Prep for PM interviews at large tech firms

white and brown wooden staircase
Everybody wants to be a PM, nobody wants to put the work in – anonymous

So you have been diligent on your path to product management and you have landed a product management interview at a large tech company! Congratulations! Now, how do we make sure you ace this thing?

Product management interviews are unique in that it is really about how you think than anything else. After a certain fundamental level of technical knowledge, it is all about your user-centric approach, your structured reasoning, and strong communication skills despite adversity.

Technical Knowledge

This tends to be the part of PM interviews candidates stress out about most. The reality is, it really depends company to company, and team to team. Some projects will be highly technical and will require the product manager to really know their stuff. Some projects are much closer to operations, for example, where coding is optional at best. I will try to give you a more conservative set of skills so you’ll be moderately well prepared for most interviews.

I recommend purchasing Cracking the coding interview. Generally, it’s important you understand the structure of a mobile app, and solving beginner-to-intermediate coding problems that leverage data structures and algorithms knowledge, and the ability to reduce complexity (big-O notation). This book is great for ramping on these areas, so definitely read through it. Also, do the problems. You won’t retain anything unless you do!

User-centric Approach

A big part of product management is being the voice of the user/customer. There will be many meetings where colleagues will be optimizing for different things, and you will have to step in to advocate for the user. Ideally this starts early with your product requirements document (PRD), but you will likely have to do this throughout a product/feature’s development. Thus, testing for this is paramount in a PM interview.

To get a good handle on this, I would recommend two things:

  1. Learn the CIRCLES framework. Though not universally used, it is a really solid framework that helps ground you and focus on the pain points you are solving, the journey the user is going through and solutions you craft based on that. This is a good resource for learning CIRCLES
  2. Doing product design questions. I recommend purchasing the Cracking the PM interview book. It has good content on design questions and good answer structure – again, make sure you actually do the problems! Don’t just read the answers.

Structured Reasoning

The idea here is really being able to take on complex problems where there isn’t a clear solution, and craft an answer that is logical and makes sense. The great thing is, this is the core of all management consulting interviews! Case In Point is a great resource for learning how to structure case interview answers and arriving at a logical answer. Read through the book and read maybe 20% of the questions and answer, and then, again, do the questions. Do not skip on the more quantitative ones, either! Those may be where most of the value is for product management interviews.

If you are in business school and you have time, I would highly recommend you do case prep with folks preparing for consulting interviews.

Strong Communication Skills

The key here is being confident and making sure to share your thought process out loud. Again, PM candidates are getting their thought process evaluated, so share it!

For fundamentals, I would suggest practicing your behavior interviewing techniques. My personal favorite is the STAR technique. This is to help structure answers to questions like, “Tell me about a time you had to lead a group of peers”.

Mock Interviews

Do not underestimate the value and importance of mock interviews! It is one thing to read through the resources I suggest, and another to truly internalize them. Do mock interviews with friends that are PMs, or are engineers that work with PMs. There is also this Slack community I have heard about that coordinates virtual interviews. Could be worth checking out.

If you want to have a comprehensive prep experience and go through sample interview questions, mock interviews and analysis, I would suggest trying out Exponent. For the PM While Black community, they have offered 20% off their programs so check it out here!

Final Thoughts

Assuming you have done all the prep work listed here, just relax and be confident. You have prepped as best you can, and now you just need to connect with the interviewer and get excited about their questions. PM interviews are often pretty fun and engaging!

If you have contacts at the companies you are interested in, I would speak to product managers at those companies to get their insights.

Other Resources

I was sent these two infographics years ago and they provide great overviews of the kinds of work that needs to be done and prepared for ahead of PM interviews: