I’ve got a tech product interview. How can I smash it?
Nice work! You’ve done it. Your tech product interview is now scheduled and just a week away. Whilst every company and interviewer will be different, there are some solid things you can do to prepare. Let’s cover some of them.
What’s your story?
More often than not, people are really looking for a cultural fit. The most human way to connect is through story telling. An interview is really one of the very few times when it’s all about you, so be prepared to tell your story. This doesn’t mean blandly listing your career achievements, it’s more about the human side. Where did you start? How did you end up here? What went well that you are proud of? What lesson did you learn from a disaster you had? What has shaped you? Remember, you don’t want to end of working for someone that doesn’t understand you either. If you are interesting to the interviewer, you will stand out. That’s the best result for an initial interview.
Use the product
Let’s imagine you’re interviewing to be a senior product manager at a company that sells freshly roasted coffee, ordered online, for next day delivery. In an interview you should expect to be asked what is good or bad about the product, service and proposition. To answer this question you need to be a customer, have ordered a bag of coffee, made it, drunk it, tried to return it, contacted customer services, left a review and so on. An interview where an applicant hasn’t used the product is embarrassing and likely won’t proceed to the next step. Also, go prepared with some thoughts about how to improve the service and suggest what you might do to develop and grown new customer segments, markets, services and product lines. Think about competitor analysis too. You’re simply not credible without this research and interaction.
What is the problem you’re trying to solve?
Remember that the interviewer is trying to solve a problem. At the very least they have a resource gap and at the very most they are losing business opportunity. Make sure you find out what problem they are trying to solve so you can fill the gap and show how you can solve it for them.
It’s about the basics
Too many people think they are being clever in knowing all the latest fancy words, tools, techniques and tricks. The best candidates are always those who really know the basics though. Here’s a few:
- It’s all about people. Always.
- Informed decisions need data, but not to the exclusion of absolutely everything else. The answer is always “Data, and…”. Product is about both hearts and minds.
- Product is about defining problems. Engineering is about solving them.
- Product exists to represent the needs of both the business and the customer.
- Product is about running experiments, keeping the ones that work and dumping the ones that don’t – and doing it fast.
- You need a vision. If you don’t know where you’re going, you’re not going to get there.
- Nothing kills product progress like office politics. Are you and enthusiastic achiever or negative energy?
In some ways, a product manager is like a politician, the job can only ever end in failure. It’s humbling that, when you look back, you have to accept that mistakes were made, you could have done it better, you were too slow… the list goes on. If you go to an interview saying you’re the best thing since sliced bread, you simply won’t be credible to a seasoned tech product professional. Furthermore, product managers are shaped by their mistakes. The stories of recovering from disaster are way more interesting that those of pure success anyway. Douglas Adams said the “art of flying is falling but not hitting the ground”. Maybe the art of product is ‘failing but not imploding’. No true successful Tech Product Leader has the energy left to be arrogant. If you don’t show humility, it means you’ve never done the job properly.
Harder to do if the interview is online, but the principle remains the same. If you’re offered a drink by your interviewer, don’t forget to offer to take the cup back to the kitchen and wash it up. Product is about thinking of others. Demonstrate that. Oh, and also no-one wants to work with a prick.