Whether it’s an established billion-dollar enterprise or an ambitious start-up, one of the most important roles in any business is that of a product manager.
When you think of a manager, you probably imagine someone monitoring the performance of a team and handling any issues that arise in the process. But the reality is never so simple. The growing field of product management is an intricate blend of delegating, liaising, expediting, realizing, communicating, achieving, and much more. Managers are naturally versatile—and they need to be—since they wear many hats in a given day, and even at the same time.
If you’re interviewing for this high-level role, you’ll have to showcase all of those skills in a 30-minute conversation. We’re going to help you prepare with some common product manager interview questions so you know exactly what to expect, and ultimately get the job offer.
What Is a Product Manager?
A product manager is a professional who identifies customer needs, aligns them with an organization’s overall business objectives, and manages the launch or upgrade of products to achieve them. Product managers are responsible for the development of products for an organization. They are the brains behind the business strategy of a product, whether physical or digital.
Product managers are the ones who specify a product’s functional requirements and generally manage the launch of specific features. They bring together the work done by other professionals like software engineers, data scientists, and product designers—and are ultimately responsible for the business success of a product.
What Does a Product Manager Do?
A product manager looks at various aspects of a product, such as the target audience, its competition, and how well the product aligns with the company's business model. The scope of a product manager’s role differs greatly from one organization to the next, depending upon several factors. While some product managers may be required to manage one or more product lines, others may manage the components or features of a single product in a large company.
In the financial services industry, for example, a product manager will manage credit card portfolios, customer accounts, and their corresponding profit and loss. They’re also responsible for designing the business development strategy for a particular service.
Getting Interviewed for a Product Manager Role
If you’re already on the path to becoming a product manager and are just waiting for a chance to test your mettle, it’s a great idea to start prepping for a job interview. Without a doubt, it’s one of the most critical phases of the hiring process. And with the right preparation, you’ll be able to present a compelling case as to why they should hire you—which will open up new possibilities on your product management journey.
To help you get your head in the game, we’ve put together a list of the most important questions you’re likely to be asked during the interview. If you’re looking to ace a product management interview, be sure to review these questions ahead of the big day.
1. What does a product manager do?
Because there’s so much variation between job descriptions for product managers, interviewers often ask this question to work out your expectations. This helps determine whether you’re likely to be the right fit for the role and won’t be frustrated or disappointed when you start working. When you answer this question, make sure you mention that the role of a product manager may differ from one organization to the next. Then use this as an opportunity to share your understanding of the job you’re applying for.
2. What are the characteristics of a well-designed product?
This is likely to be one of the first questions you’ll encounter in a product manager interview. Before managing and developing a product, it’s essential for you to understand the characteristics of a well-designed product. There are countless variations of the appropriate answer, depending upon the industry and the product—but it’s generally agreed that a well-designed product should be simple and user-centric. Start with this principle and elaborate to suit the product and industry niche. You could also mention features like subtle design interface, innovation and inclusivity.
This question could get any product manager talking for a while, but try to keep your answer clear and concise.
3. How would you describe our product to someone?
As any product manager knows, an effective product description communicates relevant information about the product from a user’s perspective. The most important thing is to first identify the target audience of the product, and then describe the product’s innovation, context, and background—incorporating the users’ perspective. You should also emphasize the product’s vision and explain how the user would benefit from the product.
With this question, the interviewer effectively gauges your professional approach towards your work - and also how much of your homework you did before the interview. Pretend you’ve already been hired as their product manager, and describe their product as the clear front-runner. Include details about how their solution is different from their competitors’, and the problem it solves.
4. How would you prioritize product development while simultaneously managing two separate tasks?
As a product manager, you’ll be expected to juggle multiple roles and responsibilities. The first measure of your success will be your ability to prioritize, and the second will be your completion of each task. And you’ll be evaluated strictly in each area. You’ll be expected to be neither a “jack of all trades” or a “master of one”—a product manager is expected to be both. You’ve got to be the “master of all trades”.
You should respond by saying you’d separate the two tasks and prioritize the most important by measure of urgency, time consumption, and return on investment (ROI). Then discuss how you’d adopt a systematic process for assigning time and resources for the product development at hand, clearing any backlogs first.
5. Which is your favorite product by [well-known brand]? Do you think it can be improved?
This is one of the most common product manager interview questions, so it’s worth it to perfect your answer. Interviewers will often ask this question to assess your product awareness. This gives them an idea about your general knowledge of the products available in the market and your familiarity with their features and functions.
If you’re applying for the position of a product manager for a cell phone company, for example, they might ask you, “which is your favorite Apple phone? How would you improve it?” The best way to answer a question like this is to begin with a brief introduction of your favorite product, then provide a detailed description of the following three key aspects:
- Use – Discuss the purpose and utility of the product and how it helps in mitigating prevalent or existing issues.
- Efficiency – How the product facilitates its job, whether it’s increasing comfort, reducing time, or maintaining consistency in performance.
- Innovation – Talk about the features or properties of your favorite product that make it unique. This might include design aesthetics, functionality or unique features that the competition doesn’t provide.
6. Are you aware of our competitors? How do you think our product compares?
Even for a seasoned product manager, this one can be tricky. To your interviewer, it’ll be a fairly decisive reflection of your market awareness. It’s not the same as the previous question either—your favorite brand may not be a competitor to the company you’re interviewing for.
Through this question, interviewers want to assess your knowledge of their competitors, specifically from a product manager’s perspective. Equally importantly, they’re interested in hearing your perspective on the flaws in their products to evaluate your understanding of the company.
Don’t be hesitant to list a few flaws. You’re not going to damage their impression of you by discussing the areas where you think they could improve. As long as you’re logical and rational, you’ll be making great progress in your interview.
To prepare for this question, you should begin your research well ahead of the interview and make sure you identify the company’s market competition. The most effective way is to use their products yourself to get an insight into their strengths and weaknesses from a user’s perspective.
7. How do you communicate your product strategy?
The interviewer may ask this question to identify the methods and tools you use to get the job done. They may also want to gauge your soft skills, which are key for any successful product manager.
Do you use consensus-building tactics or do you merely broadcast your vision? Do you use data to support your plan? In your response, talk about your previous product manager experience, and how you held one-on-one discussions with key stakeholders. If you prefer a large public forum to communicate your strategy, explain why. Reference how you might build a roadmap to provide a planned timeline. The interviewer is likely to be impressed if your answer addresses each of these underlying questions.
Getting Hired as a Product Manager
Acing your product manager interview will be a breeze if you review each of the above questions and rehearse your responses. If you need further inspiration, read more on our product management blog.