Being up front during an interview

During the past 6 months I’ve been interviewing a number people for Product Management vacancies. My company is currently experiencing rapid growth with its online products at the moment and therefore needs to build strong Product Management teams to facilitate that growth and help secure ROI.

I tend to follow the same pattern for each candidate: scenario based discussions/questions that reflect key milestones in the typical product life cycle. I aim to get a firm understanding for the candidates skill set in seven key areas:
  • Routine product and project management skills
  • Communication skills
  • Leading without authority
  • Conflict resolution
  • Learning skills
  • Knowledge of web technologies
  • Business/commercial acumen

Adapted from Michael’s article “Seven Traits of Successful Product Managers”.
I flow from the topic of ‘leading without authority’: setting up and managing virtual teams comprising of commercial and technical people from across the company of whom you have no direct line management authority for- to conflict within this team during a meeting where a deadline is not met (that happens to be a dependency) due to changing business priorities in another area. The ramifications being that the launch of the project will be delayed and revenue threatened if action is not taken. The question to the candidate is: “What action would you take?” I have received many good answers but candidates seem to be reluctant to mention escalating the issue as a means of seeking a resolution.
I like to explore how resilient the candidate is and directly ask them “How they handle stress?” By its very nature the role of the Product Manager can become quite stressful at times – and trying to solve ALL issues by yourself without the input of senior management and those who are responsible for resource allocation is defiantly a recipe for increasing your stress level. Why are Product Managers reluctant to escalate issues at the appropriate time? Or are we just shy about mentioning escalating at interviews?

Ken Norton has written an interesting article, on his blog, on the subject of hiring product managers. Good reading for any one attending a job interview.

Related articles

Interview with a Product Manager #Part 1

How others have moved into Product Management


  1. Hi Derek,

    It would be interesting what you consider the best answers to your questions but I guess I see how your potential candidates could simply come to your blog and prepare for the interview with you :)

    I have started by own blog recently and would be interested in your opinion on my latest post:

    BTW, thanks for providing RSS. Now I can track your blog in my newsgator :)


  2. Hi Alexey,

    I would be happy – in fact I would see at as good interview preparation if someone took the time to read my blog before I interviewed them. I would indorse such a move. The problem the candidate would have if they were just regurgitating what I had written would be the follow up questions: “What happens if….”. Why would you do x rather than y…”. “Suppose you got xyz response… what would you do next…”.
    The key point is can they defend and justify their answers.

    What I’m looking for is rational, logically thinking, can the candidate:
    (a)explore a number of possible options
    (b)check (depending on the situation) with their line manager
    (c)present the options to the necessary technical resources and/or their team leaders/line mangers
    (d)and at the same time manage business stakeholders – demonstrating that they have an understanding of the commercial ramifications of any decision taken and advice those who are responsible for the P/L and make appropriate recommendations.

  3. Makes sense.

  4. Hi Derek,

    Thanks for your post. It gives good headstart and food for thoghts to those like me who are trying to switch chairs from development to Product Management roles.


  5. Hi Derek,

    I ran into this interesting article the other day and thought I would share a link with you.

    Where DO good product managers come from?

    I think the author has a very good point. I'll mention it in my blog later too :).