Hiring a Product Manager Guide

Interview Questions to ask Sr. Product Managers & Leaders

1.What are the first 5 things you will do when you join us to take over the product?

Ask this because…

Helps you visualize how they’ll hit the ground running & how they’ll make sense of a product with a running background.

What you’re looking for

Conducting 1:1s with the team, educating oneself about state of the product, domain & competitors, learning existing processes, talking to customers.

2. If you had your way, what would be the ideal product development process? Who would you need on the team?

Ask this because…

Gives you insights on how they work end-to- end, how efficient their “ideal” process is & how that aligns with what you currently have.

What you’re looking for

Their response should reflect the activities that you feel need attention in your product today or what you listed in the JD. Ex: Strategy, Goal setting, Customer discovery, roadmapping, specs, some project management process (e.g. Scrum), testing, delivery, tracking.

3. What KPIs were you asked to deliver in your previous roles & how much did you actually achieve?

Ask this because…

It’ll help you understand whether they were responsible for business KPIs (e.g. revenue), product metrics (e.g.DAUs), a combination of both or…none at all.

What you’re looking for

This should align with what you want to hold them accountable for. You want to look for positive growth attained for at least some product metric. Red flag if you discover they were solely responsible for delivery.

4. We serve a diverse set of user personas with different needs. How do you determine who to prioritize?

Ask this because…

You want to see how they handle & consolidate opinions/suggestions coming in from various stakeholders.

What you’re looking for

If they can create a logical plan for identifying prime personas (e.g. aligning it with the Target market, product strategy etc.) & come up with sample qualifying questions. 

5. Tell me about a feature you shipped recently. Walk me through the user story like Im an engineer.

Ask this because…

This helps you measure their communication prowess in the context of technical user flows & how fluent they are in spec jargon.

What you’re looking for

Look for sequencing (storytelling), starting from the business case (the Why) and moving from happy case to edge cases (comprehensiveness). Probe further when a certain flow isn’t explored.

6. What did your product do specifically better than competition?

Ask this because…

This helps you assess how they articulate product strategy, value propositions and positioning.

What you’re looking for

Is it a significant, scalable benefit to the customer or description of a few features? Explore how defensible their moat is.

7. What does collaboration with sales, marketing & support mean to you?

Ask this because…

This helps you understand their experience in cross-functional collaboration & how they interface with other departments.

What you’re looking for

Working with marketing on GTM strategies, training sales teams on product value, helping support on technical product areas & establishing feedback loops

8. In our product, we optimize for metric X. Assume its been on a 10% decline monthonmonth. How do you troubleshoot it? How would you turn it around?

Ask this because…

Many Product Managers will fill their resume with numbers. However, you want to see how they perceive a metric, break it down & convert it into some action.

What you’re looking for

They should ask you questions to gain more context before offering solutions. There’s no right answer. They need to shortlist areas they’ll investigate & offer a logical grounded plan to address it.

9. Heres a defect X thats troubling users. Heres a feature Y that will likely improve retention. How do you determine which one to do first if bandwidth doesnt allow for both?

Ask this because…

It enables you to probe into their prioritization skills.

What you’re looking for

Some prioritization framework or cost-benefit analysis. The answer should start with conditionals and questions.

Red flag: they start by saying “I’d do X and here’s why”.

10.We want to add a complex module (e.g. form builder) in our product. We can integrate a thirdparty tool or build one inhouse. How do you determine what to pursue?

Ask this because…

Gives you a window into their tradeoff mindset and the factors they use in comparing viable choices.

What you’re looking for

Some semblance of a cost-benefit analysis. Again, no right answer as the question is open but look at the factors & rationale. Ideally, they should start with questions to understand goals.


11. Name one product that youre impressed by. State why you like it & how you would improve it given the chance.

Ask this because…

Helps you understand their definition of excellence and how deeply they think about products.

What you’re looking for

An analytical assessment which or insight that shows them appreciating an essential strategy (e.g. Slack’s integration ecosystem) vs. focusing heavily on a single feature or saying the “UX is great”.

12. What product or feature that youve shipped in the past fills you up with pride? What would you change if you had to do it all over again?

Ask this because…

Sets up the ceiling of their achievement (you gain an idea of their caliber) and stretches them to think outside the box.

What you’re looking for

Look at why they elected that achievement (was it metrics, customer value or because it “felt good”). If they were invested in the problem, they should have a lot of feedback to share for improvement.


Red Flag: “I wouldn’t change a thing.”

13. Whats wrong with product management today? How would you fix it?

Ask this because…

Shows how much they read up & analyze the discipline and whether they are constantly improving themselves.

What you’re looking for

Reference to new product management trends, ideas from thought leaders or speaking about the process challenges they have seen over the years along with practical remedial advice.

14. Tell me about a time you shipped something that failed & the lessons you learned from it.

Ask this because…

It tests their humility, transparency & shows you how they process failure.

What you’re looking for

Articulate comparison between the Expectation and Reality, why was it a failure (subjective perception or objective metric or feedback) and what they would have done differently.

15. Describe a product strategy that you developed in the past. How did you communicate it to the team?

Ask this because…

Helps you understand what they understand by “product strategy” and how they align stakeholders on it.

What you’re looking for

Strategy defined as a set of choices, target audience, north star metric & some unique value proposition + keeping stakeholders in sync via a presentation or townhalls. Bonus points if they use frameworks from Melissa Perri, Roman Pichler or Marty Cagan.

