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Issue #29: Interviewing for Product Manager roles and failing to impress, 2 minutes of gratitude, and 5 things
You might be unwittingly raising some red flags when you're interviewing, let me share with you some of them.
Hola friends! 👋
This week’s thoughts and feelings include:
Are you interviewing for Product Manager roles? Here are the reasons why your interviewers are unimpressed.
A thank you! From me to you! 🫀
5 things to help you this week
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01 Are you interviewing for Product Manager roles? Here are the reasons why your interviewers are unimpressed.
Much has been written about interviewing for Product Manager roles already. But in this week’s newsletter, let me add more thoughts and feelings to those that have already been said — because my coaching calls last week were precisely about this topic.
I like to think of the job application process as a conversion funnel.
Step 1: Recruiter or Hiring Manager gets a hold of your CV or your profile (how is a different story) and they see a potential fit from the information that they have on hand. So they invite you for an interview. Conversion. Ka-ching!
Step 2: You and the hiring team have conversations. They give you a case study to do. They ask you about your experience. They test to see if you will be a fit for their team. If all interviews are passed, then you might get an offer. Conversion again. Ka-ching! Ka-ching!
Step 3: Then we get to the fun part! The offfer and negotiation round. If all goes well, then you get a job! Literally Ka-ching! Ka-ching! Ka-ching! 💰
For this week’s newsletter, let’s focus on Step 2. The interview rounds.
Keep in mind that by this time, the recruiters and hiring managers are already impressed by what they know about you. The interview steps are for them to know if you can bring the same great results you’ve had in your previous experiences to their organization too!
The question is, can you keep them impressed?
Having been in the Product Manager life for more than 10 years now, I’ve done hundreds of interviews for Product Managers at this point. Some of them for roles that I’m hiring for. Some of them as part of a hiring committee for other hiring managers.
There are only 2 kinds of interviews: The kind that is amazing. And the kind that is meh. But these 2 kinds of interviews have 1 thing in common. And it’s what I always tell my clients:
“What you bring to the interviews is what your interviewers will get”.
So if you’re not bringing your best self during your interviews, trust me, the people interviewing you will know. And this can impact their decision on whether or not they will move you forward to the next or even final round.
🚩 So let me share with you 6 things that candidates do that don’t impress their interviewers.
Jumping to a conclusion immediately. PM interviews are designed to reveal a candidate’s thought process. If they immediately provide a solution or a conclusion without asking any clarifying questions, first stating their assumptions and where they come from, or sharing any context behind their thinking - what these are telling your interviewers is a lack of Product Sense. Some examples of questions that look this product sense are:
How would you improve questions
How would you measure success questions
Monologue or long-winded answers. This usually happens when a candidate needs to share a lot of context about their experience and/or product in order for their answer to make sense to their interviewer. It’s like doing an onboarding for the interviewer. What usually happens here is that the context is hard to follow while the answer itself is taking too long, taking precious minutes from the rest of the conversation. If it’s not that, then the candidate is just rambling.
What these signal to the interviewer though are the following:
Inability to break down complex ideas into simpler, easy-to-understand information.
Poor communication skills. The interviewers are probably already imagining how the candidate would fare speaking in front of stakeholders to explain things.
How to improve this: Prepare your stories in advance and prioritize the information you want to share. If you find yourself mapping out too many details, see if you can go to a higher level to bring your story to life.
Bringing too much attention to whatever it is that the candidate lacks experience on. Sometimes in interviews, candidates will have to cough up their lack of knowledge or experience in certain things. For example, a lack of experience working with AI products or doing A/B testing. The lack of experience is absolutely normal.
When this happens, the interviewers are looking for the following information to help understand if this surfaced gap is going to be a limitation for the candidate if they get the job or not:
Relevant or related skills. For example, if the candidate doesn’t have A/B testing skills, maybe they’re strong on other validation techniques.
Reasons for why their surfaced gap does not matter in the end. For example, stories that can show how they still managed to validate their hypothesis and gain confidence in their solutions even without A/B testing.
But when the candidates are unable to redirect their stories into how this gap is not a limitation, the interviewers will only be able to conclude “lack of relevant experience”.
How to improve this: Have awareness of your strengths and your gaps. Prepare stories that show the impact you’ve had that highlight your strengths.
Not bringing energy and excitement to the interviews. This can be because the candidate is feeling nervous or having an off day. But a lack of energy can be interpreted by the interviewer as a lack of genuine interest in the company, or industry or a lack of confidence in one’s ability to provide value. Oftentimes the conclusion is just “the candidate is not a fit”.
And interviewers can sometimes take cues from a candidate’s behavior:
Always looking down when answering
Seeming distracted during the conversation
Overuse of fillers - “uhm, eh, …”
How to improve this: Reflect on whether or not you are excited for the role you’re interviewing for. If you are and it’s a matter of nervousness, prepare and practice before the actual interview. Know your value proposition and be ready with stories that you’re the most proud of!
