What is a Product Manager?
A Product Manager (PM) is the person who thinks ‘big picture’. Within Product Development they are the person who is responsible for identifying customer needs and wants and creating a road-map for the development team to follow.
The role is often combined with the Product Owner (PO) position, but in organisations that have clearly defined and separate responsibilities it is important to not get them confused. The Product Owner is responsible for the sprints and the backlog whereas the Product Manager is responsible for understanding the user needs and creating the product road-map (The PM focuses on the ‘what’ and the ‘why’, the PO focuses on the ‘who’ and ‘how’ – both come together to discuss the ‘when’)
Product Manager salary – A PM is a challenging role that has the occupant mixing it with the C-suite level staff regularly. As such it commands a high salary. In the UK the average salary of a Product Manager in the UK is around £50,000. Our American readers can expect a much higher salary however, with the average salary of a Product Manager in the USA being $110,000.
Because of the highly sought after nature of the job you can expect fierce competition when applying for roles. To stand apart you need to have everything going for you, a great CV, a fantastic application and a nailed on performance in the interview.
It is this last point we are going to discuss today. Firstly we will look at some Product Manager specific interview tips. Then we will talk about how to answer interview questions (and importantly how NOT to answer interview questions). Then finally we will look at some of the more popular questions you can be asked in your Product Manager Interview.
Product Manager Interview Tips
Lean heavily on your experience. This applies even if you have never held a PM position before. A Product Manager is responsible for numerous things but primarily ensuring that the right activities are being worked on at the right time (i.e. managing the product strategy and road-map). You don’t need to have held a PM title previously to have participated in similar activities. Perhaps you have worked in a role before where you had to make strategic decisions for your organisation? Or maybe you have performed customer research where you needed to spot trends? When answering questions lean heavily into these experiences.
Talk about how important quality is to a firm. Working in a agile fashion is great for pushing out product updates quickly, but often it can result in quality taking a back-seat. Hiring managers will want to see how you balance the need for frequent and rapid deployments with the need to produce a high quality product.
Know your audience. You should always research the organisation you are interviewing for. But what people don’t think to do is also research the interviewer and the hiring manager (if these are different persons). You want to impress the person making the hiring decision so you should research them specifically trying to understand what makes them tick and what they are looking for in a new employee.
How Best To Answer Product Manager Interview Questions
Unless the question you are asked is a straight ‘up or down / yes or no’ style question then you are going to need to learn to describe, expand and elaborate on your answers. The best way of doing this is to follow the B-STAR technique for answering interview questions.
Answers using this method follow the below structure:
B – Belief – What are your thoughts and feelings with regard to the subject matter? – As a Product Manager you should have your own set of processes and management techniques that you tailor to each situation.
S – Situation – What was going on? Briefly explain the scenario that was taking place. – Try not to spend too much time describing the situation. The bulk of your answer needs to be about you and what you did so keep the situation simple to understand and even simpler to describe. Try to make sure the scenario directly relates to one of the responsibilities in the job you are applying for.
T – Task – What was your role in the action? Most of the time it is best that you are taking an active rather than passive role in the encounter – You are going for a Product Manager role (presumably if you are reading this) so the situation you describe should have you involved with setting the direction of your product.
A – Activity (or action) – What did you do? Detail the steps you took and why you took them. – This should take up the bulk of your time answering the question.
R – Result – How did everything end up? Try to use figures if possible (e.g. sales increased 50%, customer churn reduced from 30% to 10%, End user feedback scores went from 4.3 to 4.8, etc.).
Remember though that the B-STAR technique is descriptive not prescriptive. You do not need to follow this flow strictly, go with what is best for your answers and that will allow you to put your point across and show your experience the best.
What You Should Not Do When Product Manager Answering Questions
Do not avoid the question.
Do not describe a failure (unless specifically asked).
Do not downplay the situation.
Do not overhype the situation.
Do not say you have no experience with the subject matter.
Do not reject the premise of the question.
Do not have a passive role in the situation.
Do not give a one-sentence answer.
Do not overly describe the scenario and miss the action.
