Navigating the Product Management Interview Process

Product Gym: So you have an interview that you’re getting ready to go out there for. We want to make sure that you have everything that you possibly need to be successful. So, tell me a little bit about the company, if you may. Do you know who it is that you’re meeting with? At what round? And where in the interview process is this?

Dennis: Yeah, so I did a round one interview with a recruiter and they’re bringing me on-site already for a soft- round two, so to speak. It’s a small company, and the hiring process doesn’t seem “normal”. It’s a bit weird.

Product Gym: Got it. And that’s awesome. So you did the first round phone screen, and they’re already expediting for you to come on-site? Okay. So for those of you guys that don’t know, before we get to your questions, usually, it’s not very customary to have one on-site and one phone screen. Typically, at the very beginning you have a phone screen with the recruiter, a second phone screen with is usually somebody from product. But usually that’s done over the phone.

As of 2018, late 2018, we’re seeing more of our members do a case study before they actually go on-site to the interview, though the third round would be an on-site and in the fourth round, it will also be on-site. It’s not unusual, but it is highly irregular for them to go ahead and expedite the on-site interview before having at least one more phone screen. If not, at least a case study before you go on-site to determine whether or not you’re going to be worthwhile for their time. And usually the case is this:

For phone screens, there is a very defined time when the phone screen begins. And when the phone screen ends. For the first round, no more than 20 to 30 minutes. And if it’s a conversation with the Product member for a second round phone screen, it’s about 30 to 45 minutes. OK, so the fact that they’re already expediting you to the on-site interview the first is a bit strange. The first thing that you really want to clarify so that you can best position yourself to go to the next round is to determine what was it about that first round phone screen, what is it about your background that got them so excited and so pumped up that they wanted to go ahead and meet you face to face already? You need to understand those things first, before you start developing a pitch. Does that make sense?

Dennis: Yeah.

Product Gym: Okay. So at this point in the interview, this is absolutely way too soon for them to even initiate an offer, right? I believe, in my professional opinion, they will bring you on-site at least one more time. If not, another phone call and a case study before bring you on-site again. So, do we know how long you’re going to go out there for?

Dennis: An hour and a half.

Product Gym: An hour, an hour and a half max? Okay. So what questions do you want me to answer to with you right now soo you can best be prepared? Our objective here is always to get to the next round, then it’s the third or fourth round and our objective is taking an offer. It’s too soon to try to initiate an offer or try to elicit one. So our objective is to go to the next round, right? Are you meeting with anybody else?

Dennis: Two other people there. And they’re just I looked them up on LinkedIn. The people I’m meeting with are high up people in the company. They seem that have been with the company for a while.

Product Gym: Okay, so talk to me, me, what kind of questions can I answer for you?

Dennis: I know it is unconventional to do this, you know, this on-site thing, so early. I know it’s only an hour and a half, so do you just treat it like you’re just talking to the hiring manager? Like a mixture of round two and round three strategies?

Product Gym: Well, those are things that we don’t know. What we do know is since they’ve already initiated the process, we want to know why and ways to ask that is obviously the opening question that I talked to you about. The second way to go about it is they’re going to try to dictate the pace of the interview as much as possible. You’ve got to go out there and really fight back and fight the urge to give in and you’ve got to go ahead and find out what is it they are looking for. You tell them, “I’m trying to understand how to best help you guys and I need more information.” If they dictate take the entire pace of the call, of the interaction, there’s absolutely no way you’re going to come out on top.

Right. Because remember, I said when companies are interviewing people, they have to be interviewing for reasons to not hire versus interviewing for reasons to hire. Because if they’re interviewing for reasons to hire than everybody’s going to get a job. Yeah, you know, when you go for Product Manager roles, kind of like that show Survivor, right, in the end, there can be only one. So, all of the questions that they’re going to be asking you is all centered around this behavior of trying to find ways to eliminate you as a candidate in this race. So another big question for you is to go ahead and ask, how many people have you guys already interviewed so far?

