How to interview a product manager
I have found myself interviewing several product managers lately and while we all default to the great Quora post, I usually get much more out of these interviews when I head in with some good questions to ask. Below is my list of four questions that I find to be revealing in any interview for a product role with a little color on why I ask each one.
1. How many domain names do you own? One of my favorite questions to ask screens for people who are prone to regular fits of inspiration. If you live in the world of building software and you’ve never at least gotten so far as the purchase of a URL, I just can’t believe that you’re a builder deep down inside. I’m actually not terribly concerned about finding product leaders who have delivered stacks of working software on their nights and weekends - that is more a function of life, resources and how many of your friends can write good code. But I am terribly concerned with finding product leaders who get excited about building things even when they are not on the clock. These people, if they are bought into your vision, will love building things while they are on the clock.
2. Do you think our product has an opportunity to disrupt a market? How? Draw me 10 experiments that would tell you how we should get there. This is my catch-all case study that accomplishes three things. First, does the person I’m speaking with understand what we are trying to accomplish? If they don’t, I’m happy to answer questions until they do. Second, does this person believe in the opportunity? If we are talking about a new product, can my conversant tell me how our product goes from zero to adopted, differentiated and defensible? If we are talking about an established product, do they tell me a story about how to optimize the product along its existing trajectory or can they describe to me how we could move onto a new curve? Third, can this person get us to the holy land? Pitching the big vision is step one - step two is telling me how you’re going to find out what works with as little time and expense as possible. Now we get into the nuts and bolts of product discovery. A good product person will be able to draw up at least a few experiments that will inform everything we’ve discussed up to this point - and they will be open to our hypothesis being proven wrong.
3. What is the last thing, unrelated to developing software, that you became obsessed with? I have a hunch that periodic obsessions are a trait of good product innovators. Per the first point, this is what motivates us to buy gobs of domains with plans to take over the world with each one. The second part of this question is an important piece of the puzzle because it can give some insight into follow through. I’m less concerned with the amount of time that a person has under their belt in their current obsessions and more concerned with how they harnessed that energy. Did they discover paragliding two months ago and have logged 30 flights already? That’s a person who knows how to dive in and dig.
4. Excel or Photoshop? The answer is, of course, both, but finding out where a person’s gut goes first when it is time to solve a problem can be enlightening into how that person thinks about problem solving with product. Some product leaders will want to dig in the data until they hit stone, and then they pull out the jackhammer. Others start by finding out what resonates with users through design. Both approaches can yield results, so long as the audience is correctly chosen. That means we are using design to prove hypothesis’ with users (not executives) and the data we are drilling into is both representative and robust. For some roles you'll want the right brained data junky, and for others you’ll want the Picasso of the app store, just know which person you’re getting.