Two qualities matter most when hiring product managers: smart persistence and attention to detail. Everything else is secondary: experience, education, and technical aptitude. Finding out if a candidate is persistent (but not annoyingly stubborn) and fanatically detail oriented is not trivial in an interview setting. After trying out different approaches I zeroed in on a series of questions that consistently help uncover the truth. I didn’t make these up, but found that out of all the product management interview questions out there these work best.
I start by asking the interviewee to pick a market area they know and love – anything goes. Then I ask them to propose a new product that this market needs. The first mistake some candidates make is to come up with a complex product that relies on some emerging technology or is based on shaky foundations. This choice actually works great for my next questions. Unbeknownst to them, however, they are going to sweat much more for not coming up with a simple product.
Now comes the fun part: I zero in on one aspect of the product and keep asking narrower and narrower, deeper and deeper questions about it – to the point of failure. The questions can be about the business model, technological feasibility, time to market, cost structure, social aspects, or anything in between. I only stop pushing when one of three happens:
- We run out of time.
- They give up and admit defeat.
- They start crying (yes, it happened a few times).
This series of successive questions, which sometimes takes an hour to go through, tells me all I need to know about the candidate’s most important qualities. On the way I pick up clues about their other capabilities. Though these interviews can get stressful (for both sides), they help weed out weak candidates who’ll end up being bad hires.
Try it out and let me know what you think.