Gayle Laakmann McDowell is an experienced software engineer, having worked at Google, Microsoft, and Apple. In 2008 she founded CareerCup, a company to help people get tech jobs and assist tech companies with their interviewing process. She has also authored several books about getting a technology job as well as the book that we’ll focus on today – “Cracking the PM Interview: How to Land a Product Manager Job in Technology.”
Practices and Ideas for Product Managers, Developers, and Innovators
Highlights from the discussion include:
- While the book “Cracking the PM Interview: How to Land a Product Manager Job in Technology” uses examples from technology companies including Google, Apple, Microsoft and others, the advice is also helpful for interviewing in other industries.
- Product managers enjoy thinking about customers’ problems from a broad perspective. People with a diverse skill set are often attracted to it. The role is challenging because you need to be able to influence and motivate others without having actual authority.
- Product management is about leading the creation of a product, but the title that is responsible for this varies from organization to organization.
- Your background before becoming a product manager, such as in an engineering discipline or business discipline, will impact the type of company and product management role you are best fitted to.
- The 4 Framework: Employers what product managers with skills in four areas:
- Technology: the technology related to the work the company does. For example, a product manager should understand software development if they work for a company that creates software applications.
- Business: knowledge of marketing, sales, production, etc., practices, managing and motivating others, and aligning product management objectives to business objectives.
- Industry: specific domain knowledge of the industry. For example, if you’re creating software applications for the finance industry, financial skills and knowledge of the industry.
- Product: the ability to think like the user, develop solutions to their problem, and manage the process and people for creating a product.
- Recognize that it is rare for a product management candidate to have strength in all four areas. Emphasize the areas where you have strengths and begin learning about the others.
- The priorities of the four skill areas do differ based on company. For example, Amazon emphasizes business skills first while Google emphasizes technology skills first. Determine what is important for the companies you wish to interview with before you get into the interview.
- Steps to take to move into a product management role:
- Assess your strengths using the 4 Framework: technology, business, industry, product
- Expand your coverage in the areas where you have weaknesses. For example, if you want to work in software product management but you don’t know how to code, find a short online programming class and take it. If you’re weak in business, read business books. If you lack product experience, start a blog talking about products. Spend some of your spare time developing a product, talking to customers, and getting experience.
- Find an industry that is a good fit for your strengths.
- Consider the options you have available –don’t just look at the A-list companies but also consider smaller companies that could value your experience.
- Meet people and expand your network. Participate in meetups, industry events, and arrange time to talk with other product managers.
- Most importantly, if you want to transition into product management, try to do so at your current company where your strengths and skills are already known. This is the path of least resistance.
- Preparing for the interview:
- Consider the assumptions an interviewer may make about you based on your background. Discuss this with colleagues to help you think about it. If you are a designer, you don’t need to dwell on your design strengths –focus on your other strengths. Your design strengths will shine through on their own.
- Create an elevator pitch for yourself so you can share your summary in two minutes.
- A popular question is to identify your favorite product and why. Have solid answers for your favorite website, favorite local shop, and paper products. Talk in terms of how it changed your behavior, what the common use cases are, what problem it solves, etc.
- Other popular questions are design questions. For example, how would you design a calculator for a child? Also be prepared for estimation questions, like how many iPhones are sold in a year. Further, expect case questions, like how would you price Amazon Prime.
- Good candidates go through a very structured approach in their response to design questions. Gayle shared a great example of designing a pin for children at minute 31 of the interview.
- Gayle’s book for product managers: “Cracking the PM Interview: How to Land a Product Manager Job in Technology.”
- Gayle’s website – www.gayle.com
- Gayle on Quora
“Say yes more.” – in “Yes Man” written by Danny Wallace
Listen Now to the Interview
Thank you for being an Everyday Innovator and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it using the social media buttons you see below.