7 simple steps to acing your next PM interview
After coaching hundreds of PM interview candidates via PMLesson.com, I’ve realized that every great PM interview response employs a common underlying structure. Depending on the question, an interviewee may need to define the set of users or mention prevailing tech trends.
Yet no matter what, these seven steps are crucial for a successful answer:
1. Listen & Take Notes
It may seem obvious, but this is the most important part of the interview. Don’t just listen, actively listen. Jot down notes as you hear the question for keywords or important points. Make frequent eye contact with the interviewer. Show interest and excitement to tackle the question.
2. Ask Clarifying Questions
Before answering the question, ask a question! No matter how straightforward the question is, ask clarifying questions to understand the question’s important details and your interviewer’s expectations.
Here are some sample questions you might ask:
- Is this product scoped to a particular set of users?
- What platforms are our users on?
- Are we launching internationally or domestically?
Or, if you have no other questions, say: “Ok, you’re asking me to _____. Is that correct?”
Fundamentally, this step ensures you and your interviewer are on the same page.
3. Pause & Think
I know it’s tempting to jump into an answer, and to be honest, most PM interview candidates are great talkers.
But stop. Don’t speak yet.
As an interview coach, I notice huge increases in qualities of product management interview answers when the interviewee pauses for even just 10–15 seconds to consider their approach. It may feel like your interviewer expects an immediate answer, but trust me — they’ll appreciate it much more when you have a coherent and cogent response.
4. Structure Your Answer
After thinking, you’ll need to deliver a structured answer to the question. Walk through your structure before answering.
Pro tip: This is a great opportunity to write the structure on the whiteboard as you speak.
The simplest structure is a three-point answer. Your intro sentence could be: “Ok, I’m going to cover three potential products that answer your question, and explain the tradeoffs of each. The three products are _____, _____, and _____.”
Now, your interview has a sense of your answer’s structure, and can redirect you as needed.
Here’s the meat of the interview question. Dive into the details of your answer and explain your thought process. Depending on the interview question, you’ll want to structure and present your answer differently. It might be a “What is the Future of X” question, or perhaps the classic PM interview question (that you should rehearse).
You can follow my blog or visit PMLesson.com to get more in-depth information on how to answer the classic types of PM questions.
Generally, make sure to sit tall, confidently explain your answer, and make eye contact. Use the whiteboard liberally — it’s a great visual aid for your answer.
6. Pivot and Check-in
That said, you may be mid-way through your answer, and something goes wrong. Here are some possible pitfalls and how to pivot out of them:
- Your interviewer gives concerned body language. Based on your interviewer’s posture or gesturing, it seems like perhaps you’re not on the right track. Pause where appropriate and check in. “Ok, I’ve just answered the first part of my question. I’ll now move on to the next segment of my answer. Is that alright?”
- You realize your answer is wrong. This happens frequently. Midway through talking, you realize your answer is flawed in a fundamental way, and you want to change your answer. Don’t fret — this is really common during PM interviews! Depending on your personal style, figure out a smooth way to pivot mid-answer. For instance, “As I discuss this point, I realize that there are several flaws with my answer. I’d actually like to shift my answer a bit toward….”
- You forget your point. Ideally, this wouldn’t happen because you already defined a clear structure. However, if you blank out, don’t worry. Nine times out of ten, you just need a bit more time to think about the answer, so ask for it. “Ok, I’ll need a bit more intermediate time to think through the second part of my question. Please give me a few moments.” If you can’t remember it, gracefully pivot to skip over the missing information.
The key is to calmly and smoothly explain your answer. Be confident.
Classic mistake: Interviewees set up an awesome structure, but then somehow, the interviewee goes completely off track and the interviewer is lost. Stick to your structure, or communicate your changes clearly if a change is necessary.
7. Summarize Your Answer
You’re almost there!
But, there’s one critical step left. In no longer than 30 seconds, reiterate what you’ve told your interviewer, using the same structure that you defined in step #4. “In summary, we’ve discussed ____, ____, and ____.”
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