The case study round carries more and more weight in the Product Manager interview process. Your case study interview is your opportunity to show the hiring team how you solve problems and how you will respond to the company’s needs. To make sure you knock this round out of the park, you need to set yourself up with the right case study interview prep.
This piece will cover the different ways you can prepare for the case study interview round. There are four things you need to handle to ace your case study interview prep:
- Understand the case study you are getting
- Know who will be ingesting your case study
- Set barriers and clarify assumptions
- Apply the open-ended or narrow strategy
Follow along with our four-step case study preparation guide in this video by Product Gym co-founder Cody Chang:
Case Study Interview Prep: Step 1
Understand the Case Study You Are Getting
The very first thing you need to figure out is what kind of case study you’ve been presented with. The best way of doing so? Ask questions. What are you being asked to solve? What are the main goals and values to consider? Is there a set timeline for when you need to complete the case study?
More commonly, case studies come up in the third round of interviews. But, there are some companies that will utilize these exercises in the preliminary interview.
One great misconception regarding case study interview questions is that the case study will always be a take-home assignment. Although this is common, it’s not always a guarantee that this will be the case. In some case study interviews, you’ll have to complete the assignment in a given amount of time and on the day.
Understand Your Case Study — Ask Questions
The best way to know what you’re getting into — regardless of how the case study assignment is presented to you — is by asking questions. Never start by going head-first into a case study. First, make sure you have all the information about the problem you’re trying to solve.
Here are some examples of questions to ask:
- How did the company create this feature?
- What stakeholder group suggested this product/product change?
- What is the goal of this new feature?
- Is the assumption that leadership has already signed on board to this feature?
- Are we assuming that this is just a small product that we have been given to test?
By asking these questions, you’re figuring out the bounds and the constraints of the case study question and evaluating the need for your case study solution and presentation. Therefore, to understand the needs of the company, you’re validating the need of the case study. This is the moment that you’re able to state assumptions and beliefs (something we’ll discuss later in this article).
Another incredibly important point to consider is the method in which you’re presenting the case study. Will it be presented on the spot, or is it a report that you’re going to submit later? You’ll want to ask questions that clarify the expectations surrounding how you’ll submit your solution.
Having this information is important for when you present the case study, whether it be in a written report or in person, but it needs to be the focal point of consideration as soon as you start preparation. If it is a whiteboard case study, you’ll be meant to present and solve on the spot.
Case Study Interview Preparation: Step 2
Know Who Will be Ingesting Your Case Study (Who Will Read It/Attend the Presentation)
Whenever you’re preparing for any kind of presentation, knowing your audience is a large determinator in its success. So when you present your case study, you need to think about who is going to be at the receiving end. Remember: what you discuss in your presentation should address the concerns of whichever stakeholders are present at your interview. This way, they’re more likely to feel involved, pay attention, and expand the discussion with engaging questions.
When we discuss stakeholders, who do we mean? And what does it mean you’ll need to include? You may encounter UX Designers and Researchers, Product Owners, and Engineering Leads.
As mentioned, the stakeholders present will be more drawn to your case study if you’re mentioning factors that concern them: this is called optimization. A lot of people will only pay attention to the parts of your presentation that they care most about, or that directly apply to them.
So, you have to be sure to cover all the pieces that are relevant to the people present. If you know that there’s going to be a UX Designer in the room, then you should think about including product design elements. You can’t always depend on people to listen to your entire presentation, especially if it’s expected to be 20 to 25 minutes. Quite honestly, the hiring committee is likely going through a lot of candidates: there’s a lot they need to try and remember.
To help make your case study as memorable as possible, here is a comprehensive list of the Do’s and Don’ts when it comes to preparing and executing the case study interview:
- Act as if you are an employee. Granted, you’re just interviewing and you’re not officially an employee yet, but nothing is preventing you from acting like one. The best way you’re able to demonstrate your desire to work for the organization is by using company logos, colours, and designs when presenting.
- Use the right amount of content. It’s easier said than done, but you need to make sure that you’re including enough content to ensure people know about the product but are also curious to learn more about the finer details. Your presentation is only as strong as the ideas you include.
- Include visuals and media to spark audience interest. High-quality graphics help convey your point by not presenting too much information for the audience to be overwhelmed. Most people are visual, meaning the inclusion of graphics and media is a really easy way to portray your point, while also ensuring that you’re captivating those watching.
- Make sure you can explain your pitch to anyone of any age and education level. Although not everyone is going to understand the finer points of your pitch, everyone should be able to understand the basics of what you’re trying to pitch. So, start off simple. This way you’re ensuring that everyone starts off on the same page, regardless of their individual knowledge and experience levels.
- Assume that you’ll be able to take it home. While it is common for case studies to be set as take-home assignments, it’s not always a given. Make sure that you’re prepared to create and present your case study on the day that it is set.
- Forget to set a goal for the feature. The goal that you set for your case study tends to be based on profitability. However, there are a variety of metrics that could be used to determine its success and suitability. Here is a key guide to the different and important metrics you can use when presenting and preparing for your case study.
- Avoid asking questions. The best way to ensure that you’re providing your audience with the most comprehensive and engaging case study is to ask what the audience wants and expects from you beforehand.
How to Prep for the Product Manager Case Study: Step 3
Set Barriers and Clarify Assumptions.
