What questions directors and VPs of Product Management are asking and what they want to hear.
As Director of Recruiting for the 280 Group Recruiting service, candidates often ask me how best to prepare for their interviews. I do my best to infuse them with information about our client and the position, but I rarely know what type of questions they will encounter from the interviewing team.
In an effort to support our candidates, and the Product Management community at large, I polled several Directors and VPs of Product Management in my network to get their go-to interview questions and the answers that they are looking for from candidates. The response was awesome and too great not to share with Product Managers on both sides of the interview table.
Here’s Our Top 10
Craig Cotton, VP Marketing and Product Management at Impinj, likes to pose a simple scenario: You need to prioritize between Project A and Project B. Tell me your process or methodology for choosing the best one?
Most interviewees offer a simple answer and say they would try to understand the market and choose the one with the highest revenue, neglecting many factors that go into these decisions.
The ideal answer is something like this: First I would start with the company’s strategies and goals to see if A or B is better aligned. Next I would try and understand the TAM and SAM for both projects to see which one offers more attractive growth. Then, I would investigate the engineering investment required for both.
Knowing A is higher revenue is not enough. What if it requires twice the number of engineers? This would give me an Economic Value Add type of approach, or revenue over effort measure.
Along the way, I would make sure that the company’s sales team and channels are going to support the choice to sell A or B. Once done we would have the data we would need to stare at to then make a good business decision.
2. How to Approach a Problem
Similarly, David Grubman, VP Product at myFinancialAnswers, wants to understand how a candidate would approach a problem, what steps they cover, and how much time they address to each step.
Here are his typical examples: We are trying to determine if we should run Google Ads on our eCommerce site. How would you go about making that decision? Or, we have a low NPS with one of our products. How would you go about addressing it?
I am looking for the candidate to go broad and provide a thoughtful, detailed response.
3. Typical Roadmap Presentation
Ajay Awatramani, Director of Product Management at Marketo, likes to ask what a typical roadmap presentation consist of. He asks candidates to take an example and break it down for him.
Ajay expects a candidate’s answer to cover all angles of a roadmap presentation including:
- Customer feedback
- Industry trends
- Competitive SWOT analysis
- Analyst – Gartner/Forrester perspective
- Emergent themes
- Priority requirements by theme
- Success metrics
- Release plan
4. The Last Time You Said No
Mathew Varghese, Director of Product Management at Citrix, asks candidates when was the last time they said NO to a persistent feature request from a big customer/investor, and why?
This question gives him a good insight into the candidate’s commitment to growing the product/business versus growing an account. It also gives him a good insight into their business acumen and negotiation skills.
While there is no right answer, he often prefers a candidate who puts up a good fight with noisy customers.
5. Motivating Your Team
Steve Pollock, VP of Product Management at Ebates, asks candidates how they have gotten their team motivated and passionate about solving a specific problem or building a new user journey. This question is posed with context around a particular area, like front end, back end, analytics, etc.
With this question, Steve is looking for an articulation about how a candidate self-motivates, and then about how they understand the motivations of others and use that to find ways to inspire them. So a very good answer to this has two or three parts.
6. Convincing Leadership
Travis Kaufman, VP of Product Management at Leadspace, asks a similar soft-skill question when he asks candidates to tell him about a time when they needed to convince their leadership team to invest in a new initiative.
With this question, Travis is looking for experience influencing without authority and for the type of information a candidate uses to build their argument.
Hint: the more customer and market problem centric, the better.
7. Five Minute Career Summary
Vito Salvaggio, VP of Product Management at Loggly, asks candidates to take five minutes to walk him through their career from their first job to their current job. What did they accomplish and why did they leave?
This question seems easy enough to answer, but it is a revealing test of the candidate’s listening skills. He wants to know if they can they fit the answer in the time requested and can they communicate/tell a story.
8. One Word That Describes You
Robert Green, Director of Product Management at Tableau Software, asks candidates to pick one word that describes them.
Answer: All too common Robert hears the boring answer: “Creative” “Driven” “Focused”. He likes to be surprised by this answer because many hiring managers have already formed an opinion or impression on the word that would describe the candidate.
A good response he recently heard was “Resolable”. That’s not a word, but the candidate said, “I’m Results-Driven, I Solve Problems, and I’m Responsible.” The candidate made a word up that was a combination of three other phrases to highlight themself.
9. First Day Agenda
Ron Kaplan, Manager, Technical Product Management at Symitar, asks candidates what they will do on the first day of this Product Management job.
This question informs him about the way in which one approaches the adventure ahead. Will the candidate focus on building relationships or learn the technical stuff?
10. Getting Out of Hot Water
The last question is from an anonymous Director of Product Management who likes to ask candidates to tell him about the hottest water they ever got themselves into with a customer, how they fixed it, and what they learned.
This hiring manager finds the best candidates do not need prompting for those last two questions. They have one or two examples they are proud of taking from near-disaster to success and they have made the lesson(s) integral to their whole business approach.
The “you got yourself into” part is key. Some candidates choose examples of another’s misstep they’ve fixed. But this manager is looking first for accountability. So the next question is: How about something YOU did that you had to make right? It’s a rare save at this stage if “how I fixed it and what I learned” are offered without prompting. The hiring manager is still wondering whether you listen carefully or prefer an easy out, but at least expects you might understand why the question was asked.
What fascinates this hiring manager is how many candidates will respond that they cannot think of a single example, even when he double-checks asking: So you’ve never made a mistake? But, by then this interview is over. He trusts his hires implicitly, so he needs to know they will hold themselves accountable first.
The candidates who are tough on themselves, but positive about the outcome, make his job so much easier.