We asked product leaders in western Canada what questions they ask when interviewing for Senior Product Manager roles and here is what they had to say:
In a couple of minutes tell me about yourself.
I always preface this question by giving them my 90-second summary so they have context and know the general purpose of the question.
The reason why this is important to me is that I’m looking to match a person’s skills and mindset to the right role. What they choose to highlight about themselves tells me a lot about their interests, how they’ve approached their career, and how they own their career.
I have many diverse openings so I want to match a candidate’s interests and strengths to the right role on my team. How they answer guides the rest of the interview:
- Do they focus on their entrepreneurial roots? Great for innovation and risk-taking portfolios.
- Do they focus on their diverse work experience and how they learn quickly? This is your generalist that you can deploy into broad problems.
- Do they do a great job packaging and positioning themselves? I’ll get them on something that requires them to inspire business stakeholders with storytelling.
By the time someone is a Sr. PM, they should have a fairly clear idea of who they are and what they bring to the table. How they choose to communicate this leads to a much more productive, two-way interview.
Eric Bin - Article, Procurify, Clio, AbeBooks/Amazon
Should we kill the product? And who are the top users and why?
This first question shows their ability to think unconventionally and the second tests for curiosity and empathy.
Roti Akinsanmi - Kidoodle.TV, WestJet
What is the difference between a product vision and a product strategy? Can you tell me what are they and what form they take at your current organization?
I like to ask these questions as it helps me understand a few things about a candidate. First, are they experienced enough in their craft to be able to articulate these simple albeit ambiguous key definitions?
Second, do they spend time thinking about the big picture or are they more delivery focussed? Lastly, are they in tune enough with their current organization to lead with focus?
Grant Bryce - Benevity, eBay, AbeBooks/Amazon
Tell me about a recent experiment you conducted as a PM?
I want to hear how the candidate presents the context of the experiment, how they rolled it out, what they measured, learned, and how they used the results to build a better product.
This question is usually a trigger for a great conversation and also helps me assess their current maturity towards the empowered product team model.
Philippe De Alberti - MediaValet
What is the most important innovation or feature you have contributed to or led in your career and how has this impacted the industry in a positive way?
A solid answer to this question is extremely important to hear during the interview process as it really hits at the heart of the candidate's level of “thought leadership” (in their particular industry) as well as provides a sense of their level of experience and passion for what they do.
Shawn Henshall - Salesforce, Sigma Systems, QuickPlay
How do you decide what is important for your product’s success?
It looks like a very simple question, but there are many facets to it and I usually get very different answers from one candidate to another.
Some will focus on the "how" which is all about prioritization; how you will deal with your product backlog on a day-to-day basis. Someone providing this answer will be very hands-on and will work closely with the engineering team (more of an inbound PM).
Some others will focus on "what is important"; they will be focused on understanding their customers' needs and spending time doing customer discovery (more of an outbound PM).
Others will focus on "product success" by defining key success metrics, go-to-market strategy, and positioning.
I have found this question very useful because depending on the position I want to fill, I will be looking for different PM skills. This question usually gives me the right answer.
In the past, I have seen strong candidates who were able to decompose the question and answer each part in great detail. This is exactly what I'm looking for in a Senior Product Manager, a well-balanced individual who is able to shine on both sides of the product management skillset.
Antoine Cabot - Salesforce, Parsable
Tell me about a situation where you identified a need to make a significant change to your existing product strategy or roadmap. What was the scenario, and how did you convince and align executives and other stakeholders?
For a Senior Product Manager candidate, I'm looking for several things with this question. First, I want to hear how the candidate tells this story - do they clearly articulate the situational context: how they identified the potential need to change direction, prepared their case, communicated, and got buy-in.
Second, I'm looking for the type of example they select - is it a significant strategic decision, or just a relatively minor feature decision (a candidate with true senior experience will have experience navigating much larger decisions).
Finally, I'm looking for details on how they plan and communicate with stakeholders and customers - for example, do they prepare documents and presentations, or rely heavily on meetings, what techniques do they like to use to get alignment. In a great interview, this question can turn into a significant discussion, framing up a whole set of deeper follow-on questions.
Gord Elder - Cymax, Ignite Technologies, ResponseTek
When was the last time you changed your mind about something important? What made you change your mind?
This question is important to me because I want to know whether or not the candidate is open-minded. Why does open-mindedness matter? As a PM, you need to find the right answer to have an impact on your customers and your business.
Naturally, because you're rewarded for finding the right answer, you can fall into the trap of wanting to be right (e.g. to have the killer feature idea, to identify the customer insight that unlocks your product strategy, etc.).
But the problem with tying your identity to being right all of the time is that it can keep you from discovering the truth. Instead, you need to be willing to change your mind in the face of new information and to let the best ideas rise to the top (even if they aren't yours).
Dan MacDonald - Lendesk
Whether you’re preparing for an upcoming interview or preparing to interview a Senior Product Manager, we hope these questions provided you with valuable insights for more fruitful conversations.