Basic Product Manager interview template
There are a few bonus challenges specific to hiring PMs vs some other roles:
- Generally they are better interviewers than some roles. So if you’re calibrated to engineers, you may inflate your scores.
- There’s a lot of specialization. So someone might be a great PM for a consumer mobile product but not your enterprise consumption API.
- There’s a real element of culture-fit to the team and company. There’s probably an entire post on what “culture fit” means but there are real differences in how teams work.
That’s on top of the usual problems such as sourcing & levelling. There’s also the ever present challenge of sourcing and balancing longer interviews (where you learn more) and shorter ones (that candidates prefer). And this all assumes you have well callibrated & experienced interviewers that are willing and able to take slots with your candidates.
The key first step is defining the role. It feels like I’ve been through a dozen different versions of this, but you always need to call out the major questions:
- what are they responsible for and what does resourcing look like across the company
- what special skills this product manager needs
- what areas can be weaker or growth areas
I always have a kick-off meeting with my interview loop to make sure we don’t repeat questions and we have full coverage. But it also gets us on the same page about seniority and clarifies who is responsible for what. Usually I give each interviewer a couple of specific questions to ask but I always state the one big question I want them to ask (this forms the backbone of the review).
Hiring manager phone screen: However they get to me as a recruiter qualified candidate1 this is a pot-pourri of standard questions. Big question: does this person stand a solid chance of passing the other slots? The breakdown is about 2/3rd standard questions vs 1/3rd things specific to their resume or the role we’re filling (but mostly a variation taken from a re-usable list of questions)
On-site interviews, or sometimes “on-site” via video are done with 4 subject matter experts + me again:
- Engineering manager from the eng team that would be working with this PM covers technical ability, experience, culture fit, etc… Big question: Are you excited to have this person on your team?
- Another product manager covers all the standard aspects of the PM role: planning, sprints, story telling, KPIs etc. Ideally this person is a higher level than the role we’re hiring to help with leveling discussions but I’ve gotten good results here from any PM on any of my teams. Big question: How will this person uplevel our product management team?
- Product marketing expert to cover all the work with go-to-market teams and how the PM handles downstream teams. Big question: How well does this person understand the world outside of engineering?
- The specific subject matter expert varies by the role we’re hiring for, but I always add one person to dive deep into their skillset. This person’s specialized knowledge is valuable even if the slot is necessarily harder to calibrate. A PM who’d be working with enterprise customers might be interviewed by the enterprise sales manager whereas one working on an API might get a developer.
- And finally me again. Up until this point, everyone has hopefully been asking their standard questions and letting me know how their slots went so this slot consists of: clarification on previous slots, any questions that got missed or truncated, specific questions about this person and of course answering their questions (this is often the longest slot). Obviously my big question is hire/no-hire and levelling.
The review meeting
Because everyone has timely and useful notes in the applicant tracking system (ATS) I’m able to… j/k At this point the recruiter and I plead with most of the interviewers who don’t report to me to put something useful in the ATS and we get… inconsistent results.
As soon as possible after the interview we have a meeting to review a candidate (or if we’re lucky with timing, multiple candidates). The structure of the meeting goes is always the same:
- I review the criteria for the candidate, what we’re looking for and levelling2 but try very hard not to give any of my thoughts on this candidate
- All the other interviewers go in chronological order (we sometimes build on previous slots), when they’re done I ask them their big questions
- Me again: a lot of “what I’ve heard from you” and a little “what I heard from them” with a dash of evaluation.
- Usually it’s obvious where we’re going but I specifically announce one of: hire/no-hire/pending-more-information
A few other things can happen too:
- Sometimes we tweak the on-site questions based on what we’ve learned
- Occasionally there’s pushback on the decision but we hash it out as best we can
- Very rarely we debug how a candidate got past the phone screen and tweak that part
Naturally everyone says yes to the first offer and this part is easy :)
This isn’t an official term, but up until this point candidates go through a different process if they are applying via the web vs one my recruiter sourced vs an internal referral vs an internal transfer candidate. Starting now everyone gets treated exactly the same — even someone I’ve worked with before gets the exact same Qs. ↩
The reason I talk about leveling so much is that you can easily have a senior candidate come across as a great if the interviewer is calibrated for junior or vice versa. ↩