- Your product manager is in charge of the development of your company's products.
- Preparing certain interview questions can help you find the best person for the role.
- Some questions you can ask prospective product managers are how they define a successful product and how they gather information to make their decisions.
Product managers have a distinctly important role in a company. As Ben Horowitz puts it, they are the "CEOs of product," and in most cases, product is what you're selling – without something to sell, your business is not a business.
Importance of preparing for your product manager candidate interviews
Hiring the right product manager is extremely important to the success of your project. Of course, to hire the right person, you'll need to be prepared to interview candidates. The right questions can reveal the best person for your project. It takes time to properly prepare for interviews, but failure to do so can cost you your project.
It's important to know your goals and what characteristics and expertise you are looking for. You'll also want someone who fits in with your company culture. The right product manager will keep things running smoothly and successfully.
Hiring any product manager can be a challenge in and of itself, and hiring a good one is like striking gold. To weed out the best from the rest, ask the following questions when interviewing for this integral role.
1. How do you define product success?
"Good product managers crisply define the target, the 'what' (as opposed to the 'how') and manage the delivery of the 'what.' Bad product managers feel best about themselves when they figure out the 'how.'" – Ben Horowitz
Horowitz's definition of a successful product manager is the gold standard. Good product managers are fully aware of their impact on product and the company at large, and they own that. It's about the "what," not the "how."
2. What is the most effective way to involve your customer in product direction?
If they have a process for pulling customer insights, and mention market research tools and how they have used them in the past, they most likely understand that generating customer feedback is important to inspire good products.
3. What methods do you use to get the info you need to make decisions?
One of the most important things that a product manager does is listen to needs of stakeholders and understand the motivation behind those needs. If that person doesn't have a well-thought-out process for collecting information to make good decisions, they will never be successful in the role. Having a predetermined information-gathering process also demonstrates their organizational and processing skills, which are paramount.
4. What is one thing you would change on your favorite product and why?
There's no "right" answer for this one, but the answer should show how detailed and analytical they are.
5. What role does your competitor or market have in driving product decisions?
Just because competitors have it doesn't mean it's a good idea. A product manager who obsesses about your competitors' features will permanently deliver yesterday's technology tomorrow, and that is a really bad idea. Staying abreast of market shifts and evaluating features and products are important parts of the role. [Read related article: Hiring? 15 Interview Questions to Ask a Software Engineer]
6. If you were given two products to build from scratch, but only had the time and resources to build one, how would you decide which to build?
Product strategy means saying no from time to time. Product managers should prioritize the project that's likely to generate 80% of the impact and forecast what that impact is, as well as the SWAG cost in resources, money and other scarce resources before they decide to build.
This framework forces a product manager to think through themes, create a plan, allocate resources, eliminate the need to prioritize different projects against each other, and model or forecast the impact.
7. Tell me about your current or previous role on your team. Who else did you work with, and how did you work with them?
Good product managers will talk about working with analysts, UX designers and engineers (both the front and back end). Listen for words that indicate they follow a regular and flexible feedback loop with all parties.
8. What are the difficulties in writing direction for engineers?
Many product managers can be too prescriptive in how things are done, not allowing for flexibility as development highlights difficult areas of execution along the way. Good product managers know how to make concessions in certain areas that strike the right balance between keeping a reasonable development time and covering the core needs of the user. They should write product specifications with this flexibility in mind.
9. Tell me about recent product or feature launches and how you determined their success or failure.
A good product manager understands the problem they are trying to solve before they solve it. They identify clear, data-driven metrics for success and failure before the work begins and, as such, should be able to tell you clearly if the launch was a success or a failure.
10. Tell me about detailed documentation projects you've done in the past.
Pay attention to how detailed their response is and their aptitude for creating robust specs.
Bonus question: What is the most impactful thing you've read on product management?
If they mention any of these books or articles, you are in good company:
- The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz
- "Good Product Manager, Bad Product Manager" by Ben Horowitz and David Weiden
- The Innovator's Dilemma or The Innovator's Solution by Clayton M. Christensen
- "How to Get Startup Ideas" or "Do Things That Don't Scale" by Paul Graham of Y Combinator
- "Leading Cross-Functional Teams", "How to Hire a Product Manager" or "How to Work With Software Engineers" by Ken Norton of Google Ventures
- "Software Inventory" by Joel Spolsky, CEO of Stack Overflow and Fog Creek Software
- "Get One Thing Right" by Andy Dunn, CEO of Bonobos