Biggest Mistake in a Product Manager Interview and 7 Steps to Overcome It by@gjbull86
1,677 reads

Biggest Mistake in a Product Manager Interview and 7 Steps to Overcome It

Read on Terminal Reader

Too Long; Didn't Read

Companies Mentioned

Mention Thumbnail
Mention Thumbnail
featured image - Biggest Mistake in a Product Manager Interview and 7 Steps to Overcome It
Graham Bull HackerNoon profile picture


Graham Bull
react to story with heart

We have all been there. We have royally blown it. Put our foot in our mouth. Walked out with our head hung low. What I am getting at is, we have all had that interview that didn’t go as well as we had hoped.


When it comes to a product manager interview, this is easy to do — and that is why I have written this story. What is the biggest mistake you can make in this type of interview? Let’s answer that now.

No matter what company you are interviewing at, your level of experience, or what the product is, you will have to show how you think, not necessarily what you think.

The Mistake

Let’s break it down a bit. When (not if but when) you are asked for a solution to a hypothetical problem, whatever you do, do not get excited and start thinking about possible solutions based on your years of schooling, experience or gut! Even if you know a logical solution. Trust me — I once made this mistake and lost out on an incredible job.

There are two scenarios you might make this mistake: 1) it’s your first PM interview (or a job that equates to your dream date), and you’re really excited to impress those across from you and start popping out solutions while forgetting the process, or 2) you don’t fully understand how to answer the question. In either case, this will be a giant red flag to the interviewers you are trying to impress, and you will most likely not get an offer. It will be the end of the road.

If getting excited and forgetting the steps of how to get to a possible solution is your situation, slow down and take the time to reflect on your past experience, and walk them through your thought process. More on this to come.

What about the other scenario, the scarier of the two? If you’re asking yourself “I know the answer, why can’t I just tell them what I think?” pause and take yourself out of the game and re-tool. Don’t take another interview unless you know how to get to the end of the hypothetical question using proven methods.

How to Not Make the Mistake

Remember way back when your math teacher would give you crap for not showing your work? The same rule applies here, too. Even though you may know the answer please don’t be tempted to just write or say the answer.


Going back to the how you think is the critical bit in all of this. The interviewer might not even care what solution you end up with, but they are more concerned with how you got to solution XYZ.

One of the most important aspects of being a product manager is to be the voice of the user. Not the voice of yourself. A way to demonstrate that fact is to show your work on how you got to a conclusion. After all, it’s the user that has the problem, right?

Basic Steps to Overcome This Mistake

Depending on the interview length, you may only have time to state your steps versus demonstrate them. You can ask them to play along as potential users or you could state “I would then…” and give a brief example. Don’t be afraid to ask questions that help frame the border of the scenario.

If given a take-home project to complete, these steps will guide you to a solid solution, as well.

  1. If given the opportunity to use the whiteboard, take them up on the offer. If that isn’t the case, surprise them and ask to use it (if one isn’t in the room, pull out your sketchbook and pencil). This will instantly show them you know what is required.
  2. Start by writing assumptions on why the problem exists, with the information at hand. They will most likely give you some information like feedback cards and constraints.
  3. The scariest assumption should be your hypothesis. Your hypothesis is your experiment.
  4. Either identify or ask what the user persona is for the product (the target customer). This should include user/buyer attributes, pain points, needs and goal, and a bit about them to demonstrate empathy.
  5. Your user interview is next. This is your experiment. Asking the right questions is critical. From this, you should be able to confirm problems/pain points and possible solutions.
  6. After your interviews (Dr. Jakob Nielsen, a user research expert, identified that 85% of the problems are observed after just five user interviews) and documentation, it’s time to validate with a survey. A survey is a way to test your results, to verify them with a larger cast.
  7. After your interviews and survey, you will know where to direct the ship, without wasting a lot of time or the company’s money. If they indicate something different, that’s okay. It just means you’ll have to iterate.

After you have verified the data, you can now base your answer on it, as possible solutions to the hypothetical problem.


Yes, this may not work in every possible interview scenario, but it is a solid step in demonstrating your ability to base solutions with a user-focused, validated process. And exhibit how you think as a product manager.

I hope this helps in your next product manager interview and you are able to land your dream job!


P.S. If your interviewer doesn’t ask you how you think, that is a red flag to you that the company might not understand what a product manager does.


. . . comments & more!
Hackernoon hq - po box 2206, edwards, colorado 81632, usa