Two women and a man sitting at a table, working on a laptop.
If our company’s most well-known product was getting a successor, how would you position the legacy product so we could continue to rely on that revenue stream?

Any top product manager should be able to offer a relevant and practical solution to a commonplace business problem such as this. For example, they might suggest lowering the price of the legacy product to appeal to a more thrifty consumer. Listen for answers that show the candidate has a good understanding of your company’s offerings—and your target audience.

 

If you were given two products to build from scratch, but had to choose one project to focus on due to bandwidth and time constraints, how would you decide which one to build? How do you determine the total and addressable markets to size each opportunity?

A strategic project manager must be capable of prioritizing projects based on the good they could do for the business. To make a tough decision like that, they should be able to forecast the impact of any given project, as well as consider factors like cost and available resources. They should also be thinking strategically about market positioning. Does a competitor have this product? Will the market for this product still exist in 10 years? These are all questions your candidate should be thinking about when they answer.

Tell me about a product you think is well designed and why. How would you improve it?

A great product manager can put themselves in the shoes of the end user to create products that meet their needs and desires. This question asks whether they can do that in reverse, articulating what makes a product great based on it’s function and design, as well as more intelligible elements, like the way it makes them feel when they use it. Can they communicate these concepts clearly? If they’re really a creative and critical thinker, they’ll also be able to express what they would have done differently in designing the product to appeal even more effectively to the consumer.

What is the first thing you would do to improve our product?

Not only does this question reveal whether the candidate took the time to research your business before the interview, it asks them to think critically and creatively about your product. The answer will also tell you a lot about their people skills. Do they offer smart recommendations in a constructive, personal way, or does their answer feel dismissive or even disrespectful of the company’s current offering? This can provide telling signs of how effective they’d be at managing a product launch.

Say your most important stakeholder calls you to say that there is a 5% decrease in website traffic in the last 30 days. Tell me how you would handle the situation. What would you do first?

Does your candidate know how to use data effectively to get to the root of a product challenge? A great answer here will show that they’d immediately identify which data they needed to identify what was causing the issue. They might have an idea, but they’d still look to the data and adjust their hypothesis and solution depending on what it told them. They may also mention that their first step would be to keep the stakeholder calm and explain that they’ll get to the bottom of things, showing they don’t buckle under pressure.

Tell me about the most exciting product launch of your career. How were you involved, and what was your go-to-market strategy? Describe the experience step by step.

First, you’re looking to see if the candidate has the basics. Can they ​write a launch plan? ​Get input from teams? Develop successful timelines? Maybe they’ll describe their system for tracking and communicating progress or their strategy for keeping everyone in-step. It will also give you an understanding of their thinking process. How did they arrive at their strategy? Were decisions driven by data or research? Last but not least, it will reveal how collaborative they are. Do they focus more on their own contributions or the whole team’s efforts? Do they say “I” or “we” more? Pay attention to these nuances, because they can tell you a lot about how they will act on the job.

What kind of user research have you done? Do you think it’s valuable to the process, or a hindrance?

If your company takes the user experience seriously then your product manager should, too. And immersive research (sitting with a customer in their natural setting and watching them use a product in real time) is one of the most valuable ways to learn about and evaluate a product. You may want an interviewee who has direct experience doing this sort of qualitative data collection and knows how to prepare for and debrief after a session. What did they learn from the experience? Did they use the data they gathered to inform future decisions?

Tell me about a time when you were asked to do something you had never done before. How did handle the situation? What did you learn?

This question screens for adaptability. Since a product manager will need to keep up with the changing demands of the market, this is an essential soft skill for the role, so they should be comfortable adjusting to new processes, tools, and tasks. Maybe a stakeholder changed the requirements of the project late in the game, or the company implemented a new system they’d never used before. The important things to note are whether they kept a cool head and were able to think on their feet to handle the situation—and whether they learned any lessons they might apply to future projects.

As a product manager, how do you keep projects moving forward despite varying opinions and opposition from different stakeholders?

An experienced product manager knows that making tough decisions is an essential aspect of the role. To lead multi-disciplinary teams with all their competing priorities to success, a product manager must be decisive but fair, keeping a cool head under pressure and communicating extraordinarily well with everyone involved. Look for candidates who understand that while diplomacy is the goal, moving projects forward often means pushing for quick decisions. So while consensuses are great, compromises are sometimes necessary.

How would you go about explaining what a database is to a 7-year-old?

A product manager needs to be able to bridge the gap between many different departments, so communication is inherent to the job. Listen for evidence that a candidate can explain a basic concept using simple terms, preferably in less than 3 sentences. Alternatively, a great answer may use an easy-to-understand analogy to get the idea across.