How to become a Product Manager

I frequently receive the question “How can I become a Product Manager?” This question can be tackled from two perspectives:

  • The career path perspective: What career steps should I take to get a Product Manager role?
  • The knowledge/skill perspective: What knowledge and skills should I develop as a Product Manager?

While they are related, today we focus on the second perspective: The concepts and skills Product Managers should be familiar with and master. The purpose of this learning path is to help you position yourself and identify areas for growth.

Fundamentals

You might be familiar with this ‘Venn diagram of Product Management’, placing it at the intersection of Technology, Business and the Customer/User Experience.

A venn diagram of product manager responsibilities and the overlap of UX, technology, and business | Atlassian Agile Coach
Venn Diagram of Product Management by Atlassian

Expanding on those, there are five areas Product Managers should be familiar with:

  1. (Web) Technology: How the internet works/HTTP, Application Architecture, Frontend/Backend Stack, Development Process. Replace this with the respective technologies relevant to your product, e.g. VR, ML, Native Apps…
  2. Design: Design Thinking, UX, UI, Prototyping, Problem/Solution Space
  3. Business: Business Model, Revenue/Cost Structure, Financial KPIs, Pricing
  4. Engineering/Delivery Management: Scrum, Kanban, Backlogs, Estimations
  5. Data Analytics: Data queries, SQL, Sample size, Statistical significance, Data visualisation

You’ll find a more detailed breakdown of these fundamentals in the visual learning path below. Notice that each of these areas offers a career path in itself. It’s not feasible to be an expert at several of these — Product Managers should be familiar with most of these concepts.

Many Product Managers break into the role from related fields, such as design, engineering or data science. Their expertise and experience enables them to cover some of the Product Management responsibilities directly and even take on adjacent responsibilities when needed. They’ve also worked with or as part of a product team, so they understand what the role requires and how to collaborate with other functions.

Generally, the more mature an organisation, the more likely there is dedicated counterpart for each of these responsibilities. In early-stage companies, Product Managers usually cover a broader set of functions. For example: If there are no Engineering Managers, Product Managers might play a more active role in managing the delivery. If there are no Product Designers, Product Managers might design the product. Product Managers might own the pricing and P&L of the product.

The Fundamentals illustrate where Product Management is situated in an organisation and describe related functions. However it doesn’t tell us much about what a Product Managers actually does, which brings us to…

Product Management Skills

For part two of our Learning Path, let’s dive into the core responsibilities and activities of a Product Manager:

  1. Product Strategy: Defining a product vision, identifying target customer or user segments, discovering underserved customers needs, tracking industry trends, prioritising strategic opportunities
  2. Product Discovery: Qualitative and quantitative research, ideation, prototyping, user testing
  3. Product Delivery: Crafting roadmaps, prioritisation, writing product specs/requirements
  4. Product Marketing: Crafting documentation, supporting with sales/marketing collateral, product marketing campaigns
  5. Product Analytics: Specifying tracking requirements, monitoring and analysing usage/adoption data

The biggest leverage Product Managers have is setting the right direction for the product: Setting the right strategy; validating the product direction and specific features through Product Discovery; prioritising the right features for delivery. Product Managers should also ensure that the product is successfully brought to market and monitor its success.

There is a strong overlap between Product Discovery and Design from our Fundamentals. During product discovery, you collaborate closely and share the responsibility of discovering and validating the product with the Design team. If there is no UX/UI team in your organisation, you may cover this by doing most of the customer research and validating solution approaches before the they get built yourself. If you there are Designers on your team, Product Managers can focus more on validating the overall direction of the product and identifying underserved market/user needs, while Designers focus more on the user experience and the interface of the product.

Delivering the product is a joint effort between engineering, design and product management. For the scope of this Learning Path, we focus on the Product Managers’ responsibilities in the delivery process: Prioritising the highest value topics for each cycle; communicating user needs, product specs and acceptance criteria to the entire product team; helping with QA and unblocking any product-related topics that arise during delivery.

Again, the degree to which you cover each of these functions can vary based on the org culture, size and structure as well as the type of product. For example, you might have dedicated Product Analysts and Product Marketers on your team.

Navigating the learning path

If you’re new to Product Management, you can spend a few months learning about the Fundamentals to improve your qualification for the role. Then look for an entry-level role where you can practice your Product Management skills.

If you’re already in a Product Management or related role, you can use the Learning Path to identify topics you want to practice. For example, if you’re in a delivery-focused Product Owner role, you might look for opportunities within your team to contribute to the product strategy, or kick off a Product Discovery initiative with your team.

Going broad vs. deep

The breadth of responsibilities and skills can feel overwhelming. It’s unrealistic to expect to master several of these topics at a level that a specialist does. When you’re starting out, leave yourself freedom to explore a multitude of topics. You can then select a few topics to focus on and dive deeper. Most product managers I know have a generalist or a T-shaped profile with one or two specialisations. Most importantly, don’t be intimidated and take on new responsibilities step-by-step.

The Learning Path

We’ve identified the Fundamentals surrounding Product Management as well as the core responsibilities of Product Managers. Let’s dive deeper: Here’s the full Learning Path to becoming a (SaaS/WebApp) Product Manager.

Hiring a Product Manager Guide 1

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