If you want to hire a good product manager — which of course you do — you’ll need to ask them the right product manager interview questions. Whether you’re a hot startup or a well-established tech giant, you’ll likely have several candidates you’re interviewing, each with different backgrounds and experience.

Not only that, but the exact type of product manager you want can vary from company to company. Sometimes you’ll need one with lots of technical know-how, other times you’ll need someone who can see the bigger picture.

Asking the right questions enables you to understand how a candidate thinks and how they’ll react to situations. Here’s a list of 15 product manager interview questions that will help you determine if the person sitting across the table from you will be the perfect addition to your team.

1. Why do you think product management is important?

You know the importance of product management and how it benefits an organization. Now, you need to make sure that your candidate is on the same page. 

Their answer will tell you:

  • How product management fits into an organization and how it helps accomplish overall business objectives. 
  • How passionate they are. If they struggle with their answer (or don’t have one at all), it might indicate that they don’t fully understand the complexities of product management.

Keep in mind, there’s no “right” answer to this question. Focus on how your interview candidate answers the question and make sure their high-level view of the role is aligned with yours.

2. How do you determine what users needs?

Product managers need to be able to unearth and act on what users really need so they can make informed decisions about which products and features to build.

The candidate’s answer to this question will tell you:

  • Whether or not they understand one of the core tenets of Product Excellence — deep user insights.
  • If they are familiar with well-known frameworks and techniques used to discover user needs.
  • How prepared they are to be a product manager. Do they know how to conduct user research, ask the right questions, and get to the bottom of feedback, requests, and other insights?

product manager interview questions

3. Tell me about a time you had to prioritize tasks.

Between internal demands and external feature requests, product managers are constantly juggling product priorities.

The product manager candidate’s answer to this question will tell you:

  • If they have the skills to do the job. You’re not just asking them if they do — you’re taking it a step further by asking them to tell you about a time where they have demonstrated it.
  • What their working style is. Does it align with what you’re looking for?

Ideally, your product manager candidate will tell you about a time they had to prioritize product-related tasks. But it’s OK if they talk about a time they juggled tasks in other contexts. Prioritization is a transferable skill.

4. What’s one of your all-time favorite products, and how would you improve it?

Product managers need to be passionate about products! They also need to be able to look critically at a product or feature, even when they love it. 

The product manager candidate’s answer to this question will tell you:

  • How passionate they are. Do they gush over their favorite product, picking out features that excite them? 
  • How well they understand users. Do they choose a product that does a good job of fulfilling a need? Do they choose to improve upon something that other users would care about?
  • If they can think critically. Does your product manager candidate balk at the idea of changing their favorite product?

Look for a combination of passion and critical thinking. The ideal product manager candidate will gush over their favorite product, while simultaneously coming up with several ways of improving it.

5. What’s the first thing you’d do if we hired you?

As we’ve said, product management involves a lot of planning and prioritization. This question gives you insight into your candidate’s ability to do both.

Their answer will tell you:

  • What kind of product manager they are. Are they overly ambitious, trying to change everything? Are they unable to state what they’d do with the job? Or are they somewhere in the middle?
  • How much hand-holding they’ll need. It’s inversely proportional to how detailed and comprehensive their response to this interview question is.
  • How focused they are. Do they start listing a bunch of things they’d like to do? Or do they choose one thing and lay out a realistic plan for getting it done?

Don’t forget to pay attention to the actual project your product manager candidate chooses. Is it aligned with what you’d like them to do on the job?

6. How do you stay up-to-date with trends and best practices in product management? 

Product management is an evolving discipline that is exploding in popularity. 

The product manager candidate’s answer to this question will tell you:

  • How well they know the industry. Do they easily rattle off their favorite educational sources?
  • How self-motivated they are. Product managers need to have enough curiosity and drive to stay on top of industry changes. 

Look for your product manager candidate to name a few different information sources and discuss how they use each to grow their skillset.

7. What do we get right with our product, and what do we get wrong?

Sure, it’s a little personal for you, but product managers need to be able to articulate what’s good in a product and what can be improved. And they need to be able to do so even when there’s a chance their honesty might offend someone.

The product manager candidate’s answer to this question will tell you:

  • How serious the candidate is about the role. Did they care enough to research the product before coming to the interview?
  • How strong their critical thinking skills are.
  • How well they understand user needs. Were they able to pinpoint elements of your product and tie them to user needs? Did their explanation align with your understanding of your user?

A strong product manager candidate will have done their research. They’ll be able to talk about a few things they love about the product and a few things they might look to change. They’ll have an idea of how to approach the changes they hope to make. And they’ll pitch it all with candor and finesse.

8. Can you provide an example of a time when you earned buy-in from colleagues and other stakeholders?

Product managers have a lot of informed opinions about what direction a product should go in, as they should! But just because they know something is best for the user doesn’t mean everyone else is automatically on board. It’s part of the product manager’s job to earn buy-in for their ideas across the company.