Product Manager Interview Question & Answers
“I believe that it’s incredibly difficult to overcome a bad first impression. Because of this I always strive to never make one. That’s why for important meetings, or interviews like this, I make a clear plan of what I want to get from the meeting and outline the steps I need to take to achieve that goal.
So when I received the call about scheduling this interview the first thing I did was research your offices. As you are based in an area of town I am not familiar with I drove by here after work one evening just to make sure I knew the way. I also checked Google Maps to see what the traffic would be like at this time. Nothing worse than being late sitting in traffic after all.
I actually have a contact who works in your finance department, Claire, we were colleagues in the place I am currently working. I reached out to her to see if there was anything she could tell me about the interview process. We had spoken before about the company as a whole and how she talks about the company is one of the reasons I applied.
Following our chat I went through all of my work achievements and made sure they fully encompassed everything I have accomplished in my career.
I’m glad I took the time to prepare as I did because there was a lot of traffic so it was good I knew to expect that. Also talking with Claire helped jog my memory on a project we both worked on a few years back delivering a piece of financial software that I believe your company is in the process of deploying.”
“As Product Manager at X company it was my responsibility to prioritise the product roadmap. The way things worked in our organisation was that any stakeholder could raise an item to add to the backlog, then as a team we would discuss in which order it would be best that they were worked and deployed.
Ultimately however the final decision on priority lay with myself and even though items were added to the backlog I would have to inform the Product Owner of what was actually in scope and relevant to our goals..
As you can imagine with so many different areas of the business raises items, each with their own agendas and goals the backlog meetings would often end with a lot of disagreement
One such occasion we had two business areas both asking us to deploy a change to our product and both were asking for the change to be deployed in the next sprint. Unfortunately we only had the dev resource to implement the one change in this cycle.
The backlog call became heated between the two representing colleagues and I was forced to cut the meeting short to let cooler heads prevail.
After the meeting I sat with both colleagues to further understand the urgency behind both changes. Asking them to describe the benefits of the change and also the drawbacks of waiting until the next cycle.
Once I had this information in hand it was clear to me which change would be most beneficial to the business. I invited both colleagues into a meeting where I had compiled the information into a presentation deck with a few charts showing the resources available within the product team and the relative benefits of each change.
Explaining it this way allowed both colleagues to fully appreciate the restrictions that were on my team and also the comparative benefits of each change.
Both colleagues left the meeting happy with the outcome and both changes were pushed into production in the next 2 sprints”
Tell me about a time you were late delivering a piece of work
“I was given the task of producing a spec delivery report for a very important potential client. This was on top of my regular workload but I was happy to pick it up as the client would bring a lot of business to our firm if we were able to secure the contract.
During the week that I had to complete the report a number of unforeseen events happened; my work laptop died, the office I worked in flooded and someone stole my car. It really was one of those weeks!
I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to meet the deadline so I looked at the piece of work that I had been given and the reasons why the firm wanted it. From my conversation with the firm I knew they were more interested in the capacity my team could deliver within each sprint rather than the specifics of the product itself.
So I focused my efforts so that I was working only on the capacity portion of the report. I communicated this with the client and with my colleagues. Everyone seemed largely happy with this and I delivered the report in 2 stages, the first at the agreed upon date and the full report just 2 business days later.
Luckily this delay did not upset the clients and we did bring them onboard. After this fiasco I petitioned the firm to provision VPN access on personal devices (with the relevant security software added) so that if this confluence of events were to repeat I would suffer no downtime…except for the time spent wondering where my car was.”
“I believe that bad news is best delivered in person and discretely, where it is responsible to do so. I don’t particularly relish giving bad news (I suppose not many do) so I often try to resolve the situation in advance so the bad news never needs to be given.
Obviously though that isn’t possible all of the time. For example in a previous role I managed a team of developers working in a agile fashion when word came down from senior management that we were offshoring a large part of our process and this meant layoffs of nearly 40% of the department.
I tried to go to bat for my team and show how our quality and production scores were the highest around and unlikely to be replicated using our offshore colleagues, but the decision had been made and was purely cost driven.
It was my job to determine which members of my team would be let go and which would stay.
