Real Answers to Real PM Interview Questions
The job market is brutal
Almost every day, a reader will reach out to me that the PM job market has been tough for them.
Usually, these are experienced PMs.
They found a job easily the last few cycles, but this time, they’re just not having any luck. This is because the PM market has been squashed:
On the supply side, layoffs, though smaller in number, continue to hit PMs.
On the demand side, job postings continue to drop.
One candidate messaged my a few days ago with this anecdote:
162 applications, 10 first rounds, and 0 offers!
Most people face numbers like this.
This makes interview skills more important than ever. If you get to that interview stage, you don’t want to lose it.
But candidates lack good resources
I’ve personally interviewed several people recently for roles at Apollo who have great backgrounds.
And their interview responses are completely puzzling. There’s obvious mistakes.
I’ll find people who violate the most basic rules of responding to questions. They drone on for five minutes and have no structure to their responses. Or they act totally surprised with basic, predictable PM interview questions.
All these rough interviews have motivated me to help folks out - with something you rarely find in PM interview resources…
In today’s piece, we’re going to break down 10 of the interview questions you’re most likely to get in a PM interview. And then we’re going to go through responses that I have crafted to the utmost detail to stand out.
We’ll cover the most common categories of PM interview questions:
Behavioral - General
Behavioral - PM Specific
These aren’t going to be long case questions - but instead common “behavioral-style” questions you receive. After the 10 examples, we’ll end with the 3 key takeaways for all of these questions.
How I Recommend Reading This Piece
I am not the authority of what’s going to work on your interviewer with someone who has your set of experiences and your speaking style. Adapting to these three elements is half the battle.
But these finely tuned answers will give you a sense of what I think are 10/10 responses to these questions.
For all of these, I highly recommend you video record yourself before viewing my responses. But if you don’t want to do that, at least think to yourself how you would respond, before reading my answer.
Active > passive reading with this one.
Note 1: None of these features, strategies, or numbers are correct. I did not work on these things. These anecdotes are made up!
Note 2: Former editions of the newsletter - like How to Win at Remote Interviews and Master the Product Sense Interview - are the perfect companion pieces to this piece if you want more details on interviewing.
Let’s dive in.
1. Behavioral - General
Q: What was your last set of performance feedback improvement areas?
My last perform rating was Exceeds Expectations for my level. So none of these improvement areas were dramatic, but I was shared two main one’s:
The first was: empowering the team to do more. Many of the features that our team had been working on, I had intentionally involved the CEO to a great extent. But this means some individual designers and PMs felt they were being handed a roadmap.
The second was: raise the bar on product reviews from my team. I tend to often be focused on the building up side of leadership, but I also need to be able to ask more of my team regularly.
I have been working on both improvement areas and have already received great feedback:
On the empowerment side: I’ve created a clear set of big rocks to review with the CEO. We’ve reserved space on each roadmap for the individual teams. And anecdotal feedback has been quite good.
On the second piece of feedback, product reviews, our last product review went really well. I followed up with our Head of product and CEO, and both gave me positive feedback.
Overall, I feel like I’m making good progress on both improvement areas.
What this response does well
Right length: 2 minutes
The biggest mistake candidates make with behavioral PM questions like this is to drone on for five minutes.They would want to talk about all of the details of anecdotal feedback, for instance. That’s the wrong approach.
This answer take about two minutes to say, which is perfect. In interviews, we average about 100 words per minute. So in practice, focus on 200-word answers. If the interviewer wants to go deeper, you can cue up your next 1-2 minute response once they ask it.
There’s a few well-known resources out there that have much longer examples answers. They are surefire paths to interview failure.
The answer starts with the positive performance review. This starts the answer at a low temperature. And the ending about anecdotal positive feedback on improvement keeps the temperature low throughout.
The way to fail this type of question is to give the interviewer the reason to reject you. Always keep the temperature low.
The worst thing you can do is to hide your performance feedback. Humans are predictably flawed. An astute interviewer already knows what type of performance feedback you would have received.
The key to succeed in this question is demonstrating that self-awareness and growth mindset. If you just say one minor thing, no one is going to believe you.
Q: This role will entail a good amount of stress and tight deadlines. Can you handle those?
I hope so. At Affirm, many features I worked on were told to public markets, like Affirm Card and Split Pay in 4. This gave the features hard deadlines and CEO visibility - quite the mix of stress.
There are three things I focus on to make it all work. Let’s go through each.
First, prioritization. When it comes to prioritizing, I use the LNO framework, which stands for leveraged, neutral, overhead. I try to delegate as much neutral and overhead work as I can. I focus on leveraged tasks. This helps greatly in managing my personal stress from workload.
Then the second thing I work on to control stress is self care. I love to spend time with my kids and wife, so I make time for them. That’s my form of self-care.
Third, jumping into the details where needed. Tight deadlines necessitate some level of executive involvement. So for key work streams, I create weekly syncs to push forward momentum.
Overall, it’s worked well. Affirm card has 100K users from 0 6 months ago, and Split Pay in 4 is a $2B+ GMV business.
What this response does well
Answers the question, while getting specific
The challenge with this question is not being super general. Instead of falling into that trap, the response drops two specific details - Affirm Card and Split Pay in 4. Then it adds texture to those projects with the general answer to the question.
That’s the balance you need to strike with most behavioral questions - bring it back to specifics. Doing both general and specific is hard to in 2 minutes/ 200 words, but this response does it.
Doesn’t just answer something it can’t
The other way people fail this question is by saying “Yes I can handle the stress” or something like that. The interviewer hasn’t really revealed what they mean here, though. So that can come off as presumptuous.
Instead, this response answers “I hope so” and explains the level of stress and tight deadlines the interviewer has had to handle. Bringing it back to the facts and specific stories you have ready to tell is the key to success in these type of generic behavioral interview questions.
2. Behavioral - PM Specific
Q: Can you describe how you built your last product strategy?
Sure, let’s talk about Self-Service at Affirm. There’s two main areas I’ll walk through:
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