8 Non-Useless Interview Questions for Product Managers

Whether it ended in a job offer or a “no thanks”, when is the last time you had a job interview for a Product Management role that you felt actually addressed your ability to do the job?

Asking about past accomplishments doesn’t separate out your role from the environment (could you do it again in a different team, in a different industry?).  Asking for PRD writing samples proves that you’re literate, but doesn’t tell you anything about how well those requirements were understood or implemented.

As Eric Ries writes in a recent VentureBeat post:

I’m not interviewing for the right answer to the questions I ask. Instead, I want to see how the candidate thinks on their feet, and whether they can engage in collaborative problem solving. So I always frame interview questions as if we were solving a real-life problem, even if the rules are a little far-fetched.

These 8 questions are things I’d want to know if I were hiring a product manager.

They are biased towards smaller companies/more startup-like environments – they assume a breadth of responsibilities that may not be relevant for a big-company Product Manager.  But since there are no “right answers”, and since I’d expect any capable Product Manager to be able to think on their feet, I’d say they’re all fair game.

  1. Your product is just about to hit code freeze, but the Sales team has gotten feedback that one of the company’s most important customers won’t buy it unless you add Feature X.  Talk through your process for understanding your options.
  2. You’re reviewing product functional requirements with the engineering team, and your engineers tell you that developing Feature Y is “not possible”.  How do you respond?
  3. You’ve discovered a bug in a product that has been deployed to an enterprise customer.  QA tells you the bug is an edge case – it will affect at most 1% of users, probably fewer – but for those it does impact, it will be an extremely negative user experience.  Take 10 minutes to compose an email response. (YES – actually make them write it.)
  4. One of the Sales VPs is bugging you for an updated roadmap before he goes out to talk with a VIP customer.  You have a draft, but it hasn’t been internally approved or prioritized yet.  How do you help the Sales VP?
  5. Your company uses a customer feedback tool where users can submit product enhancement ideas and vote on them.  There is a specific feature that is by far the most popular idea among your users – but it doesn’t align with your long-term product strategy.  How do you respond to the users?
  6. You and the design team have collaborated on the workflow for a new feature, but your boss is convinced it should work another way.  You feel very confident in your version, and very strongly that her suggestion is a terrible one.  How do you move forward?
  7. Imagine you have 2 days in which to develop a simple version 1.0 “to-do list” application.  You are the sole owner of getting this product functional and launched.  Take 20 minutes to document requirements for the product. (YES – actually make them write it.)
  8. You’ve inherited a mature product and discovered that a lot of time is spent dealing with customer issues reactively.  What kind of process would you put in place to be more proactive about making sure the stuff that needs to get fixed, gets fixed?

Here’s why I chose these questions:

  • They give lots of opportunities for candidate to ask questions or identify assumptions they’d operate under.
  • They offer a view into the candidate’s negotiating style and confidence in their technical ability.
  • Requiring on-the-spot writing shows their “everyday” communication skills (rather than allowing them to cherry-pick the best examples) and their ability to be diplomatic under pressure.
  • Shows their attitude towards process (a lot or a little, like it or hate it, ownership vs. delegation balance)

There are no “right answers”, but there are definitely answers that are more (or less) suited to your company culture.

As a hiring manager, you may see gaps and still choose to hire someone – but at least you’re doing so with that knowledge.

As a job applicant, you can watch the body language of your interviewer as you answer.  You may see places where they obviously would’ve answered a different way – but again, if you take the job, you do so with that knowledge.

66 thoughts on “8 Non-Useless Interview Questions for Product Managers

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  3. I’ve been thinking of this one since I’m prepping up (btw great article Cindy!) for an interview. I value both of the inputs above as it highlights a great point, but I think pushing back is not the intent of the question.  Assuming that for whatever reason this is a go, the exercise is in engaging the interviewer as a customer and getting some basic info.. namely identifying the min viable scope (ranked). After that you go through the motions of scoring features, identifying potential risks, issues and launching activities and   managing expectations of what can be delivered in 2 days. .  I’d be interested in hearing peoples thoughts on this

  4. Useless blog. I will tell you why: Writing few questions and deciding if the candidates answers will please me or not or will they match the answers in my mind is just show off and arrogant. Cindy: Would you mind posting your replies for these questions and I will see if they match my frame work? If you want to help educate people or express you views, please elaborate your thoughts by answering these questions or write your framework and explain why it works or how a candidate should answer the questions and then this blog will be complete and useful. Some times I get irritated to see these kind of one sided only questions blogs and judgmental behavior as though he/she is the first person stood inline when god distributed knowledge of product management.

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