We had all joined the department together on the same contract so there was no element of seniority that needed to be accounted for. Instead I devised a balanced scorecard type of approach, ranking each team member against the department’s relevant KPIs (quality, production, skills).
Once I had my list I booked one-on-ones with all of my team members as close together as possible, starting with the colleagues who would be staying. With the colleagues who were being let go I got straight to the point and told them the company would be terminating their contract. I allowed them to ask any questions they wanted and informed them that I would be around for any help they needed in looking for a new role.
During the meetings 2 of the colleagues I wanted to keep informed me that they were planning to leave soon anyway and suggested that they would leave now instead freeing up room for other colleagues to stay.
In the end I had to tell 6 members of my team that they were being let go. They were all understanding of the situation and were grateful that I offered to help them look for new roles.
Going forward if I were to be in the same position I would have gone to the meetings with some open positions that I would recommend the colleagues apply for”
Have You Ever Needed To Change Someone’s Mind?
“We had two options for a supplier; supplier A who we had used before and supplier B who we had not used but who were cheaper. As my target was to reduce costs for our department I thought that we should go with supplier B.
I approached my other colleagues, informally over coffee, to understand more about their concerns with supplier B. Learning that the principal worry was that supplier B was an unknown quantity whereas with supplier A we knew the quality to expect. It was then that I came up with a solution to quell any worries.
I approached supplier B and negotiated for them to provide sample products and also to agree to a trial/probationary contract that could be ended fairly easily should the quality not be up to scratch. Once I had this proposal in hand I went back to my colleagues who were now in agreement that supplier B was the correct option for the company.
With all colleagues in agreement we pitched the idea to the director together, ultimately we went with supplier B and enjoyed a high quality product for a lower price”
“In my current role I use Microsoft Projects extensively for scheduling tasks when working with certain clients. A few months ago I learned that one of our newer clients used Primavera as their preferred PM tool.
Even though the new firm were content that we continue to use Microsoft Projects I thought it would be best to upskill myself on Primavera so that I at least could understand what the client was used to versus what we would be providing.
I started by following some courses on LinkedIn and eventually I asked my employer if they would support me in attaining the certification – which they did.
I passed the qualification on the first go and was able to successfully amend our MS Project reports so that they more closely resembled what the client was used to”
What does a product manager do?
What do you see as a Product Manager’s main role within product development?
Pretend you’re talking to a stranger. How would you explain product management?
Please explain your approach to monitoring performance and success?
Explain the key to a good user interface
To be successful in a product management role, what do you need from your manager?
What’s your favourite product and why?
Tell me about a time you had to make a decision to make short-term sacrifices for long-term gains?
Tell me about a time when you dealt with a technical challenge?
Why do you want to work as a product manager?
Estimate the number of restaurants in San Francisco / estimate the number of traffic lights in New York city / Estimate the total internet bandwidth needed for a campus of 1000 graduate students etc
Tell me about a time you handled a difficult stakeholder
What was your biggest failure as a product manager?
Tell me about a decision you made based on your instincts
Tell me about a time you convinced someone to change their minds
Tell me about a time you handled a difficult stakeholder
What are the top 3 technology trends that will change the landscapes in the next decade?
How would you explain cloud computing to your grandmother?
How do you determine what customers want and need?
How do you communicate your product strategy?
What’s one of your favourite products, and what’s something you’d change about it?
Tell me about a time you had trouble building consensus and how you overcame it.
What’s your approach to prioritizing tasks?
Describe a scenario that required you to say no to an idea or project.
Please try to recall a situation in which you had to say no to an idea or project.
Have you ever had to make a difficult decision while considering the input from many different sources (customers, stakeholders, team members). How did you make your decision?
Have you ever made an unpopular decision on the job? What happened?
Tell me about a time you worked well as part of a teamInterview Question: Tell me about a time you worked well as part of a team – Answer Tips
Interview Question: How does your current (or previous) role fit into the organisation’s wider goals? – Answer Tips
Interview Question: Tell me about a time when you have had to make a decision using only limited information? – Answer Tips
Do you have any questions for us?10 Questions To Ask At The End Of An Interview (And 6 That You Shouldn’t!)