I recently wrote about the 6 types of Product Managers. Once you know the skills you need in your product manager, the next step is to ensure you hire someone with those skills!
Why this matters:
What is the biggest mistake a company can make? I’ll argue two things: not hiring when you need to and hiring the wrong person.
The most common challenge we hear at FirstMark — from founders of early stage startups and CEOs of Fortune 100 companies alike — is how to hire well. In numbers, the hiring process takes 4–6 months, with an average of 80 hours spent hiring a single individual. If you hire the wrong person, it typically takes 6–9 months before you know the individual is lacking the skills and have conviction to make a change. Which prompts another round of 4–6 months of hiring. Overall, hiring is simply not very ‘agile’. And it’s not just time you’re spending; poor hiring impacts morale and productivity, and can end up costing your company millions.
Hiring right is critical for every role, but it has particular implications for product positions because they impact the efficiency/effectiveness of other functions (e.g., tech, design), are relied upon to meet business goals, and are usually critical for allowing senior roles to scale up. If you are a founder or CEO, this role will allow you to grow or will pull you into the weeds.
To help you hire right, the first time, here are essential interview questions for each type of product manager.
Words for the wise:
- Start with a classic: What product are you most proud of launching? Which did you learn from the most?
- Don’t be shallow. Go Deep. After asking the questions, dig deeply into each topic and answer. Likewise, if you are the candidate, give specifics. It is easy for anyone to give a high-level textbook answer (particularly in the world we live in where you can Google the best answers). It is hard to fake specific examples from your own experience.
- Ask them to do a case study. Set up the case study as a single question that you want them to answer. The more senior the role, the more open-ended it should be.
The 3 best questions for each type of Product Manager:
- What test has surprised you the most? This is a flavor of my go-to question: ‘what product launch did you learn from the most?’. A Growth Hacker answer should show experience and competency in A/B or multivariate testing.
- How did you measure the success of your tests? Do they just talk about cash? How do they take into account refunds, LTV, price discounts etc.?
- If you saw two designs, one beautiful and one that converted well, which one would you pick? A trick question, but their answer will reveal a lot about their thought process. Do they believe they can create beautiful experiences that also convert? Do they think of conversion as getting clicks or as the entire funnel and customer experience?
- How did you roll-out your product/tool? This question is really a two for one, because it should also tell you how they think through personas / customer segments. Do they discuss existing vs. new users? How did they guide users through changes in their workflow? If they built a new product, how did they think though the best on-boarding experience?
- What are the best workflow products you look to for ideas? Do they think about other workflows their customers use and pull from them vs. recreating the wheel? For example, if their users are in PowerPoint often, do they leverage UX patterns already developed from that experience? Great answers will leave you feeling like the PM is always looking at the details behind every experience they encounter (inspiration can come from everywhere)!
- How do you work with UX/Design? I like asking all PMs this question, but have found it’s even more vital for Workflow Warriors. They need to copy and innovate thoughtfully when improving or creating a workflow. Their answer should indicate true partnership.
- Bonus Question: Have you done immersive user research (sitting with a customer in their natural setting)? Give me an example of what you learned. How did you prepare for and debrief after the session?
- What drives human behavior? This is a white space question with a lot of room for different answers. Personally, I love when PMs answer with a framework that is based on their own insights/reading/education. Do they mention core human needs? Do they raise behavior change and behavioral economic frameworks? Do they bring up examples based on what they have tested in the past?
- Tell me how you have built a community. Look for answers that show a variety of techniques (e.g, ask to connect your contacts, seeding content for debate). Great Community Connectors have a knack for getting people to engage; their answer should have concrete examples with impact metrics.
- Over the last 5 years, how have social networks changed how people engage? Always good to probe whether PMs can not only answer questions about the products they have launched, but also how they fit into larger marketplace trends. For example: using @ handles, greater comfort with sharing overall, use of command terms such as / and #.
- How did you drive adoption (of your service or platform)? Good Platform PMs will give several examples about how they marketed their product. They will include details such as clear documentation, marketing materials, support/feedback mechanisms, methods for providing updates, etc.
- How do you prioritize your backlog / feature requests? Applies to any PM, but this role often has multiple end users who often have competing requests. Probe for answers that offer solutions for how to handle competing outcomes/KPIs.
- How do you address customization for multiple end users? Did they consider an inner source model (open source within an organization)? Code reviews? Good candidates will also discuss how they interviewed internal teams, understood, and then prioritized their needs based on business/customer impact.
- Bonus Question: How do you decide when a service should be outsourced or built internally?
- How do you share customer insights with your tech teammates? I am always looking for examples where the PM actively involves his/her developers with customers. Do they sit in on customer interviews and ethnographic sessions? Do they share customer feedback regularly and as part of a continuous process?
- How do you prioritize your backlog? For this role, look for how they consider technical difficulty vs. customer impact.
- How do you know when you are ready to ship/launch your product? Do they discuss a lab environment, A/B testing tools? This is important because some changes are harder to test due to UX designs launching at the same time as major algorithm adjustments.
- How has mobile changed in the last two years? From how users engage, to iOS updates, to insights on the optimal UX — mobile is always adapting. Look for a Product Manager who is constantly learning and intellectually curious about the space.
- How does IAP work, what are the pros and cons to a business? May not be relevant to every business, but a PM focused exclusively on mobile should understand the basics. Extra credit if they can answer how IAP and Apple’s enforcement policies have changed over time. I like questions like this because they also tell you if the person loves their role. Do they breathe and sleep mobile?
- How do you monitor performance and measure success? For years, mobile A/B testing lagged behind web testing, so I am always curious to see how PMs answer this. Have they used a testing service? Are they talking to customers?
- Bonus: Have you been rejected from the app store? This question usually generates some interesting stories…
Now get out there and hire a rockstar product manager for your team!
Questions, comments and debate desired…I’d love to hear what you think! I’d also love to hear the best interview question you have been asked in the comments below.