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How to Successfully Solve Whiteboarding Questions in Product Manager Case Study Interviews in Four Simple Steps

Dominate your next whiteboarding case study interview with these four simple steps!
7 min read

There is one thing we know for sure about the product manager interviews after mentoring more than a thousand members: it’s the fact that more than 90% of the candidates fail the product manager case study interview one way or another.

This vicious round of the interview eliminates many aspiring product managers who otherwise show great potential and causes many to question their product management abilities as a whole. If you have been let down by your case study interview and don’t have the motivation to keep trying, read on!

In today’s article, we will show you the four simple steps you need to follow to own your next product manager case study interview!

Before we begin, we want to clarify one common misconception about these interviews. Many novice candidates believe that the case study round would involve a take-home assignment, which would allow them to do extensive research on the question that is being asked. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case, and sometimes the product manager interview would involve an on-the-go question that you would be asked to whiteboard and talk about during the interview. When that’s the case you would be given seconds, or minutes if you’re lucky, instead of days to tackle the problem.

If you have more questions about how this particular interview conducted, make sure you check out our product manager case study interview guide and watch our preparation video!

Below are the four steps we will be going over today to learn what exactly you should be doing next time you’re in a whiteboarding session!

Keep Calm and Embrace the Fact That You Know Nothing

You might think that your lack of product management skills caused you to fail your last case study interview, but the reality is that you failed because you panicked! And you panicked because you didn’t have enough information about the case you were tackling.

But guess what, Jon Snow, product managers in real life, don’t have enough information about the problem they were asked to solve either. They are forced to think and create on their feet and acquire more information to clarify the situation.

If intelligence is readily available to them, why would companies go on crazy hiring sprees to find the best product managers to solve their problems?

Having seen many candidates interview, we can confirm that many interviewees disqualify themselves in this first step by showing the interviewer that they are not ready to tackle ambiguous real-life issues. So, by keeping calm and accepting the fact that you have insufficient information about the problem that’s thrown at you, you’ll be a step ahead of your competitors!

This is also an excellent opportunity to talk a bit more about the questions you should expect during a typical whiteboarding session. Many FAANG companies that prefer to ask these kinds of problems during the case study round tend to ask general questions and not necessarily related to the business they are involved with.

For instance, in our Facebook PM Interview guide, we dove deep with the kinds of questions you should be expecting. Interestingly, some of the most famous case study questions have nothing to with Facebook’s business:

Try to Understand What the Question Wants You to Achieve

These questions are asked to see if you can create or improve a product that can accomplish a specific goal. When you are given a case study question, rather than focusing on answering the question, you should first take a step back and think about what the question wants you to accomplish with the product.

For most cases, the purpose of the question will be hinted at you in how the question is formed. Our case study instructors have identified four specific purposes to help you get started:

  • Prioritization
  • Product Design
  • Target Market Identification
  • Product Launch

For instance, in the example question above about whether Facebook should enter the dating market or not, you can somehow tell that the question is more about making a decision rather than designing a product.

You are asked to evaluate if the online dating market would be a profitable field for Facebook to enter. With that kind of intuition, you should tell that the interviewer is looking to see how you would prioritize this option.

What are we prioritizing this against?

Well, that’s where you get creative (intuitively, of course!) to see what kinds of comparisons you can make! You can talk about the current online dating market or try to crunch some numbers to see how many people of a specific segment would be interested in using your platform to land their next bae!

Noticed the word ‘specific segment’ above? That’s where we are headed next with cracking our case study question!

Determining the purpose behind such vague questions, and finding the right approach to address them requires a lot of focused practice with real case study questions. If you feel like you need more training, make sure you check out the Product Gym Case Study course to have access to the instructor-led whiteboarding sessions with real FAANG interview questions!

Narrow Down the Question as Much as Possible

You don’t have the time or the resources to consider every possible case for Facebook’s potential as a dating app. You need to narrow down this question as much as possible to come up with some real and data-driven conclusions.

Given that you already have little to no resources available to you, you are expected to make some realistic estimations. Accurate estimations are only possible if you narrow down the question as much as possible.

Let’s assume that you want to focus on the current competitive landscape, and to make things simpler, let’s take a closer look at a single application: Hinge. We will be asking a few fundamental questions to see if Facebook dating survive Hinge’s competition.

Why do people prefer to use Hinge instead of Facebook? Because they want to meet and date new people. Facebook is not designed to help people meet new people (well, most of the cases!), it’s designed to help people keep up with their friendships. 

How does Hinge suggest matches? Can Facebook do the same? Hinge’s suggestions are based on the person’s profile, and the algorithm is trained as the person likes more profiles. This way, the software has more data to suggest new and more suitable people based on their preferences. Given that Facebook uses its user’s data in multiple ways, it can accomplish the same task. In terms of technical expertise and resources, Facebook is more accomplished in terms of making the best use of data, so chances are Facebook can come up with way more accurate suggestions than Hinge!

How can Facebook monetize this feature? Given that Hinge’s most basic version is for free and Facebook doesn’t have any features (that we know of!) that actively asks for the user to pay, it might take a considerable effort to make the customer pay for it. Alternative monetizing ways might be through targeted ads, similar to the way the main Facebook interface works.

You need to ask more questions to see if Facebook has what it takes to acquire a segment of the market, but you can see that the thought process is way more specific than the given question.

Tired of the dating scene already? Here’s another very popular FAANG case study question solved by our case study instructor, Roman Kolosovskiy:

 

As you can see, there is too much thinking involved, and if you believe that this thought process is only one-sided, then you’re wrong! Your whiteboarding should involve as much questioning as possible!

Keep the Conversation Alive with Your Interview by Asking These Questions

Communication is an essential part of the case study interview, and your interviewer should be informed about every aspect of your thought process!

After you identify the question’s purpose, clearly inform your interviewer what direction you want to take and your reasoning. In your case, your answer will determine if Facebook stands a chance of surviving in the online dating market and you will decide based on its compatibility against a competitor, Hinge.

Check your reasoning with your interviewer by asking them if this is something on their mind or if this is something they would consider. In most cases, they would either have an answer key or a direction on their mind and would be able to help you.

Once you agree on the direction you take, ask more specific questions. For instance, you’ll be using Hinge to compare because it contains some key features that Facebook already has. Examples include suggesting people based on profile, a messaging interface, etc.

Don’t ask questions just to ask questions. Try to extract as much information as possible or get a confidence vote from the interviewer that you are on the right track.

Last but not least, make your interviewer’s life easier by suggesting options and giving details while asking questions!

Getting a product manager job has never been tougher and we exactly know how to get you there! If you need more help, schedule a free consultation with us today to find out how we can help you!

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How to Successfully Solve Whiteboarding Questions in Product Manager Case Study Interviews in Four Simple Steps

Dominate your next whiteboarding case study interview with these four simple steps!

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