Try to figure out where everybody’s falling short. Their questions are going to be centered on you. And your questions have to really always just reroute them on what’s the problem that they’re trying to solve. The more insight that they’re giving you, the more you can take it and use it as ammunition. So, you see me in the office all the time and you’ve been taking classes for some time. Now, notice when I’m on a call, even when I was on a call with you, right? People ask, What’s Product Gym? Tell me about Product Gym? What’s what’s different between Product Gym and every other company out there, right? How can Product Gym help me? Well, Product Gym can help people in a lot of different ways. And we obviously do it in more ways than one. And if there was a one size fits all I’d be running these calls out of Paris.

You know, I wouldn’t I wouldn’t be in New York right now dealing with this, as I’d be back in my hometown in sunny Los Angeles, with my family right now. So you have to understand what their problem is. And this is where the battle goes on. If you’re coming at it from a mentality that you don’t need the job and that you’re trying to do the best thing for them and trying to understand how you can best help them then the conversation becomes easy.

Dennis: So, basically, I am trying to sell myself, but I am selling myself as the solution for their problems, without showing desperation or that I need the job?

Product Gym: Never, ever underestimate that in any human interaction, Dennis, there is a buyer and there’s a seller. There’s somebody that ultimately has the final say, and then there’s somebody else that’s pitching themselves.

Okay. The person that’s making the decision, here are the people that are going to be interviewing you today. Yeah, and it’s very important to note that when you’re in a position to buy, you can always sense when something is off. And you can always sense when something is missing. Got it?

So, when they feel that something is off about you, when they feel that something is missing about you, they don’t want to give you the offer. They’re only going to want to give you an offer when they feel that the value they’re getting from you is greater than what they’re going to pay you Yeah, I’ve always said it doesn’t matter if you’re making 40k, or making 400k it’s a matter of trying to get that $100,000 offer today. Yeah, your value to a company is always three times more than what you’re getting paid.

So ask these questions and have that in your mind. So, when so many times people are focusing on what to say. And so many times people are focusing on how to say it, but they’re not focusing on what their mentality is when you’re coming off with a really strong mindset that you don’t need it. I’m here to help you guys, you have a Product and problems that need to be solved with your Product. It doesn’t matter what it is that you say, because you’re coming off as not needy.

Dennis: What happens when you come off as desperate?

Product Gym: When you’re coming off as like, I’m desperate. I need this, you know, I hate my current job right now, I need another job. Or I’m not getting paid enough. That’s why I need more money. I hate the Product that I’m working on, be it internal tools for enterprise, like I really want to go for consumer facing stuff. These are the general things that I hear. They say I want more money, or I want to transition into Product. I hate my current job, I don’t have a job, I just need a job. I would love to start the new year off with a new job.

If you’re in a position to hire, do you really care about any of those things? We’re not here to give you an offer to fulfill your dreams. But we’re here to give you an offer because of the value that you bring to the table, right? If we’re coming off as needy, coming off as desperate, or coming off with jitters, the offer won’t happen. Like, you know, some people, they drink too much coffee and get too excited. Immediately, you’re sensing that some things are just are off about the candidate.

Dennis: What about in terms of acting confident?

Product Gym: Yeah, you’re sensing that something like confidence isn’t a certain way of acting. It’s a certain way of thinking. And confidence is very attractive. It’s hard to not be attracted by it. So it’s important for you to think that I mean, I know your personal situation right now, so, on my podcast, I’m not going to throw you underneath the bus. But you always have to go back to when all else fails, you have to think about how hard it is that you’re working for somebody else, look at the current job that you have right now. And look at how hard you’re working for that other individual. You know, you’re going to bring it so it doesn’t matter. Don’t put these people on a pedestal. Because, you know, at the end of the day, even though you don’t have all the experience, you’re ready, willing and able to learn more than you know.

Even though you don’t have the legit Product Manager title, you’re looking up all these different solutions, you’re looking up all these different problems. You’re fixing all of these different problems in the job that you’re telling me that you’ve been working at for the past three months. Look at how much you’ve had to learn. We’re talking a crazy amount.

