Product managers play an integral role in the success of companies, large and small, across all industries. Balancing business priorities, customer needs, and technical challenges in the face of tight deadlines, they have a lot on their plate—and a lot on the line.
It’s critical to make the right hires for an important role like this. Here we explain what a product manager does and then unveil the criteria to consider—and the key questions to ask during interviews—when hiring one at your organization.
Why are product managers important?
Product managers make strategic product decisions that can determine whether a business is wildly successful—or fails miserably. They bridge the business, technology, and user experience (UX) components of product development and lead the cross-functional team responsible for improving products.
The best product managers are visionaries who maintain a steadfast focus on customer needs. Renowned, customer-first technology founders like Apple’s Steve Jobs, Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Oracle’s Larry Ellison, and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos were their companies’ first product managers at one point.
What does a product manager do?
Product managers are responsible for studying the market and the competition, then laying out a compelling vision for a product that delivers unique, differentiated value to customers.
While the exact job definition varies from company to company, most product managers set product strategy, define product releases, evaluate product ideas/feedback, prioritize product features, build strategic product roadmaps, and analyze and report on the product development team’s progress.
What characteristics and skills should you look for in a product manager?
The exact skill set needed will differ from one company to the next, but one thing’s for sure: it can be tough to fill key product management roles because you need a tricky mix of capabilities.
You need someone technically savvy, insight-driven, and user-focused, who possesses high intellect and can think on their feet in pressure-filled environments—someone who can take an idea from conception to market release while inspiring leaders and stakeholders every step along the way. You might even need someone with deep experience in a certain vertical industry.
In the video below, three product managers detail the qualities one needs to be a great product manager.
And if you're an aspiring product manager, check out the below video for some advice to help you jumpstart your career.
Product manager interview questions
So how can you find the people with the right blend of product management experience, strategic thinking, business acumen, marketing savvy, and creative problem-solving—among other things—your business needs for its key product management roles?
Here are over 60 key questions you can ask candidates during the interview process to make sure the people you hire as product managers can do what you need them to do.
Interview questions about product management
- What do you think is a product manager’s perfect role within product development?
- How would you explain what a product manager does to a five-year-old?
- What do you love about being a product manager?
- How do you determine what customers want and need? How do you stay customer-focused?
- Explain how you work with design and engineering teams:
- In your experience, what’s the best way for product managers to interact with engineers?
- How and when do you involve design and engineering teams in the product's conceptualization, design, build, and marketing?
- How do you incorporate their ideas?
- When do you defer to their expertise?
- How do you handle their objections?
- How did you handle the most challenging working relationship you’ve ever had with an engineer or designer? Were you able to resolve it? How?
- How do you prefer to divide product management responsibilities between engineering, design, marketing, and other teams during the product development process?
- How do you align and keep everyone on the cross-functional product development team bought in on a project?
- Think about a product you've used that you found extremely poorly or well-designed. What made it stand out in either direction? How would you improve it?
- Tell me about a time you had to build or motivate a product management team.
- Have you ever had to influence the priorities or roadmap of another team? Were you able to gain alignment? How?
- Have you ever disagreed with an executive about a certain product strategy? How did you resolve it?
- How do you prioritize resources when you have conflicting priorities?
- Describe a time you had to say “no” to an idea or project—how did you handle it?
- How do you decide which products make it to market and which features make it into a product?
- How do you know when to cut corners to get a product out the door?
- How do you determine if a product is well-designed?
- What’s the key to a good user interface?
- What has made [name] product successful?
- How would you improve a product’s functionality to become 10x what it is now?
- How would you improve your favorite product?
- Think of a product you use every day—how and why would you improve it?
- Tell me about a company you think has great customer service—what do they do, and why do you think they do it well?
- Tell me about your role on your current team. Who else do you work with? How do you work with them?
- Which aspects of product management do you find the most exciting? The least interesting?
Interview questions about technical expertise
- Our engineering teams employ [name] methodologies. Have you used them? What do you think of them?
- How do you integrate engineers and technical teams into the overall product vision? What’s their role as stakeholders, in your opinion?
- Have you or your team ever developed a technical solution that became a commercial product? Tell me about it.
- How do you ensure market-oriented teams fully understand a product’s technical challenges?
Interview questions about data and analytics
- As a product manager, how do you use data to:
- Understand and scope the problem and/or market?
- Develop the solution idea?
- Validate customer problems and solutions?
- Determine the best pricing and pricing model?
- Set team milestones?
- Measure a product’s success?
- When and how did you use research and data to drive decision-making in your last project?
- Which specific KPIs did you use to measure the success of your last project? Why did you choose those measures?
- Give me an example of when you used data to determine the root cause of a product problem.
- Walk me through a time you used data to influence someone’s decision.
- If you were to see customer retention declining for our [SaaS, annual subscription, etc.] product, what would you do?
- For predictive analytics, when are Bayesian methods more appropriate than artificial intelligence techniques?
Interview questions about leadership and communication
- In your opinion, what’s the difference between leadership and management?
- Is consensus always a good thing?
- When executives disagree about which feature is more important, how do you decide which one to implement first?
- What’s the best way you’ve found to work with executives?
- What’s the best way you’ve found to work with customers and users?
- Tell me about a persistent product problem or challenging issue you took on. What did you do? What was the outcome?
- How do you prefer to interact with customers/users?
- Talk about how you overcame product failures/challenges or poor feedback.
- Tell me about a time you had to influence someone.
- Tell me about a mistake you made—how did you bounce back?
- Tell me about a time you used data to make a big decision.
- How do you say no to people?
- What’s the most difficult decision you’ve ever had to make?
- How would you help a team stick to a schedule?
- What kind of people do you especially like to work with?
- What kind of people do you have a hard time working with?
Basic interview questions
- Why do you want to work here?
- Why should we hire you?
- How would you describe our [name] product to someone?
- How would you improve our product within the next six months?
- How do you think we determined the price for [your product name]?
- Who are our competitors? Which one do you believe poses the biggest, immediate threat to our business? Why?
- What’s one major challenge you believe our company will face in the next two years?
- We also have a B2B division in addition to our consumer offering. How would you balance the product needs of both markets?
- What will you do in the first 90 days if we hire you?
- What’s one of the best ideas you’ve ever had? And the worst?
- What do you need from your manager to be successful?
- What do you like to do in your spare time?
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
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