03/08/21

60 Minutes: Interviewing Product Managers

By Shriram Ganesh

Hi there! My name is Shriram Ganesh. I am a Senior Director of Product – Fintech at Delivery Hero. Since starting my career, I have spent over 200 hours interviewing Product Managers. I wrote this article to share my learnings with you.

Why another article about interviewing PMs?!

Though there is plenty of literature on the topic, I adopted an organic approach to evolving my technique and heard positive feedback whenever I shared this approach with others. My aim is that through sharing my thoughts, I could potentially help the broader community save time – time that is often lost through take-home case studies, for example.

Context

I believe that the best product managers demonstrate strength in both IQ and EQ. I have iterated on my Product Management interview format over the years and continue to work on it with every interview I conduct.

I have seen a lot of product interviews across various industries, and I have to say, I am not a fan of the offline case study. Having done a few myself, I find them to be an extremely inefficient use of a candidate’s time. While an offline case study has its merits, I believe a live case study (outlined in this article) can yield a much higher value for the time invested by the candidate.

My interviews are 60 minutes long and have 4 sections.

Part 1: Introduction (10 minutes)

After personal introductions, the key focus of this section of the interview is to share information with the candidate on the product they would be managing and on the company. Keeping in mind the candidate may have no idea of what your team does, and hopefully some idea about what your company does, I think it is important to simplify your message as much as possible, in 3-5 minutes.

Part 2: Basics (20 minutes)

Since product management as a discipline has so many variations, the key focus of this section is to test for the basics – an understanding of product management, as well as experience working with teams, based on the candidate’s resume.

I prefer open-ended questions to begin the discussion.

How would you define product management?

There is no single correct answer here. Some candidates give a textbook answer and others improvise. However, the best answers are usually unique and short.

How would you explain product management to a 7-year-old kid?

This question is inspired by the Wired youtube video series where experts explain a topic in 5 levels of detail. The question helps me to understand if the candidate can put themselves in the shoes of their target customer, empathizing and personalizing their communication. It also brings a lot of creativity and fun into the discussion.

Following that question, I usually ask “How would you explain Product Management to your 70-year-old grandparent?”.

What outcome are you most proud of? How were your previous teams structured? What is your process when building and rolling out features?

This part is pretty standard in most interviews. The goal here is to listen and dig deeper. I pay special attention to I ‘vs’ us in their answer. When outcomes are being shared, I dig into absolute numbers when percentages are thrown.

Part 3: Live Case Study (20 minutes)

This section aims to understand the e2e product skills and problem-solving skills from inception to perfection in a limited amount of time. The inspiration for this section came from an engineering interview I had with Twitter several years ago (that didn’t go so well!).

I create a neutral ground by asking the candidate to suggest a few of their favorite products. We then pick one that I have used. Domain knowledge is also important when hiring certain positions and this can be covered by asking the candidate to pick a product from the domain. Sometimes, if an app sounds super interesting, I then spend 3 minutes downloading the app during the interview and let the candidate give me an onboarding. I discovered the ‘Calm’ app 2 years ago in this way, and now I use it most days!

We then travel back in time to day 1, when the product did not exist. I share the idea/problem with the interviewee as an ‘angel investor’. The interviewee is the product guru and has another tech ninja Co-Founder. In the next 20 minutes, we iterate across day 1, week 1, month 1, and month 6. This helps to understand if a PM can formulate hypotheses, define requirements, prioritize them, run experiments, and iterate for product/market fit. I do not directly test the candidate for post product/market fit phase due to time limitations, but I try to cover this in Part 2.

As an interviewer, I need to pay close attention to how the candidate is approaching this section, time spent, and provide guidance along the way when needed. If I am completely convinced of a certain skill early on eg. Discovery, I ask the candidate to continue assuming the discovery is done with results. I sneak in a couple of Fermi problems along the way to understand the candidate’s ability to play with numbers and hypothesize the outcomes.

There is no right answer here, but the best candidates nail this section.

Part 4: Candidate’s time for questions (10 minutes)

Closely paying attention to the questions asked by the candidate can also reveal gaps during the interview process and provide opportunities for further improvements.

Bonus (Going over the 60 minutes)

Occasionally, I run into star candidates who are an excellent fit for the role. In such cases, I spend a few minutes pitching – explaining why the role could be a great fit for the candidate, and why it is perfect for their next big adventure!

Wrap up

At the end of the interview, I reflect for a few minutes and fill out my evaluation of the candidate’s IQ, EQ, role fit, and culture fit.


Thank you Shriram for sharing your learnings with us! Did you enjoy this article? Shriram plans to write a follow-up article focusing on interviewing Product Leaders! Watch this space.

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