And every single day, you’re still learning. Yeah, so think about it like this when you are on the other side of that interview table. You know, I’m not just working my ass off for you. Like, I can think about things. You know, I can, I can go out there and identify problems that you’re not even seeing or you’re too busy to even acknowledge and I’m taking care of all these different things, right? So come at it from that mindset. All right. We have a lot of people who very successful who come from the typical sales, finance, and management consulting background. But that’s not really why they were successful in the job hunting process in a very short amount of time. It’s not the companies that they come from, it’s not their sales track record, and it’s not their soft skills. It’s really the way that they’re thinking. When I look at these individuals and their backgrounds, it’s these individuals that, from a very young age, have had to put a lot of things on their plate and be very disciplined.

And when I talked to some people, I’m not saying everybody, but when I talked to some people that just seemed to coast through childhood, maybe they do their homework all the time. I mean, some of the people that do very well here have an athletic background. And it’s because of the discipline that they bring in from a very, very young age, that they have so much time to do this. And then they have to spend the time doing this. And that really creates a certain level of confidence that their skills, about what I know, and what I can learn. Yeah, and also time management is very important. I think time management is also very attractive.

Dennis: I know you stress mindset above all and I think it is one of the most important things to have in this process.

Product Gym: As you know, some people in our class are already working Product Managers, and they say that Rich focuses so much on the psychology of it. And I said, co-founder, Cody, focuses on the very technical part of it. If you go in there, you guys already have access to our classes for up to 12 months to learn all the technicals and fundamentals

I mean, and we bring in the best instructors from GrubHub, Spotify, you name it KPMG, Northwestern Mutual, of course, they’re like, these are the people that are working for the most competitive companies right now. And you’ve been in our class, at least more than one full round, and look at how much you’ve learned and look at how much we’ve improved our curriculum.

And look at how much you can you can talk about. But if you go in there, and you start choking up, and are you’re very nervous, all that stuff doesn’t even matter. If you can, have that athlete mentality. An athlete can train twice as hard as everybody else and be more disciplined than everybody else. But if you’re afraid to make the plays, and if you can’t handle that level of pressure, we will see you at your fighting best. And I think that that’s that’s one of the things that I really want to hone in on because people know so much more than they already think they know. And when companies are deciding whether or not they’re going to bring on a Product Manager hire, the one key thing that they’re always looking for is, How well does this person does this person figure things out? How will this person get things done?

Dennis: Yesterday, I had a round three, a virtual interview/on-site and especially during the last round, even though the things I said were not completely accurate, I said it with confidence. And they seemed to love it.

Product Gym: There’s so many things that you cannot control once you get into the interview room. Yep. And the people that you may be meeting today, might not even be the people that you’re meeting with.

I’ve had that’s what should happen to more than a few other members at some of these companies. You also know this . They say, oh, you know, Barry couldn’t make it today. Or they come in and say, oh my gosh, Dan, Susanna, Jamie, they really, really liked you today. And I just came in here to say hi and introduce myself. And, and all of a sudden you from meeting three stakeholders, to meeting four.

So anything can happen in an interview. It comes down to just reflexes. And I get that question all the time. How do you get that good at being put on the spot? The answer to that is by being constantly put on the spot. You’re not going to stretch that muscle, or be able to develop it without stretching it several times.

You’re never going to get an offer from them if they don’t respect you. And they’re not going to respect anybody that doesn’t respect themselves. So however, it is that you think you’re coming off in the interview, know that if you were coming off as a powerful professional, don’t succumb to the nonsense and the silliness of it. Yep, you dictate this, yes, you’re about to hire me to do a job. I’m about to solve a very big problem for you guys. A problem that if you guys could solve you guys would have solved it already! So, why don’t you guys tell me what the problem is, so we can start actually hashing it out. Because that way, we can accomplish a few things. Number one, we get to actually identify the problem that they’re not even airing out in the job description, which is very important. Number two, we’re able to identify whether or not this is a problem that is worth our time solving. People often forget when companies are hiring for a Product Manager, there’s a problem to be solved that hasn’t been solved yet.

And maybe if they had enough time, they can solve it. But the truth is, it’s not worth their time to solve it anymore. So, it will become somebody else’s problem. I’m going to have to figure out things that nobody on your staff right now either has the time or the expertise or the patience to go ahead and try to tackle and that may not be the right problem for you. I hear it from members that say, hey, they said, I was gonna be doing this, now that I’m on the job, I’m doing that, okay, they completely lied to me. Yes, it can always happen.