Unable to give concrete answers for “what would you do differently”. Product Managers have to be reflective and proactive with learning. Being able to understand what happened with their experiments and releases and then being able to iterate from their situation is pretty much the job. Interviewers will usually ask candidates to share stories of failure asking them what they would do differently if they could go back in time to evaluate this ability.
But candidates raise a flag when:
Their failure stories are too shallow - this can be interpreted as either the candidate is unable to identify points of failure or afraid to take risks hence the lack of failure. Or worse - a lack of ownership and accountability.
They take too long to answer how they would do things differently or their answer is equally shallow - this can be interpreted as the candidate hasn’t reflected on their failure until that very moment which can double down on the lack of ownership and accountability.
How to improve this: Reflect on your experience and identify key moments when you didn’t get the result you were aiming for. Prepare these stories in advance.
All the stories are only about the candidate. Of course, interviews are an opportunity for the candidate to highlight the potential value they might contribute to the organization. But as Product Managers, the role we play is always in collaboration with other people; but when candidates talk about:
only what they’ve done without reflecting how they work with Engineering and/or UX
what they tell engineering or design to build
Interviewers can immediately interpret this as an inability to positively collaborate with cross-functional peers.
How to improve this: Prepare your collaboration stories! Share stories where you’ve celebrated with your team, or where YOU’VE celebrated your team, and if you can, where you’ve created an environment where people can work together and succeed.
For those who want to transition to Product Management, my first advice is to go learn first what Product Management is all about so you can learn how to frame your experience into something that’s relevant for the PM life.
Here’s the thing…
Acing Product Manager interviews are getting easier and easier these days with so many resources online to help candidates prepare.
The downside to this is that you and every Product Manager and their aspiring Product Manager cousin will be using the same resources to prepare for interviews. Possibly using the same techniques and frameworks to answering questions. Not that there’s anything wrong with this. But how can you stand out?
You stand out by being yourself. A cheesy answer, but it’s true. Who you really are and what you bring to the table is who you need to bring to these interviews.
But if you’re:
Unconvinced by what you know and the value you bring to the table
Constantly thinking that you’re not ready for you’re next step
Have zero enthusiasm for the role that you’re applying for
Your interviewers will pick up on these because this is the energy that you’re bringing to your interviews. And if you’re unsure about whether or not you’re going to do a good job with the tools and knowledge you have — why should your interviewers feel differently?
Are you interviewing for Product Management roles but finding yourself walk away from those conversations feeling like you could have done better? Are you struggling with self-doubt, imposter syndrome, or other self-limiting beliefs that are holding you back from showing up as your best self in your interviews? I’d love to chat and see how I might be able to help you always bring your best and authentic self to your Product Management job interviews.
02 A Thank You! From Me to You! 🫀
I didn’t realize how much this community has grown in the last 3 months since I started writing more.
In the first quarter of this year, I made 2 decisions:
To do more of the things that I love - that includes writing.
To push forward with my mission to normalize the ups and downs of career growth and to remind people that while learning and evolving is a constant companion to every Product Manager, who you are and what you have is enough
And wow, I didn’t expect how writing about my mission will resonate with so many people. 😱
I’ve gotten so much feedback about how my writing have helped some of you overcome your impostor syndrome, feel good about your own progress, and even validate your feelings.
Your newsletter made me feel seen.
And d**n, that’s the best compliment this girl can ever ask for.
So THANK YOU! ✨
For sharing your thoughts, your feelings, your feedback.
For passing along my words and stories to other people who might find value in what I have to say
To still being here and inspiring me to keep going with my mission
And for validating my own dreams that my writing will make a difference for somebody (started from LiveJournal, now we here!)
And just so you know, you all are making me feel seen. 💙
No FAKs this week to make room for this THANK YOU!
03 Five things to help you this week
I was on The Product Experience, a podcast by Mind the Product talking about the lessons I learned when I made the move to Product Leadership. (I’d love to know what you thought!)
- ‘s advice last week hit home. For those who feel as if they got left behind by their dreams or that they are not the people they’re supposed to be…
What are you reading this week? Share in the comments please! 🙏
But before you go!
Last open slots for coaching starting in August! For the Product Managers and aspiring Product Leaders out there who are feeling stuck in their current role and unsure how to get to their next step. I’d love to help you. Let’s chat 💙
Is it just me or is the job market finally starting to feel normal? There are more and more open roles lately! But what I’m also noticing is that there are more open roles that get snatched up before they even get published! There’s a secret job board out there that has the most exciting roles. Are you part of it? Nope? Get my ULTIMATE GUIDE for creating a Sustainable Job Search system for the Modern Product Manager and start getting those roles from the secret Job Board. And get cracking with 10% OFF.
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