Cracking The PM Interview

Gayle Laakmann McDowell (Google, CareerCup), Jackie Bavaro (Asana): Cracking the PM Interview: How to Land a Product Manager Job in Technology ISBN:0984782818. Note this isn't the same as becoming a good product manager.


Intro Chapter 1

Product management is a strange role.

I (Gayle) come from a deep engineering background,

If you have suggestions, feedback, questions or just want to say “hi,” don’t hesitate to drop us a note:

The Product Manager Role Chapter 2

Some people will say that the product manager (sometimes called the program manager or project manager) is like a mini-CEO of their product.

product managers don’t have direct authority over the people on their team.

get to sit at the intersection of technology, business, and design.

Functions of a PM

Research & Plan, Design, Implement & Test, and Release.

Some companies or teams split the product manager role across two people: the more business-focused person and the more engineering-focused person. When companies make this split, they call the engineering-focused person the technical program manager or technical product manager (TPM), and they call the business-focused person the product manager (PM).

Research & Planning

creating or proposing a roadmap.

also the time when the PM starts defining success.


Product design does not just mean user interface (UI) design or drawing out what the product will look like. Product design is defining the features and functionality of the product.

On some teams, especially shipped software (as opposed to online software) teams at Microsoft, the PM will write out a detailed functional specification

The spec will then spend weeks being inspected, reviewed, and iterated on

Other teams have much looser specs and a more rapid design process.

And for some teams, especially at Apple, the design is done mostly by a dedicated design team with minimal input from the PM.

Implement & Test

Sometimes, implementation of a feature will turn out to be harder than anticipated, and the PM will look for ways to change the feature to make it easier to implement.

gathering feedback and reporting bugs on the early versions

internal “dogfooding.”

Another way to find out if a product will work before it’s launched is through usability studies.

running experiments

Prioritization is one of the product manager’s most important functions at this point;


How the type of product affects the PM job

Shipped Software

PMs who are good at project management and have good communication skills do well working on shipped software.

Online Software In online software, being scrappy is very important.

Most online-software teams run A/B tests

Consumer Products

On a consumer facing product, the engineers will often have lots of product ideas and won’t rely as much on the product manager to come up with features and design. PMs can often act like shepherds and editors,

Data-driven PMs can do very well working on consumer products because they’re able to make a strong case for their proposals,

B2B Products

PMs who like doing customer research and market analysis could enjoy working on B2B products.

Early Stage Products


PMs focus on cutting non-essential features to strip the product down to just the essentials.

Mature Products

most of the work will be iterating

very important to make sure you don’t get stuck making small incremental improvements.

One of the biggest advantages of working on a mature product is that you already have a huge user base. Every improvement you make will be multiplied to make a very big impact. On the other hand, many companies with mature products become risk averse and won’t make daring changes.

Top Myths about Product Management

1. Product Managers are Project Managers.

2. Product Managers are in Marketing.

3. You can’t become a product manager right out of college.

4. Product Managers just write specs.

5. Product managers just set up meetings.

6. PMs should build exactly what the customers ask for.

7. PMs set the dates.

8. Product Managers are the boss.

9. Ideas are more important than execution.

Many different people on a team can come up with lots of great ideas, but the details are usually the hard part. As a PM, it’s important to take broad ideas and make them tangible and actionable.

10. You can say “That’s not my job.”

Project Managers and Program Managers

Note: Microsoft has a role called Program Manager that is different from the Program Manager role at most other software companies, and is similar to the Product Manager role described earlier. There are many roles that are related to product management, and the lines between the roles can be blurry.

The Job of a Project Manager

Companies Chapter 3

How the PM Role Varies

We talked to PMs from Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and numerous startups

Transparency Some companies, such as Google, Facebook, and Yahoo, are very transparent, with lots of visibility into what other teams are working on. Others, such as Apple and Amazon, are more siloed, with each team focused on their own work.

Ratio of PMs to Engineers

Microsoft has many PMs, with the ratio in some teams as high as 1:3. At other companies, a ratio of 1:10 is more common. Google and Twitter are known for having very few PMs per engineer.

At a company with lots of PMs, there is a lot of collaborative work and there are many chances to learn from people with more experience. At a company with few PMs, there is a greater chance for ownership of a large area and for independent work.

