Land That Dream Product Job - Interviews (PART I)
So you crafted your resumes and optimized your applications. You're gradually getting more calls and responses. Now what?
The true meat of the job seeking process. The interviews.
It's the "true meat" because it likely would take you the most effort to do right. It does actually assess your skills and qualifications as a product manager. Once you pass this phase, you're REALLY close to get the job. So of course you want to go all-in in this phase.
In this post, I'll take you through an introduction to the Product Manager Interview Process.
I'll talk about Key Components of the Product Manager Interviews in PART II, and General Tips in PART III. And then I will provide deep dive guidance for specific components (e.g. product sense deep dive) in future series. Subscribe to not miss them if you haven't!
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Interviews definitely worth being written at length. So follow me through the journey in these posts!
Product Manager Interview Process
Each company/team might be a little different, but I'd say at least 90% of the following is fairly common. Some processes are longer or shorter depending on not only the company processes but sometimes also how you perform in earlier round.
#1. Recruiter Call
Or sometimes the "recruiter screening" or "recruiter introduction". Don't be fooled by the name. Regardless what they call it, it's the same nature. Recruiter wants to accomplish two things:
Screening your qualifications against job requirements
Get you interested in the job role (especially if the first part goes well)
It's usually 30 minutes but can also be 45. In this call recruiter usually will go through (a subset of) the following (non-exhaustive):
Your experience (in the form of "tell me about yourself", "share with me what you've been up to the last few years at XXX", etc.)
Your knowledge/interest in the company (in the form of "why are you interested in this position", "how did you hear about us", etc.)
Your goals (and if they align with what the company can offer you, in the form of "what are you looking for next?" "where do you want to be in the next few years?"
Some basic product skill screening question (varies by the role/recruiter/company depending on what's important and fundamental for them. E.g. "tell me how you go about prioritization", "what are the key metrics you're looking at for your current products"?)
Tell you about the company, the role, and the team
More preparation tips to come. But make sure you don't let your guard down in this very first call. Prepare all of the above, and listen attentively even for #5 so you'll ask good questions in #6!
Depending on the companies, the next step (if you pass) could either be a hiring manager call (#2) or getting right into the official interview loop (#3).
#2. Hiring Manager Call
If you are interviewing for a specific role on a specific team, you're likely going to meet with the hiring manager 1 on 1 after the recruiter call. The goals are:
For hiring manager to directly assess if you're likely the right fit
For hiring manager to introduce and sell her role you're interviewing for
For you to determine if it's a fit (for the role and with the hiring manager)
It is two way street as in all rounds of interviews. I don't want to sugar coat it though so to put it bluntly, it's usually 80% hiring manager assessing you and 20% the other way around. The unbalance is mostly due to high demands for many product jobs. I mention this just for you to focus first on doing well in the "being assessed" part, and then think about whether there's a right fit.
Again it can be 30 minutes or 45. The usual agenda is usually very similar to the recruiter call, except it does for sure go much deeper in your experience and qualification, and the job role itself. Some hiring manager might even go right into some case interview questions that will be the focuses in the official interview loop round (#3), but an abbreviated version just to screen you.
If you start in a general hiring process (where they start the general product manager assessment before matching you with a team), this call will be skipped (until the team matching phase later).
#3. Official Interview Loop
The loop means you'll meet with multiple interviewers in this round before the hiring team decides the outcome to move you forward or not. This is obviously the core phase of the interview process, and plays the biggest role in whether you'll ultimately land the offer.
The number of interviews/interviewers really depends on the company, but I've seen around 5-6 being the most common. There are also many different loop designs with regard to who you'll meet and what the focus areas are. Among the most common are the following:
All-Product Loop: you'll meet with only product managers where each of them is going to primarily assess a core product skill (e.g. product sense, execution, leadership and drive. I'll cover these in more depth in PART II).
Cross-Functional Loop: Or often abbreviated as "XFN". you'll not only meet with product managers, majority of the panel consists of interviewers representing key cross functional teams you as a PM will work closely with. E.g. engineering, design, data science, marketing, etc. And they're going to assess how and how effective you work with respective functional role, and some of your knowledge pertaining to that function (e.g. technical/execution skill by engineering, analytics skills by data science, product design sense by design etc.).
Hybrid: A combination of the above. You'll get half product, half cross-functional loop.
Additionally, there could be a presentation or case study round in the mix of the interview loop, where you are likely to meet with / present to multiple interviewers in one session. The presentation could get you to talk about a specific product you led in the past, or it can be a product topic/problem specified by the hiring team. The goal here is several: assess your presentation skills, assess your product management /problem solving approaches, and see how you collaborate with teams and take feedback.
