If you are like me, you always feel a tightness in your gut when it comes to closing a deal. Closing final round interviews for a Product Manager position is no exception. You would think that decades of experience in sales would soften the effect of anxiety in such situations, however, I’m sorry to report it persists.
By the final round interviews stage, you’ve answered every detail about your past, your skills, your work experiences, and probably have even solved a real-world problem for them in the form of a case study. Going into final round interviews can feel like you’re at the 5-yard line and all you need is one final push to score a touchdown. Nothing is worse than enduring all of these exercises, crushing your final round, and then waiting an eternity to hear back.
So how can you make sure you close the offer, score the touchdown, and land the Product Manager job of your dreams? The inner workings of final round interviews on the company side are worth looking into. Understanding why you’re kept waiting after the interview will likely ease your mind, so let’s unpack it.
The Final Interview: Company Side
In sales, when a customer declines to purchase after you’ve gone through the process they will usually give you one of a few reasons for failing to complete the transaction. Typically, they cite:
- no money (budget)
- no urgency (timing)
- no trust (doubts)
- no need (interest)
In reality, it’s probably a combination of factors that go into making a purchasing decision. However, it’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming that the root cause is you, or your inability to “close”.
In the hiring game, recruiters face similar barriers when looking to hire (budget, timing, doubts, interest). If these factors are holding them back, your ability to “close” final round interviews doesn’t come into play.
Companies often run through the entire interviewing process, get to the final round, and then choke when it comes to finalizing the exhausting process of adding another teammate. The reasons it falls apart after the final interview often have much less to do with you and your performance than the company and their process.
The monies that were allocated for the role may have simply dried up or were diverted to other projects. They may have run out of time, and competing priorities take over. Those responsible for making the hiring decision may get cold feet and doubt their ability to pick the right candidate and thus keep stalling.
Then there is my personal favorite: interest. Some companies go through the interview process continuously with no real imperative to hire a new employee. They simply want to “test the market” to create a pipeline for the future.
If you have experience with being paid on commission, you know that when you qualify a prospect, you are really trying to prejudge their ability and desire to execute. You must carefully weigh those factors against the amount of time and resources you will expend to consummate the transaction. If you’ve ever had your mortgage payment depending on your ability to identify ready, willing, and able buyers, you can appreciate the importance of this six-sense.
When it comes to final round interviews, the same rules apply. You must hone your ability to assess whether the opportunity is real, whether the company is serious about hiring, and the probability of them pulling the trigger.
Qualify The Company
How will you know if the company is serious? There are important questions to bring up long before you get to your final round interviews. You’ll want to know if this is a backfill hire or a new position. You need to know how long the position has been open for. In short, you need to know if the company is ready, willing, and able to hire.
If you have carefully analyzed the opportunity and determined that the company is ready, willing, and able, you should have at least a 50/50 chance of getting an offer. If you reach the final round six times within the same period of time, you should have 3 offers to choose from, which is how you get the salary and the job you want. Take control of the situation. Spend your time wisely and qualify your potential employer just as much as they are evaluating you.
Are They Ready?
This sounds like a silly question. Of course, the company is ready to hire, why else would they perpetuate this charade? The truth is, if a job has been open for less than 30 days or has remained open for more than 4 months, the probability of the company truly being ready to buy is next to zero.
Let’s analyze this for a second. If you consider that every single job posting receives at least 100 applicants, many of them flooding the system minutes after the posting goes live, there is no shortage of talent in the job market. Don’t believe it? Post a job on Indeed for a Product Manager role and watch how many people apply within 24 – 72 hours. Actually don’t do that. That’s just cruel.
If a job has been opened for less than 30 days, management cannot work through the applicants as fast as HR can supply them. Each round two interview takes at least one hour per candidate. That’s a lot of time for a hiring manager that has dozens of competing priorities. However, if the role has been open for more than 4 months, consider how many opportunities this company has had to interview people, make a decision, and hire a new person.
