Product Manager Interviews- Evaluating Fit and Saying No
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
- Current PMs looking for their 2nd+ jobs in Product - you can afford to be more selective
- 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 role can be as much about the team-PM and industry-PM 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 realizing1
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?
- Are they good at their jobs? This is a tough question to ask but one very worth asking. If you sign on to this team, how will you know that your Designer has done the User Research “well”? How will you know if they have diverged/converged (or whatever Design Methodology™ you prefer) sufficiently? How will you know if the Engineers’ estimates are accurate? What quality bar of “shipped code” are they using for their estimates? Does it match your quality bar?
- Does the team already have strong communication patterns built in? If this team doesn’t have that then you’re going to spend the first 3 months (at least) building this into the team.
- If they do have strong communication patterns, are those compatible with yours? Or are they orthogonal (e.g. Amazon’s writing-first communication pattern is very opinionated, and might be tough for a PM who is accustomed to a culture where the PRD is the only canonical document)
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.
- Do they have enough free time to be a quality sounding board for your product bets?
- Will they push you to hone your Product Sense? If so, how?
What is the reputation of the Product team at large?
- What’s their relationship with their closest siblings, Design and Engineering?
- How about first cousins like Sales, Support, and Marketing? Yours is an inherently cross-functional role, and you need to be aware of prior beefs if you’re going to collaborate
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.
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.