The interviews can be all in a single round, or it can be broken out into 2 rounds (that you have to pass the first round before moving on the 2nd). If they're all in one round, they can be scheduled within a single day or broken out into two days (latter being more frequent in the COVID/remote world we've been living over the past year).
#4. Tie Breaker Round
This round is totally optional, and it only happens when your aggregated rating from across all interviewers in the loop, happens to be borderline or mixed. It can be because either A) there are some strongly positive ratings, but there are some negative ones that are concerning. Or B) Across the board it's borderline or slightly above the bar.
For A, expect them to dive into that specific area where negative rating expressed concerns. Usually the recruiter will prompt you for which area it is. So prepare accordingly.
For B, expect some "bar raiser" interview questions for them to ensure you're a star rather than just a mediocre hire who can simply "do the job". It can be to reassess selected areas to make sure you not only "pass" but knock the ball out of the park this time. It can also be pushing you on some hypothetical scenarios and see how you'd deal with it and see whether you'd do what a "high performer" would do. Carefully reflect on the last round to see where you can do even better, and just be the best (even better) version of yourself (don't pretend to be who you're not).
#5. Leadership Round
This rounds is for you to meet with the leadership of the team on which the specific role you're interviewing for. Titles can vary, it can be the VP of product, it can be the GM of the business unit, or for a smaller size startup it can very well be the CEO or CPO (Chief Product Officer). This round mostly serves as the final vetting of your fit for the role and the org. The discussions and questions are usually at higher level, though there could be occasionally 1 deeper dive question as well. Of course, you've made this far, it would also be a great opportunity to ask any question. To learn more about the top level vision and strategy, team culture, management philosophy and anything else you did not get to learn about in the previous round.
Whether this round exists also depends on the company. Some has it, others don't. In my experience, most of well known companies with established product hiring process might not require it. Even if it exists after the loop, it's probably more to sell you the opportunity than to assess your qualification now that you've passed the most grueling loop round. But as a principle, never let your guard down, be prepared and perform the best of yourself.
#6. Team Matching
This final round exists if you start in a general product hiring process (e.g. as most Google/Facebook/Linkedin/Lyft/etc. candidates do). Obvious there's no need for this if you start the process targeting a specific role on a specific team.
This is how it "usually" works. After confirming you passed the loop (as usually decided by a "hiring committee" made of product managers / leaders across different teams), your "packet" (resume, interview feedback/ratings, additional recruiter notes etc.) will be shared with multiple teams / hiring managers who are hiring PMs. The hiring managers will review and decide if they are interested and whether you could be a good fit for their roles. You'll then be scheduled to meet with who are interested.
In the team matching call with the hiring manager, unlike the hiring manager call in the role-specific process taking place in the earlier phases, this one usually is more for hiring manager to sell you on the opportunity than to assess your qualification. By the time they would've already reviewed all your (positive) interview feedback and be mostly confident that you'll be good addition to their teams. But of course in addition to still not letting your guard down, you should now focus much more on genuinely learning about the specific role and the team, and ask as many questions that help you decide as possible. If you believe it is the role you would like, definitely be sure to show your enthusiasm throughout.
Also, unless you're working against a deadline (e.g. other expiring offers, wanting to get out of your current miserable job ASAP etc.), feel free to take the time to find the role you really like, rather than forcing yourself into a role that you wouldn't enjoy as much.
Summary & Next
So you will go through a subset or all of the following rounds in a product manager interview process:
Recruiter call: the entry point/ gatekeeper / 1st screening
Hiring manager call: the specialized screening (only in role-specific process)
Official interview loop: the "meat" with multiple interviewers assessing key PM areas
Tie-breaker: optional, only when you're at the borderline
Leadership round: meet with the big boss
Team matching: match you with specific role (only in generalist process)
If you're new to the PM interview process, I hope this doesn't scare you off. Is it a long and challenging process to get through? Hell yes. Can you ultimately crack it, or even master it? Absolutely.
In PART II (next week), I'll dive into the key components of the product manager interviews so you know what are the main areas you'll be assessed.
In PART III, I'll share some general tips to help you set the right foundation to tackle these interviews.
And I'll be sure to follow with area-specific (e.g. product sense) interview preparation tips, in future posts too, to give you all the tools you need to master each and every one of them.
Before I write on. If you find the above helpful, do me a favor, would you? Leave me a comment below or drop me a note (with feedback, question, comment). Also feel free to share this post with whoever you believe can benefit!
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