A quick review of SHRM benchmark surveys will reveal that the average time to fill a skilled role is about 37 days, from the date it’s first posted to the time the candidate is onboarded. If a role has been open for 120 days, there is a reason — and it’s not a lack of qualified candidates or an individual’s ability to close. Walking into final round interviews for jobs that have been open for an eternity is simply an exercise. Don’t expect much of anything to come from it. If you have other opportunities that pass this timing test, focus on those instead.
Are They Willing?
In a typical interview, you start with a recruiter or HR representative. They loosely qualify you as a candidate based on how well your experience matches the job description they were given. Next, you likely speak directly to the manager you will be working for or a senior member of the staff. On your third round, you could be speaking to other members of the team, another manager, and/or completing a case study.
By the fourth and final round of interviews, several senior members of the organization have looked at all of your qualifications. Perhaps you’ve taken assessments that outline your personality traits, or maybe they’ve spoken with you at length. Either way, they have a pretty good idea of who you are and what you bring to the table.
If that is the case, why do they need a fourth round of interviews? Is there some burning question they forgot to ask you? Did you not already solve a real problem for them that obviously got their attention? You must ask yourself, what’s the reason for the final round? Is there one? Here are some red flags to watch out for, as they may indicate an unwillingness to execute:
- The final round has multiple people, including some that you already interviewed with.
- They provide a reason for the final interview that doesn’t make sense.
- They are duplicating a lot of the work you’ve already done up to this point.
- The structure of the interview seems fishy.
Question whether they are serious about filling this role at this time, or whether you may be exerting all of this effort only to be disappointed later.
Are They Able?
If you’ve ever heard a hiring manager wax poetic about the magnificent new role that they are creating, you’ve probably heard everything you need to know about the likelihood of landing that position. The truth is, very few brand new roles will ever get filled in a company.
Think of all the stars that have to align for this to happen. A new role means the company has to spend more money, hoping and praying that this expenditure will lead to more revenue or profits. Managers who spend more money had better have something to show for it at the end of the quarter. Thus, many managers will postpone, pivot, or otherwise try to find someone else to do their dirty work for them. No manager ever got fired for not spending more money. Going out on a limb and spending on people — especially if it is a net new role — is a huge gamble for those responsible. If they are not 1000% sure, they will punt.
When a company or team loses a member, and it happens about 20% of the time according to analysts that study these things, the projects they were working on come to a screeching halt. Every day that goes by, someone else on the team must pull double duty to finish the work and keep the chocolate factory moving. Even worse, the departing employee’s boss may have to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty.
When it starts to rain, you don’t sit and carefully consider the benefits of buying an umbrella. You run for cover. The same is true with companies and hiring. When the person performing certain duties quits and all of the aforementioned chaos descends on the team, the company will be urgently hiring. If they don’t fill the role quickly, either production halts or those doing the extra work may well quit themselves, compounding the problem.
This hiring scenario is called a backfill hire. A backfill hire is glorious if you are being invited to a final round interview. Almost all real hires come from backfills. Serious managers at serious companies are not going to spend hours doing this exercise with multitudes of people unless they are near certain you are the right person for the job. How many candidates will be attending a final round? Probably one. If the company is still on the fence, maybe two.
How to Crush the Final Round Interview
If you have properly qualified the company, it’s time to consider your final round interview strategy. At this point, those you will be interviewing with have a pretty good idea about your skills and personality, but there may be some lingering doubts. This is simply a natural, human response to any purchasing decision.
In some instances, there may be an equally qualified candidate with a different background, and the team needs to decide between the better of the two options. Regardless of the situation, there are a couple of things you can do to allay any concerns that you are the right fit for the role.
Show the Team What it’s Like to Work With You
Do you keep a work journal? You really should. If you are currently working as a Product Manager, each day that passes presents unique challenges. Today, I made a clickable prototype, finished a spec for a new feature, and helped sales & marketing calculate the total addressable market for a new product offering. And that was before lunch.
We are constantly delivering for our teams and other departments. If you think of all the projects you’ve worked on, you should be able to create a catalogue that will serve you well when you search for your next role. If you are like me, you should keep records and not rely on your memory. Having these stories outlined will help you humblebrag and drop scenarios without having to come up with these answers on the spot.