Product Strategy

Google, Facebook, Yahoo, and Amazon, product managers are deeply involved in product strategy,

at Microsoft and Apple, the strategy tends to come from the top down,


companies like Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Facebook, there’s a lightheartedness during the work day.

the other hand, some companies, such as Apple and Amazon, have a culture where employees are proud of how hard they work.

they recruit Amazon prefers MBAs for the product manager role and doesn’t consider a technical background to be critical.

is the most technical of the group, requiring that all product managers be technical.

Google PMs have MBAs, but Google places more emphasis on master’s degrees or PhDs.

Microsoft hires both new college graduates and experienced hires for the Program Manager role and prefers a technical background,


Google’s structure reflects its startup roots. Google is passionate about innovation and really values a culture where great ideas can become reality. Google’s vision comes from the bottom up, and teams are often engineering driven. Product managers focus on strategy, analysis, and facilitation of the engineering team.

Google looks for entrepreneurial self-motivated people who love technology. Candidates with MBAs or more than four years of experience join as product managers, while those with fewer than four years of experience apply to be associate product managers (APMs).

balance will vary a lot across products

Search team tends to be very research driven,

For advertiser-facing teams, PMs gather customer requirements and communicate those needs to the rest of the team. On teams like Google Plus, designers are central to the team, while developer-facing teams might not have a designer at all. PMs at Google work independently. PMs join a team, and it’s up to the individual PMs and their teams to decide what they’re going to build. Often, a PM’s first project at Google is to figure out what they should be working on.

Google strongly values analytical skills in its PMs, since data analysis can be a big part of a PM’s job. PMs frequently look through the usage logs to come up with ideas for new projects in the Search and Ads divisions.

A big part of the PM job at Google is getting projects in shape for launch.

Many projects go through multiple rounds of iteration before getting a final approval.


PM serves as a business analyst, a project manager, and a creative force.

Teams are frequently PM-driven,

Microsoft looks for program managers who are big-picture thinkers, who can solve problems, and who can get stuff done.

Microsoft has two roles related to program management that are usually filled by people with MBAs: product managers and product planners. Product managers at Microsoft are on the marketing team, identifying market opportunities and developing strategies for moving on those opportunities, focused on the current release. Product planners are looking further

As a new PM at Microsoft, you’ll be put in charge of feature areas that work with the team’s vision, and you will be given a lot of freedom and responsibility to make those parts of the product great. As you prove yourself on your early teams, you’re given more and more responsibility. The core feature team at Microsoft includes a developer, a program manager, and a tester.

Together the core feature team, led by the PM, decides what to build. On many teams, the PM starts by writing a one-page “spec”—a high-level description of the goals and use cases. After reviewing the one-page spec with other program managers on the product, the PM may expand the one-page spec into a detailed spec that describes exactly how the feature will work, from high-level flows down to the text of the error messages.

dogfooding (trying early builds of the software internally) becomes very important.


The product direction is tightly controlled by the executive team and designers, while the rest of the company executes that vision like a well-oiled machine.

While many companies take pride in supporting a healthy work/life balance, Apple looks for people so passionate about the end product that it is their life.


There are relatively few product managers; many teams start without a product manager, only bringing one in after the need is obvious.

Facebook looks for highly technical and entrepreneurial PMs. At Facebook, all product managers are expected to code (or at least learn the basics)

PMs will often code up initial prototypes of their product on their own.


Often, the founder or CEO of the company will be brought on as a product manager.

PMs will notice an area that needs attention and put together a storyboard and proposal for what they want to build, including the expected outcome.

Then, the team will build a prototype to test in a small market and see if the expected outcome happens. If all goes well, things go into motion. The PM will review the proposal with Mark Zuckerberg


Amazon’s Leadership Principles play a real role both in hiring and in day-to-day work.

teams that focus on audiences

Product managers are the product owners. They focus on the vision of a product. Amazon prefers MBAs for the product manager role and will hire people right out of business school. Unlike many other companies, Amazon does not require PMs to have a technical background. Technical program managers

Program managers are responsible for the project management of non-technical projects,

Product managers own the vision and roadmap for their team.

When a PM comes up with an idea, he puts together a business case in a memo, also called a narrative. This document will cover the details of the recommendation and analysis that supports it, especially including numbers about the impact and rationale.

