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Land That Dream Product Job – Interviews (PART III)
This is PART III of the 3 part series. So far we've covered:
And in this post, I'll talk about some general tips about the interview preparations. NOTE: this post is NOT going to deep dive into the preparation of any specific key interview component, just because each one deserves at least one dedicated lengthy post of itself, which I'll look to get to one at a time in future posts. Rather, I'm going to share the common tips that will benefit ALL your interviews to provide you a good foundation for more specific tactics to be later built on top of.
Again, I welcome you to reach out in case you need personalize advices and coaching on specific interview topics and areas of preparation!
I'll cover it in 4 phases:
Before the Interview
Day of the Interview
During the Interview
After the Interview
Let's jump in!
Before the Interview
Sure enough, you'd have to prepare. How exactly do you prepare? I'd say in 3 phases:
Let this always be your first step preparing for any interview, for any role. You need to collect as much relevant and helpful information as possible within the timeframe you have to work with, before you can effectively put together a strategy to respond to questions well and win. This applies equally well from your initial recruiter screen all the way through your final interviews.
So what do you research about? In general the following: The company, job description, interviewers, and interview questions.
Specifically in the context of getting prepared for your interview, understand its products, business model (how they make money) and culture (what they value and how they operate and make decision) will help you a lot in your product interviews. Both in terms of answering the questions, and equally important, asking great questions.
The importance of understanding products and business models for a product manager should be self-explanatory. Especially for business models, it taps into strategy so not only are you preparing for this particular company, in general it'll also help build up your strategic thinking muscle.
Culture helps you understand what they do care about in you (with regard to your value and cultural fit), which is especially helpful when you prepare for your leadership/behavioral interviews.
Job description is only where you send your application? Wrong. Believe it or not, it tells you A LOT about the questions you might be asked. In addition to the description of the role and the team themselves, pay attention to the job requirements and qualifications section. E.g.
Technical background preferred? You'd better brush up on your technical interviews.
Prior experience on consumer growth? You might expect to get questions about user acquisition and related metrics.
Team player? Lets prepare to provide a few examples of how you collaborate with your teams and peers
You get the gist.
Quickly check out their Linkedin Profiles. Some companies even make it easy for you by linking their names to their Linkedin Profiles. If not you can most likely search by name and you'll find them.
Their profiles might (or might not) tell you some more about the job and the products you'll be working on, depending on how much description of what they do there is. Also, by checking out their role, tenure in the company, their backgrounds leading up to the current roles, you'll be able to come up with good questions at the end of the interviews.
It's also just the very basic principle of always know who you're meeting with. Not just for the interviews.
The Interview Questions:
In part II I've introduced the categories of questions you might get in a product interview. You should definitely do your own research broadly into the "bank" of questions out there on the web. Some questions are hypothetical, a lot are actually ones asked in the real interviews, shared (or "leaked") by candidates.
Glassdoor "used to be" a good destination but not as much any more. You could still find some samples from big tech companies so do quickly check it out. There are many other new sites where product interview questions are curated. Just Google "product manager interview questions" (I'm sure you might have done that) you'll get a lot. For each interview, I'd definitely also google "<company_name> product manager interview questions" and see what comes up. Not only will you see a lot of questions for you to think about / prepare ahead, you should often see some crowd sourced sample answers too. Make sure you don't focus too much on looking at the sample answers. Use them only as reference of how others think, which might or might not be the best answers/approach.
Also, more often than not, the recruiters from established companies would usually share quite some good resources to prep you too. Remember, they also want you to be successful!
In this phase, you put together all that you've collected from the research phase, and organize them into 1) Anticipated interview questions by categories (you may use the components I introduced in PART II) or by just each interview you've scheduled., 2) How you'd go about tackling each question category, 3) the questions you will ask the interviewers. In this order.
For #2 (tacking interview question), combine what you've learned in research with what you think. Make how you plan on answering these questions uniquely yours. Of course, leadership/behavioral style questions always require your personal experience. But even for general product case interview style questions (e.g. product sense, execution etc.), make sure to come up with your own structure (vs blindly memorize any framework you've learned on the internet). You don't have to reinvent the wheel, but do what you think make the most sense and most natural to your own logic. That's also what "synthesize" means. Mixed what you've learned with what's uniquely yours is the best way to prepare for all interview questions. The former help you with initial structure, the latter help you respond to any surprises more effortlessly.
For #3 (questions to ask), make sure you mix in: A) what you genuinely want to learn more about the role, product, company, business, B) what demonstrates your depth and curiosity. This part of the interview is often overlooked. Often when candidates get their turn to ask questions, they think the "official" part of the interview is over. Again wrong. This is a part of the interview. I can tell you my personal experience where in one interview, I felt I bombed the questions I was asked, but I suddenly turned it around by asking good questions and having a great discussion with the interviewer at the end. FYI, that was a hiring manager round for Netflix as the rest as you know. I got the job. Lesson here? Prepare good questions and be ready to have good discussions!
Now you've done your research, and you've planned for your game of attack. Are you ready? Close but just one last step missing. You need to practice. Let's face it, job interview is one of the most unnatural thing in life - you don't do it everyday. So you just have to switch that "interview mode" on.