If you have these projects documented and categorized, you should be able to use them as storyboards for your next final round. The key here is to pick projects that align with the new role you are seeking. Working with a distributed development team, interacting with other departments, and delivering on promises are all transferable skills.
Have a proper deck ready to go in case you need to present to a panel or a more formal setting. Refresh your memory before you go into the final round and you should be able to stick the landing. Want extra credit? Post your work to your personal website and you can pull up your work journal from anywhere with an internet connection or simply refer people to it as needed.
Solve a Problem with Them
Chances are that by the final interview, you may have already completed a take-home assignment and your new team may have seen a first-hand example of how you solve problems in isolation. However, just as important as demonstrating your process to others, you should have a good idea of what it’s like to solve a problem with your new team.
How does your new boss give feedback? When you are working on a problem, how does the new team expect to receive your inputs — piecemeal or all-in-one deliverable? When a conflict arises, what is it like to negotiate a compromise with the stakeholders you will be working with?
With members that you will be working directly with, try walking through a problem together. Have some examples and work through it from a high level. Don’t make it weird. If the discussion is flowing naturally you may get this opportunity organically. However, having a simple scenario that you’ve practiced and that is relevant to the new team will help them try before they buy.
Look at their existing portfolio or new features that were released and ask the team to walk you through how they solved the problem, learn what their process looks like and share some of your processes that you’ve used in the past. Nothing beats rolling up your sleeves and taking problems head-on. PMs need to have the ability to walk into chaos and establish order or at least lay a process on top of the seemingly unconnected parts. Show them how you tackle problems and collaborate with others to come to a consensus.
Show Them the Value You Bring to the Table
Product management is more than just prototypes and documentation. In production, you also need to quantify your impact on the organization. In larger teams, it may be slightly more difficult to break out your contribution, but not to fear estimating impossible to calculate benefits is another superpower you’ll likely have developed as a PM.
Perhaps the feature you developed is now generating revenue for the company? What was the process you went through to find product market fit? Walk us through your process and present it like any other project. Maybe your feature cut down the average time to service customers from five minutes to under three? Perfect, run that out for 12 months and come up with an estimate. Even if your calculable value is modest compared to larger organizations, the fact that you can track, organize, and communicate your results and can show demonstrable value is what we’re after here.
Companies hire new recruits to make money, save money, or save time. Make quantifiable achievements a regular part of your personal portfolio. Need a vanity metric for your website? What if you track your lifetime value? Add up all the projects you’ve worked on and estimate your impact. The fact that you have such a figure will likely make you stand out from the hoi polloi.
Ideally, you’ve kept notes on the things you discussed during the earlier interview rounds. Now, you can try to sprinkle those notes throughout the interview. Start by discussing the problems the organization is facing and how you have met similar circumstances. It can feel awkward sometimes to humblebrag about things you’ve accomplished. This is not the time to be bashful.
At the same time, nobody likes a blowhard. So try to be crafty and remember to drop your gems at appropriate times during the conversation. This takes practice and you should not do it for the first time in front of a hiring manager. The best performers in the world spend hours practicing their delivery, so take some time to rehearse. You want to be able to share these stories with others and get some feedback from them to incorporate back into your stories. Don’t be afraid to iterate and repeat.
There may be some among the group that still have questions about your personality and fitment, or possibly even the depth of your skills and background. Don’t be afraid or put off if these questions come up. Try to evaluate your prior performance critically and if you were in the hiring chair, what might you want to revisit before you made an offer to a similar candidate? If you can perform an honest self-appraisal, prepare to address questions that might come up regarding your weaknesses and have answers at the ready. Nothing breeds confidence like practice. Remember, this little bit performance theater and well-crafted stories that are practiced will help you deliver a sharp combination of counterpunches that will have the desired effect on target.
Justin Fowler transitioned from a lengthy career as an Insurance Broker into Product Management, working with an AI-enabled voice analytics software company. Justin is living proof that you are not too old or out of touch to learn new tricks and practice another trade — if you are willing to put in the work.