After initial rounds of revisions and redlines, the proposal is then shared with upper management in a meeting that starts with everyone silently reading the document at the same time.

key is precision in drawing a line from inputs to expected outcomes.


PMs at Yahoo generally have a CS degree, although it’s not required.

Teams at Yahoo are often organized into a trio of engineer, product manager, and designer, with one person serving as the group lead. The group lead is oftentimes a product manager.

Most Yahoo PMs are very technical, and PMs are well respected within the company.


Twitter hires people who are passionate about Twitter. They look for people who love the product, the company, or the mission.

Product managers usually work on customer-facing teams. Technical program managers usually work on platform or infrastructure initiatives,

The PM role includes more product design, while the TPM role involves more project management.

For the product manager role, Twitter looks for people with a single-minded focus on the user and who are flexible enough to handle the fast pace. Because Twitter has relatively few PMs per engineer, they usually hire more experienced candidates who can keep up with the work.

PMs are involved in concepts and roadmapping as well as finding bugs, prioritizing features, executing on current projects, and thinking about the future.

Ideas at Twitter come from all over the company: management, PMs, engineers, designers, and people in other roles like user services. One way Twitter supports this is with a quarterly hack week where people can work on whatever they want as long as it’s related to Twitter.


One of the best ways to get signal on the culture at a startup is to look at where the founders, PMs, and early employees came from. Since product management doesn’t have a single, well-known definition, teams generally bring along the definition that they learned from their past companies.

They’ll want to hear a much more specific story about why you’re interested in their space.

making a strong impression with your vision for the future of their industry can help you.

Referrals are important at all companies, but especially so at startups because they are less likely to want to take a risk.

The big difference in being a PM at a startup comes from the scale. Since startups don’t have large management structures, the PMs naturally become important leaders for the company.

many roles that exist at a big company might not exist at a startup, so the PM might need to take on tasks like customer support, user research, data analysis, or sales until the company grows larger.


The product team has PMs with backgrounds at Facebook, Google, and Microsoft.


The PMs at Foursquare come predominantly from Google.

When you’re 30 people, individual OKRs [Objectives and Key Results] are superfluous;

started using team-level OKRs

Compared to Google, we actually write more specs. I think it’s because projects move so much faster here. It means we need to quickly and early on work through the biggest and most contentious problems; we don’t have time for those to pop up later and cause delays. Specs aren’t meant to be comprehensive guides for how to build every piece of a feature. Instead, they’re meant to document the non-obvious decisions the team makes so people can reference back to it later. Dropbox

The product team includes PMs from Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Zynga, and several were startup founders prior to joining Dropbox.

We look for PMs with a technical background, exceptional product instincts, and an eye for detail. Arash, our founder, will notice if a product detail is even one pixel off, so we expect our PMs to really ‘sweat the details.’


The product team’s experience runs the gamut of investment banking, management consulting, startups, and working at larger companies such as Amazon and Google.

we look across the whole system from what it takes to find you a car to helping our drivers build their businesses.


At Airbnb, product managers are called producers,

Getting the Right Experience Chapter 4

smart people who get stuff done.

In many ways, it’s easier to get into product management as a new grad than as an experienced candidate.

If you’re a current student

Major in computer science, or at least get a minor in computer science or a closely related field.

Pick up a double major, especially in a field like economics or business.

Take group project courses.

Start a side project.

Making the Most of Career Fairs If you don’t look like a traditional PM candidate, career fairs can be a great way for you to get your foot in the door, especially at smaller companies.

Arjun, who got an MBA after starting as a PM at Microsoft, decided to go to business school when he noticed that well-designed products didn’t always become market winners. “I saw that good design isn’t enough,”

LinkedIn is one of the most valuable sites to focus on for recruiting. One way to optimize your profile is to look at PMs with jobs you’re interested in and see what their profiles look like and how they stood out.

Current PMs

Why Technical Experience Matters

Here’s the simple answer: many people without a background in computer science struggle to form a strong working relationship with engineers.

Transitioning from Engineer to Product Manager

Customer Focus

relentlessly thinking about the target audience, their hopes and dreams, their needs, and how they’re different from you and the other people at your company.

Writing story-like user scenarios for the features you’re building is another way to develop customer focus.

