I interviewed hundreds of potential associate PMs when I was a product manager at Google, and have interviewed both associate PM and PM internship candidates at my current position with Pendo. The vast majority of them underwhelm for a few key reasons. I’m hesitant to write this article because part of me feels like candidates should be figuring these things out for themselves, but what the hell — let’s document them.
If Your Interview Is Right Around the Corner
Is your interview imminent? If so, here are the key items to keep in mind. Think of them as the “three Ps” of PM interview success.
Hiring managers and recruiters want to see passion in candidates. This, of course, is not limited to PM roles. Hiring teams want to know you truly care about the position and the company. You should be able to explain why you are enthusiastic about the job. Don’t even wait for the interviewer to ask you why you want to work for the organization — just volunteer your reason. “I’m super jazzed about <company> because of X.”
As a product manager, your job is to know products. It’s inexcusable to come to a PM interview and know nothing about the product that the company makes. Sometimes it’s difficult to get access to the actual product, especially for B2B companies. You need to figure out a way — no excuses (see “entrepreneurialism” below)! If they have a sales team, perhaps write to them and say, “Hi, I’m interviewing for your PM position and would love to see the product. Is there someone new on the team that wants to practice their pitch on me by chance?” (Bonus: if sales folks report this to the hiring manager, it looks great for you). If that doesn’t work, try other ways to view the product. Get creative and make it happen.
Point of View
Product managers should have opinions. Sometimes it’s a fine line between telling the hiring manager that their product sucks (some candidates definitely cross this line), and being able to provide constructive feedback. But you should know the product and business strategy well enough to have ideas. Sure, most of them will already have been thought of by the company, but you can certainly show the hiring manager you know how to think both critically and creatively about the product.
If You’re Still Working on Your Studies
Do you have a few semesters left before it’s time to interview? Then there are some things you should consider as your finish up your degree.
There is a strong correlation between success as a PM and entrepreneurial behavior. Entrepreneurs are passionate, very hardworking, and willing to do whatever it takes to get things done. They don’t make excuses — they just find a way. An exceptional PM candidate will be able to demonstrate that they are an entrepreneur. If asked for an example project they worked on, they will be able to list something they did outside of class. Saying you had a class project where you and four other classmates did X, Y, and Z doesn’t cut it. The interviewer doesn’t care if the project failed; instead, they care that you just did it and learned something. I can’t stress this point enough. This is what separates the wheat from the chaff.
Tech, UX, and Business
The best PMs have pretty broad interests, from tech to UI/UX/HCI to business. You don’t need degrees in all of these areas per se, but you should be able to show an interest. Take a business class or two. Enroll in some HCI classes. Try a couple of coding classes. Understand how the internet works. Understand how the ios app marketplace works. Build something (see entrepreneurialism, above). Code it. Design it. Market it. Do it all. It doesn’t need to be amazing. It’s the experience that counts.
Know the Craft
This is perhaps the easiest. Read some books about product (or some of the many blog posts on this topic). Subscribe to a few PM-focused newsletters. Better yet, look for mentorship opportunities.
Update Your Resume
If you do the above things, you are a top 10% candidate for a product position. But you better make sure your resume shows it. Lots of new hires’ resumes look the same. Do you have a few extracurricular projects? Create a whole “Extracurricular Software Projects” section. That will be more interesting to a hiring manager than pretty much anything else on your resume. List your favorite PM books. After all, there are no hard-and-fast rules for resumes (despite what your college career office says).
Preparation Makes Perfect
The best way to show you are good PM material is to start exhibiting positive PM traits before your first job even starts. Hiring managers aren’t looking for experience for these roles; they are looking for potential. Show them you have the raw ingredients.