Product Manager Interview – 7 Cardinal Sins


So you have landed an interview for a software product manager position. You are excited! You show up for the interview and the interview is a bust. You do not get the job. Causes? Having interviewed many product managers, who looked very promising on the resume and ended up being disappointing during the interview, I have compiled the patterns I have seen as “7 Cardinal Sins”. This can also be considered as general tips for any position that you are interviewing for.

  1. You hardly know anything about the company – I have had at least two instances where the candidate told me that s/he was hoping that I would explain what we do, our business model etc during the phone screen. Surprised? Think it is not possible? I was too until I heard this. Good thing this happened on a phone screen.
  2. You do not know the job description/responsibilities in and out – If you don’t know the job description, why did you even apply? How did you figure out that your skills match what the company is looking for? The way a hiring manager can figure this out is by asking the question – “Why do you want to work for us?” or “Why should we hire you?” – These questions should be slam dunk for you if you are prepared, you can show case how much you know about the company, what you bring to the table that relates to the job description and your past successes and accomplishments that are relevant to the job. I have heard lame answers such as “Recruiter called me about this job and hence submitted my resume” or “You guys called me and wanted to talk to me.” Come on, while that may be true, you need to still do a sales job – you need to sell the product you have – “YOU”!Cardinal-Sin
  3. You do not have an elevator pitch - Same as the above, but if the interviewer asks the question – tell me about yourself, try to hit the ball out of the park. Relate your experiences that are relevant to the job. Sell, sell, sell! Your elevator pitch should be 2-3 min max. Give an overview that piques the interest of the interviewer that they want to know more.
  4. You don’t know anything about the people you are going to interview you - You need to ask for the interview schedule before you get there. Then do the research – where have these folks worked at? Use LinkedIn. Do you and them have common connections? What questions can you anticipate given their background?
  5. You do not have questions for the interviewers – when asked if you have any questions, you say No. It is quite possible that towards the tail end of an interview schedule that your questions may have been answered. But instead of a terse No, mention that you had many questions about X, Y and Z that you have asked the previous interviewers. Give everyone a window into your preparation. Ask questions that gives you a deeper understanding of the problems that they are looking to solve by making this hire, the organizational structure, decision making process etc. Ask the same question to multiple people and see if you get a consistent answer.
  6. You have not anticipated questions or prepped for the interview - Research sites such as glassdoor.com to see what questions get asked in interviews at the company. Ask your contact what a typical interview looks like? Do they have a problem solving round where you are asked to solve a given problem? Practice doing a problem solving round before hand to get your thoughts together. It is hard to think on your feet when you are under pressure at the interview. So play through such a session before hand so that you can come up with a strategy of tackling it in the real session.
  7. You lie on the resume - Believe it or not, this happens. If you get caught, not only will you not get the job but your reputation and integrity will be tarnished. In the world we live in, word travels fast. The tech world is highly networked, so don’t take a risk. I had one instance where a product manager claimed that he came up with a pricing strategy – when I asked him to explain it, I was told that he put it on the resume just to make it look well rounded. He admitted that he does not have experience with pricing. End of the interview, right there and then! I am not going to hire you as a PM and put you in front of customers if I cannot trust you. Never, ever lie on your resume.

Image: Courtesy of smallbusiness.yahoo.com

5 Responses to Product Manager Interview – 7 Cardinal Sins

  1. Nik says:

    You always have good tips over the years, but I don’t know why you always sound condescending in almost all of your articles. First of all, as product managers let us have some professional respect for each other. I don’t appreciate you using the word “dud” to describe product managers who did not stand up to your expectations. BTW “Dud” means “worthless”, and that is not how I would describe an experienced product manager, no matter what his or her credentials are.

    Maybe you are in a position of power today (which you never forget to emphasize in every article), but the industry is dynamic and tomorrow you could be interviewed by the same”dud”. And that “dud” may have his own standards for the interview. In that case would you like to be described as a “dud”?

  2. gopalshenoy says:

    Nik – Thanks for pointing it out the inappropriate user of the word “dud”. It is not because I wanted to be condescending or because I am in a position of power, I have to admit that it was a very poor choice of words for which I apologize. Thank you for continuing to read my blog and for taking the time to comment on this article in particular. I have dropped the word.

  3. David says:

    Personally, I feel it’s tragic that people interviewing at the level of a Product Manager position need to be told these fundamental ‘tips’. These are trivial things which you would expect to find in a job centre leaflet, not something you should be having to tell a candidate applying for a £50k+ post. It’s a sad sign of the times for the software industry.

    • gopalshenoy says:

      David – Yes I would have expected as well. But the fact that I have seen this happen one too many times during the interviews in the recent past made me write the post. Thanks for the comment.

      • David says:

        Gopal – If you have only seen this ‘one too many times’, you are getting better candidates than I am ;) While my experience is more focused on recruiting technical staff, the quality of many of the applicants I see make me want to weep for our profession. It’s somewhat ironic that the exact group of people who need this advice typically never show the initiative to find it.

        That said, there is something wrong at an earlier stage of your recruitment process if you are getting to the interview with this calibre of applicant on a regular basis. I can empathise with, if not condone, a lack of recruitment acumen from some professions. Software developers, for example, tend to be a less aware of business etiquette (for want of a better phrase) due to the job being less formal that other professions in many respects. A PM is a client-facing role however and I really could not excuse this level of naivety on how to present yourself in a professional capacity in this context.

        Apologies for turning this around to a recruiters point of view, but I guess your advice is just making it more difficult to spot the people I don’t want to hire ;)

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