Whether you’re the owner of a start-up building a new software product from scratch or an established business with several successful launches under its belt, chances are you’ll need a product manager. This is the person who will oversee every step of your project—from ideation to delivery to analytics—altering the plan along the way to keep your project on track. Knowing how to interview a product manager will help you find the right person for the job. While the criterion for hiring a product manager is largely subjective—and varies from business to business—there are certain topics you’ll want to explore during the job interview. Finding a qualified person to manage your product all the way to market is largely a matter of asking questions that provide insight into the mindset and skills of the person you are interviewing. Breaking your questions down into categories will make the process easier, as it will keep you organized and eliminate the possibility that you forget to ask something critical of your potential hire. Here is a sampling of main categories and questions you can use and alter, relative to your objectives.
What is a product manager?
This might seem like a silly question to ask a person vying for this position at your company, but people sometimes apply for jobs they aren’t qualified for simply because they need to work. Ascertaining right off the bat that your candidate has a firm understanding of what a product manager does will give you an idea of their readiness to take on this role. If the answer to this question is unsatisfactory, you might take the opportunity to explain what you expect from your product manager. If the answer is particularly lacking, you may even decide to end the interview early.
Why do you want to be a product manager at this company? And how do you expect it to help you achieve a larger goal?
Asking these questions will help you weed out interviewees who aren’t in it for the long haul. While almost no one stays at a company for years on end anymore, some might view this job opportunity as a jumping-off point to something or somewhere else. The last employee you want to hire is one who intends to fill the position only briefly. A short stint is not worth the investment of time and money you’ll spend on the new hire during that time.
What experience or related experience do you have in the area of product management?
When it comes to filling any job, it can be tough to find every quality you’re looking for in just one person. In all likelihood, not everyone applying for your job opening will have actively been a product manager, but they may have experience in a related field. For example, maybe they have experience in SaaS development or they’ve worked in product design. Any background they have relevant to product management could give them a leg up over other candidates and should be given some serious weight when making your hiring decision.
What is a project you’ve worked on that you’re particularly proud of?
Ask for specifics here, including what their role was and what the outcome of the project was, to get an idea of any successes your interviewee has had. A job candidate who played an instrumental role in a successful product launch may benefit your company. Conversely, if they can’t think of a thing, you might find their real-life experience insufficient for your needs.
Can you name a time you failed as a product manager and explain why that happened?
Obviously, this line of questioning is for those with previous product manager experience. Still, you could replace “as a product manager” with “at your job” if it does not apply to the applicant sitting before you. The answer will reflect how accountable they feel they are for their work and their capacity to learn from their mistakes.
Was there a circumstance in which you found it difficult to get agreement from your team, and what did you do to resolve it?
These questions speak to collaborating prowess and strategic thinking. The ability to get buy-in from all parties involved (engineers, data managers, developers, designers, etc.) on what path to take for a given product is an essential skill for a product manager. What a job candidate says here will tell you a lot about their ability to think critically and creatively. The answers may even impress you (cross fingers).
What’s something you would change about one of your favorite products if you could?
With this, you can hone in on what your interviewee finds important in a product. Do they focus on usability, or are they fixated on how a product looks? Is longevity something they think about, or are they more concerned about improving the technology? There may be no wrong or right answer here, but it will reveal the attributes the job candidate cares about most, and how their mindset might fit your objectives. It will also let you know if they can view something they favor in critical terms by acknowledging its flaws.
How do you know what a customer wants? And how will you find out what you don’t already know?
These are good questions, as they measure the ability of the applicant to perform adequate research toward the end goal. Make sure any applicant you’re considering knows the ins and outs of market research, which is key to any successful product launch. Their answers will inform you on how central this is to their product management process and their understanding of the various marketing techniques (for example, quantitative vs. qualitative) for gathering information. An awareness of the different approaches and a willingness to implement any or all of them is a must.
Turning the Tables
Do you have any questions for me?
Be sure to ask your job interviewees if they have any questions for you when you’re done asking them questions. Your answers to their questions may be deciding factors in whether or not they even want to work for your company. The types of questions they ask may also influence your decision to offer them the job. For example, a curious candidate might ask questions about the dynamics between the product team and others involved, such as engineering or UX, and any challenges that they have had to overcome in the past. This would illustrate an interest in getting to know the detailed workings of your operations. However, if a job candidate has no questions for you (or only ones about pay and benefits), that could indicate disinterest in the actual role they would be filling, which would most certainly be a deal-breaker.
Evaluating Your Candidates After the Interview
If you already have other members of your product team assembled, consider bringing them into the interview room with you and making them a part of the hiring decision. Since each member can bring a unique perspective based on their role, collaborating on interviews could give you some insight into a particular candidate that you might not otherwise think of. Many IT recruiters find it easier to create pre-planned rubrics for measuring the weight of each answer their candidates give during product manager job interviews. You’ll have to decide how to score depending on your priorities, but keep the scoring consistent across all applicants. This will remove as much subjectivity from the hiring process as possible.
Now that you know how to interview a product manager, you can find the best person for the job. You will want to personalize these guidelines to match your unique circumstances. Rearrange the questions according to your priorities, and add any others that are of value to you. Once you finish, you’ll have a standard template to work from when you conduct interviews. Just don’t be afraid to mix things up. A good product manager has to switch gears quickly and often, and this will test how well they can think on their feet!