Think Big

As an engineer, you’re probably very focused on what is possible to build. For most of your career, you’ve needed to lower other people’s unrealistic expectations. As a product manager, you need to let go of that instinct and allow yourself to envision a world where you’ve made the impossible happen.

you often need to rally the troops and build up some excitement. A spreadsheet with compelling metrics may not open as many doors as a statement like “I’ve looked at all of the numbers and I really believe this is the bet we need to make.”

The more certain you are of the right outcome, the more persuasively you can speak and the more credibility you’re putting on the table. If you end up being right, you gain credibility and can convince the team of bigger things in the future.

Be prepared for some unexpected ways that the PM role is different than Engineering

You become a focus point for criticism

Look for openings on your team

Find a specialized PM role in your area of expertise

Go to Business School

Transitioning from Designer to Product Manager

Practice Prioritization

Sharpen Your Analytical Skills

Transitioning from Customer Support

Transitioning from Other Roles

Use Your Network

What Makes a Good Side Project?

Be prepared to talk about how you would improve the project if you were to continue working on it, why you made the choices that you did, and how it was and wasn’t successful.

Career Advancement Chapter 5

Tips and Tricks for Career Advancement

Ship great products

Get some launches under your belt

Become the expert

Find teams where you can pick up new skills

Pick the company where you’ll learn the most

Choose a growing company

Find a manager who believes in you

Focus on your own efficiency.

Work on something that’s important to your team and the company.

Define and measure success.

Don’t let your team do unimportant work.

consider suggesting to your manager that the team be shut down

Don’t just do what’s asked of you. Get the job done.

Those documents aren’t your job; they’re just the tools you use to get results.

Find a mentor (or mentors).

Build credibility.

Q & A: Fernando Delgado, Sr. Director, Product Management at Yahoo

It’s pretty obvious to me that, in big companies, the only way to make big jumps is to jump to another one.

stay a good few years before you make those jumps. What were some of the key breakthrough moments in your career? When I went to work on Google Maps in Zurich.

There were some ideas and frameworks that were working well on web search, but they weren’t being used much in Maps yet. That meant that I could bring in some of the lessons from web search to Maps—some of the things that we knew worked.

I’ve been in projects where I felt like I could not get past that tipping point. The decision at that point was to move on to a new project. On the Android Market team, there were a lot of difficulties in terms of strong opinionated leadership, but no single clear leader.

Another tip for more senior PMs: Figure out your own framework and principles for how you make decisions, and communicate that as often as you can.

Make it clear to the people around you why you’re making a particular decision so they see that you’re consistent with your decisions.

Q & A: Ashley Carroll, Senior Director of Product Management, DocuSign

Following the Shutterfly IPO, which was led by JPMorgan, I joined Shutterfly as a business analyst.

I decided to do some consulting work to get to know any potential team (and manager) before committing. After a couple months of spending two days per week at DocuSign, I was hooked.

When I was working as a business analyst at Shutterfly, a PM left. Because I was already familiar with the metrics for that product line, I had the opportunity to step in and gain some PM experience.

Join a company that’s experiencing (or, even better, about to experience) hyper-growth.

The venture capital community can be a great resource here; they value meeting talent (you!) just as much as you value getting job leads so it’s a great symbiotic relationship.

It’s important to have a manager and executive leadership team you trust and believe in.

Q & A: Brandon Bray, Principal Group Program Manager, Microsoft

I started on the C++ backend,

whoever writes things down has the power.

Q & A: Thomas Arend, International Product Lead, AirBnb

One of the big things was talking to a lot of awesome role model product managers. When I joined Google, I talked to Sundar Pichai and a lot of people who had been there for a while

methodology of storyboarding and personas

It’s good to know as much as possible about design and user research. A good PM doesn’t only create delightful experiences but knows how to measure success and define success.

Q & A: Johanna Wright, VP at Google

After business school I went to Google as a product manager. I had to hustle to get the job. There was a while where I had a weekly recurring entry in my calendar to “call Hilary”, a woman from Barnard’s alumni database who worked at Google. Eventually, once I got some other job offers, Hilary was comfortable enough to pass me along to a recruiter.

working on Universal Search and launching it. It was an important project for the company and was known as a project that people hadn’t succeeded at before. Once I launched Universal Search I was promoted to Director.

Q & A: Lisa Kostova Ogata, VP of Product at

think about what makes you happy. What is your style – analytical, technical, design-focused, creative? How does it fit with the culture of the organization?

