Big 3 PM Interview Guide: Google, Microsoft, & Apple
How to crack PM Interviews at the world's 3 biggest tech companies
When it comes to the world’s biggest tech companies, three stand apart: Google, Microsoft, and Apple. Their valuations are hard to fathom - all $1.5T+.
But if you’re trying to get a job at one of these companies, you’ll find the process varies dramatically company to company.
Google, Microsoft, Apple… they all have different DNA, different types of products, and different cultures.
So if you want to snag an offer, you can’t just assume you know how it works.
You need to come prepared with a specific strategy.
And they have a lot of interest
You can’t just assume these jobs follow the standard PM process because there’s a lot on the line.
All three companies pay extremely well, although it varies greatly from company to company:
As it’s famous for, Google pays significantly more than both Apple and Microsoft.
Microsoft, with it’s old-school culture and steady stock price increases, pays the least. But $271K is hardly chump change. Microsoft PMs are very well off.
This pay generates extreme interest in the positions.
It’s a competitive process, that’s even harder in this market
With that level of cachet and pay, PM jobs at Apple, Microsoft, and Google are not secrets.
Once the postings go up, there are a lot of applicants.
Even during the ZIRP era of crazy hiring, all these companies were believed to have <1% acceptance rate for PM roles.
Since the strangulation of the tech market with the layoffs that began a year ago, all of these companies have even further tightened their belts.
Apple never had a layoff, but Microsoft and Google not only did, but they also had PM hiring freezes.
So for about a year, all the interested PMs weren’t getting in. There’s lots of pent up demand.
Luckily - they’re hiring again!
The increase in interest rates has, paradoxically, increased the value of the most profitable big tech companies - while the rest of the S&P 500 has been flat.
As a result, all three companies have opened the doors again. They’re all hiring.
But it’s only for important needs. And the process is as competitive as ever.
You need market-tested strategies
So to get the role, you really need to understand the process and prepare appropriately.
You can’t settle for reading the same few practice books everyone has read at these companies.
In today’s piece, we’re going to break down the latest insights on what their PM processes look like - in 2023, not 5 years ago.
And we’re going to break down the strategies from people who actually got offers.
Let’s do it.
The Google PM Interview Guide
Product Managers: 19.8K
Google has a lot of PMs, but it has even more applicants.
Based on industry chatter, Glassdoor reports, and anecdotal evidence, the application-to-offer rate hovers around an estimated 0.2%. For every PM given an offer, 500 are rejected.
Luckily, I’ve gotten a Google PM offer myself.
And worked there.
When I was a PM at Google, I interviewed numerous candidates.
Admittedly, that was years ago. So, this month, to update my knowledge, I talked to 4 people who recently got offers - as well as 2 current hiring managers.
Here’s the scoop.
Per the latest sources, including someone who went through the process in the last month, Google’s process is now seven rounds of interviews across 3-5 stages:
Recruiter Screen: Google recruiters are very advanced. This is a serious interview for them to explore questions they may have about your background. They always probe why you want to work at Google as well.
Google Hangouts Screen: This is the much tricker round to get past. A PM interviewer will walk you through a product execution, sense, or design case study.
APMs Only - Homework: There is a 2 hour homework assignment after this. It’s a written product interview question.
Sometimes - 2nd Zoom Screen: Sometimes, they just need more information after the first Google Hangouts screen. It may feel like a bad thing, but several people got the offer after this.
On-Site Round: These are 4-5 45 minute interviews, and Google has changed what these rounds are for PMs significantly over the years. And they may vary role to role. But here’s what’s most common:
Product Design Case Study: This round can make or break your chances. Google wants PMs who not only think in terms of functionality but also of form. You'll be asked to review existing products and discuss their design elements critically.
Metrics AKA Product Execution Interview: Google PMs are fluent with A/B test results and even run SQL queries. So there’s always a round focused specifically on analytics.
Googlyness & Leadership Interview: Unlike other companies, Google invests in understanding how you fit into their culture. The interview can range from ethical dilemmas to how you’d uphold Google’s reputation and standards.
Technical Interview: Multiple candidates confirmed that this is a real thing at Google, and it is conducted by engineers.
Most Common 5th Interview - Product Strategy: These questions test whether you would be a visionary PM lead that could solve highly ambiguous problems.
The gap between these each of rounds is 1-2 weeks, resulting in a process that is 4-6 weeks on the interview side.
Once these interviews are cleared, the hiring committee conducts a review. The hiring committee is a committee of peers in the role.
From there, Google adopts a two-tier matching strategy:
General interviews come first.
Upon approval, candidates are then skill-matched to specific roles and projects.
For the past year, most candidates have been stuck at the matching stage. But that is finally changing now.
Once you’re matched, it goes to a senior PM leader. If they recommend it, it goes to a compensation committee.
Once they have prepared the package, there’s a final review by a senior exec.
It’s a lengthy, rigorous process. But the offer finally comes after that.
The lengthy post-interview process can take 4+ weeks.
