thoughtful question. Asking canned questions will simply elicit an unmemorable vanilla response.
Interviews are a two-way street where not only is the company interviewing you, but you are also evaluating the company for their fit. Often, the company website only lists ideas that the company's marketing or PR team has approved to be publicly broadcasted. Asking the right questions and having a conversation with your interviewer is the perfect way to learn if the role is truly the right fit for you.