Product manager interview questions

Product managers are crucial to the success of your digital offering. Hiring the right one comes down to asking the right questions.
Jun 18, 2020 • 6 minute read
Gauri Gautam @GauriMelb
Technical Co-pilot
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Ask the right questions to find the right product manager for your business

Attracting, hiring and retaining talent is always an uphill task. This is especially true in the case of product professionals like product managers or product designers, mainly because product management is a critical role that can help grow organizational capabilities, and onboarding the right product manager is a huge step towards achieving this growth.

So, how do you hire the right person for the role of a product manager? It's simple: by asking the right questions in the job interview. The questions you ask while interviewing candidates for this position will help you select between different candidates, all of whom may seem suitable for the job at a glance. We've compiled a list of questions and how the responses to these can suggest whether or not a candidate is ideal for the role of your product manager.

How to structure the interview

An interview is typically the occasion where the employer and the prospective employee are meeting face-to-face for the first time. It's also the final step in the selection process. Therefore, it must have a certain basic structure in place, as a loosely run interview can dissuade a suitable candidate. You can achieve this by ensuring that the following criteria are met:

  • First of all, make sure that all the candidates are asked the same questions. This helps the assessment process become more reliable and consistent for each candidate profile.
  • Also, ensure that all the important questions pertaining to the role are covered before indulging in personal or general questions. List the purpose of the interview to get more clarity.
  • Lastly, involve all the concerned parties within the organization to design the interview process and create a comprehensive questionnaire.

A tightly structured interview process will save everyone’s time and effort. It will also leave a positive impression on the candidates.

What's the aim of the interview process?

The aim of the interview should be to assess the willingness as well as the required skill set for the position of a product manager. These skills are outlined in the following sections.

Another important purpose of the interview is to determine whether the candidate understands what is expected from this role. Along with this, the interviewer must know the candidate’s personal goals and aspirations by the time the interview is over. Also, by asking everyone the same questions, it is easy to compare all the candidates on the same aspects.

Lastly, the interview process should tell you whether the prospective candidate is a cultural fit into your organization or not. This will depend on the values you hold specifically as an entity.

Interview questions for a potential product manager

Product Related Questions

These are direct and straightforward questions that will help you assess at the beginning itself how prepared the candidate is for the role of a product manager.

  • What do you see as the role of a product manager?
  • What would you see as our product's unique value proposition?
  • What makes for a well-designed product? Give examples of companies that offer great product experiences.
  • How would you rate the current user interface of our product? What improvements or additions would you suggest?
  • How would you improve the functionality of our product? Or, how would you redesign our product?
  • What challenges do you perceive for our product in the next 1–2 years’ time frame?
  • How will you handle resource allocation between two projects in case there is a shortage of resources?
  • What, according to you, determines the success or failure of a product similar to ours?
  • What do you think about the products of our competitors? What do we do better? What do we not do as well?

Technical questions

The purpose of these questions is to determine the candidate’s knowledge of your product technology. They can be framed as follows:

  • How do you rate our existing engineering methodologies?
  • Do you have any prior experience with the technologies we use?
  • How do you propose to integrate various stakeholders into a single product building team?
  • How can you ensure that the teams (marketing, sales, etc.) involved with the product are capable of understanding and overcoming the market challenges with regard to product design and engineering?
  • Do you think it's necessary to have a technical background to become a product manager? What are the advantages and disadvantages of having one?

Behavioral questions

While a candidate might have satisfied you with regard to their knowledge of your product and technical capabilities, the next step is to assess how they react and behave in difficult situations.

  • Explain how you faced a challenge on the professional front.
  • Have you faced any product related failures?
  • Please explain how you would handle poor feedback.
  • How do you examine the existing data to make product management decisions?
  • Explain in detail how you interact with team members and clients or users.
  • Have you suffered any significant setback in your quest to become a product manager? Is yes, then how did you overcome this?

Management related questions

Usually, an interview will have a candidate who has prior product management experience. However, you may also receive a profile of someone who is right in all other aspects but has not done any product management. In such cases, the following questions can help you assess whether the candidate is ready for this role or not.

  • How do you rate your readiness for the role of a product manager?
  • What characteristics of product management are you most excited about?
  • Explain a typical workday for a product manager.
  • How would you approach your team members and interact with the stakeholders?

Communication and leadership related questions

Not everyone with the right credentials is capable of leading a team. By asking the following questions, you can find out how the candidate proposes to communicate and lead from the position of a product manager.

  • What do you see as the difference between management and leadership?
  • Have you managed people before?
  • How will you communicate with your team members and senior management?
  • How do you propose to work with clients and users?
  • How do you communicate effectively with people of different backgrounds, personality and temperament?
  • How would you navigate a team dispute to achieve consensus?
  • How would you ensure that the projects finish within the defined timeline?

Others

The questions listed above are sufficient to know whether the candidate is suitable for the role of a product manager or not. Apart from these, some general interview questions can be asked to know more about the personality and background of the candidate. These can include the following:

  • What are your career goals?
  • Why do you want to leave your current job?
  • What are the most engaging aspects of product management?
  • What are your hobbies and interests?
  • What is your favorite product? Is there anything that you would like to modify or change about it?
  • Tell us about three initiatives that you will implement if we hire you.

Creativity assessment

Ask them questions about user interface designs. What do they see as some of the shortcomings they've come across, and how would they improve these? By putting these questions across you can get a hint of the candidate’s innate capability to be creative and passionate about product management.

Why you need to ask the right questions

Not every candidate may approach an interview with the same level of willingness and passion. You may come across candidates who are casual and not really looking out seriously for a job change. For this reason, it is imperative to ask the right questions so that you receive answers which can help you shortlist the appropriate candidates. Neither the candidate nor the interviewer should approach the interview process without preparation.

As an interviewer you represent your company to the candidates. By not being prepared with the right interview questionnaire, you may not give a sense of assurance. And this can reflect poorly on the company’s reputation and brand image. Even if you are hard-pressed for the time you must include questions to assess the technical and strategic aspects of the candidate.

Lastly, all answers must be documented. This is done so that you can delve upon the responses or ask a colleague’s opinion on the shortlisted profile. Having the candidate’s responses at hand will allow everyone to make a more informed decision.

Final words

As you can see, not all interview questions will have a ‘right’ answer. Therefore, it is very important to observe how the candidates react to the questions, formulate their answers, and express their responses. The interview must also help you determine how the candidate goes about tackling problems, facing challenges, communicating with juniors, peers, seniors, and whether their views align with your expectations.

Finding the right candidate for the position of a product manager can be subjective to your specific product requirements. Some positions may require more technical knowledge while others may require someone with excellent management and analytical skills. Your requirements must be reflected in the questions you ask so that you receive all the answers based on which you can make your selection.

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