Product Manager Interview: The Superpower Question

Product Manager Interview: The Superpower Question

One question I’ve regularly encountered as part of the product manager interview is the superpower question. This question usually looks like the following:

“What is your superpower as a product manager?”

I’ll admit, the first time I got this question, I was totally caught off guard! Because I wasn’t adequately prepared to address the question, I floundered for an answer - and of course, I didn’t make it any further for that particular interview.

Since then, I’ve learned that it pays to be prepared to answer the superpower question as part of the product manager interview. After all, employers love to ask this question for multiple reasons!

Why Employers Love Asking the Superpower Question

First, employers want to understand whether you have self-awareness. A self-aware product manager understands their strengths and weaknesses, and self-aware product managers are also more likely to be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of their teammates.

Second, employers are looking for your unfair advantages, also known as your spikes. Since every product has a different constellation of customers, business needs, and developers, each product requires a different set of unfair advantages. Once an employer has a good grasp of your spikes, they’ll be able to correctly pair you to the right product area to maximize your impact.

Third, employers are looking for your ability to sell yourself. Confidence is key in product management, since product managers engage with so many internal stakeholders and with so many external customers and prospects. If you know how to sell yourself, you’ll also know how to sell ideas and how to sell your product.

The superpower question conveniently enables employers to assess all three of the above: self-awareness, spikes, and self-confidence.

How to Answer the Superpower Question

As with any product manager interview question, you’ll want to have a framework ready so that you can adapt your response on the fly.

Here’s one framework you can use to tackle the superpower question:

  1. Identify your superpower
  2. Back up your superpower with evidence
  3. Discuss how your superpower will benefit the employer

Let’s dive into each of the components.

Identify Your Superpower

If you didn’t prepare for this interview question, you’ll be less likely to identify a compelling superpower on the fly.

I recommend preparing for your interviews in a two-pronged way. First, reflect on yourself and your sets of capabilities. Then, conduct pre-interview research on the employer and ensure that you’ve tailored your response to them.

Every product manager has a constellation of skills and strengths that they possess. It’s crucial that you have an inventory of your skills on hand so that you’re clear about what your value proposition is.

From there, realize that you can only talk about one superpower in the interview. Which superpower does the interviewing organization really need from you? How will you stand out and solve pain?

Back It Up with Evidence

Every product manager is a storyteller, and the most compelling stories are the ones that are backed by evidence.

After all, one challenge that interviewers face is that many candidates can talk a big game, but that these candidates may not have a real track record to back it up.

So, to stand out, you’ll need to ensure that you have crisp narratives that demonstrate your superpower. In your stories, you’ll want to discuss how your superpower enabled your organization to do something that it couldn’t previously do, and how you were able to provide tangible positive impact through your leadership.

Analyze the Benefits

At the end of the day, every hiring manager has this question in their mind: “what benefit do I get by hiring this person?”

Make it easy for your hiring manager to understand your value proposition. Discuss how your superpower applies directly to the needs of the organization, and why the organization absolutely needs you to join them right now.

This is where your pre-interview research comes into play. If you have a solid understanding of the pains that the organization faces, you can discuss how your superpowers will eliminate their pain.

Example Response

Here’s a response that I used in one of my previous interviews, which enabled me to obtain an offer from that particular employer.

Keep in mind that I didn’t use this particular answer in any of my other interviews, because I customized my answer to fit the employer.

One of my superpowers is my relentless determination to run through walls.

At one point, I became the Salesforce product manager for my organization. This position was particularly critical because Salesforce is the entire backbone of our operations, ranging from sales calls to customer support to financial forecasting.

But there was just one problem: I knew literally nothing about Salesforce. I knew that to be the most effective product manager I could be, I had to deeply grasp all of Salesforce’s capabilities. After all, different functionalities might unlock new operational models for us, new capabilities through third-party integrations, and new streams of analytics and insight. 

As a platform product manager, it’s crucial to understand the full capabilities of the platform so that I can accelerate the rest of the organization.

To bridge this gap, I planned out an aggressive curriculum for myself. Even though my executive team didn’t ask me to do so, I sacrificed early mornings, late nights, and weekends so that I could read through thousands of pages of official Salesforce documentation, and dive deep into Salesforce community forums.

I wasn’t just content to understand the concepts, however. I also practiced setting up and configuring functionality in our sandbox environment so that I could understand key implementation nuances. On top of that, I dove into our existing Apex codebase to understand how our different modules interact with one another, and I drew up architecture diagrams and workflow diagrams to formally document my knowledge. I became a code reviewer for my own team and suggested fixes for my developers, and I also acted as our Salesforce QA to fully understand all of the edge cases that might come into play.

Within a single month, I became our in-house Salesforce expert. Within three months, I aced the Salesforce Administrator Certification Exam. 

By investing so heavily into understanding the platform, I quickly gained the respect of my engineers, who knew that they could rely on me to identify the best mental model for delivering on key initiatives. I gained the respect of my operations team because they knew that I had a deep understanding of their day-to-day workflows in Salesforce. And, I gained the respect of my executives, who knew that they could rely on me to drive the most impactful roadmap for our platform.

As a New Business Initiatives product manager at XYZ Firm, I know that my relentless determination will unlock significant value. I’m not afraid to dive into totally new domains, and I don’t wait for others to help. I aggressively lead the charge into unknown territory, and I'm comfortable with being out of my comfort zone.

Since the New Business Initiatives product manager is expected to become the subject matter expert at XYZ Firm for these products and domains, speed and depth of learning are absolutely crucial.

On top of that, my relentless determination means that I won’t shy away from chasing down prospects to understand their pain points, and I won’t shy away from ruthless prioritization and aggressive timelines to learn as fast as possible. Whatever you need to get done, it will get done in my hands.

Summary

Product managers don’t just unlock superpowers for their users. Product managers must also unlock superpowers for their organizations.

Therefore, as a product manager, you’ll be asked to discuss your superpower as part of the interview process.

Identify your superpowers, and determine which one is the best fit for the organization that you’re targeting. Then, back it up with tangible evidence. Finally, share how your superpower directly applies to the key challenges that your targeted organization is currently facing.

With this framework, you’ll present a much clearer narrative of the value that you provide to the organization, which in turn dramatically increases your chances of being selected!

 


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