The product manager candidate’s answer to this question will tell you:

  • How capable their are in the face of diverse opinions. Do they tell a tale of conviction and triumph? Or do they stumble to think of a time they were able to get their team on the same page?
  • If they leverage specific techniques and tools to earn buy-in (maybe they are firm believers of shared product roadmaps, for example). Can you see their preferences fitting into your organization and culture? 
  • How solid their interpersonal skills are. Do they strong-arm individuals into agreeing with them? Or do they listen and explain their position? 

Look for a product manager candidate who strikes a good balance between caring and confidence.

9. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

This one is off the list of standard interview questions for all roles, but that doesn’t make it any less important as a product manager interview question. 

The product manager candidate’s answer will tell you:

  • Their priorities. Are they driven and career-focused? Or do they have aspirations outside of work that make them more well-rounded?
  • If they are good at planning. If they can’t plan for their own future, it’s likely they won’t be able to plan well for the future of your product. 

Try not to focus too much on whether their answer specifically mentions your company. They’re still in the interview process, so it’s possible they are trying to stay realistic.

10. What motivates you when it comes to product management?

Motivation comes in all forms, especially in the workplace. Product managers might be motivated by everything from money to passion. 

The candidate’s answer to this question will tell you:

  • Where their heart is. Are they in it for the money? Or do they want to build products that change the lives of users?
  • How to pitch them when the time comes. If you do decide to hire this candidate, their answer to this question will give you the information you need to entice them to join your team.

The ideal product manager candidate should acknowledge that part of their motivation is to improve people’s lives with software. This kind of intrinsic motivation will serve them well if they get the job.

11. What is your biggest professional failure, and how did you deal with it?

Everyone makes mistakes — it’s what we all have in common as humans. Your product manager candidate is no exception. It’s how they deal with the mistake that counts.

The candidate’s answer to this question will tell you:

  • How they deal with failure. Do they shirk responsibility? Or do they own up to their mistakes and learn from them?
  • How honest they are, both with themselves and others. Do they focus on something small and talk about how no one even noticed? Or do they pick something bigger and talk about lessons?

Look for a candidate to talk about a time they failed. The ideal answer will include how they dealt with the situation and how they grew as a result of the failure.

12. What’s something that you’re obsessed with?

Good product managers are a little obsessive. After, product management is innately a detail-oriented discipline. They’re curious, passionate, and care deeply about their product. 

The candidate’s answer to this question will tell you:

  • How passionate they are. Do they get carried away talking about something they love?
  • How well-rounded they are. Do they pick something outside of their profession?

Look for a candidate whose passion and excitement you can just feel. Imagine if they applied that passion to your product!

13. Can you teach me something in 5 minutes?

Teaching is hard. It requires a deep understanding of the subject matter, strong communication skills, and empathy. And pulling it off in 5 minutes? Even harder.

The product manager candidate’s answer to this question will tell you:

  • How realistic they are. Do they try to teach you something complicated that they don’t fully understand? Or do they focus on something simple and go through it thoroughly?
  • How well they communicate. Is your product manager candidate able to explain the topic in a way that makes sense to you? Do they build on knowledge you both share?

Look for both content and execution on this interview question. They should pick a topic they are well-versed in and use creative teaching methods to get the point across.

14. Why shouldn’t we hire you?

This product manager interview question throws candidates a curveball. See how they handle it to get a sense of how they’ll handle the unexpected on the job.

The product manager candidate’s answer to this question will tell you:

  • How well they perform under pressure. This is a very direct and harsh question. Do they stumble or do they answer calmly?
  • How self-aware they are. Can they answer the question thoroughly and honestly?

The best answers will show a deep understanding of the skills and strengths required to do the job. Product manager candidates should be humble and able to acknowledge the attributes they lack. Even better if they show a willingness to improve their skills.

15. Is there anything we haven’t asked you that we should have?

See how well your product manager candidate thinks on their feet. 

Their answer to this question will tell you:

  • How good they are at putting themselves in other’s shoes. They’ll need to be able to put themselves in the user’s shoes, so test that ability by asking them to put themselves in your shoes.
  • How well they think on their feet. This question is likely to be unexpected. Do they falter? Or do they knock it out of the park?

Look for product manager candidates who propose questions and answers that you hadn’t even thought of.

What have we missed?

This list of 15 product manager interview questions is a great start, but we’d love to hear from you. What are your favorite product management questions? Chime in on the comment thread below! 

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productboard is a product management system that enables teams to get the right products to market faster. Built on top of the Product Excellence framework, productboard serves as the dedicated system of record for product managers and aligns everyone on the right features to build next. Access a free trial of productboard today.

Joe Daniels
Joe Daniels Nov 26, 2019