How to Answer the Salary Question in a Product Manager Interview

One of the most common questions we get at Product Gym is, “How do I answer the salary question?” Naturally, our members want to make sure that they ask for a reasonable number, but they also don’t want to scare off the hiring managers, ruining their chances for a second-round interview. Before we start answering the aforementioned question, let’s begin with answering the question that everyone is curious about: “How much does a Product Manager make?”

How Much Does a Product Manager Make?

Similar to any other profession, the number varies depending on seniority and profession. However, here’s a thorough breakdown for your consideration (research as of 2019 Q4 for annual base salaries):

NYC Product Manager Salaries:

Experience Level Glassdoor Indeed Builtin Paysa
Associate $97,255 $75,718

$103,979
Mid (Normally Advertised as PM on career websites) $128,750 $134,800 $123,701 $130,418
Senior (assuming 7-9 years of experience) $135,070 $145,189 $140,000 $161,441
Director of Product Management $161,265 $155,015 $159,974 $196,439
VP of Product Management $176,230 $201,277 $209,284 $143,844**

**Note: Different sources might have different names for different seniority levels in product management.

SF Product Manager Salaries:

Experience Level Glassdoor Indeed Builtin Paysa
Associate $123,017 $139,881

$115,753
Mid (Normally Advertised as PM on career websites) $156,970 $148,284 $156,043 $146,670
Senior (assuming 7-9 years of experience) $164,099 $164,978 $191,947 $180,062
Director of Product Management $193,922 $197,800 $227,632 $227,030
VP of Product Management $201,004 $196,180 $260,211

Note that we are only including the base salary here since every company has its own way of handing out bonuses. Bonuses might come in the form of cash or company equity. These numbers are averages and you can expect them to change depending on the size of the company. It is also important to understand that the seniority levels of product management might change drastically depending on the company. We wanted to provide you with ballpark figures for the most commonly known Product Manager positions. If you want to understand how Product Managers advance in their career, consider reading this article. All of the four sources we included in the tables above, provide you figures based on years of experience, location, and company. If you want to carry out a more in-depth research, we highly recommend you checking out those websites and get a more accurate answer for your own needs!

While these figures are average and cover companies ranging from very small to multinational, it is safe to assume that you should expect nothing less than annual compensation of $100,000. 

Now that you get a sense of how much a Product Manager makes, let’s figure out how to answer the salary question during an interview.

How Do I Answer the Salary Question?

Problem

The main challenge is if you try for a number too low, you end up shooting yourself in the foot, accepting less than what you deserve. Let’s be honest, part of the reason you are looking for a new job is higher compensation. There are also other factors to consider, such as being underpaid at your current company and you are looking for something significantly higher.

The other challenge is if you try for a number that’s way too high, you completely price yourself out of the market and the position. You might even scare the hiring manager off and they will politely tell you that you are out of their budget, and never hear from them again.

Solution

There are three parts to navigating the salary question successfully during a product  management interview.

1) Understand who is asking the question

This question is almost always going to come from a recruiter. This may be an internal recruiter who works for the company you are interviewing with, or an external recruiter who works at a staffing agency (more commonly known as “headhunters”). You have to understand why they want to know the answer to the salary question on their end. Each will have different motivations.

Internal Recruiters (aka HR Managers or Talent Acquisition Specialists) want to lock you down at a rate that is within their budget. Go to any career page of your favorite companies and even the smaller ones have multiple roles that need to be filled. It is the responsibility of the internal recruiter to maintain the budget that is allocated for all the roles. One more point to add is that an internal recruiter looks better when they save the company money.

External Recruiters (aka Technical Headhunter or Technical Recruiters) earn a commission or a percentage of your first-year annual salary. Therefore, these people are EXTREMELY incentivized to get you more money. In essence, the more money they make you, the more money they make.

It would be rare for anybody else to be asking you the salary question.

2) When are they asking the question?

You’re almost always going to be asked this question in two separate situations:

  1. At the first round phone screen, or the first time the company ever speaks to you.
  2. At the post-final round interview—towards the end of the hiring process after you’re done interviewing with all the relevant stakeholders—when they are getting ready to make you an offer.

First Round Phone Screen

Do not talk about salary during the first round phone screen. This is because you haven’t even talked to the hiring manager, any of their engineers, designers, project managers, or any of the stakeholders you would be working with.

The objective of the first round phone screen is all about getting to the next round of interviews. No matter who is asking you this question or when they’re asking you this question, your objective is to always get to the next round of interviews until there are no more interviews.

Until you are done interviewing, there is always an opportunity for you to impress people so you can get more money. Budgets change for hiring all the time, based on how much the interviewers like you. These are the people that you will be working with on a weekly basis, not the recruiter. With that in mind, it is essential for you to market yourself as the ultimate Product Manager they could hire for that particular opening.

There are a lot of factors to consider. For example, it may be a position you are comfortable taking a pay cut for because you are simply such a big fan of what they are doing. You might also consider the benefits package and other perks they offer.

If you absolutely have to answer, give a range of what you are comfortable with, instead of tying yourself to a single number. Do research on Product Manager salaries in your target location and give a salary range within $10,000 (i.e. “$110,000 to $120,000” or “$140,000 to $150,000,” etc.)

Post-Final Round Interview

After the final round interview, it might do you some good to consider if this opportunity is the right one for you. There are many critical factors to consider due to everyone’s unique situation. While salary is an important factor, remember that benefits that a company provides or the opportunity itself could be equally significant to you. Have the salary conversation with your potential employer after you have received your job offer. 

Regardless, of your situation, remember that negotiation is always an option. You can refer to this article for more tips on how to get the best out of your offer. If you find yourself in a situation where you have to negotiate, research suggests that your counteroffer should be 10 to 20 percent higher than your initial offer. It’s always better to play it safe than to lose the opportunity, so make sure that you have a realistic number  in mind. We encourage you to reach out to us for a second opinion and learn how to negotiate for a higher salary after receiving an offer.

Please schedule a call today or RSVP for our next event to see how Product Gym can help you land your next Product Manager job.

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