10 Common Interview Questions for Product Managers was originally published on Forage.
Product managers are called the CEO of the product. They handle the entire lifecycle of a product, from inception to retirement and everything in between. The job requires the ability to innovate, improvise, and unite the team.
Product management is an exciting career that keeps you on your toes, and the first step to becoming one is the interview. While you may expect questions like, “What’s your greatest strength?” preparing for product manager interview questions requires more than your A-game. You’ll need your A+ game!
Top 10 Product Manager Interview Questions (and Answers)
While these are the most common product manager interview questions you’re likely to encounter, it’s important to remember that the specifics of how you answer will vary depending on the industry the company is in and the kind of product you would manage. Being the product manager at a SaaS company is very different from product management at a company that produces pots and pans.
So, as you practice your answers, keep in mind the experience you already have and how you’ll use it on the job. You may need to lean heavily on your transferable skills to explain how you’ll approach product management at that company and for its specific product(s).
1. How would you explain product management?
While product managers are responsible for “all things product,” your answer should be simple and direct. You can list a few key skills or traits a product manager needs (analytical skills, curiosity, motivation) and how you use them on the job. For example, you could say:
Product management is the intersection of data and creativity. By conducting research and using data, you uncover what the product needs to succeed. You take that information and create something that users want and that contributes to the company’s bottom line.
2. How would you describe our product to someone?
Answering this product manager interview question requires research and preparation. You want to go deeper than “It’s a pot” and describe not only what it is but how it meets a user’s needs.
While the product is a pot, it’s more than “just a pot.” It’s multi-functional, giving the user options in the kitchen. It’s the perfect size for making pasta, but the insert gives chefs the option to use the pot as a double boiler or to steam vegetables. And the glass lid lets cooks peek inside without lifting the lid and interrupting the cooking process.
3. How do you develop product strategy?
This is a chance for you to talk about your process. Quickly walk the interviewer through how you take a product from concept to reality. Keep the answer high-level, as the interviewer will likely ask additional questions if they want more details.
I start by talking to customers and looking at their feedback to identify what they want or need to help me understand what challenges they’re facing and how our product can solve them. Then I decide what the product or feature will look like and start working with other teams to develop the concepts and timelines for product development.
After that, I collaborate with everyone to help them stay on target and meet their goals, gathering feedback along the way and adjusting as necessary. Once the product launches, I continually monitor data and feedback to see if we need to make additional tweaks and whether we can eliminate any older products or features.
4. What is a product you can’t live without, and why?
There is no one right way to answer this product manager interview question because it is truly about your personal tastes! That said, keep two principles in mind as you answer.
First, structure your answer so that it not only answers the questions but also gives the hiring manager insights into how you approach products. For example, if the one product you can’t live without is your electric toothbrush, your answer should include what problem it’s helping you solve. Is it making your dental check-ups easier because it’s doing a better job brushing your teeth? Are you finally brushing your teeth for two minutes, thanks to the built-in timer?
Second, try not to pick a competing product. While you could frame your answer as “and that’s why I want to work here — to make your product as good as the other one,” you risk offending the interviewer. A competing product might be something you can’t live without, but this is a case where honesty is probably not the best policy.
5. What’s the best idea you ever had as a product manager? And the worst?
Asking about your best and worst ideas is similar to asking about your strengths and weaknesses. The interviewer is trying to measure how well you know yourself and can objectively measure your performance.
So, frame your answer as if you were asked about your strengths and weaknesses. When talking about your best idea, explain why it was the best idea. Did it increase sales? Improve efficiency? What was the positive impact it had on the product and company?
When talking about the worst idea, you should speak honestly and candidly about it. Take responsibility for the idea and then explain why it didn’t’ succeed. Was the timeline unrealistic? Was the feature too ambitious? Did the customers not want or need the product?
Then talk about what you learned and how that makes you a better product manager. Did you learn to do more detailed research? Communicate more with other contributors?
6. How do you prioritize which features to build?
Asking how you prioritize tasks is a common interview question. But asking how you prioritize which features to build gets at the heart of being a product manager. It’s impossible to tackle them all at once, so the hiring manager wants to know how you pick and choose what’s first and what’s last.
Start by talking about how you evaluate each task. A common way product managers prioritize features is to measure:
- Impact: How much or how little of an effect will this have?
- Urgency: How important is this feature; is it fixing a problem?
