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
We polled a larger community of Product Leaders and here are some additional questions they came back with:
What do you see as a Product Manager's main role within product development?
This question delves into the candidate's understanding of the core responsibilities of a Product Manager. A Senior Product Manager must grasp their role in the product development process. The answer to this question should reflect their ability to guide the product from conception to launch, including defining the product vision, setting goals, prioritizing features, and collaborating with cross-functional teams.
A strong candidate will emphasize their role in bridging the gap between business objectives and customer needs. They should demonstrate their expertise in balancing innovation and execution, ensuring the product aligns with the company's overall strategy.
How do you stay user-focused?
User-centricity is a cornerstone of successful product management. A Senior Product Manager needs to maintain a deep understanding of the user and their needs. In response to this question, candidates should describe their strategies as the voice of the user.
Effective candidates may mention methods such as conducting user interviews, analyzing user feedback, and using data-driven insights to make informed decisions. They should also highlight their commitment to regularly monitoring user behavior to adapt and iterate the product based on user feedback and changing market dynamics.
What changes would you make to [our product]?
This question gauges the candidate's ability to assess a product critically and provide constructive feedback. It demonstrates their familiarity with the company's product and their capacity to identify opportunities for improvement.
An approach to this question is by first acknowledging the product's strengths and then suggesting enhancements or changes that align with the company's goals and user needs. They should emphasize their ability to balance short-term optimizations with long-term strategic improvements and explain how their proposed changes would benefit the company and its users.
Tell us about a time you used data to influence product decisions.
Data-driven decision-making is crucial in product management. Candidates should be prepared to share a specific example of how they used data to influence a stakeholder's opinion or drive a key product decision.
In their response, candidates should outline the context, the data they utilized, the insights gained, and the ultimate impact on the product or project. They should highlight their communication skills in presenting data effectively to stakeholders, emphasizing how this influenced the outcome positively.
How would you improve your favorite product?
This question assesses the candidate's critical thinking and problem-solving skills. The candidate should select a product they are passionate about and provide thoughtful suggestions for improvement.
A strong response would include identifying pain points or areas where the product falls short and proposing creative solutions. Candidates should also consider user feedback and market trends in their suggestions, showcasing their ability to empathize with users and think innovatively.
How do you decide what and what not to build?
This question probes the candidate's ability to prioritize features and make strategic decisions about product development. A Senior Product Manager should have a well-defined approach to allocating resources to the most impactful initiatives.
Candidates may discuss methods such as user research, market analysis, and a deep understanding of the company's goals and user needs. They should emphasize their experience in defining clear product goals and using frameworks like the RICE (Reach, Impact, Confidence, Effort) model to prioritize initiatives with the highest potential for success.
How would you improve the functionality 10x of what it is now?
This question assesses the candidate's ability to think critically and innovatively about product improvement. A Senior Product Manager should be capable of identifying opportunities for significant enhancements.
A strong candidate will begin by thoroughly analyzing the current functionality, recognizing its limitations, and identifying areas where it can be expanded or reimagined. They should discuss a holistic approach, considering user experience and technical feasibility. Innovative ideas, such as leveraging emerging technologies or disruptive design changes, could be highlighted to illustrate their creative problem-solving skills.
What is the key to a good user interface?
User interface (UI) is critical to any product's success. Candidates should demonstrate their understanding of UI design principles and what makes an interface effective.
An ideal response would include user-friendliness, consistency, simplicity, and alignment with user expectations. Candidates should emphasize their commitment to user research and usability testing to ensure that the interface meets the needs and preferences of the target audience. They might also discuss the importance of responsive design for accommodating various devices and screen sizes.
While we build X products for the consumers, we also have B2B solutions. What is your experience with managing a portfolio with both B2B and B2B products?
This question focuses on the candidate's ability to manage products with multiple ICPs and product use cases. A Senior Product Manager should be adept at balancing the needs and strategies for both B2C and B2B markets.
Candidates should describe their experience in developing a deep understanding of each market segment's unique requirements, pain points, and motivations. They should highlight their expertise in crafting tailored product strategies, messaging, and features to address the distinct needs of both customer types. Successful candidates will also discuss working closely with sales and marketing teams to align product initiatives with market-specific goals.
Why do you want to work at [our company]?
This question allows candidates to showcase their enthusiasm for the company and alignment with its values and mission.
A compelling response should highlight the candidate's research on the company, its products, and its industry. They should express how their skills and experiences align with the company's needs and emphasize their desire to contribute to its growth and success.
How do you know if a product is well-designed?
This question evaluates the candidate's ability to assess and measure product design quality. A well-designed product should meet user needs and be aesthetically pleasing and functional.
Candidates should mention criteria such as user satisfaction, usability metrics, user feedback, and the absence of usability issues. They might discuss the importance of conducting usability tests, A/B testing, and user surveys to gather data on user satisfaction and make iterative improvements. Additionally, candidates should emphasize aligning the product's design with its intended goals and target audience.
What are your long-term and short-term career goals?
This question aims to uncover the candidate's career aspirations. Senior Product Managers should have a clear vision for their professional development.
Successful Product Managers are on a continual journey of professional development. While some Product Managers focus on the craft of product, others focus on opportunities to develop leadership or management skills.
Understanding the goals of a candidate will help you understand how they view your opportunity and how you may be able to provide opportunities to develop their careers, which is valuable to your company’s retention strategies.
Whether you're preparing for an upcoming interview or preparing to interview a Senior Product Manager, we hope these questions provide you with valuable insights for more fruitful conversations.
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.