How This Recruiter Prepped a Candidate for an Interview (and Raised the Bar for Recruiters Everywhere)

March 27, 2017

When coming in for an interview, the majority of candidates are nervous (unless they have the swagger of Harry Potter).

All jokes aside, the nerves are understandable - especially for a candidate going in for an interview at Google, which was notorious for tricky interview questions in the past.

The issue is, when candidates are in suspense of what’s to come during the interview, they may not present themselves in the best light possible and show what a great fit they would be, which ultimately hurts the chance of the hiring manager falling in love with them (as a future employee, of course).

Knowing this, in August 2015, one Google recruiter took it upon himself to give a candidate everything he would need to prepare and nail a phone interview with a senior PM at Google. This was for a product manager role and the recruiters email included information on what types of questions to expect and suggested websites and blogs to read before the call.

Sujay Maheshwari, a friend of the candidate and product mentor at Recruitring, says that when he saw the email, he couldn't believe it. “In my work at Recrtuitring, a candidate prescreening-call platform, I've never seen an email that makes it feel like the recruiter is working for the candidate rather than the company,” said Sujay. “The approach actually makes so much sense,” he continued. “A recruiter's job is to make sure the two people fall in love — the candidate and the hiring manager.In this case, the recruiter did everything he could to make the candidate win — and if the candidate wins, it is ultimately a win for the company.”

Here’s what the email to the job candidate included:

Product Management Position Overview:

As an overview, our PM's bring to fruition new products and features that genuinely benefit our users while at the same time make good business sense. They act as general managers of our products, providing leadership across functional teams to conceptualize, build and deliver Google's next great app. PM's find our entrepreneurial culture to be exciting and challenging, because they are never stuck maintaining an existing product, but are instead focused on developing new product ideas and strategies.

We have openings across all of our products in areas such as Consumer, Mobile, Apps, Enterprise and Infrastructure to name a few. As a brief outline, we have an agnostic interview process in which we aim to hire PM "generalists", who may have niche experience but can easily float through our evolving product lines. We find this keeps our Product Managers fresh and with distributed, homogeneous experiences for our project teams. So, in a nutshell, we do not hire for a specific product, but rather, are seeking generalists who can work on multiple products. As such, you'll interview with PM's working on any number of our various products. At a later point, our leadership reviews your interests, background, and interviews to identify relevant projects that align with business need.

What to Expect

There are five components to the Google product manager (PM) interview:

  • Product design. Google PMs put users first. PMs are zealous about providing the best user experiences. It starts with customer empathy and always includes a passion for products, down to the smallest details. They can sketch a wireframe to convey an idea to a designer. Sample questions include:

    • How would you improve Google Maps?

    • How would you reduce Gmail storage size?

    • How would you improve restaurant search?

    • What's favorite Google product? What do you like or not like about it?

    • If you were to build the next killer feature for Google, what would it be?

    • You're part of the Google Search web spam team. How would you detect duplicate websites?

  • Analytical. Google PMs are fluent with numbers. They define the right metrics. They can interpret and make decisions from A/B test results. They don't mind getting their hands dirty. Sometimes they write SQL queries; other times, they run scripts to extract data from logs. They make their point by crisply communicating their analysis. Some examples of analytical questions:

    • How many queries per second does Gmail get?

    • How many iPhones are sold in the US each year?

    • As the PM for Google Glass 'Enterprise Edition,' which metrics would you track? How do you know if the product is successful?

  • Cultural fit. Google PMs dream of the next moonshot idea. They lead and influence effectively They have a bias for action and get things done. If Google PMs were working anywhere else, they'd probably be CEOs of their own company. Sample questions to assess cultural fit:

    • Why Google?

    • Why PM?

  • Technical. Google PMs lead product development teams. To lead effectively, PMs must have influence and credibility with engineers. During the final round (aka onsite) interview, a senior member of the engineering team will evaluate your technical competence Be prepared for whiteboard coding questions at the onsite interview Example questions include:

    • Write an algorithm that detects meeting conflicts.

  • Strategy. Google PMs are business leaders. As a result, they must be familiar with business issues. It's not necessary for PMs to have business experience or formal business training. However, they do expect you to pick up business intuition and judgment quickly. Sample interview questions include:

  • If you were Google's CEO, would you be concerned about Microsoft?

  • Should Google offer a StubHub competitor? That is, sell sports, concert, and theater tickets?

Also be prepared for behavioral interview questions such as Tell me a time when you had to influence engineering to build a particular feature. Google PM interviewers are relying more on behavioral interview questions in recent months.

What Not to Expect

Brain teasers, such as logic puzzles, are rarely used in today's Google PM interviews. Google's HR department found a low correlation between job performance and a candidate's ability to solve brain teasers Examples of brain teasers include:

  • I roll two dice. What is the probability that the 2nd number is greater than the 1st?

  • What's 27 x 27 without using a calculator or paper?

However, hypothetical questions have not been banned at all. Hypothetical questions are imaginary situations that ARE related to the job. (This is in contrast with brain teasers, which ARE NOT related to the job.) Examples of hypothetical questions include How would you design an algorithm to source data from the USDA and display on Google nutrition?

How to Prepare

Here's what I'd recommend to get ready for the Google PM interview:

Review tech blogs, such as Stratechery.

  • Product design. Practice leading design discussions using a framework. (Need a framework? Try CIRCLES Method: Start with possible personas and detail use cases. Prioritize use cases and brainstorm solutions. Many PM candidates (wrongly) suggest solutions that are incremental or derivatives of a competitor's feature set. The Google interviewers are evaluating your creativity, and they place a big emphasis on big ideas (aka "moonshots"). Inspire them with unique, compelling ideas.Drawing wireframes on a whiteboard will help illustrate your ideas. To practice, download a wireframing tool like Balsamiq. Also study popular web and mobile design patterns for inspiration.

  • Technical. Coding questions are unlikely during the phone interviews. But if you are invited to an on-site interview, you must prepare for programming interviews. The technical interviewer does not expect your programming syntax to be perfect, but you should have sufficient mastery of technical concepts so that you can participate in technical discussions and help make technical trade-offs. I would recommend going over computer science fundamentals and practicing a couple coding questions One of my favorite resources is How to Ace the Software Engineering Interview Also be prepared to describe key technologies including search engines, machine learning, and MapReduce.

  • Analytical. Prepare for estimation questions such as How many queries per second does Gmail get? Get well-versed in product launch metrics and A/B testing, including interpretation of results.

  • Strategy. Use a framework to structure your strategy discussions If you're not familiar with strategy or frameworks, Porter's Five Forces is a good start.

  • Cultural fit. Understand what it means to be Googley by reading Google's corporate philosophy. Review Google's Android design principles. Optional readings: Google's visual asset guidelines and Steven Levy's 2007 (but still useful) article on the Google APM program Another optional, but more in-depth (and recent) perspective, read Steven Levy's "In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives."

What recruiters can learn from this

You might be thinking “great, another story about how awesome Google is,” but the point is that ANYONE can do this. As a recruiter, you don’t need a big budget or fancy brand behind you to prep candidates for interviews. By doing this, you make them feel like you, the recruiter, are on their side and quells the sense that many candidates have that a company is out to get them by tricking them into saying or doing something that will make them look bad in an interview.

So, next time you are setting up an interview for a candidate, consider sending them something similar. Even if it isn't as detailed as the email above, they will appreciate any additional info and advice you can share. And, by calming their nerves, you’ll set them up for success, which means less sourcing for you. Win-win.

*Image from Obama White House

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