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As a product manager, you face many different kinds of questions when you work through the product manager candidate interview process. After all, product managers are expected to execute on
many different responsibilities
, ranging from analytics to user research to stakeholder management to go-to-market strategy.
That’s why it’s especially critical that good product managers know
how to best prepare for interviews
. In other words, interview practice is a skill that can be honed over time—one that can yield tremendous dividends.
After all, the highest leverage skills are the meta-skills: the ones that enable you to gain other skills more quickly. The meta-skill of interview preparation enables you to
level up quickly
across a multitude of interview question types and has the fantastic added benefit of accelerating your day-to-day
on-the-job skill mastery
I’ve had the opportunity to personally witness hundreds of product managers prepare for their interviews, and most candidates focus on
breadth of coverage
. They try to run through as many different kinds of questions as possible.
At the surface level, such a strategy might make sense. After all, if you know every single type of potential question, then there’s no way for you to be caught off guard, right?
Breadth doesn’t necessarily enable depth.
That is, when I watch most candidates prepare, they rush through the case, then leap into the next case, and they don’t spend enough time
extracting the maximum learnings
before moving to the next kind of question.
When they tackle that same question during a real interview, they falter because they didn’t dive deeper into how to best solve the question.
I’ve noticed candidates fail to close the gaps from their previous exercises because they were too focused on hitting as many cases as they could. They focused on quantity over quality, and they didn’t spend enough time in thoughtful practice before moving on to the next type of product manager interview question.
to prepare for product manager interviews. I’d love to walk you through a framework and a template for how to practice effectively for the PM interview.
But first, let's talk about science.
The science of thoughtful practice
In 2016, researchers at
determined that the most effective way to accelerate skill mastery was to “
make slight changes
during repeat practice sessions.”
These researchers asked study participants to practice in three different ways:
Repeat the exact same exercise over and over again
Repeat the same exercise, but make slight modifications for each one
Try many different exercises, but do each exercise only once
In doing so, they found the following:
When you practice the exact same exercise, your brain doesn’t learn that much from repetition.
When you practice totally different exercises, your brain doesn’t consolidate the information across those exercises, so you won’t get a synergistic effect across those exercises.
But, if you repeat with slight modifications,
your brain engages at a deeper level
, and you learn much more quickly.
If you repeat practice sessions with slight modifications, your brain engages at a deeper level, and you learn much more quickly.
In other words, mindless repetition won’t help you much. And, brute forcing many different kinds of questions isn’t going to help you much either.
Rather, being thoughtful about your practice will accelerate your pace of success.
Now that we understand the science, let’s put it into practice.
The Interview Practice Framework
First, select an interview question that you’d like to practice.
Here are a handful of question types to get you started. I’ve linked to interview guides for each kind of question to help accelerate your progress.
What's your favorite product?
What's a recent failure you made
There are no rows in this table
Tackle the case as you normally would. Remember that you can practice solo, with a single interviewer partner, or with a panel of interviewers. Log each practice session in
When you tackle the case, be sure to
speak out loud.
I’ve been burned before by practicing silently. When I practice silently, I feel polished and confident. But, when I speak out loud, I start hearing the spots where my arguments aren’t cohesive and my words aren’t flowing well.
Also, when you tackle the case, be sure to
use pen and paper
. You want to practice in a setting that is as close to reality as possible. You’d be surprised at how often you miswrite numbers when doing math on paper, or at how unclear your ideas are until you commit to them in writing.
Once you complete the interview, ask your interviewing partner(s) to rate how you did. Run a retrospective together:
What’s one thing I’m going to do next time to improve?
Then, rather than moving onto the next question type, do the same question type again. But, this time,
alter one aspect of the interview
Here are some examples of what you could alter (add your own in
B2B vs B2C
Fintech, real estate, adtech, martech, etc.
15 mins, 30 mins, 1 hour
Cooperative, silent, hostile
There are no rows in this table
Generally speaking, I usually have the stamina to tackle three iterations of the same question within one day. After that, I need to take a break before I attempt to practice any more. Of course, your mileage may vary, since everyone has different strengths and different stamina levels.
If you notice that you’re trying to rush through as many of them as you can, you’re likely not spending enough time and energy on the retrospective. A retrospective should feel
thoroughly enlightening and exhausting
Personally, I’ve found that the interview practice itself makes up only about 20% of my learning, whereas the
retrospective is what yields the other 80% of my insights
Yet, most candidates skip the retrospective, because they feel the pressure to go for quantity rather than quality.
Don’t be like most other candidates
. If you want extraordinary results, then you need to use extraordinary methods. If you use the methods that most other people use, you’ll get disappointing results.
Personally, I’ve found that the interview practice itself makes up only about 20% of my learning, whereas the retrospective is what yields the other 80% of my insights.
Yielding insights from practice
Now that you have your results logged in
, check out the
to perform the following analysis.
What kinds of questions am I fantastic at? What kinds of questions do I need to focus more on?
Filter by question type, and see where you’re being rated the highest or the lowest.
When you find an area of improvement, sink in a couple of additional practice sessions on just that one question type.
What kinds of interview parameters trip me up most frequently? What kinds of interview parameters are most favorable to me?
Filter by interview parameter, and see where you’re being rated the highest or the lowest.
When you find an area of improvement, sink in a couple of additional practice sessions on just that one interview parameter.
Am I seeing an improvement over time as I practice? If so, why? If not, why not?
of how your interview results are changing over time.
Reflect on what processes made you feel more competent and more prepared.
Breadth doesn't necessarily enable depth
Make slight modifications during repeat practice sessions of the same topic
Most of your learnings come from running retrospectives after each practice session
Want more info?
If you found this guide valuable, you might also find these other resources valuable!
The Product Manager HQ (PMHQ)
has 130+ posts covering a variety of topics on product management.
is a great way to meet with product managers from all over the world in a variety of industries.
holds fantastic career opportunities.
is a carefully curated weekly email that contains the best product management resources from all over the web.
video course is a solid resource for aspiring PMs to break into product.
is an easy-to-read e-book that will provide you with the foundational skills to become a product manager.
Start tracking your own practice sessions
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