There are many points that you can cover when it comes to the case study, but to make sure that you’re giving a comprehensive and relevant pitch, you need to set barriers and set assumptions.
A key part of this is to understand the time constraints and make decisions about how you’re going to handle them. At Product Gym, where we see a lot of people stumble is when they don’t know when to stop: they don’t know when to create the guardrails, barriers, and assumptions that stop their case study from going in 12 different directions.
When given a case study, the best thing you can do is to come up with assumptions and state them beforehand so you can create the guardrails and connect with the interviewer. Don’t be afraid to ask them about a specific time limit or to suggest a timeline that they want the candidates to spend. Ultimately, the time that you spend will dictate the quality of work that you’re going to put in.
So what do you do if the company doesn’t have given guardrails that they can communicate with you? Don’t be shy — suggest some and see what they prefer.
Case Study Prep: Step 4
Consider Your Strategy.
We’ll cover the two main approaches you can take to solve a case study: Open-Ended VS Narrow.
Remember that when it comes to case study interview prep, either route is suitable. But once you pick open-ended or narrow, stick with it. We see many candidates make the mistake of panicking because they think there’s too much to cover. make sure you’re keeping a consistent view so that you can convey all the information and reasoning that you’re wanting to get across.
We get it — you want to go as broad and in-depth as possible. But covering absolutely everything in full detail is never an option. The best thing you can do to help your chances is to stick to one strategy and have a clear opinion. Whichever strategy you pick should include:
- The product development life cycle
- Your stated assumptions
- Your drafted vision and strategic direction
- User stories
All these components make a successful case study, but make sure that you always include your opinion and make sure that it’s extremely clear.
Now that you know the “why” behind choosing a consistent strategy for your case study preparation, let’s unpack the Narrow vs Open-ended strategy.
The narrow strategy is somewhat explained through the name: A narrow approach prevents you from going through the entire product lifestyle. Instead, you’re focusing on the area that you feel most comfortable and knowledgeable talking about. Thus, you’ll come across as more affirming and confident.
If you’re trying to showcase your specific product management skills, you should pick a particular area or skill set that you feel most confident about and focus on that in the case study solution and presentation.
So when is the narrow strategy suitable? When the case study asks you to pick a product that you’re familiar with, really iterate on it. Create some suggestions or build a product roadmap. Some Product Gym candidates will pick very specific products that only they, or very few people in the industry, know. The advantage to that is that they can really robustly use data and insights to inform their roadmap that many interviewers may not be familiar with.
The downside to that is not a lot of people know about the product. This results in more effort on your end to create the context and really explain a lot of things about the industry. Ultimately, you want the interviewers to be able to ask questions and participate so that you can show a side of you as the interviewee: that you’re collaborative and thinking together in your brainstorming. If you pick something so specific that they’re not able to interact with it, that’s a failure on your part. You need to create that space where they can ask questions and really pick your brain.
The open-ended strategy is the opposite of the narrow strategy. It involves covering all areas of the product lifecycle in broad strokes. It is a more general and wide-reaching approach.
Many avoid the open-ended approach because they don’t want a list of questions when they present their case study. However, if this is an environment that you thrive in, then it’s a fantastic opportunity to prove your ability to think on the spot.
If you have experience in a Product Manager role, this is a great opportunity to present an open-ended case study. With this strategy, you need to think multiple steps ahead.
Which Strategy Should I Choose?
The strategy you choose is dependent on many different factors: the case study itself, your experience, and the level of confidence with what the case study is asking. Ultimately, you should pick the strategy that you’re most comfortable with based on your knowledge of the product and how you plan to answer the case study question itself.
BONUS Step 5: Get Your Solution and Presentation Reviewed by a Professional
You’ve worked through the case study and put your solution into a slide deck to present to a panel of interviewers: congratulations! But if you want to go above and beyond to impress the hiring team, take some time to get your case study solution reviewed by a professional.
A fresh set of eyes may catch typos and grammar errors, but will also be able to point out the areas where you can improve the solution overall. A Product Manager who’s gone through multiple case study interview rounds is going to be able to assess your solution from the perspective of the interviewer and use their experience to help you polish it.
At Product Gym, our interview coaches routinely check over members’ case study presentations, offering insight, constructive criticism, and tips on how to make their technical interview round a success. Solving case studies isn’t just a good practice for acing your interview — it’s also an excellent way to develop applicable Product Manager skills. That’s why we include classes on case studies in our program. Our case study curriculum was developed and continues to be taught by Senior Product Manager for Atlassian, Roman Kolosovskiy.
Because we’ve been working with Product Manager job hunters for the past five years, we’ve had ample opportunity to test and perfect the case study strategy we teach our members. We’ve even compiled a bank of case study prompts that aspiring Product Managers have received in their interviews so that members can exclusively access to hone their problem-solving and storytelling skills.
Nail Your Case Study Interview Prep
You got this. Bring your confidence, your passion for the role (and the company), and your enthusiasm to solve a problem. That, combined with our case study interview prep, can take you from underwhelming to impressive as a Product Manager candidate.
Do you still have questions about case study interviews and how to prep for the Product Manager interview process? Schedule a call with our in-house team of career coaches and learn how Product Gym can help you prepare for case study interviews and land the offer of your dreams.