- Cost: This not only refers to the dollar amount of building the product but also the amount of time people will spend creating it.
Then discuss how you use this framework to prioritize features. You might say that urgency always outweighs impact and explain why that’s your philosophy. If you say that you assign a number (one to 10) to each area, explain how you decide what gets a one versus a 10, and how you use the total value to assign priority.
7. How would you improve our product?
You’ll need to handle this product manager interview question delicately.
On the one hand, most companies want to know how their product could be improved. If they thought it was perfect, they wouldn’t be interviewing product managers! On the other hand, you want to tread lightly. While you shouldn’t say, “It’s perfect,” you also shouldn’t give a laundry list of everything that’s wrong with it.
Instead, come up with one or two things that could use improvement and explain how that would help the company. For example, if the product is a collaboration tool, you could talk about how the sign-up instructions are confusing, suggest an improvement, and how that improvement helps the product:
I tried signing up for the tool just to see what the process was like and was confused by the instructions. It says the tool is free and open to anyone, but when I went to register, it asked me for my company name, which was a required field. If I’m using this for personal reasons (say, coordinating a family vacation), I shouldn’t need to provide that information.
I suggest eliminating that as a required field. You can still ask for it since it’s valuable information. But making it optional could result in more people signing up for personal use instead of abandoning sign-up or putting in fake information. As they use it and see how useful it is, they may be more likely to use it professionally, resulting in more enterprise accounts that are willing to pay for the product.
8. How do you figure out what customers want and need?
Similar to asking how you prioritize tasks, this question gets at how you start the product life cycle.
While part of your answer should include talking to users and gathering their feedback, don’t stop there. Also talk about how you would go to other departments and see what they think customers want or need.
For example, you might contact customer service and see what kind of complaints or feedback they’re hearing. You may spot a pattern that tells you this feature is essential or missing from the product.
9. How would you deal with stakeholders disagreeing about which features should be built or prioritized?
Though it’s up to the product manager to prioritize which features come first, the reality of the job is that sometimes, you have to negotiate a compromise.
This product manager interview question is probing how you use your conflict-management skills as well as how you get the entire team to back up your plan. So, talk about how you negotiate, compromise, and get everyone to rally around the solution.
Disagreement around which features to build sometimes arises because people can’t always see beyond their department or opinions. My job is to help everyone understand that while all features are important, we just don’t have the time or resources to build them all at once.
How do I do that? By explaining why I’ve prioritized the features the way that I have. That usually comes down to explaining that we’ll get the most bang for our buck as quickly as possible.
10. What’s the difference between a product manager and a project manager?
If it sounds like a product manager is another way to say “project manager,” you’re not alone — the terms often get confused. But the reality is that a product manager is not the same as a project manager, and interviewers may want to make sure you know the difference. Your answer can be a simple explanation, and you could even include specific examples of how the two might work together at a company.
A product manager creates the roadmap for a product, setting up the timeline, goals, and individual steps that need to happen to bring a feature or product to life. A project manager coordinates and manages each of the individual projects that contribute to the product roadmap.
How to Prepare for a Product Manager Interview
As you can see, many product manager interview questions are behavioral interview questions. Unlike accounting, which often has a set of rules you have to follow no matter where you work, being a product manager often requires improvisational skills. What works in one situation may not work in another, so being able to think on your feet and innovate quickly will help you succeed.
That said, you can’t “wing it” in a product manager interview. Like any job interview, preparation is a crucial step in landing the job. So, in addition to researching the company, also research the company’s product and market trends. Try to figure out how the product fits into the market and what challenges it (and the company) may face, and then come up with some possible solutions to overcome them.
Finally, be prepared for the interview to jump around. The questions may cover a wide range of topics, from technical and analytical to personal, market, and business knowledge. While this could be a red flag in other interviews (e.g., the hiring manager is disorganized or the company doesn’t know what it’s doing), in a product manager interview, questions that jump from topic to topic could be a test to see how well you keep up!
Get ready for other common interview questions:
- 15 Entry-Level Interview Questions
- Interview Questions, Answered: ‘What Are Your Salary Expectations?’
- How to Answer: ‘Why Do You Think You Are Qualified for This Position?’
- How to Answer: ‘What Motivates You?’ in a Job Interview
- How to Answer: ‘Tell Me About Yourself’
- How to Answer: ‘Why Are You Applying for This Position?’
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