Preparing for the Product Management Interview — The last 2 days

So, you have few days left for your product management interview. This is the time to sit back, relax, and enjoy. Don’t fret much about anything now. This is the time to breathe deep, relax, and enjoy the process.

While you practice your relaxation techniques there are few last-minute preparations to do before you have your rendezvous with your interviewer.

There are 4 things you need to focus on just before the interview:

Know the Company

Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

Know the company that wants to hire you. Hiring is a two way process. You should love the company and the company should love you too. There are few things that you should be curious about:

  1. What is the company strategy?
  2. What are the areas where the company has been investing and would continue to invest?
  3. What is the company mission?
  4. What are the company’s key products?
  5. How does the company make money? What are the hot selling products?
  6. What is the company culture?

You can get all this information in the first 5–6 pages of a company’s annual statement. Do not get into the minute details, instead focus on the key highlights in each area. E.g. I skimmed through Microsoft’s annual statement of 2019 and I was clearly able to answer all the above 6 questions.

While reading the annual statement you can easily identify the top products or focus areas of the organization. E.g. I just read the first two pages and made a mental model of some of the Microsoft’s products that were mentioned in the annual report:

  1. Azure; Azure ML; Databox Edge; HCI; Data Factory; Cognitive Services
  2. Microsoft 365; Teams’ PowerPoint; Office 365
  3. Dynamics 365
  4. GitHub; Visual Studio
  5. LinkedIn
  6. PowerBI; PowerApps; Flow
  7. Gaming; Xbox

Now that you have a list of products, you may wish to identify the product where you would like to work. E.g. let’s assume you want to work on Microsoft Teams. Then put the product manager’s hat on and answer some of these questions:

  1. Who are the users of this product?
  2. What do you think is the current product strategy?
  3. What do you love the most about the product?
  4. What do you hate the most about the product?
  5. How would you improve it?

This exercise would help you to know more about the company. In addition, you would also be able to identify which area do you feel most excited about. This will also help you build a perspective on where is the company heading and are your objectives aligned with that of the company.

Know the industry, competition and trends

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Once you have spent some time on the company, now focus on the wider industry in which the company operates. Again, taking Microsoft as an example, Microsoft operates in innumerable number of spaces. Pick one space and go deeper in it.

E.g. let’s think Azure. Try to answer these questions for Azure:

  1. What are the upcoming industry trends in cloud?
  2. Who is the competition?
  3. What the competition is doing?
  4. Are there alternative industries to Cloud?
  5. Where is the money in Cloud business?
  6. What industries are embracing Cloud?
  7. Why are these industries embracing Cloud?
  8. What industries are reluctant to use cloud and why?

You can read reports from various analysts sites. Gartner, G2, and Stratechery are some of my favorites.

  1. Top 10 Trends Impacting Infrastructure and Operations for 2019
  2. Key Trends in PaaS and Platform Architecture for 2019
  3. Cloud strategy
  4. How technology helped Netflix transform its business

While reading, try to build a perspective on how you see these trends evolving as time progresses. It is very important to not just read the content but also to have a perspective of your own. Product Managers are valued for their insights.

By now, you would be able to understand the organization, its products, its competition, the industry, and the technology trends. Have a perspective on all of these and be willing to acknowledge, learn, and criticize what you read.

Prepare an Introduction

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In any interview, you can almost assume that the panel has read your resume before you entered the room. If you are still asked to introduce yourself, have a quick 60 second introduction ready.

Some do’s and don’ts for your introduction.

  1. In case you missed earlier, I highlighted a 60 second introduction. Let it be short and sweet.
  2. If you were asked, “Hey George, why dont you take a seat and introduce yourself”; You can avoid by starting “My name is George”.. The panelist already knows your name :)
  3. If you graduated more than 5–10 years ago then your school and marks do not matter much now.
  4. I am not sure whether this is a best practice, but this is what I did when I was asked to introduce myself for my interview. I started with a story. A story about my experience that I wanted to highlight. Something that I was most passionate about and was relevant to the product management role. E.g. you can pick a story about a product you shipped with all the passion in the world but it failed, therefore what did you learn from it? Or if you do not have product management experience then you need to work a little harder. Maybe you can narrate your story on what were you doing earlier, and what made you make the leap into product management. Since you do not have product management experience, you will have to put in more effort to show how serious you are about this position. You can also choose to talk about your an extra-curricular that you are most passionate about. I guess the underline thought is that pick something that you are passionate about and something that shows your growth mindset.

Know your resume

Earlier I shared some tips on writing a good resume for product management role. While you are preparing for your interview, spend time on your resume to ensure you are thorough with every item you write.

If you wrote that you “Shipped wiki in Azure DevOps resulting in a 20% growth in customer engagement”, you should be very clear on the following:

  1. What was your role in this whole gig?
  2. Be thorough with your numbers and metrics. Ensure the impact you quote is genuine and explainable.
  3. What were the challenges in this engagement? How did you overcome them?
  4. What did you learn in the process?

