How to interview for a PM position

April 22, 2014 Nic Werner

How to interview for a PM position

Product manager roles vary by company. But when you’re interviewing for a PM role, there a few basic facets to follow. You’ll not only impress the interviewer, but you’ll be able to spend more time discussing your amazing background and how it correlates to their needs. Three easy principles: Be Yourself, Have an Opinion, and Do Your Research.

I can’t write a book commensurate with Shakespeare. But I can write a book by me. (Sir Walter Raleigh)


This practice sounds simple, but we all we turn eager-to-please in interviews. We’ll get asked if we’ve read a certain book, or employed a certain methodology – and then nod our head. You think you’re getting away with it, but you’re not. Interviewers can tell when you’re faking it, and you’ve now raised a red flag. If you don’t know about something, say so, and ask them to explain. 99.9999% of the time it’s something you’ve heard of, but now it’s called something else. This is your opening to relate to your past experience. “Ahh, KaNinjaGherkin. At my last company we called it NSNuevo and used it to solve this one problem………”. Don’t just say you used it at your past company; explain how you applied it to a problem so they know you’re legit.


If you don’t know a word, just say so!

The second reason behind “acting natural” is that you show confidence. It shows you’ve been around the block and seen enough that you can act calm in uncharted waters. Deflecting questions about your experience or an accomplishment on your resume is a negative in PM land where you’re expected to face uncomfortable situations head-on.

Buck Owens had the right idea

“Well I hope you’ll come and see me in the movies
Then I’ll know that you will plainly see
The biggest fool that ever hit the big time
And all I gotta do is act naturally”

There isn’t always a right answer to a question. We all work in different ways, so a company is looking to learn about how you approach problems or an audience. Name-dropping or laying down a thick veneer of buzzwords gets in the way of *your* intelligence, and is only distracting. Speak in simple words and provide context on your product decisions at past companies.

By being yourself you’re giving interviewers the opportunity to see more of you as a human with a personality. Remember, they are asking themselves, “Can I see myself working alongside them?”


Bad products or user interactions are everywhere. Great user experiences are subtle. A PM is a detail-oriented person so these things should always catch your eye. A regular user thinks, “This feature is confusing.” A PM follows up with, “How would I do this differently?”

You want to have an opinion while interviewing because it means you are constantly challenging assumptions, and it shows that your mind is engaged. If you don’t have an opinion, it shows you aren’t looking critically at different approaches to a problem.

For example: Recently 4SQ removed the feature for private check-ins. Why do you think they did that? Do you think they quietly removed the feature, or messaged users? How do you think they messaged those users, and why those channels? How would you do this?

When asked for your thoughts but you haven’t fully formed an opinion, talk aloud. Don’t internalize, share your thought processes so the interviewer can learn how your mind works. How you would approach an issue doesn’t have to be right, but it shows that you care, and that you’ve either taken the time or have the experience to wrap your head around the complexities for each approach.


Interviewing for any position is not a blind date where we learn small pieces about ourselves for the first time. By the time you walk into that interview you should:
– Know about the company and the products
– The specific product/role that you are interviewing for
– What their customers think
– Who their competitors are
– Have an opinion of what their next steps should be (see above)
– Have a couple questions asking about their recent product strategies

Show the interviewer that you know their product, their industry, their competitors and their weaknesses. Here is a common dance move that benefits both you as the candidate, and the interviewer:

You: “What are current problems you’re having with your product?”
Company: “<sighs> We’re having a tough time with retention. People sign up, but they’re not coming back!”
You: “Hmm….well I noticed in the user forums that people are struggling with uploading their photos. It looks like they aren’t sure when the upload completes. Have you thought about sending them an email when it’s complete?”
Company: “You are absolutely brilliant. Any other thoughts on how we could improve?”
You: “Let me take you through some of my research and thoughts.”

Every company knows they have issues to address, and that’s why they’re hiring for your role. When you point these out, it puts you psychologically on the same “team” with the interviewer. Take that opportunity to present a solution. If you’ve done your homework and still don’t understand their product or something seems off, bring up that dissonance: “Your sales page lists these benefits, but your customers say they are using it for a different reason. What’s the current strategy to align the two?” This is the time to put the interviewer off-guard, showing them new opportunities or product gaps that hadn’t occurred to them.

Interviewing for a product manager role isn’t easy. It’s an extensive test on how well you take in the products around you and your thoughts on their market approach or latest design. So do your homework, come into the interview with a genuine smile, and you’ll do fine!

Oh, did I mention we’re hiring here?

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