PM Interview Prep: what worked for me
After almost five years at Amazon, I recently moved to Google as a Product Manager. I greatly respect and admire both companies, and I have been fortunate enough to be part of both. When I announced my transition, folks started reaching out to me to understand how they could and should prepare for PM interviews (independent of the company they are choosing to interview with). In that spirit, I decided to put together this blog post to talk about my journey, process, and resources I consulted. This guidance is not an exhaustive list of what you can do to prepare, nor is it specific to Google, nor is it a “cheat sheet”; it is simply a recount of what worked for me as I interviewed at different companies that ultimately landed me multiple offers. I would encourage you to take what works for you and add your own style to it. After all, there is no single right answer in your journey to transition to another company as a Product Manager.
A note on recruiters and companies: they want you to succeed
Before I go down the list of things I did to prepare, it’s super important for you to realize that recruiters and companies want you to succeed. Think about the time, money, and other resources companies invest in getting the best talent they can to further their mission, grow and succeed. It is in their best interest that you prepare and succeed at your interview and that both you and them find what both parties are looking for. I say this because sometimes folks are fearful when going into interviews, especially if it’s at a company they really want to be a part of.
Recruiters are your best partners in understanding what the company is looking for and what you should do to prepare. When I interviewed (not just at Google), recruiters shared as many resources as they could with me, including interview preparation booklets, links, testimonies from current employees, and other publicly available resources. This is not to say that they will give you the answers to the interview questions. At the end of the day, they want to make sure they are hiring the right person — so, giving candidates the right resources empowers them to succeed when they have the right knowledge, experience, and culture to match what they are looking for. Having said that, this is my journey:
I wanted to be very intentional about my process. After all, switching companies (at least in my view) should not be taken lightly, as it may mean speeding up or down your career growth. With that said, once I was convinced I wanted to make a move, I asked for 6 weeks to study and prepare. In my case, I had not interviewed for almost five years, so I knew I needed to brush up on those skills. Note that interviewing skills are very different from on-the-job skills; interviewing is a reflection of your work, but it’s still a separate skill set that I wanted to brush up on.
Talking to the company’s current Product Managers
To me, it wasn’t just about nailing the interview. It was also about finding the right match for me in terms of company values, benefits, and areas that appealed to my own career growth. So, I reached out to current Product Managers to understand how they feel about the company, and how they are growing. This was also very helpful to understand how relationships work, which gave me the right sense for behavioral interviews.
Product Strategy, Design & Metrics
At the end of the day, the company wants to gauge the way you think. You will be responsible for setting the product vision and direction, and so your strategic and tactical skills as a Product Manager are paramount. There are a lot of different frameworks out there, but it’s not about having a cookie-cutter answer to a question — you have to think. As an interviewer, it’s super obvious when the candidate is just thinking inside of a box. In my case, I studied different frameworks to understand how to convey my message, but I still needed to fill it with my content and my thought process. Two thought leaders and their frameworks helped me shape my communication style: Dianna Yau, and Diego Granados.
Something that will give some Product Managers some acid reflux is technical interviews, especially if they don’t have a technical background (e.g., a Computer Science degree). Fear not, you do not have to be an engineer to be a successful Product Manager (unless the job is very specialized and requires you to), but you do have to speak their language. This doesn’t mean that you need to learn to code; it means that you need to understand how things work. An example of this would be understanding software architecture. I learned a great deal about software architecture on the job (thanks to my wonderful team at answering a bunch of my questions, and me sitting down to understand our systems), and through free online courses. Two courses that helped me: Web Application and Software Architecture 101 by Educative, and Skiplevel.co.
Practice, practice, practice. During my first two weeks of preparation, I focused on understanding the basics of what was required and how I could convey my message. After that, I did 2–3 mock interviews a week. Every time, I would get feedback that would help me modify my own framework, and understand how I could do better. Offering feedback to others was also very useful to put myself in the shoes of the interviewer. To secure mock interviews, I practiced with friends who are PMs as well, paid a tryexponent.com subscription (they have twice-a-day random mock interview matching), and joined a couple of Slack PM communities to schedule mocks (including Lewis Lin’s community).
Coaches and Mentors
Even though mock interviews helped me practice, I wanted to make sure I have everything covered. A peer mock interviewer is likely not an expert, as they are also learning just as you are. So, I hired coaches (especially for the technical part), to give me deeper feedback on what I needed to keep in mind. Try exponent has a great resource to hire coaches, but there are plenty of others available. I also kept checking in with my Mentors on how I could do better or think about my journey. Not to tout my own horn, but I talk in detail about driving effective Mentoring relationships in my book “Mentorship: How to Get a Mentor, Become a Mentor, and Drive an Effective Mentoring Relationship.” It is meant to be a quick, actionable guide, so no worries about a lengthy book to figure this out.
This part was especially interesting to me. I’m a bookworm, I read ~70–80 books a year, so to me, this was the most fascinating part of the process. This is a non-exhaustive list of books I read:
- Cracking the PM Interview by Jackie Bavaro
- Cracking the PM Career by Jackie Bavaro
- Inspired by Marty Cagan
- Empowered by Marty Cagan
- Sprint by Jake Knapp
- Measure What Matters by John Doerr
- Tubes by Andre Blum
- AWS by George Prestonship
I hope this guide is useful to you. If you have any other tips, feel free to reach out and we can help our community prepare for their next career move. Follow me on Twitter, @rodelmo for more Product talk.