Preparing for a Product Manager interview is difficult. Great PM candidates set themselves apart from the crowd by understanding the company they are interviewing with. They spend time preparing by understanding the product and being able to relate their answers to the needs of the company and the product.
Product Managers that want to stand out will understand the company’s vision, strategy, customer base, competitive landscape, market positioning, and opportunities. A great PM will perform a SWOT Analysis of the organization. They will use the product through the lens of the Personas for whom the product was designed. They will read news and opinion articles about the company, and find people in their network that have personal experience with the company to gain insight. The list goes on…
There is one tool that I find particularly useful in preparing for an interview that I rarely hear mentioned by other PMs. That’s the company’s Annual Report. Because an Anual Report is only required for publicly traded companies, you won’t be able to get one every time. If one does exist, however, it can jumpstart the entire process. It’s the first one I go to, and you should, too.
Annual Reports contain a wealth of information. The first 30-40 pages are often the most useful. In the report, organizations typically summarize the following:
- Overview of the business
- Values and Culture
- Value Proposition
- Solution(s) summary
- Customer overview
- Technology overview
- Effect/impact of government regulations
- Risk factors to the business
Some of these items could be garnered through other research, but reading it from the source is valuable. You will go into the interview speaking the right language to the interviewer. You can highlight your experiences and accomplishments that relate directly to the companies stated mission, vision, values, and culture. You will understand where the company sees the most intense competitive threats coming from.
Understanding these things will also help you answer some of the most important questions you will be asked in the interview.
Why do you want to work for ACME? Prepare your answer to this question, and focus on where your desires and goals overlap with the company’s. Relate your answer to their culture. Do they say they are looking for people with a drive to disrupt their industry? Your answer can include a bit about how that is an important factor in your decision to apply for a company. They want someone who is looking to make a big impact on the lives of their customers? Great, you can touch on that, too. One cautionary note: don’t say it if it’s not true.
How would you improve our product? This one you can now nail. You understand the customers, the strategy, the vision, the competition, and the business. Go look at some competitive products. Find the hole in the market or an extension of their strategy that gives you what you need to go in with an answer that doesn’t involve rattling off a list of tactical feature improvements, Any PM can do that. Great PMs come in with an answer that blows the interviewer away because it is visionary and strategic.
If the company doesn’t have an annual report, you can still do research to discover much of the same information. If they do have one, this process can be short-circuited. You’ll hear it from the proverbial horse’s mouth. You’ll go in standing out from your competitors.