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Job Interview Red Flags: When Not to Accept the Product Manager Offer

After four rounds of Product Management interviews with a company, you’ve been presented with a job offer and are seriously considering taking it. Yet, something is holding you back from jumping on the opportunity. You’re not really sure what it is, but you can’t shake the sense that this offer might not be right for you. Meanwhile, the grind of the job hunt has left you emotionally and mentally checked out of your current position and you know that you have to take action. Should you take the offer anyway? Taking note of the main job interview red flags to watch for should make your decision easier.

Generally, there are five main red flags that you should be keeping an eye out for in interviews and job offers. The biggest interview red flags are: No clear goals, mixed expectations, no compensation structure, seriously bad vibes, and whether or not you’re their first-ever PM.

There is no such thing as the perfect job. Every company will come with their own set of issues and drawbacks to be mindful of. But there is a point where quirks and issues crossover and become red flags that warn you not to accept the offer. Accumulate enough of them, and you may find that you have a potentially toxic workplace on your hands.

Red Flag #1: No Clear Goals

The first of the five job interview red flags to watch out for in every product management interview is a lack of clear goals for your position. A company with no plan for what they want you to achieve in your first 90 days on the job is a company without a road map. Without a solid set of measurable goals in place, you are facing being set up to fail on the job. 

An aimless job description can bring plenty of challenges to your job satisfaction. But aside from that, it can also make things tricky when it comes to performance reviews. Without the parameters set up ahead of time, it can be difficult to demonstrate the value a company is looking for. As a result, it can make negotiating raises or promotions tougher than they already are. 

When you’re going through the interview process, ask questions like “in a perfect world, what problems are you looking for me to solve in my first 90 days?” This can help you get that early feel for the goals and expectations of the company. If they’re not able to give you any clear idea, it might be best to steer clear.

Watch Out for Mixed Role Expectations

Running with the subject of expectations, another Product Manager interview red flag is getting mixed messages about your role. If you are hearing expectations or goals that change depending on who you talk to at the company, watch out. It is a major red flag to get a different story from the CFO, the recruiter, and the hiring manager. This inconsistent, long running list of objectives can go bad for all the same reasons that a lack of direction can.

Particularly in the case of mixed role expectations, this can easily create a scenario where you find yourself stretched in too many different directions. Even the best workers cannot outperform bad leadership, and if everybody you talk to seems to have a different take on what your role will be, that is a decent indicator that you will be spending your time putting out fires and being reactive to shifting goal posts. Not only is this stressful, but it is also unproductive and ultimately unhelpful to anyone who is trying to learn on the job as a Product Manager.

The Compensation Structure Interview Red Flag

The third of the most common Product Manager job interview red flags to watch out for is how your potential employer talks about compensation. The truth is that people don’t generally like to talk about money. Financial matters are still an intimidatingly taboo subject for many in the workplace. But one of the most important things to get straight when considering a job offer is what the compensation structure looks like.

For instance, it’s a good idea to ask how often the company conducts reviews. Whether it’s annual or quarterly, what you really want to understand is what financial incentive there is for you to go above and beyond on the job.

Incentivizing and investing in hard working employees is crucial in any company. If your potential employer seems uncomfortable discussing such topics with you or seems non-committal about the topic, that is a sign that your hard work may be taken advantage of. This is definitely a major red flag to watch out for. 

Red Flag #4: Bad Vibes in the Interview

The fastest and perhaps most obvious red flag in a product management job comes down to how you are treated in your interview. Pay close attention to the demeanor of the people you deal with during your interview process. How do they carry themselves

The quality of the team you are joining is going to be the driving force as to whether or not you are successful on the job. If it’s clear to you from your interview process that the people you are dealing with are negative, angry, or just generally miserable with their jobs then proceed with caution. 

A team that is difficult to work with will be damaging to your mental wellness and success — you don’t want to sign up for that. Not to mention that in the long run difficult people are often impossible to satisfy and therefore unstable to work for.

If there is any kind of bullying or harassment going during the interview then you can pretty much walk away with peace of mind knowing you dodged a bullet.

What if You’re Their First Ever Product Manager?

The final item in the list of job interview red flags is that with very few exceptions, you never want to accept a position with a company where you are going to be the first Product Manager. Whether you’re a first-time Product Manager or you are more experienced, you never want to put yourself in a position where you’re going to have to set up everything from scratch.

Being a company’s first PM means establishing all the workflows, all the processes, the roadmap from ground zero. The only situation where this is a good idea is if you are an experienced Product Manager who enjoys this sort of challenge and you are able to reach an agreement to have some kind of equity in the company. 

If you are a partner, it makes much more sense to put yourself in these positions where you know you are going to have to go above and beyond. If this is just a regular job you are being offered, or you are a new or relatively inexperienced PM, the best advice is to steer clear of this and find something more established with people who can help you learn on the job. 

A job interview is truly a two way street, and it’s important to consider job offers carefully before diving in head first. Some companies are just out to hire any Product Manager they can get, just for the sake of having a Product Manager or using up a budget. Without any idea what they want out of you, you will spend a lot of time with nothing on the go, learning nothing, and struggling to understand how to meet their expectations. 

Avoid the Most Common Interview Red Flags and Land Your Dream PM Role

Accepting a job without a tangible way to measure performance or with a toxic company culture pretty much guarantees that you will be back out on the job hunt again soon. Save yourself some time and schedule a free 30 minute call with one of our senior career coaches today. We’d love to help you start getting offers from great companies and land your dream job.