How I Prepare for Product Manager Interviews
In my previous articles, I wrote about how I decided to have a career switch. At last, I chose to go on the path of being a product manager and I will try my best to share how I prepare for interviews.
With simple keyword searching on the Internet or platforms like Medium, hundreds of articles about product manager interview preparation can be found. It is obvious that product manager is now a trending career path people like to get into. I was overwhelmed by the information I received. I did not know where to start. So, maybe a general step-by-step guidance here will help people like me.
The Internet-searching result will come back with a lot of websites that are actually paid online courses and it generally takes 3–6 months to complete. I, myself have never tried that so I cannot provide any comment. However, I have seen a lot of people sharing online about incredible results they end up with after enrolling in Product Alliance, Product School and Exponent. I have subscribed to Product School podcasts and watched enough Exponent YouTube videos to know they are providing incredible content, but I will get into those later.
First things first, what is the schedule? Are you looking for a change in 3 — 6 months? or are you not that hurry in the process? This is important as it will determine how much content you need to have. At the end of the day, getting the content is one thing and consuming it to make it part of your knowledge is another. If the preparation time is relatively short, such as 3 months, I will schedule them as 2 weeks of content research, 2 weeks of content preparation and 2 weeks of going for actual or mock interviews. Of course, each section will not be perfectly distributed in reality and sometimes the schedule is forced to be a lot shorter or longer than planned, such as times like hiring freeze. You might be wondering why the schedule is only taking 6 weeks and not 12, because I want the process to be iterative. In my own experience, the first iteration is more like a trial run. There will be successes but also failures. In each iteration, try to get as much feedback from the interviewer to prepare yourself better and better each day.
I like to read but I cannot learn things just by reading. I learn the best on taking notes while reading/watching contents. Additionally, I like to read “real” books, not online ones. All of the above is suitable for me but everyone is different. Here is the list of books that I read and felt useful,
I made the list in this particular order because I think it is essential to learn the history, learn the job and decide whether this is the route you want to go down. Each book has a different purpose. Mythical Man-Month compares product lifecycles between old and new products, tech and non-tech product. It is really more like reading the product development lifecycle documentary when having no ideas in this field; Inspired shows what a typical product manager day to day looks like in tech companies and provides the author’s insights; Cracking the PM Interview provides all the practicalities, from knowing company missions, knowing what each company is looking for in product managers, what common questions will be asked in an interview and how to prepare them. For physical books, I never extended beyond these 3 as there is sufficient information.
Watching YouTube is always considered as a leisure activity to me, but it has played a significant role in my career-switching journey. It feels strange at first but since a lot of people are leveraging YouTube to learn cooking, drawing, design etc., it just grew natural after a couple of days. Some YouTube channels I have subscribed,
If you watch any video from these channels above, you will be amazed on how much information it is giving. They are not in text and there are no oral scripts, so the only way to really have them handy is to write them down somewhere in your own words, at least that is what works for me. Going through them again and again and taking notes on the side actually help me a lot since they are like words coming out from a much more interesting source.
This is a hard one as everyone is coming from different backgrounds and with different personalities. I will share how I prepare it. One thing I like to do is to repeat. It might be easier to explain if we take the example of learning a new song. When we first listen to a song we are fond of, chances are that we cannot remember the rhythm, melody or lyrics. What is strange is that after listening to the song for 5 times, we might start remembering some parts of the melody; 10 times, we might start remembering the chorus and a verse. Before you know it, you might be able to sing the whole song pitch perfect without lyrics. Then one day, you decide to look into the lyrics while listening the song or you decide to watch the music video of the song and everything starts connecting. Our brain works in magical ways. It almost feels like we need to compartmentalize things to learn and piece them together at some point before we can really say we know them. The same goes with the interview preparation. If I can share anything, it is that after going through the highlighted paragraphs in each book and the handpicked videos in each YouTube channel for consecutively 5–7 days, a lot of things just becomes natural. I do not need to think because they are there in some parts of my memory already. By no means am I referring to memorization, it is actually more of knowing the key framework and concepts by heart. If I can give another example, it is like understanding what add/deduct/times/divide means in math and you are ready to face any general math problems.
It is not easy to be scheduled into an interview loop but it is not difficult to join a product manager community or find friends that are product managers to have mock interviews. One thing for sure in any sort of exam/interview is that it is not just about whether you fully understand what are being tested but also how you present you understanding and how fast. Especially for product manager interviews, the questions vary from company to company, team to team, there are no guarantees what to be asked in interviews. The way I prepare for this is to throw myself in an ocean of different people, scheduling time with them for doing mock interviews. Again, you might be surprised how different questions you are getting asked based on each person’s background. When I started to feel that I am not getting anymore “surprised” questions, I know that is the time for me to actually step in a real interview.
This is brought up in a lot of contents references above, but it is so important that I want to emphasize it again. In an actual product manager interview, interviewers might ask questions that will require interviewees to brainstorm and come up with ideas to resolve problems. 2 common mistake I did and I still do sometimes are,
- Answer without entirely understanding the question
- Jump into solutions quickly
It is very natural to behave like this if you have passion for product management because problems actually need to be resolved at the end. It is just that the question being asked is often extremely high-leveled and a lot of times without clarity. Although it is a product manager interview and it is testing the interviewee’s abilities to come up with practical solutions along with creativity, one skill product managers require is the ability to triage ideas and persuade people when there are different opinions in discussions. Jumping directly into solutions is directly cutting out the chance to show that side of an interviewee.
I hope this article could help some people that are clueless in the preparation of becoming product managers. Happy learning!