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 Responses to “8 Non-Useless Interview Questions for Product Managers”

cindyalvarez:

8 Non-Useless Interview Questions for Product Managers http://bit.ly/a4vC #prodmgmt
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RuudHein:

RT @cindyalvarez: 8 Non-Useless Interview Questions for Product Managers http://bit.ly/a4vC #prodmgmt
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barbaraballard:

RT @cindyalvarez: 8 Non-Useless Interview Questions for Product Managers http://bit.ly/a4vC #prodmgmt
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lmckeogh:

RT @cindyalvarez: 8 Non-Useless Interview Questions for Product Managers http://bit.ly/a4vC #prodmgmt [Better than what I have been asked]
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onpm:

RT @cindyalvarez: 8 Non-Useless Interview Questions for Product Managers http://bit.ly/a4vC #prodmgmt Love this post.
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Policani:

RT @cindyalvarez: 8 Non-Useless Interview Questions for Product Managers http://bit.ly/a4vC #prodmgmt
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rosegrabowski:

RT: @cindyalvarez: 8 Non-Useless Interview Questions for Product Managers http://bit.ly/a4vC #prodmgmt
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Hagoleshet:

RT @onpm: RT @cindyalvarez: 8 Non-Useless Interview Questions for Product Managers http://bit.ly/a4vC #prodmgmt Love this post.
This comment was originally posted on Twitter

josh_hale:

RT: @cindyalvarez: 8 Non-Useless (and Tough) Interview Questions for Product Managers http://bit.ly/a4vC (thx @rosegrabowski)
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sachendra:

RT @onpm RT @cindyalvarez: 8 Non-Useless Interview Questions for Product Managers http://bit.ly/a4vC #prodmgmt Love this post.
This comment was originally posted on Twitter

golander59:

Great list RT @rosegrabowski RT: @cindyalvarez: 8 Non-Useless Interview Questions for Product Managers http://bit.ly/a4vC #prodmgmt
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kiselman:

RT @cindyalvarez: 8 Non-Useless Interview Questions for Product Managers http://bit.ly/a4vC #prodmgmt via @Policani
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manojksamy:

RT @sachendra: RT @onpm RT @cindyalvarez: 8 Non-Useless Interview Questions for Product Managers http://bit.ly/a4vC #prodmgmt Love this post
This comment was originally posted on Twitter

Roger L. Cauvin:

Cindy, I like this set of questions, but they focus a lot on tactical activities. I would like to see some questions that focus on more strategic activities.

For example, how do you determine the positioning of a product? How do you use customer feature requests to decide what enhancements to make to the product?

Roger L. Cauvin:

Cindy, I like this set of questions, but they focus a lot on tactical activities. I would like to see some questions that focus on more strategic activities.
For example, how do you determine the positioning of a product? How do you use customer feature requests to decide what enhancements to make to the product?
This comment was originally posted on The Experience is the Product

Roger L. Cauvin:

Cindy, I like this set of questions, but they focus a lot on tactical activities. I would like to see some questions that focus on more strategic activities.

For example, how do you determine the positioning of a product? How do you use customer feature requests to decide what enhancements to make to the product?

AlexBAustin:

http://tr.im/vAWm Awesome post from @CindyAlvarez on product mgmt intervew scenarios. How many experiencing today Lots for me…
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chenelaine:

RT @onpm: RT @cindyalvarez: 8 Non-Useless Interview Questions for Product Managers http://bit.ly/a4vC #prodmgmt Love this post.
This comment was originally posted on Twitter

mschiefelbein:

RT @cindyalvarez: 8 Non-Useless Interview Questions for Product Managers http://bit.ly/a4vC #prodmgmt Love this post. (via @onpm)
This comment was originally posted on Twitter

Cindy:

Roger: Actually, that’s by design. It’s possible to answer most of these questions in a purely tactical manner or to turn them more strategic.

For example, you mentioned “How do you use customer feature requests to decide what enhancements to make to the product?”
which is something that Question #5 gets at.

Question #1 might prompt you to think about how to package your solution with both product and professional services components.

A product manager whose first instinct is to answer in a purely tactical way probably wouldn’t be a good fit for you. Someone who takes these and answers them with a strategic bent would be.

