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highlight similarities, differences
Misconceptions About the Interview
Let’s also talk about what information is not necessary for the product manager interview. One of the greatest misperceptions I’ve found is that candidates expect product manager case interviews to be identical to management consulting case interviews. While the two share many similarities, these interviews test for fundamentally different skills; therefore, the prerequisite knowledge for each interview is different as well.
I’d like to take a step back and first examine how product managers and management consultants differ. As a product manager, you work internal to the , and therefore will have access to internal analytics and information. As a management consultant, you work external to the , and do not have access to such information.
As a product manager, you will be expected to first come up with a hypothesis, then test it through experiments and iteration. Because you are internal to the , you should have access to all of the metrics you need to make good decisions. Your success is the ‘s success.
As a management consultant, you are expected to deliver a final recommendation. Because you are an outsider, you cannot trust that your client has provided you accurate numbers, and you cannot pull the source data yourself. I’ve heard horror stories before about clients purposely providing bad numbers to consultants to discredit them – this act usually happens in politically-charged organizations.
Therefore, to prevent such sabotage, management consultants are expected to know particular numbers upfront so they can conduct sanity checks for market sizing: average household income, average household size, US population size, average life expectancy. In my experience, product manager interviews do not require such prior knowledge.
In place of such knowledge, product managers should instead state their assumptions upfront. For example, if you’re being asked to prioritize a set of features, highlight upfront what audience you assume you’re serving, the size of each segment, what market factors are at play, how large you assume your engineering team is, and other relevant factors. Be as explicit as possible about all of the assumptions that you’re making.
You don’t need to get them all right. After all, you don’t work there yet! You just need to show the interviewer how you factor assumptions and new information into your decision-making process. One of the most valuable skills you can demonstrate during the interview is how you structure your thought process when the interviewer corrects one of your assumptions. Your reaction to new information is just as important as your ability to call out your assumptions upfront.
To summarize – don’t spend too much time trying to memorize obscure industry statistics or assorted trivia. Focus instead on how you fit into the role, how the role and the product fit into the , and how the fits into the industry.