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Getting Through The Product Management Hiring Process

In April, we started a series of webinars on the topic “Becoming a Product Manager”. For the second webinar I shared my insights on how to get through the Product Manager hiring process!
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When I was VP product at Aircall I conducted over 120 PM interviews in 3 years. (Yep, you read me well, a hundred and twenty. That was painful. Finding good PMs was the hardest part of my job, and that’s why we created Noé, to train the next generation of Product Managers.)

Here are a few tips I can give to any candidate willing to smash the Product Manager interviews.

Before getting into the details of the process I need to mention the work needed to pass the screening. There are two things to consider here:

  • It is very important that you do your research and ideally talk with people who work in the company where you apply. You will know if the company’s culture, product, and stage match your profile (I covered this subject in a previous article).
  • Recruiters tend to ask for experience in the field and very few give their chance to unexperienced applicants. That’s also our goal at Noé: solve this problem and give legitimacy to unexperienced PM candidates.

Now let’s get into it. The Product Management interview process is usually divided into 4 parts :

  • First screening call (usually with HR/Talent Acquisition)
  • Product Interview (usually with a Senior PM and/or Head of Product)
  • Case Study (at home or onsite, with a presentation of your work to the Head of Product)
  • Stakeholder Interview (it varies, can be with the CEO, CTO, a lead dev…)
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During these steps recruiters will test different things.

1. First screening call

The goal of this interview is to assess two main elements: Did you understand the job? Is your background relevant?

At this point you will be asked quite generic question about the PM role such as: Why do you want to become a Product Manager ? In your eyes, what is a Product Manager ? There is a ton of misconceptions about the PM role (this could be the topic of a next article!). So even if it does not seem to be a tricky question, many candidates end up losing points at this stage.

“I want to become a PM because I want to build new products from scratch”

WRONG. The reality of the PM job (most of the time) is not to create new products from scratch, but to work on an existing product and its complexity.

You will also be asked questions about you and your background. It’s the perfect moment to showcase that you are structured and concise in your communication (two skills that are essential in the job). I usually asked questions on something in the candidate’s resume that I knew very little about, thus I could easily assess this point.

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Typical mistakes I noticed at this step of the process:

  • Candidates who misunderstood the role (as I mentioned before);
  • Candidates who didn’t take the time to understand our product and its users.

How you can gain bonus points:

  • If you have worked on a product before (even as a side project), now is the time to talk about it.
  • Ask relevant (and genuine) questions about the product. Today your users are X, do you plan to target Y for the future ? I noticed inconsistencies in feature X: do you plan to improve it in the future? Of course these are examples, and need to be more specific. But keep in mind that asking a question is not a bad thing.

2. The Product Interview

There might be overlapping questions with the previous interview, about your background for instance. Again : Structure, clarity, conciseness. And if you can showcase product or leadership experience, do it.

At this point, the Senior PM or Head of Product will dig deeper into your capacity to be a PM. He/She will probably to understand the following:

  • Do you have the capacity to understand complex problems with many inputs and summarize them in a simple way? (I call this “engineering mind”, more in my previous article here). Typical question: How would you prioritize between X and Y?
  • Do you have the capacity to lead a project with many stakeholders and many challenges ahead? Typical questions: Tell me about a conflict you had at work. Tell me about a project you led in your previous job.
  • Do you have a strong product and design sense? Are you user centric? Typical questions: What do you think about this screen of our product? What’s a product you don’t like, and why? (If you want to train your design and UX eye here is a cool website with UX case-studies : growth-design.)

At this point of the process, it is crucial for you to deeply understand the company’s product. It has to be very clear in your mind what the value proposition is, what the key features are and who the user is . You must be able to answer this simple question : “Why this product ?”.

3. The Case study

Case studies can be done at home or onsite. You’ll encounter two “typical” case studies: Macro cases & Micro cases; and it’s possible you will get both.

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Macro cases: Large and vast questions on which you will be given few information. Ex : We want to reshape our analytics, here are the issues we’ve noticed with our current solution, what would be your methodology ? Here, the recruiter will assess your methodology and the way you think. Given how broad the problem will be, there is not one good answer.

Micro cases: Precise question with many elements. We expect from you to be rigorous and consistent. Ex : “Here is a screen of our Product, give us the top 3 UX issues that you see in it, and how you would fix them”. Here, your execution skills will be assessed: again you must be rigorous, precise and exhaustive. If you’re asked to write specs, think about edge cases.

The case study is probably the hardest and most important step of the process. Our goal at Noé is for you to rock your PM interviews and land your first PM job. That’s why the fourth week of the program will be focused on preparing those steps. We’ll cover methodologies for the different types of case studies.

Your case will include a deliverable. The form might just be as important as the substance. Indeed a PM must communicate clearly with the people he interacts with. They will have different requests, ideas, expectations … so you have to give them deliverables that are clear and easy to understand. And the same goes for the deliverable of your case.

So please no 4 pages Comic Sans MS Word Document! It’s time to showcase your design touch, and that you will be clear in your communication.

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If you got through this part of the article, congrats!

To sum up, there will be 4 main exercices during your Product Management interview process: your personal pitch, the “behaviourial” questions, product strategy (macro case study), and product execution (micro case study).

The good news is that you can train on each one of them!

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Good luck for your interviews!

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