Behind the Interview Scenes Chapter 6


onsite for a full day of interviews.

PM candidates will be interviewing for a particular team, but many of the interviewers will not be from that team.

How Decisions Get Made

Generally, you will need at least a 3.0 average interview score, plus one strong supporter. Thus, even if all of your interviewers recommend hiring you, you still might get rejected if none thought you were outstanding.

Special Focuses Google is not as into behavioral questions as other companies are. In fact, many Google interviewers won’t have thoroughly read your resume beforehand; they prefer to test your skills more directly in the interview.

Try to mix a few key points into each interview

the hiring committee does not speak with your interviewers directly.

Google loves questions about its own products: Which ones do you love? Which ones would you do differently? Be prepared to talk in detail about some Google products. Google also asks a lot of estimation questions and technical questions. Be sure to brush up on both your quantitative skills and your technical skills. Don’t be surprised if you’re asked to write a bit of code on the whiteboard.

Estimation questions will often involve some aspects of Google products, and one of the big areas there is advertising. Pay special attention to the questions related to advertising in the case study chapter.


the interview processes of many other companies appear to be a derivative of the Microsoft process: swap out the hiring committee for a hiring managers, and voila.

If you interview with the hiring manager or a more senior person at the end of the day, this is a good sign.

How Decisions Get Made

In some cases, candidates discover they will receive an offer before they have even left Microsoft’s campus.

If this doesn’t happen to you though, don’t be disheartened.

Special Focuses Microsoft in particular likes behavioral questions and product design questions.

enjoy testing how you handle ambiguity.

Extra Goodies

Microsoft teams hire mostly independently. One team might want deep technical skills and therefore demand that you write some pseudocode, while other teams might want to test your design skills. It’s all over the map.


The phone interviews often cover behavioral questions, and may also ask why you are passionate about Facebook. The best answers may include anecdotes about real-world experiences with Facebook or a desire to have a big impact and work with smart people.

four to five onsite interviews. Each interviewer wears a specific “hat”:

Experienced PMs mostly interview for a specific team,

How Decisions Get Made

Typically, Facebook will ask PM candidates to code. They understand you might not have coded in a long time, and that will be taken into account. What they’re looking for here is someone who can think like a software engineer. Do you understand, more or less, how to break down a problem into steps?


Apple does really value culture fit. This is reflected in their interview.

Apple believes passionate employees make good employees, so they want people who are passionate about the company and its products. Expect a lot of questions about why you want to work at Apple. Have a good pitch ready.


Interviewers will be looking to see how you match up against Amazon’s 14 leadership principles

with each interviewer covering two to three principles.

Of these 14 principles, an ability to get things done (“bias for action” and “deliver results”) and customer obsession are particularly important. One of your interviewers will be the “bar raiser.” The bar raiser is a special interviewer from another team. This interviewer is tasked with “raising the bar” and ensuring you are better than 50 percent of Amazon PMs. He is often easy to pick out from your interviewers: he’s the one brought in from another team.

The bar raiser is responsible for the interview process and gets veto power. The hiring manager also gets veto power;

Amazon tends not to focus too much on technical skills, although some technical aptitude might be expected in more technical teams like Amazon Web Services. What the company cares about more are your business skills and background.

Many Amazon questions deal with pricing specifically, so make sure you think about how different Amazon products (e.g., Amazon Prime) are priced. Think about what you would change. Amazon interviewers like to dig deep into your resume. That line you have about how your feature boosted efficiency by 30 percent? You’d better back that up.

If you pay attention and know the leadership principles well, you might recognize which one an interviewer has in mind with a particular question. You can then address it directly. Better yet, prepare for this; review your resume with these leadership principles in mind.


Yahoo is looking for deeply technical PMs, so you should expect to prove that you have a solid technical foundation.

but it’s unlikely you’d be asked to code.


Twitter generally only extends an offer when someone is a “slam dunk.” They want someone who brings something new to the team.

Twitter really wants people who have done their homework and love Twitter.

Twitter PMs will generally not be asked coding questions, but they may be asked how to technically design a product. You should understand concepts like preloading and calculating on the fly.


Dropbox is looking for people with a technical background that also have experience as a startup founder or who have demonstrated substantial accomplishments as a PM at an established company.