Cindy:

Roger: Actually, that’s by design. It’s possible to answer most of these questions in a purely tactical manner or to turn them more strategic.
For example, you mentioned “How do you use customer feature requests to decide what enhancements to make to the product?”
which is something that Question #5 gets at.
Question #1 might prompt you to think about how to package your solution with both product and professional services components.
A product manager whose first instinct is to answer in a purely tactical way probably wouldn’t be a good fit for you. Someone who takes these and answers them with a strategic bent would be.
This comment was originally posted on The Experience is the Product

Cindy:

Roger: Actually, that’s by design. It’s possible to answer most of these questions in a purely tactical manner or to turn them more strategic.

For example, you mentioned “How do you use customer feature requests to decide what enhancements to make to the product?”
which is something that Question #5 gets at.

Question #1 might prompt you to think about how to package your solution with both product and professional services components.

A product manager whose first instinct is to answer in a purely tactical way probably wouldn’t be a good fit for you. Someone who takes these and answers them with a strategic bent would be.

theprodmgr:

Re: http://bit.ly/a4vC – is asking a candidate to write while under the pressure the interview & with time constraint a good test? #prodmgmt
This comment was originally posted on Twitter

theprodmgr:

Re: http://bit.ly/a4vC – is asking a candidate to write while under the pressure of interview & with time constraint a good test? #prodmgmt
This comment was originally posted on Twitter

rebeccapoulton:

Interview questions for Product Managers http://bit.ly/a4vC (Thanks @cindyalvarez great questions for interviewing, enjoyed reading this)
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productmgt:

Interview questions for Product Managers http://bit.ly/a4vC by @cindyalvarez #prodmgmt
This comment was originally posted on Twitter

wkmyrhang:

Great Interview questions for Product Managers http://bit.ly/a4vC by @cindyalvarez #prodmgmt (via @productmgt)
This comment was originally posted on Twitter

phanschke:

RT @productmgt: Interview questions for Product Managers http://bit.ly/a4vC by @cindyalvarez #prodmgmt
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RafaelMLopes:

RT @productmgt: Interview questions for Product Managers http://bit.ly/a4vC by @cindyalvarez #prodmgmt
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pdmaLA:

RT @RafaelMLopes: Interview questions for Product Managers http://bit.ly/a4vC via @cindyalvarez #prodmgmt
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wkmyrhang:

RT @cindyalvarez: 8 Non-Useless Interview Questions for Product Managers http://bit.ly/39DDc8
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lenalindstrom12:

Originally 8 questions for PM interviews but think they’re good for any PM to look at and reflect on. http://tinyurl.com/qu2ulm Great work C
This comment was originally posted on Twitter

L3N:

8 Non-Useless Interview Questions for Product Managers http://bit.ly/a4vC #prodmgmt GR8 post, found it here http://bit.ly/ThlF0 #prodmgmt
This comment was originally posted on Twitter

L3N:

8 Non-Useless Interview Questions for Product Managers http://bit.ly/a4vC #prodmgmt GR8 post, found @ another gr8 post http://bit.ly/ThlF0
This comment was originally posted on Twitter

DB:

I think usually it’s sales people and engineering that fit this bill. They bring in the big money or weave magic with the keyboard, so it’s easier to overlook their other flaws. Could any pm actually engage in such behavior and be effective in his or her role?
This comment was originally posted on Product Management Meets Pop Culture

gander2112:

DB Makes a great point here. I have never known a PM who was arrogant, or able to act like this.
In my world, when things go well, Sales, Engineering, and even senior executives line up to grab the limelight. However, when the shit hits the fan, the PM gets the full onslaught in the face.
This comment was originally posted on Product Management Meets Pop Culture

Christopher Cummings:

