informed recruitment for people in product

interview success: 10 questions to recruit the best Product Manager

2 August 2016

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What am I looking for?

When recruiting for a superstar product manager for your business, your criteria are of course very dependent upon the nature of that business and your product. If you’re a startup this could be one of your first major talent investments and it’s crucial that you get it right. You may be searching for someone with big ideas and complete strategic vision to take your entire range of product to the next level. Product managers are the linchpin between you and your customer. You need them to unite stakeholders and drive your business forward - to see your product perfectly developed and delivered to a happy market.

It may be helpful to ascertain separately what makes a good product manager (another blog arriving soon), but whatever your business, here are some qualities that it is important to assess.

  • passion – for product, UX, technology, whatever applies, but always mainly product
  • creativity – intelligent thinking, problem-solving and presentation of get-out-of-jail ideas
  • strategic thinking – vision for winning product and knowledge of the relevant market
  • effective planning – the ability to plan projects and timeframes, to prioritise and achieve goals
  • good communication - to be inspirational and translate the vision, to listen, obtain feedback, to be the evangelist for your brand and convert to a great UX
  • analytical skills – understanding the metrics and how they help development, assessing the market/competitors and optimising your ROI
  • management and leadership – having empathy, ability to manage varied teams and driving them through the roadmap
  • a whole heap more depending on your requirement – technical knowledge, design skills, flexibility (you might need them to pitch in and pack some boxes at some point!)

     What should I be asking?

I’ve been doing a survey and asking around for current opinion on good questions to ask at the interview stage. Scott Jones (Product Management Executive) leans towards general product philosophy, case studies and examples. He believes its valuable to establish in what environment the candidate is comfortable and what they think works best. Case studies and examples give insights into a product manager’s creativity, technical knowledge and organisational skills. You could present them with a concept, Scott gives the example “you are building an app for airports; what does it do? How would you phase it? You might present them with a straw man for a product and ask them to describe the pieces that they think would be required. On either thread, it becomes Q&A as you work with what they give you to walk the path on seeing if they really know what they are talking about and perhaps more importantly, how they think”. He also suggests asking a candidate to walk you through some work they are particularly proud of, such as a feature or an entire launch, this allows their passion to shine through.

Tris Warkentin, Product Manager at Google, also favours questions that promote lots of avenues to explore and lively discussion. He favours “big, fuzzy questions that require strong analytical skills, creativity, and the ability to think through product choices in a structurally sound way”. He uses the example “If you were going to replace legacy telephone infrastructure with modern technology, how would you do it?” allowing you to assess a candidate from a range of practical and circumspect to more creative and speculative. Tris points out that an ideal answer will show technical knowledge, identification of goals and stakeholders, flexibility and creativity.

From the candidate perspective, questions need to also promote your product (you will already of course be very passionate about this) and to inspire prospective talent. Questions that show interest in the candidate’s knowledge and experience and allow them to showcase their skills seem to make a good impression. These could include comparison of competitive products, how they measure and view market trends, how they have managed particular problems, what they have learned from previous employers/colleagues and other brands.


In summary of my non-scientific survey, here’s what some of our clients (hirers and candidates) and experts in the field think are insightful and revealing questions to ask:

  1. Describe your background, why did you make the transition to product management and how?
  2. Tell me about one of your favourite products on the market
  3. In which environment are you most comfortable and how do you organise teams against work to deliver value?
  4. Define your last/current role and how you fit in to the team
  5. What is your product philosophy and what are product management’s most important aspects?
  6. Describe your approach to building an app for ________, describe its functions, how you prioritise them and how would you go about planning its journey?
  7. What metrics provide the best value and how would you apply them to marketing our product?
  8. Walk me through one of your greatest achievements in product management
  9. If you were going to implement/replace _________ in/with __________, how would you do it?
  10. How do you identify your stakeholders and whose voice should stand out the most?


One thing that struck me though, people have strong opinions, really interesting ideas and are very generous in sharing their knowledge and experience - not surprising when dealing with product managers which is why we love them. I’d be really interested to hear more views, so please leave comments below.

Recommended reads:

     How to Hire a Product Manager by Ken Norton

     Cracking the PM Interview by Gayle Laakmann McDowell and Jackie Bavaro

     See also: Product Management: my how you've grown

                  10 hottest tools in Product Management right now!


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