How To Ace Your Product Management Interview
The area I most often get asked to help product managers on is preparing them for their upcoming product management interviews. Given that I’ve evaluated hundreds of product management candidates, I wanted to share a set of sample interview questions I've kept in Notejoy that I might ask and what I’m specifically evaluating on to discern whether they are a great product management candidate.
Keep in mind that while these were common questions I personally asked product managers that I interviewed at LinkedIn, there is no standard set of questions nor interview template at LinkedIn. Every interviewer is encouraged to ask whatever set of questions they felt appropriate to help them evaluate the core competencies they were testing for. So don’t expect to receive these specific questions, but instead this should help you understand the competencies that are typically being tested for in product management interviews.
1. Who I am & my role
I always start my interviews by giving a quick overview of who I am, what team I'm on, and my role to give the candidate a sense for who they are talking to.
Extra credit for folks who use this opportunity to tell me something about me (mutual friends we have, common past employers, congrats on a product launch, etc) to indicate they did their homework and researched me prior to the interview.
2. Give me a brief description of your education and work history
While I've already reviewed their resume prior to the interview and am familiar with their background, what I'm interested in seeing is if they can provide a compelling narrative of their own background in a succinct summary. It's a great way to understand how well the candidate can present and convince others of their ideas, so I’m evaluating for communication and leadership competencies here. Negative points for rambling answers or for simply presenting a laundry list of their experiences with no clear rationale for the career transitions they've made to-date.
3. Detailed question drilling into the specifics of a past role
I'll take one of their past roles that they either described above or I saw in their resume and drill into the specifics of their roles and responsibilities. I want to understand how much of the product development process did they actually drive. I'll go in-depth into the specifics of the products they have worked on to understand which of the following PM responsibilities they were directly involved with. Given every product role differs at each company, it’s important for me to understand where their experience and strengths lie. The more senior the role, the more of these experiences I expect PMs to have had in their career. But not having participated in every single one is not necessarily a blocker either.
- Market sizing
- Competitive analysis
- Vision formulation
- User segmentation
- User focus groups
- User surveys
- Quantitative analysis of existing product metrics
- Roadmap planning
- Sprint planning
- Product design
- Project management
- Quality assurance
- Product launch
- A/B testing
- Post launch metrics analysis
- Post launch user focus groups
- Post launch user surveys
4. If a role change, why are you now interested in becoming a product manager?
If they were previously in engineering, marketing, consulting roles, or straight out of college, I want to make sure they understand the product management role and responsibilities. I'm looking for them to relay many of the core PM responsibilities back to me.
5. What excites you about joining LinkedIn? Feature suggestion?
I'm looking for passion for LinkedIn's core product. I also use this as an opportunity to ensure they understand the consumer value proposition of LinkedIn.
Sometimes I also ask for a feature suggestion for LinkedIn. I use this to see at what level they think at: some people provide a detailed feature suggestion based on their existing usage of LinkedIn. Others suggest a brand new product area that LinkedIn should add to it's offering. I want to make sure that the level of their feature suggestion is appropriate for their level. And I'll also ensure that the feature suggestion is aligned with our strategy. I’ll usually get into a discussion of how they would evaluate prioritizing this feature suggestion against the existing LinkedIn roadmap to understand how they think through a prioritization exercise.
6. Can you describe LinkedIn's business model?
I'm looking for the candidate to relay LinkedIn's 3 revenue lines: 1) talent solutions, 2) marketing solutions, and 3) premium subscriptions
I'm also looking for them to detail the different user segments our free and paid products address: consumers, recruiters, sales professionals, job seekers, marketers, etc.
I also ask where they think the biggest growth opportunity lies amongst those businesses. Here I’m not looking for their analysis to match LinkedIn’s internal assessment of growth drivers. I’m simply looking to see if they can self-identity potential growth drivers and their rationale for relative growth differentiation between the businesses.
7. Tell me about an app that you think is well-designed and why
Here I’m looking for them to pick an app from memory that they believe is truly well-designed. I want them to detail the problem the app is solving, and why they believe it is well designed in solving it. I’m looking for depth of insight into the design, whether it’s interaction design, overall user experience, certain app mechanics, clever uses of the mobile form factor, how they differentiate from alternative offerings, etc.
I typically also ask what would they add to the app if they could to see how critically they think about the apps that they use on a regular basis.
Negative points for the following:
- Needing to pull out their phone to even come up with a well-designed app name
- Picking a high frequency popular app that they use often but doesn’t have compelling design characteristics
8. Case Question
I spend the bulk of the interview going through a case question. The goal is to get the candidate to think about a product design challenge and walk me through how they would think about defining success, improving the product, and then ensuring they met their earlier stated success metrics. I rotate between a few case questions. Here is an example of such a case question:
LinkedIn's home page has a social stream similar to other social sites on the Internet. Our goal is to provide relevant updates on your connections as well as professional insights to enable you to be great at what you do. We may present to you articles shared by your network relevant to your industry. Or what's going on with your network, including job changes, promotions, and more.
The exercise I want to discuss is how would you go about improving the personalization and relevance of LinkedIn's social stream? Let's start with how you would measure success, what potential improvements you would suggest, and how you would go about determining if those improvements worked.
For the success metrics, I'm looking for them to break down the high-level goal of a more relevant and personalized home page to specific measures that can easily be tracked to ensure we are achieving that high level goal.
I'm looking for some subset of the following:
- Number of clicks on stories
- Number of social gesture clicks: likes, comments, shares
- Number of page scrolls
- Number of visits
- Time on page
- Overall increase of time on site
When they come up with ideas for improving the relevance and personalization, I'm looking for them to provide insight into the various user signals that can be leveraged to improve recommendations that apply generally to improve recommendations and personalization for most consumer websites.
While the specific suggestions vary widely, the following are the classes of signals I'm looking for them to identify via their suggestions:
- Leverage profile data signals to improve relevance
- Leverage user’s on-site behavior to improve relevance
- Leverage a user’s connections graph to improve relevance
We’ll usually go in-depth on one specific suggestion to understand whether the candidate knows how they would go from idea to bringing the improvement to life.
Performing the Test
After they have implemented their suggestion, I'm looking to make sure they understand how to properly run a test to ensure that the new experience is indeed better.
I'm looking for them to identify the following:
- Specifically measure the metrics we discussed at the beginning
- A/B test the new experience vs. the existing experience
- To ensure the new experience is better, ensure statistical significance of the A/B test results
9. Any questions for me about the role or LinkedIn?
The candidate should always have questions prepared. Hearing them will give me a sense for what they are most interested in, what concerns they have, and their depth of understanding of the product role, company, culture, and more.
I encourage anyone interviewing for a product role to also check out these excellent resources:
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Aug 15, 2016