The Product Manager Interview Process at Large Tech Companies
This is a guest post from our PMHQ Advisor, Fernando Delgado.
I worked at Google for 5+ years, where I interviewed over 150 PM candidates. I then worked at Yahoo for 3 years, where I interviewed over 100 PM candidates. At Yahoo, I was a member of the hiring committee for 2 years and co-founded the APM program. So the observations below mainly apply to those 2 companies and the Product Manager role.
When you apply for a job at a tech company, you formally enter their recruiting pipeline. That pipeline has a number of filters that cut down the of candidates at every step. At a high level, the process may look like this:
- receives resume
- Recruiter calls candidate
- 1 or 2 phone interviews (can be in-person campus interviews for college students)
- 3 to 6 in-person interviews
- Offer is extended
Note: occasionally, there are exceptions to these steps. For instance, if a candidate has an offer from a competitor with a tight deadline, the company may choose to skip step 3 altogether.
Step 1: Applying
Once the company receives your resume, they figure out whether your background is a match to the role(s) you applied to. Part of this happens algorithmically and part of it happens via humans. Algorithmically means that software ranks candidates based on certain keywords that appear (or don’t appear) on their resumes. After this has happened, recruiters, PMs and/or hiring managers will look at top matches. Most people with a solid resume get a phone interview.
Tip: whenever possible, apply to a company via their employee referral program. This increases your odds of getting a phone call significantly. Probably 2x-5x more at companies lots of people apply to. If you don’t know anyone at the company, see if a friend of a friend works there, and get an intro.
It may be a good idea to polish up on your skills or go through a product manager bootcamp to hone your skills.
Step 2: Initial Phone Call
Some people mistake this first phone conversation for an interview. In fact, sometimes it is skipped altogether. So it’s always a good idea to ask your recruiter who the first phone call is with – a member of the HR department, or a PM/hiring manager.
This step is not meant to filter out candidates, although it can happen in extreme circumstances – e.g. if you’re super rude to the recruiter, or it’s discovered that you lied on your resume. More than anything, this step is aimed at explaining the rest of the process to the candidate, as well as for the company to gather intel which may be important for later steps. For example, current salary, desired compensation package, how senior the candidate really is, etc.
Step 3: Follow-up Phone Interviews
This is where the fun begins. You will be asked to do 1 or 2 phone interviews (maybe over video chat). Questions for PMs will fall into one of the following categories:
- Product sense
If you do exceptionally well on the first phone interview, you will be asked to attend a half or full day of in-person interviews. If you do poorly, the company will stop the process there. If you do alright, but not like a rockstar, they will schedule a 2nd phone interview.
Sometimes, the 2nd person interviewing you hasn’t spoken to the 1st interviewer. This means there’s always a chance you get repeat questions. Don’t worry about that – it’s not your fault. If the question is very specific, then feel free to mention to the interviewer that someone else already asked the question, but that you’re happy to answer it again.
Tip: it is highly recommended to spend a few hours preparing for these interviews. Even the best PMs I know have to spend some time preparing good anecdotes, learned, product ideas before they the interview process.
Step 4: Final Rounds
This step is very similar to step 3, except it happens in person, and there are often at least 4 interviews in a single day.
Most companies will offer you lunch with one of their PMs. This is not meant to be a formal interview, but rather a time for you to relax and ask as many questions as you have about the company. Unless you screw up big time during lunch, this conversation will actually not count towards your interview scores.
Some companies will tell you that you have 2-3 interviews before lunch and that you may have an extra 1-2 after lunch. When a candidate is not doing well in the first couple of interviews, their afternoon sessions get canceled to avoid wasting time. So if you’re in this situation, it’s always a good sign to have the afternoon interviews.
Tip: use the whiteboard whenever it makes sense. Pull out your smartphone or tablet whenever you want to show a specific product to the interviewer.
Step 5: Evaluation
By now, you’ve probably had a total of 4-6 interviews. Everyone you saw has submitted detailed interview feedback. The hiring manager and/or hiring committee will take a look at the entire package: your resume, your interview scores, and the detailed feedback from the interview panel.
More often than not, the decision of whether to extend an offer to a candidate takes less than 5 minutes of discussion. On some occasions, the process can become more complicated – the hiring committee may want to get more information from one of the interviewers. Sometimes, the hiring committee feels that an important area was not thoroughly tested, and they need to schedule one more interview.
At most tech companies, each member of the interview panel will submit written feedback to the hiring committee and/or hiring manager. This feedback will usually contain a numerical score, a summary, list of strengths, and areas for improvement.
What the scores mean:
4.0: one of the top people I’ve ever interviewed in my career. I am prepared to fight for this person with my CEO.
3.5: a very strong candidate. We should definitely hire this person and I would really enjoy working with them.
3.0: this person is a good candidate. I believe we should hire them, but can be convinced otherwise.
2.5: good interviewers will typically stay away from this score, since it’s a synonym for “I don’t have a strong opinion one way or another, so I basically wasted my and the candidate’s time”.
2.0: this person is not fully qualified to be a PM. However, I can be convinced otherwise if other people saw solid potential.
1.5 and below: I strongly believe this person should not be hired. I am prepared to justify my decision in front of the hiring committee.
Since most tech companies will do a set of 4+ interviews, you will get an average score from all the interviews. The average of these interviews must be over 3.0 in order for you to have a good chance of getting an offer. For instance, the following sets of scores would likely get an offer:
- 4.0, 3.5, 3.0, 2.0
- 3.5, 3.5, 3.0, 3.0
- 4.0, 4.0, 3.5, 1.5
The following scores are in risky territory and can go one way or another:
- 4.0, 3.0, 2.0, 1.0
- 4.0, 4.0, 1.0, 1.0
- 3.0, 3.0, 3.0, 3.0 – no one was blown away, so why bother?
The following sets of scores likely won’t produce an offer:
- 4.0, 1.0, 1.0, 1.0
- 3.0, 3.0, 2.0, 2.0
Keep in mind that while this process seems democratic, scoring high with the most senior folks is a good outcome, even if the interviews with junior folks didn’t go too well. Senior PMs (i.e. Directors and above) often have more and influence over a hiring committee’s decision.
About the guest author: This was a guest post contributed by Fernando Delgado, Advisor to Product Manager HQ and former Senior Director of Product Management at where he co-founded and led 's Associate Product Manager program. He has interviewed over 300+ product managers in his career at Google & Yahoo .