If I’m counting correctly, I’ve interviewed in the ball park of 30-35 different companies for different roles, often times doing multiple rounds of interviews. Of these, around 26 of them have been for product manager roles in varying capacities, from typical product manager roles to director or principle product positions. I’ve been asked some god awful questions (such as stupid challenge/trick questions) to exceptionally great and hard questions. I’ve done extremely well in some and felt great about the outcome, others I’ve felt like shit and totally bombed.
Over the years, these are the questions that have stood out to me the most as great questions to ask at each of the different interview stages. Note that this isn’t meant to be a full comprehensive list, just the ones I personally felt to be the right questions to be asking.
Phone Screening/1st Round
Why our company? What caught your eye? I like this questions specifically because it shows why a candidate is interviewing there in the first place. Are they here for a paycheck or do they actually have some passion about the problem space?
What do you see as a challenge in this industry? Even if the candidate doesn’t have a great grasp on the industry just yet, what you’re looking for here is if they have opinions about what may be hard. For example, a candidate might say that data collection for a certain vertical is hard and follow up with why they believe that. This shows that they did some research, can hold an opinion, and are genuinely curious about the problem space.
Describe to me a product you love and how you would improve it. For me, the best results of this have been when the candidate whiteboards this out. I find this question interesting because you get to see how they generate solutions on the fly to things they see problematic.
Let’s say you have a Kindle. You buy a book and then read it. Draw what that process looks like. There are no right answers to this question but very wrong ones. This is best captured on a whiteboard. As an interviewer, the best results is to sit back for 5-7 minutes and just let the candidate go at it without any help from you. Be silent. This questions helps show how a candidate views problems, maps them out, and works through different scenarios.
For example, to answer part of the question the candidate would probably think about things such as handling authentication, book delivery, book recommendations, email confirmation, etc. The candidate then may question how exactly do you deliver that book. Where does the book come from? When we deliver it to the Kindle, what other information are we passing down? Where does that information come from? It’s an exercise that shows how someone goes about problem solving, what their logic process is, and where they are strong/weak at.
What do you do in your spare time? What sort of personal projects are you working on? It’s good to know whether or not a candidate has outside interests and if they have a drive to continually learn.
What books are you reading right now? What do you enjoy reading about? More of a personality question but, much like the previous question, this is a good way to understand who the candidate really is. What interests them? Do they like to learn? What areas of personal growth are they focusing on?
We have this problem in our company. How would you solve it? One of my favorite things to do is whiteboard with people. I enjoy problem solving and find this question to be great for both parties to get a feel for how each other work.
As a candidate, I want to see what you’re like when I challenge your opinions, suggest new ideas, and how we would work together to solve problems. As an interview, I receive the same benefits but also get to see how you problem solve on your feet.
What do you want to be when you grow up? Where do you think you want to end up? Lots of companies look for ambitious product managers who want to learn, grow, and progress their career.
Take a walk with the candidate. This isn’t really a question but more of a personality filter. Get them out of the office, have them relax a little bit, and see what they’re all about. If you’re going to be spending a lot of time with someone, make sure it’s someone who you can be comfortable with.
There isn’t one way to interview candidates and every company or person has their own flavor for figuring out whether or not they fit. Some require presenting a roadmap, others weigh personal history and background.
What questions were you asked that you felt to be the “right ones?”