You practice by yourself
You practice with others
You practice in actual interviews
Practicing by yourself is to practice thinking through questions and responding out loud, on your own. It's different from preparing for presentations where you look into a mirror and deliver a one-sided speech. The "thinking" part is an important part of the self practice, where you practice looking at a fresh new question and and organizing your thoughts about how to respond. The responding part is not just to give speech, but practicing how you structure your response, concisely and at pace, in hypothetical flow of the interviews.
Yes it can get quite abstract because you really don't have someone to interact with but yourself. As an introvert, I lean on this a lot and it does help me get much more prepared for the actual interviews.
Practicing with others include your friends, your interview partners, or even your spouse if he/she bothers to listen to it :). Of course increasing popularity is the interview coach as they not only listen to you, they can really act like real interviewers, and better yet, give you targeted feedback about how to improve. (yes, I do help candidates too. Check out coaching and contact me if you're interested).
Practice with others allow you to simulate the interviews better, because it's an actual interaction. Having that said, I sometimes find doing mock interviews with those you already know very well in other settings (e.g. close friends, spouse) a bit awkward, and that I wouldn't perform the best of myself anyway. Let me know what you find.
Practicing in actual interviews is self-explanatory. You gain real experience by going to the real wars. The main difference in this is obviously that it's not a mock, and that you get to experience the real on the spot pressure. This is valuable and irreplaceable, and that's partly why I suggested in Applications article, that you should be open minded about opportunities available. Not only might you be surprised about the the positive side of the roles, at the minimum, you gain that valuable interview experience that you can't get in self practice and mock interviews.
This wraps the "Before the Interview"!
Day of the Interview
So you've spent days/weeks/months preparing, before the big day. And today is the day. How do you get ready? Rest, Review, Reset.
Rest is to make sure you have a good night sleep last night, because research proved that sleep quantity and quality directly impact your ability to focus and your performance (among other things like moods). Also, as much as you can, avoid jamming your schedule ahead of the interviews. Create some blank space before the interview if you can.
Review is not to do another full round of preparation again. As a matter of fact, DON'T. Just quickly scan through your interview schedule for the day, know the company, the interviewer and the interview focus area. Spend 5-10 minutes bringing in to your brain's "cache" what you've prepared for (questions and questions to ask etc.). Make sure you don't do review right before the interview. Do it earlier than that.
Reset is what you do right before the interview. You're well prepared. What you prepared for weeks is already in your subconscious cache. Now it's important to clear your conscious head, eliminate any preconception of how the interview will go. Be ready to start with a clean slate.
During the Interview
So the interview officially starts. The game is on. It's time for what you prepared for to be put in use. Here's a few quick reminders to help you perform the best of yourself (and you can even remind yourself again and again during the interview!):
Listen Attentively: Following a clean slate start, it's important to carefully listen to every word of what your interviewer is saying and observing where she's going/feeling (if you can) throughout the interview. So that you can respond accordingly.
Pause: don't attempt to fill the air with words or rush into responding before you think it through. It's one of the top reasons candidates fail. (One of the top reasons I failed, when I failed). It's ok to pause, think about it, before you respond. Your interviewers will be ok too. You can explicitly ask for the time. E.g. "I'd like to use a minute to organize my thoughts if that's ok".
Structure: two parts. Structure your thoughts (first), then structure your verbal response. You can not be structured in latter if you are not structured in former. I'll just have to recommend this book again: Pyramid Principles. You will learn a lot about what I meant by the right way to structure your thoughts and communications.
Concise: here less is more. Be right to be point. During the interview, as soon as you catch yourself having monologue for over a minute or if you observe signs on interviewer's face that she's bored, stop immediately, check in with yourself and with the interviewer. Reset your pace when you answer the next question.
Ask Questions: Not just at the end of the interview when the table is turned. It's throughout the interview when you need more information or clarification from the interviewers. Not only does this help you answer the questions right, it's in fact also is a part of the interview assessment - see if you are good at dealing with ambiguity and ask the right questions, timely.
Be Likable: This might sound strange, but believe it or not it does at least implicitly impact how the interviewers will rate you. The interviewers are supposed to be trained not to rate you based on whether or not they like you (aka "eliminate the unconscious bias"). But bias on likability is unavoidable. Just ask yourself, this guy in front of you is brilliant and he cracked every single question to perfection. But he comes across as arrogant. Would you want to work with him as your colleague, everyday? If not, how would give him a 4.0 score? So pay attention to your attitude during the interview, and ask yourself: would I want to work with me? Of course, don't pretend to be someone else. Just be the most likable version of yourself!
After the Interview
After the interview is a key part of the preparation - for the next interview! Again you've just gained a valuable experience in an actual interview that you wouldn't have otherwise gotten in self/mock practices. However you think you did, the lessons you take away might even be more valuable than the outcome itself. In the long run.
So carefully reflect and note down:
The end to end flow of the interview
The questions you were asked
Where you did well - your pace, your answers, your mental state, etc.
Where you could've done better - your pace, your answers, your mental state, etc.
And then synthesize back into your improvement/preparation plans for the next interviews.
At last, this pretty much wraps the Land That Dream Product Job - Interviews Trilogy!
I know there's a lot. From the process, to key assessment components, to preparations. And sure enough we have not dove into the detailed preparation tactics for each specific components yet. My goal for these posts really is to lay out the essentials that you really need to know in order to succeed, before going out to fight with your heart and soul.
So take the time to digest, bookmark and re-read if you find them helpful. Don't hesitate to shoot me questions which I'm sure you have plenty. And let me know if you need my personalized help!
Onward and upward!
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