Four Ways to Fail Your PM Interview

As a PM interview coach and former PM at Google, I’ve seen a lot of great product management applicants fail their interviews because of some simple, but key, missteps. Here are the top four.

1) Brainstorming Small

When you get asked a question like “What is the future of X?”, the interviewer wants you to think big, creatively, and give some deep insights about the industry in question.

If you’re a good PM candidate, you’ll know that everything has constraints and tradeoffs. Sometimes, candidates will let these constraints inhibit their creativity, reducing what could have been an innovative, revolutionary answer into something very bland and obvious.

When you’re asked a question that involves brainstorming — think big! Don’t let the potential tradeoffs limit you (but still mention them, see #4).

For example, if I ask you, “How will microwaves evolve into a next-generation consumer product in the next twenty years?” don’t just tell me about how microwaves will get faster at cooking and have better efficiency. I want to hear about how microwaves will have cameras inside them that can identify the food and automatically calibrate cooking time. Even if the ideas are a bit out there, we want to see you think big.

2) Not Asking Questions

Right after you get asked a PM interview question, don’t start with an answer. Start with a question.

Most PM interview questions are intentionally left undefined. Part of the interview (and part of a PM’s job) is to ask the right questions. Show us that you know how to ask important clarifying questions that can really get at what the interviewer is asking. You’d be surprised — the smartest people are the ones that ask questions.

3) Trying to Get the Correct Answer

Most PM interviews don’t have a right answer, so stop trying to get the right answer. Instead, focus on the right process.

Let’s say the interviewer asks “Estimate DropBox’s yearly revenue.” Focus on coming up with a methodology for answering the question. When asked this question, I answered with something absolutely absurd, like $50 million — yet I still performed well in the interview because my process was carefully thought-out.

4) Ignoring Tradeoffs

One of the best tactics for PM interview candidates is to always mention tradeoffs. By mentioning tradeoffs, you’re caveating your answer and directly addressing potential concerns the interviewer may have with your answer.

And of course, any answer you give will have some tradeoff — even if it’s just requiring additional resources. Candidates who answer without addressing tradeoffs seem overconfident in their answers, and appear to lack critical thinking and judgment skills.

More by Stephen Cognetta

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