Alex's Place

Product Manager Interviews- Evaluating Fit and Saying No

Jul 29, 2020

Note- This article is meant for prospective PMs who are interviewing for PM positions. The advice herein depends on whether you’re already a PM or looking to become a PM

  1. Current PMs looking for their 2nd+ jobs in Product - you can afford to be more selective
  2. New PMs looking for their 1st Product job - unfortunately, you’ll need to take what you can get. The first Product job is the hardest to get

Surprise: Success in the Product is as much about the team and industry fit as your own individual skill, drive, and network

There are absolutely positions where you are set up to 90% fail as a PM, and the art of this is figuring out how to avoid those positions, because accepting an ill-fitting role can backfire and make your life miserable.

It may be because the Product discipline is immature at this company, meaning that the role Product plays in successful (or otherwise) launches is unclear.

Product leadership might be weak, meaning that Product gets dumped with tasks that fall through the cracks without anybody realizing Note: this can and does happen, even in healthy Product teams, with the main difference being that it is loudly and publicly accepted, and the requisite change to scope is made legible to all stakeholders

This is analogous to validating the Market while you’re evaluating your Product: if it’s a failing market, you absolutely want to pivot out of there.

Questions to ask while you’re interviewing

What Designers and Engineers will you be working with?

Who’s your manager?

In a company with a large Product org, your manager will be one of many VPs/”Heads of”/Directors. Their political pull, their reputation, their ability to defend you will directly impact your ability to get people to trust your input. Your manager is also your coach, and their investment in you is vital if you want to grow in the Product discipline.

What is the reputation of the Product team at large?

Lastly, view this as a Product Market Fit evaluation

One of the biggest Anti-Patterns in Product is thinking you can solve everyone’s problem.

You cannot. You should not!

Let another company come in and solve the use cases you left on the table. Hopefully you did your job right and your company correctly solves the problem that represents the most sustainable profit.

The core muscle of a PM is knowing how to find fit. Practice it when you’re job hunting, because a bad fit can lead to burnout.

Don’t be afraid to pass on a situation that won’t work out well for either party.

After all, most of Product is learning how to say no.

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