Product Manager Interview Questions: How to Land the Job

No matter what the size and mission of their organization, product managers must help define the vision for a product or service, understand customer needs, and ensure the team works in sync to fulfill that vision. Any product manager interview for a job will focus on the candidate’s ability to handle both the micro and the macro, the small details and the big picture.

Yael Hendry, senior recruiting partner at Logz.io, suggests that many technical product managers start out as software engineers before moving onto product. Because this is a relatively normal progression, recruiters and hiring managers may ask a candidate what interests them specifically about working on the product-management side of things.

Hendry typically wants to know product managers’ proficiency with an organization’s technology, as well as the role that self-learning plays in their continuing education. “I will ask for a candidate to give me an example of a time when they showed initiative and took the lead, and also ask them if it is more important to focus on results and tasks or people and emotions,” she said.

Here are some other common questions that pop up during the product manager interview, and how to prepare for them.

Sample Questions: Product Manager Workflow and Teamwork

  • What does your workday look like?
  • Tell me about a time when you were faced with extremely tight deadlines. How did you handle that?
  • If you were a part of a team, where do you see yourself when you compare yourself to others on your team?

Gregory Coburn, vice president of talent screening at Toptal, said that, at the start of the interview, product manager candidates can expect questions about their past experiences. They’ll also need to demonstrate their knowledge of current tech trends and how those may factor into their role.

Responses to these questions should be crafted to show the depth and breadth of the candidate’s experience, as well as their problem-solving skills. “They should also show that they are passionate about the role, and up-to-date on the latest relevant technologies that will help them, along with their teammates, do the best possible work,” he said.

Sample Questions: Practical Approaches

  • “What was your most successful product as product manager?”
  • “What are the identifiable differences between a project manager and a product manager?”
  • “What are the most exciting technology trends and why are they important?”

When faced with questions about their experience with platforms and applications, Coburn said, product managers need to demonstrate their approach to scoping the features of an application or solution while considering the costs (and any goals set by the organization).

“Also, be prepared for questions that help to uncover both their understanding of the complexity behind product integration and also how they approached a roadblock,” he added.

Sample Questions: Solving Challenges… and the Big Picture

  • “What was one of your more challenging problems to solve when integrating a new application or solution?”
  • “How do you determine if a company should build, partner with, or buy an application or solution?”
  • “What is the Gartner Magic Quadrant, and why is it important for many software vendors?”

Organizations expect product managers to effectively overcome roadblocks and challenges; come prepared with stories of how you solved crises and issues at your previous organizations. In addition, product managers should come to the interview with knowledge of the organization’s industry, technology, and applications; if you’re hired, you’ll be expected to hit the ground running.

Many hiring managers and recruiters prefer candidates with certifications that prove their management abilities, such as PMP or ITIL. That’s not required in all jobs, but candidates must show up with a narrative that demonstrates their effectiveness at managing teams and making critical decisions about strategy.

Many companies are in industries with stringent regulations, so keep an eye on those. “Product managers should be able to explain the impact of GDPR, or other similar regulations, on today’s products and services,” Coburn said.

Effectively answering questions about past work experience will illustrate how you are a leader, a collaborative team player, and always driven to achieve the end-goal with budget in mind. “Product managers must strike a balance between keeping the team as a whole engaged and productive, with delivering a quality product on time and within budget,” Coburn added.

Sample Questions: The Thorny Issues

  • “Have you ever been in a situation where your team has let you down and you’ve had to take the blame?”
  • “What is your experience with shutting down a product or service? What are the key challenges in an end-of-life (EOL) process?”
  • “Can you describe a scenario as a product manager where you failed? And what did you learn from it?”
  • “What was the hardest decision you had to make as a product manager? How did you handle it?”

Product managers will likely face questions about their toughest decisions and conundrums. You’ll want to show you can effectively juggle multiple issues at once, all while maintaining and deepening your relationships with your team and other stakeholders (soft skills are always key for product managers). When describing a tough situation, always make sure to emphasize how you adapted in the wake of it, and how you learned valuable lessons.

Hendry said he also wants to know the type of work environments in which you really thrive, and what you need to deliver your best work. “I’d also ask what the most useful criticism you ever received, was, how you handle stress and pressure at work, and the things you dislike doing,” she said.