Dennis: You always stress in class that we should take the RIGHT Product Manager job. What do you mean by this?

Product Gym: Don’t ever think about settling. When you settle for a job that you know is not right for, or you did it for the money, well, everybody’s in a different financial situation here., but in the long run, it doesn’t work out. And the truth is, I’ve been doing this for five years. By lunchtime, you already know whether or not it was going to be the right job for you.

So, don’t go there. Make sure this is the right job for you. The third thing is giving them a chance to see what it’s like to work with you as a professional. If they can’t envision or visualize working with you, you’ll end up in a place called no man’s land. That means you’re qualified to do the job, but because I cannot see how how we would work together, you are not rejected in the process. But at the same time, you will not have an offer issued out to you. Now, that is almost worse than getting rejected from the process, as you have absolutely no closure.

You ever see a presidential candidate running for office? They don’t say IF I’m your president, they always say WHEN I’m your president, right. So that’s also another thing that you have to focus on. And the fourth thing is, you’re getting a chance to also show your problem solving abilities, which you have a ton of at this point. Yeah, we’re working out a problem together, we’re getting ready to see what it’s like. I can also show you how engaged I am to solve this problem, which is also going to be helpful. And then the offer, if it’s the right situation, right terms, and also, they have the right amount of urgency, just becomes a natural byproduct of the next steps.

Dennis: I come across companies that are “looking for the right person” and they aren’t “ready, willing and able” to extend an offer immediately. How do you view this?

Product Gym: If you’re having a great interview with them, and you’re somebody they’re excited to work with and they also have the urgency, that’s also very important. Sometimes people don’t have the urgency to get the offer they need to be ready, willing and able to give it, right? They have to be ready, willing, and able. Too many times people are not ready, willing and able.

Other than that, it is a waste of time. So, understand those things. The big things that we’ve been trying to work with you on is you’ve identified a lot of holes in why somebody would not want to hire you. This podcast, is going to be titled, You Are Already Enough for Any Product Manager job. Yeah. So don’t try to stress out about these all the different things that you cannot control.

We’re going to go out there and expect the unexpected. People hop on these calls with me, they’re like what do you think they’re gonna ask? I don’t know. What if I don’t have an interesting background? They’ve obviously already chosen to meet with you. So obviously, that’s not that important. Okay, so what do you think I should say? You are about to solve a multi million dollar problem for them and you are already more than enough for any Product Manager job. So, stop acting like you’re not.

When you come from a place where you need this more than they need you, you psychologically, put yourself below them, and you psychologically put them on a pedestal. A Product Manager starts day one telling other people what to do, they’re not being told what to do, and you have a lot of autonomy. Now, that’s the fun and the scary part of the job. Because there’s a lot of things you have to figure out, without anybody else guiding you through the right process. It takes a very particular type of temperament and personality to want to be a Product Manager and succeed at it. So, don’t don’t say you’re ready to kill it off the bat, can you honestly expect to be Tom Brady without expecting to get injured? It doesn’t work that way,

You have to be willing to take the hits. So, that’s really the name of this podcast right here, which is You Are Already More Than Enough. All of the experience and stuff, you’re going to be able to learn it on job because everybody that is hiring for a Product Manager role, honestly has such a specific problem, and people say, yeah, you know, but what about the fundamentals? I mean, I’ve coached, people without college degrees, or that are working in Product Management. So obviously, that’s not a problem, right? It’s about your ability to solve problems.

You’re already enough. When I when I decided that I was going to start this business, of course, the first couple of months, I was focusing on everything that I didn’t have. But I chose to focus on what I could bring to the table and what we could execute every single day. I thought about this as an idea, years and years and years back not even knowing this was the business I was going to start. I still read a lot, but I don’t really think you can read to be successful. I want to choose my words carefully here. I read a lot and I can learn a lot from reading, but I think real learning comes from doing and if this doesn’t work out, you can have a phenomenal time learning about yourself during the Product Manager interview and that’s going to be able to give you an added level of degree of callous and confidence to tackle the next one.

So you’re ready more than enough for any Product Manager job out there. So let me know if you have any other questions at all. Go out there and then kill it on that interview. Let us know about it. Go get them buddy. You got this.

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