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5 Tips For Product Interviews
Advice for interviewing can be overly complicated. If you read all the books and articles, you can get bogged down quickly. Nevermind applying it.
I can remember early in my career getting many books on product interviews. I prepared endlessly for many questions that never came and topics that most interviewers never brought up.
It’s certainly better to be over-prepared than under-prepared, but you have finite resources, especially your time. So don’t spend them on things that won’t matter. Focus on the most important areas, where you will get the best return for your investment. That will mean understanding the company you’re talking to and understanding your work deeply, so you can tie them together, and being able to edit it down to give succinct, relevant responses.
Understand The People
Everything begins and ends with people. And while you may interview at a company, that company is comprised of people. So understand them, who works there, what they are trying to accomplish, what issues they have, and what kind of culture they are creating. Even better if you can understand the specific people you will interview with.
Empathize with your interviewers and future coworkers. Interviewing is difficult for everyone. How can you make it easier? That goes both ways too. As an interviewer, remember to empathize with those in the hot seat. It’s difficult to be asked lots of questions and have your hopes for a new role riding on the decision of a few people.
Prepare Your Stories
Product is about storytelling. Interviewing for product is about storytelling squared. You should know the stories you want to tell. You should know the most common interview questions and how you can you can craft stories from your career and your experience around them. This isn’t about using a specific framework (though that may be helpful if it is simple), but is about the problem you faced, what you did, the outcome that created, and why your interviewer should care.
So maybe that’s the framework right there. But it’s a story. And you can use it for a variety of questions. If they ask for a time you faced a problem with a coworker, or a problem with a product, or a problem with XYZ, those may be variations on a similar story. So be prepared with your stories.
Practice Out Loud
It helps to practice out loud. Telling your stories out loud will help you refine them much better than only thinking them through or writing them down. You don’t need to memorize them, but practicing them will help solidify them and help you edit them for content and length.
You can record yourself and listen. If you haven’t done that before, it will be revealing. The first time I listened to myself recorded, it was the awful. I used so many filler words and struggled to get to the point. I still do, but I’ve gotten much better.
Give the Punchline
Every story should have a good punchline. Before you go into an interview, think about two or three key takeaways you want the interviewer to get from you and make sure you drive those home. Are you extremely experienced at machine learning algorithms? Drive that point home. Are they struggling with go-to-market strategy and you’ve excelled at that in your past two roles? Perfect.
Every story should have a punchline as well. If you were to tweet it out, what is the 140 character takeaway you want to give? Make sure you can do that, and leave the interviewer with the tl/dr version.
Breathe and Observe
It’s easy to get nervous in an interview, so be sure to slow down, breathe, and observe. Read the room, ask if they have questions, pause for feedback. See if it looks like they are still engaged in your answers or if interest is waning. You want to give long enough responses to answer questions, but don’t go on for so long that interviewers lose interest. They aren’t there for a dissertation on roadmaps. They want to know that you know what you’re talking about so they can make a hiring decision.
If you’re interviewing at a big tech firm (or some other specific companies), you may have a more in-depth product interview where you present on the life-cycle of a product. Usually you’ll know you need to prepare specifically for those types of interviews. They aren’t about stumping you, but about probing the depth of your knowledge. But they fit into the framework above. Just understand you need to go deeper.
Most interviews are about understanding, and you will do well to edit your responses and distill what you know to its core to make it as easy to understand as possible for everyone involved. That’s the mark of someone who really knows what they are talking about: they make everyone smarter.
We also did a deeper dive this past week into interviews, careers, and applying a product mindset to your job search. Check out our latest Product by Design Podcast for this episode - Tips for Product Careers. It was a good one.
Good Articles, Listens & Videos
Back to offices or remote forever? CEOs PressClub (podcast) - A really interesting Clubhouse discussion on remote work and return-to-office/hybrid work. It is going to take several iterations and there really isn't going to be one-size-fits-all. Especially with the number of unknowns.
OKRs: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly (video) - I presented two weeks ago at the Product-Led Festival. If you are a member, you can watch the replays. If not, I’ve also uploaded it to my YouTube channel so you can watch most of my presentation (without the Q&A).
Job Screening Service Halts Facial Analysis of Applicants (article) - This is from a few months ago, but has been on my mind as I think a lot about AI and job searching. Algorithms are screening more and more, and that will likely continue to grow. While HireVue stopped for now, I can imagine a not-to-distant future where AI makes hiring and firing decisions. Will that be based on facial expressions, intonation, etc? Interesting stuff.