These will include PMs who ask product questions, engineers who go through a technical screen, and product designers who may ask you to design a new product workflow on the whiteboard.

Resumes Chapter 7

Communication is an important PM skill, and your resume is one clear way to demonstrate that. A PM who can’t express her skills and accomplishments in a clear, concise, and effective way is a bit worrisome. Much more so than in other roles, you’ll be judged for the quality of your resume.

The 15 Second Rule

A resume should be optimized for that 15-second skim.

Rule #1: Shorter is Better

When you’re thinking you need more space for a particular role, ask yourself what about that role is most important.

Rule #2: Bullets, Not Blobs

Blobs of text—that is, bullets or paragraphs that are three lines or longer—tend to not be read.

you should aim to have no more than 50 percent of your bullets expand to two lines.

Rule #3: Accomplishments, Not Responsibilities

Prove to the resume screener you had an impact.

Using the present tense is a good tip-off that you’ve listed a responsibility. It’s difficult for something you accomplished to be written in the present tense.

Focus on the impact itself; the “what” more so than the “how” (although both are important).

If you have an existing resume, it might help to start from scratch with one of these questions in mind: What are the five things you are most proud of? What would your team say are the five most impactful things you did?

Rule #4: Use a Good Template

Look for a resume template with the following: Two or three columns, one for company names and the other for jobs titles.

Reasonable font size and margins.


You can find some samples at Rule #5: Don’t Skip the Best Stuff

Or interests which have some interesting accomplishment (e.g., completing a triathlon)? There are no hard and fast rules about what belongs on your resume and what doesn’t. If it makes you a more interesting or more attractive candidate, include it.

Attributes of a Good PM Resume Employers want PMs who have technical skills, love technology, possess initiative, are leaders, and will have an impact. A resume is a chance to showcase these parts of your background.

Think about your audience:

work for a company that’s not well known, can you concisely describe what the company is on the resume? Is there a way you can establish credibility, such as mentioning who funded the company?

Passion for Technology:




Be clear about what you’ve personally driven,

Avoid weak phrases such as “worked with” and “helped with.” Technical Skills:

Attention to Detail:

What to Include

Objectives: No

Summary: Rarely

most summaries are laden with fluffy, subjective personal descriptions such as “dynamic” and “action-oriented.” These carry little weight in the eyes of the reader.

Skills: As Needed

Awards: Yes—And Make Them Meaningful

Activities: Sometimes

Projects: Yes

Website URL: Yes

Social Media Accounts: Maybe

College / University Details: Sometimes

Online Courses and “Extracurricular” Education

if you have completed interesting projects for these courses, that will help as well.

Real Resumes: Before & After Chapter 8

Cover Letters Chapter 9

Some companies care about them a lot, some companies don’t want them at all, and a lot of companies ask for them but don’t put much emphasis on them. A well-written cover letter can help connect your background with the job requirements. This

of a Good PM Cover Letter

Keep your cover letters to around 200 - 250 words. Lengthy



the Company Culture:

Written: Your cover letter is a writing sample and it should be handled as such. This

Cover Letter Template

the Reader


you have a personal connection with the company or an interesting way you heard about the position, this is a good place to mention it.

Second Paragraph

connect your skills and accomplishments with what the company is seeking.

Third Paragraph

why you’re excited about this role.

Fourth Paragraph

just concludes the letter with a “thank you.”

A Great Cover Letter

Company Research Chapter 10

This section will outline what you should know about the company.

The Product

what the company is doing at a deep level.

Products: What is the array of products or features that the company creates? How do the products fit with each other? Competitors: Who are the competitors? How does the company differentiate itself from them? Customers/Market: What is the target market for the company?

Revenue: How does the company make money?

Love and Hate: How do customers feel about the product?

News and Rumors: Have there been any interesting news reports about the company?

You should also use the product yourself, and you should use it extensively across multiple user types. If it’s a product with free and paying users, try to use it in both scenarios (if possible).

The Strategy You should know not only what the company is doing, but why it is doing it.









The Culture





Key People:


help shape your responses to behavioral questions, like how you influence teammates or how you would implement a decision.

The Role

The Role:

How technical is the role? How do decisions get made? Idea Generation: Where do ideas come from?

