24 December, 2012

Great Questions to ask when being interviewed for a product manager position

I read this post post, 5 Questions Great Job Candidates Ask  and thought about the great questions a product manager candidate might ask their interviewer. (FWIW, this article was linked from another one, The Perfect Job Interview in 8 Simple Steps.)

1. What do you expect me to accomplish in the first 60 to 90 days?

A cracking question because this frames the deliverables in a reasonably tightframe. It also gets the interviewer to think about how practical it is to start the job:
  1. What processes are in place today (ie existing deliverables / answers, processes and coherence)?
  2. What is chronically missing (that you'd be expected to put in place) - and how easy is that to fix?
  3. What training exists?
  4. W|hat support can be anticipated from the rest of the organisation?
  5. And how important does the rest of the organisation consider your position?

You might want to compare the answers that you receive with this Cambridge Product Management Session - 'What a Product Manager does on the first day / week / month / quarter in their new role' which I lead in March 2011.


2. What are the common attributes of your top performers?

This answer indicates what gets respected as individuals: flashes of inspiration, technical genius, landing whale-sized deals, customer service and support, diligence and attention to detail or slogging one's guts out??

Great candidates want to know, because
  1. they want to know if they fit
  2. if they do fit, they want to be a top performer.

3. What are a few things that really drive results for the company?

This sniffs out what's important for the organisation as whole. In many ways, it's better question than 2, because it indicates the organisation's current strengths and weaknesses.


4. Can you give me an example of a new product that didn't live up to expectations? And what happened next?

So, the interviewee is uncovering how are failures / sub-optimal events handled

Lots of things can be inferred here:
  1. Fame or fire culture?
  2. Does the company collect and use (and reuse) data? Does it know what to collect? And from whom? How frequently is this done? Is data collection / analysis a one-off event or welded into the day-to-day business?
  3. Does the company learn from mistakes?

5. If the same thing (ie failed product launch) happened today, what would happen tomorrow?

I'd recommend that this question is asked after you've got the answer to the first one!
This indicates the maturity of the organisation and its recognition of the constant need for improvement.

It would be OK if the answer to question 4 and 5 are wildly different if the organisation is young or in a rapidly moving market.

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