@gander2112 – Thanks for your feedback. Like I said, I’ve never been in the position of needing to fire a star PM (and, to the best of my knowledge, I’ve never been in the cross-hairs either) but it’s an interesting issue to wrestle with. Interesting for me, but maybe closer to home for you…?
From what you’re describing, it seems like the organization has rallied around you–which is a testament to your abilities!–without understanding the cost of consolidating too much responsibility and workload on any one individual. In my experience, many times the work that PMs are asked to take on isn’t even really PM work. It’s not strategy, product definition, or the like–it’s on-the-spot problem-solving, usually for engineering. That can be fun and challenging, but can also eat into time better spent on other activities and planning.
Without knowing the full details of your particular situation, I think you’ve identified what you need to do. If you haven’t already done so, my suggestion would be to talk with your supervisor about your short-term situation (can any of this work be offloaded) and the company’s long-term position (can product management evolve into more of a business-oriented group than a tactical, day-to-day, fire-fighting machine).
If your supervisor doesn’t see a problem, or can’t offer an agreeable solution, then you can either accept your situation for what it is–or start looking for a new opportunity. I know, that’s an easy thing to say, and not necessarily an easy thing to do, but it’s also true.
Virtually every workplace has weirdness and controversy, things to enjoy and things to loathe, people to respect and people to avoid. If you’re at the point where you can’t stand getting out of bed in the morning, then something needs to change. As long as we have a choice, we’re never truly trapped. And there are plenty of companies out there would could use–and appreciate–the help of a talented PM.
- Chris
This comment was originally posted on Product Management Meets Pop Culture

Christopher Cummings:

@DB – I worked at one startup in the mid-1990s, and the PM there was very much a poisonous star–capable of wringing features out of engineering, a darling of the executive team, but arrogant toward anyone he viewed as beneath him. I was not in product management at that time so I didn’t interact directly with him, but it definitely seemed like he could get away with murder because of where he came from (a known, tech brand) and his ability to deliver.
This comment was originally posted on Product Management Meets Pop Culture

fstop23:

@rcauvin Good post – Cindy also recently did a useful blog here as well: #prodmgmt http://tinyurl.com/qu2ulm
This comment was originally posted on Twitter

cindyalvarez:

@jbrett that was my post (http://tinyurl.com/qu2ulm), @fstop23 just RT’d too. These type Qs reveal more, but more work to ask/process.
This comment was originally posted on Twitter

Stewart Rogers:

Just reading (Winning / Jack Welch) about slotting people into 4 groups: T1) good values/good performance, T2) bad values/bad performance, T3) good values/bad performance, and T4) bad values/good performance. You want to stock up on the good/good people, bad/bad have to go (now!), good/bad have to be coached and mentored and the bad/good people (who you refer to) typically need to go too, but it takes awhile to get past the good performance.
Stewart
This comment was originally posted on Product Management Meets Pop Culture

Travis Jensen:

Really great set of questions here. This is going into my “keeper” list.

Travis Jensen:

Really great set of questions here. This is going into my “keeper” list.

hitesh gupta:

Simple but tricky questions and i am sure most of the PMs have encountered them in their career.

Hitesh
http://www.vcbytes.com

Praveenvjoshi:

These are exactly varying situations which actual PM encounters in their career, would have an example for each of these. Nice and Superb evaluation process of Hiring the PM.

The Cranky Product Manager:

#7 – Writing requirements without any customer or market insight or personas. Not a great idea. Otherwise, why have product management or requirements at all? Just get development to code something up based on his/her personal preferences. One set of market/customer free requirements is as good as another.

cindyalvarez:

I’d expect any good product manager candidate to raise exactly that concern — hey, why are we building this? what’s the customer need? — and then, to either say “assuming we’ve already done the following research and learned X, here are the requirements” or “here are requirements based on plausible customer needs, along with a way to validate them quickly.”

Framing it in this way in the interview shows you whether you have someone who is willing to “rock the boat” and disagree when you’re doing something stupid — which is, some days, 50% or more of a product manager’s job.

Diliny Corlosquet:

Thanks for posting this!  Very insightful to someone who’s looking to become a PM.  Also, I enjoyed attempting the questions – good for expanding my way of thinking and identifying weak spots.

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rachnasethi:

A good list of questions.

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Ash Jazayeri:

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

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Marcos Ortiz:

Wow, amazing set of questions for PMs. The number 3 and number 5 are very good questions to evaluete critical thinking for PMs.

iroy:

Would love to see Cindy’s responses to the above questions

lol:):

Kool 8Non-useless interview questions ;)

josh:

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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Rob:

Great article. Here’s another with some information on hiring the right candidate.
http://thatproductguy.wordpress.com/2014/10/12/hiring-your-next-product-manager-interview-questions/

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