Things to Change: Walk in with some ideas for what you’d want to change or implement

Why You Want the Job:

Why You Would Be a Good Fit:

The Questions

Useful Questions:

Passion Questions:

Expertise Questions:

some questions work well in many interviews. Some good questions include:

Don’t underestimate the importance of questions

What Not to Ask

Define Yourself Chapter 11

these six questions come up so often that it’s worth spending some special time on them. For each of these questions, you should have an answer prepared. This means not only knowing what you’ll say, but actually rehearsing the answers.

“Tell Me About Yourself” (The Pitch)

about two minutes is a good guide.

Do practice.

Don’t speak too abstractly.

“Why do you want to work here?”

An ideal answer will sell yourself in some way.

big companies will be less impressed by your having researched the company or being really passionate about working for them. They presume, for better or worse, that you want to work for them. It’s better to show a passion for the role/team,

At a startup, passion for the company or expertise in the space can be really important. You should use the company’s product and have an opinion about it.

“Why should we hire you?”

why you think you would be a good fit

Your answer to this question can include any or all of the following: Why you are a good PM:

Why you are a good fit for this space:

Why you are a good fit for this company’s culture or work environment:

The more you know about the company or position requirements the better.

“Why are you leaving your current job?”

Your interviewer isn’t necessarily looking for anything specific; she just wants to learn a bit more about you. Your goal is essentially to not screw things up. What can screw up an answer? Any of these things: Complaining about your current role. Interviewers don’t like negative candidates.

Focusing on money.

Being bored and not learning.

“I’ve had to relocate for personal reasons.”

“What do you like to do in your spare time?”

best answers to this question might show some sort of experience that’s relevant to the position, but discussing any passions that you have outside of work will be a positive.

“Where do you see yourself in five years?”

To understand if you actually want this job:

To see if you even have a plan:

To test your ambition:

To ensure the company can give you what you want:

Ideally, you will have 5-year, 10-year, and 20-year plans, and this role will fit nicely in line with that.

“What are your strengths and weaknesses?”

Be prepared for your interview with three strengths and three weaknesses. For your strengths, focus on things that are specific, relevant to the position, and can be supported with evidence.

For weaknesses, you want to give a genuine weakness.

That said, it is a good idea to accentuate—or at least mention—the positive side of the weakness. What have you learned from it? Are there any benefits to this?

you can phrase your weakness as “One of the things I’m working on is ….”

Behavioral Questions Chapter 12

Ultimately though, they’re all looking at the same two factors: your content and your communication.

focus on what their answer says about them or how they deliver the answer.

Why These Questions Are Asked


Have you really done what you say you’ve done?

it’s often difficult to assess what someone did over weeks or months of work from a mere fifteen-word bullet.

How have you made an impact?

For example, suppose you’re asked a question such as, “Tell me about a challenging problem you’ve faced.”

The scale and the type of the problems you select tells your interviewer a lot about the complexity of your professional history.

Do you have the relevant skills and attributes for the job?

looking at how and why you influence people when you lack power.


The trick is to apply some specific structures.

Nugget First

start off your response with the “nugget”—or thesis—of what your story will be about.

“Sure, let me tell you about the time had an underperforming teammate.” Such as opener helps your interviewer focus on what you’re about to say, allowing them to slot all the bits of information you’re about to give them into that context.

Situation, Action, Result (S.A.R.)


sufficient background information to understand what you did and why it mattered.


should focus primarily on what you did, not what your team did.


When possible, quantify your impact.

Speak In Bullets


Step 1: Create a Preparation Grid

Leadership / Influence Teamwork Successes Challenges Mistakes /Failures

Step 2: Master Five Key Stories

Is each story substantial? Each of your stories should have a substantial situation, action, and result. Most often, stories flop in the “action” part.

What does each story say about you?

Do you “get” other people?

3: Practice

prepared for follow-up questions such as:

of Behavioral Questions

& Influence


Mistakes & Failures

many people believe that if you haven’t failed then you haven’t really tried.

see that you can admit failure.

how you handled the situation. Did you correct the mistake for that incident, or do something to prevent future incidents?



Estimation Questions Chapter 13

What’s the relevance to PMing, you might ask? Quite a bit, actually.

You can ace these questions with a bit of structure (and some tips and tricks). Step 1: Clarify the Question

Step 2: Catalog What You Know (or Wish You Knew)

Step 3: Make an Equation

Step 4: Think About Edge Cases

Step 5: Break It Down

Be sure to tell your interviewer why you’re making the assumptions you are.