Moreover, at an stage, they may come back and ask for more information. This happened to 2 of the 4 recent offerrees I talked to.
This results in, for a typical person, a time of anywhere from 5-14 weeks.
Google isn’t a place to interview if you’re impatient.
Years of Experience and Compensation
Google has a strong preference for people with a Computer Science background and years of Product Management experience. Those years of PM generally influence your leveling, but the high ends vary a lot.
Associate PM: 0-2 years
PM: 2+ years
Senior PM: 7+ years
Group PM: 10+ years
Director of Product: 13+ years
VP of Product: 15+ years
As one Blind Google interviewer said:
As levels increase, ambiguity in the problem definition increases. At lower levels it's about solving a given problem by executing well. At higher levels it's about dealing with ambiguity and defining a clear path forward for the teams. And in interviews, it'll be based on these skills.
Those high years of experience, and higher level of ambiguity, requirements correspond to some pretty hefty pay:
Per some sources, on average, PMs at Google experience a 38% increase in TC upon joining the company.
With all that information out of the way, let’s get into the questions. There’s nothing better than video recording yourself practicing these.
Behavioral (34% of questions):
Tell me about a time you had to overcome an obstacle
Tell me about a time you had to make a really tough decision
Tell me about a time you didn’t have the resources to do something but got it done anyways
Describe an instance where you had to make an important decision
Tell me about a time you disagreed with an engineer.
How would you align a team around a controversial decision?
Describe an ethical dilemma you faced and how you dealt with it.
What sections should you include in your product requirements document?
How would you improve Google Drive's UI?
How would you approach designing Google's search experience for kids?
How would you redesign Gmail for better user engagement?
Suggest improvements for Google Search’s UI.
Design Twitter for the blind.
Design a vending machine for the blind.
How would you improve <existing product>, e.g. Google Maps, Facebook Messenger, LinkedIn Search, etc?
Design Google Calendar for children.
You’re part of the Google Search web spam team. How would you detect duplicate websites?
How would you design an ATM for elderly people in Florida?
Product Strategy Case Study (12% of questions)
Should Tiktok build a video scrubber to allow users to skip certain time stamps?
Imagine you’re a PM in charge of Google Podcasts. What would you build?
Should Google create is own cell phone?
Should Google buy Ebay?
Should Google offer a Stubhub competitor? That is, sell sports, concert, and theater tickets?
Technical (13% of questions):
How would you explain machine learning to a non-technical audience?
How does a search engine work?
Describe the architecture behind Google Maps.
What happens when you type “www.google.com” in your browser?
How do you reduce bandwidth consumption for Google Search, especially for developing countries with limited bandwidth?
What happens when you type a URL into a browser and hit ENTER?
How would you speed up Google Docs?
A friend is complaining that his website is not appearing in Google Search. Why would that happen?
How would you reduce Gmail storage size?
How would you detect duplicate websites?
Analytical (23% of questions)
Chrome browser market share has fallen by 2%. What's your action plan?
Google Ads revenue has dipped 3%. How would you investigate?
What metrics would you use to measure Google Drive’s success?
How would you A/B test Google Maps?
As the PM for Google Glass 'Enterprise Edition' PM, which metrics would you track? How do you know if the product is successful?
Imagine we invented the Google Camera. How many Cameras would we sell in the 1st year?
Why is it important if an A/B test result is statistically significant?
Imagine we've developed a product for dog lovers. It's an automatic treat dispense. How would you price it? How would you estimate the market?
The old knowledge said that estimation questions are an integral part of the process.
How many queries per second does Gmail get?
How many iPhones are sold in the US each year?
But no one I talked to this week uses them anymore or has encountered them. They’re kind of a relic of an old era. And everyone can understand why: Google HR probably saw in the data those questions. But you may encounter the odd one as it was common in the past.
Google also used to be famous for trick questions.
I roll two dice. What is the probability that the 2nd number is greater than the 1st?
What’s 27 x 27 without using a calculator or paper?
Google may ask PMs coding questions.
Give the integer x in y string.
Optimize this sort.
Design an algorithm to…
Nevertheless, if you do have a CS degree, I recommend you brush up on your technical skills. This technical interview trips a lot of people up. Here’s a study routine to brush up.
Preparing for Google
Google is unlike most other PM interviews, if that wasn’t clear already. There are 6 Google-specific concepts you need to know.
Google Concept 1 - Googlyness
You’ve probably heard of it - Googlyness. But what is it, and why does it matter?
Loving Google's mission: You should exude excitement about “organizing the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
Aligning with Google’s strategy: Google doesn’t chat casually about thinks like market power, clamps down on data privacy, and always puts the user first
Displaying Google’s core principles and values: You need to seem like someone who is collegial, a good teammate, and wicked smart.
It matters because Google literally uses Googlyness in its interview rubric and hiring committee decisions. So make sure you stand out on it.
Google Concept 2 - Rubric
Speaking of rubrics, what else is on Google’s rubric? Google tests for six other key areas worth knowing:
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