This is important since the interviewer may ask you a follow up question on something written in your resume.

Know yourself

Being self-aware will not only help you with your interview but also with your career and life. So, what is self-awareness? In a nutshell, self-awareness is about knowing your emotional self.

Photo by Giulia Bertelli on Unsplash

Why is being self-aware important for your interview? You may have heard of questions such as “what are your weaknesses”; “what are your strengths”; “how did you deal with a situation when things were stacked up against you”; “what would you do in a situation where you were not aligned with leadership” ??

All these questions are to see how well you know yourself and how you stand up in certain difficult situations. There are plenty of smart wit answers floating around on the internet on how to answer these questions. Some even suggest to sugar quote your weaknesses as strengths.

Here is my advice. If your interviewer is smart enough, she will see right through you so don’t try to be smarty pants. Remember, no one in the world is without weaknesses. There is no one in the world who has not made mistakes. On the contrary, if you are not aware of your weaknesses, then you haven’t spent enough time knowing yourself. If you have not made mistakes, then you are not trying hard enough.

Here is a small exercise for you:

  1. Spend 10 minutes in complete isolation where you can reflect.
  2. How do you reflect? Imagine yourself to be standing in the balcony watching yourself from up there while you lead your life in such difficult situations.

The situation: Now think about any one situation. Preferably a situation at work that made you uncomfortable. Think about a situation where you felt awkward. Situation, where you felt that you wished you were not there. Think about a situation when you were being criticized. Maybe a situation where you felt vulnerable.

The behavior: What has happening to you in this situation? How did you behave in such a situation when you felt awkward, vulnerable, and uncomfortable? Did you become defensive? Did you become aggressive to make your point heard? Did you become speechless? Did you want to sound correct even after knowing you were wrong? Do you behave differently with different people? Do you listen to only a certain kind of people? Do you see a pattern here…?

The impact: How did your behavior impact you? How did your behavior impact others? How did your behavior affect your relationship with others? Have you found yourself distancing from certain type of people? Have you found yourself liking a certain type of people? How do you feel emotionally after an argument?

The traits: After doing this exercise, identify few strengths, weaknesses, and mistakes you would like to rectify. Also, reflect on the stories behind your strength, weakness, and mistakes. These stories will come in handy when narrating your weakness or strengths.

Why this exercise is necessary? As a product manager, you will be in difficult situations all the time. It is a position where you have to align the whole team to ensure everyone is equally excited about getting to the objective. There will be moments where folks will not be aligned with you. There will be arguments. As a product leader, it is important for you to align everyone with your vision.

In short, being self-aware means to understand how you behaves in certain situations. You can also call it your default response to a situation better known as habits.

By now, you have not only explored the company and compete but put significant amount of time in understanding yourself as well. In the early stages of your career you will grow on your intelligence. As you take on bigger challenges, you will be valued for your emotional intelligence.

Do you have a question for me?

Almost all interviewers will ask you this question at the end of the interview. Prepare a question at the end of the interview that will help you make the decision to join the company. I don’t want to suggest any cookie cutter questions however there are few guidelines:

  1. Ask a question that helps you understand the company, culture, people, or role better.
  2. If you have a question, then first search it on the internet. Maybe the answer is already available. E.g. questions like, what is “Azure Search” are kind of boring since the information is already there on the internet. Don’t take this as an opportunity to forcefully ask a question. Asking no question is better than asking a boring one.
  3. Also, please do not ask questions irrelevant to the interview. One that comes to my mind was when I was asked, “My Windows 7 Dell laptop recently blue screened. Where can I get it fixed?”. As much as I empathized with the situation, I really did not know the answer. In addition, I struggled to figure out how would this help the candidature.
  4. Also, please do not ask how was the interview? You will get to know shortly.
  5. If there are interviewers, who are willing to share feedback on their own then welcome it. But this is totally on the interviewers perogative.

Product Management Basics

Since this blog was about the last two days before your interview, I am not focusing on product management basics. I am assuming that you are thorough with the basics of product management. Let me know if you would like me to cover these in another blog.

Summary

There are few traits that make for a great candidate for product management. The candidate should be curious, exhibit growth mindset, great problem solver, obsessed about customers, and passionate about technology. So, stay relaxed, enjoy the journey, and I hope you crack the next product management interview.

Most of what I have written in this blog is based on my personal experience. Share your feedback on other aspects of the interview that are critical for a product manager.

If you have any other questions that you would like me to answer then please leave a comment below.

If any insight or information was handy then leave a clap so that I know whether I was able to add value.

Trying to make a small impact one post at a time. Follow on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sandeepchadda/ Twitter: https://twitter.com/sandeepchads

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