Step 7: Do the Math

Step 8: Sanity Check

Numbers Cheat Sheet

there are some very useful facts to remember.

Tips and Tricks

Tip: Round Numbers

Trick: Rule of 72

Trick: Orders of Magnitude

Tip: Be Confident

Tip: Label Your Units

Tip: Consider Your Sources

Tip: Keep Discrete Steps Discrete

Tip: Record Your Assumptions

Example Interview

How much money does the shampoo industry earn each year in the US?

Sample Questions

Product Questions Chapter 14

About the Product Question

come in three common forms:

important aspect in common: You need to understand and focus on the goal.

Type 1: Designing a Product

The Approach

Step 1: Ask questions to understand the problem

Step 2: Provide a structure

Step 3: Identify the users and customers

Step 4: What are the use cases?

Why are they using this product? What are their goals?

think about not only what you do with a product, but why you do it.

Step 5: How well is the current product doing for their use cases? Are there obvious weak spots?

Step 6: What features or changes would improve those weak spots?

Step 7: Wrap things up

Type 2: Improving a Product

Step 1: What is the goal of the product?

Step 2: What problems does the product face?

Does it need to expand its user base?

Step 3: How would you solve this problem?

Step 4: How would you implement these solutions?

Step 5: How would you validate your solution?

Type 3: Favorite Product

Step 1: What problems does the product solve for the user?

Step 2: How does the product accomplish these goals? What makes it “neat”? What makes users fall in love with the product?

Step 3: How does it compare to the alternatives?

Step 4: How would you improve it?

Example: What’s your favorite website?


Step 1: Select Products

Step 2: Understand Key Metrics

Step 3: Analyze Each Product

Potential strategies for decisions could include: Diversifying revenue sources.

Building Barriers to Entry:

Being the “One-Stop Shop for _____”:

Being the Low-Cost Leader:

Reducing Reliance on a Key Buyer or Supplier:

Testing a New Market:

Marketing Questions

product positioning, customers, and handling competition.

Launching Questions Launching products is one of the most important duties of a PM,


Pricing & Profitability

Problem Solving

Coding Questions Chapter 16

What You Need To Know

Data Structures



Real-Life Big O

How You Are Evaluated

How To Approach

Developing an Algorithm


Ian McAllister: Top 1% PMs vs. Top 10% PMs

Think big




Forecast and measure


Understand technical trade-offs

Understand good design

Write effective copy

Adam Nash: Be a Great Product Leader

Responsibility #1: Product Strategy

What game are we playing? How do we keep score?

Clearly defining what game you are playing includes your vision for the product, the value you provide your customer, and your differentiated advantage over competitors. More important, however, is that it clearly articulates the way that your team is going to win in the market. Assuming you pick your metrics appropriately, everyone on the team should have a clear idea of what winning means.

Responsibility #2: Prioritization

Responsibility #3: Execution

Sachin Rekhi: The Inputs to a Great Product Roadmap

Analysis of existing usage metrics

User interviews to understand audience pain points

Aggregation of customer feedback & support requests

In-depth look at competition

Commercialization of internal innovation

Audience surveys to understand feature prioritization

Ken Norton: How to Hire a Product Manager

Product management also combines elements of lots of other specialties - engineering, design, marketing, sales, business development. Product management is a weird discipline full of oddballs and rejects that never quite fit in anywhere else. For my part, I loved the technical challenges of engineering but despised the coding. I liked solving problems, but I hated having other people tell me what to do. I wanted to be a part of the strategic decisions, I wanted to own the product.

2. Strong technical background

3. “Spidey-sense” product instincts and creativity

4. Leadership that’s earned

5. Ability to channel multiple points-of-view

advocate for whoever isn’t currently in the room

6. Give me someone who’s shipped something

Note: I wrote this in 2005 when I was at JotSpot.

Amazon Leadership Principles

If you are applying for a job at Amazon, you should definitely read them.

Customer Obsession


Invent and Simplify

Are Right, A Lot

Hire and Develop the Best

Insist on the Highest Standards

Think Big

Bias for Action


Vocally Self Critical

Earn Trust of Others

Dive Deep

Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit

Deliver Results

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