A technical product manager is a critical piece of the product management puzzle. It’s vital to find the perfect profile to fill in this position. For that reason, knowing some common technical product manager interview questions can help – whether you’re a hiring manager or a TPM candidate.
From larger tech companies like Google, Amazon, and Apple, to small Silicon Valley startups, technical product managers are growing in demand everywhere.
The career path is certainly lucrative, with exciting perks and handsome pay packages, but it’s also one of those jobs that not everyone can do.
Whether you’re a technical professional preparing for a job interview or a recruiter refining the interview process, keep reading. In this article, I’ll list the most common/anticipated technical product manager interview questions.
Let’s jump right in.
15 Must-Have Technical Product Manager Interview Questions
Hiring a technical product manager isn’t exactly a walk in the park.
As mentioned earlier, it’s an extremely important role that can decide the very future of an upcoming (or an existing) product.
Hence, technical product management interviews can last for as long as an hour (sometimes even longer).
But what could the recruiter possibly ask? I took the liberty of gathering 15 of the most common technical product manager interview questions, and splitting them up into the following categories:
- “Toe dipping” questions
- Technical questions
- Miscellaneous questions
Let’s see what they are.
“Toe Dipping” Questions
Before getting into the specifics, a hiring manager should ideally start by finding out whether or not the candidate is suitable for the position.
I call these “toe dipping” questions because it’s similar to checking the temperature of a pool to see if it’s right.
That’s what they would want to do – see if the person they’re interviewing is right, to avoid wasting their time on the wrong person.
To do this, experienced recruiters will definitely ask the following (or at least something similar):
1. What aspects of product management do you find exciting?
At first, this may sound like a super-generic and overused question.
But believe me, it’s very important.
This is the chance to gauge what product management really means for the candidate.
Recruiters will use this question to judge the priorities of the potential TPM. To be specific, they’ll want to see if the candidate is passionate about:
- Creative/Out-of-box thinking
- Creating new things
- Understanding customer demands
- Working with different teams
- Pushing their mental limits to achieve something great
I think we can all agree that everything I mentioned above is what makes product management beautiful.
If the candidate lists the wrong reasons, such as decent pay or the chance to boss people around, the interviewer could mark it down as a red-flag.
2. Explain the role of a technical product manager as if you were talking to a 7-year-old.
An easy way to tell if a person is experienced in their field is to ask them to explain what they do.
A person with little experience will provide a long job description, sprinkled with jargon that even they probably don’t fully understand.
On the other hand, an experienced professional will share a substantially shorter description without using any industry jargon.
Hiring managers often slip in this request in their list of technical product manager interview questions. It’s a clever (and rather unorthodox) way of testing whether they truly understand what the job is all about and what it exactly entails.
You’d be surprised to know that even some talented candidates struggle with describing their JD in a simple way. Some might even go as far as protesting that it’s impossible, due to the purely technical nature of the job.
However, that’s not the case.
In case you’re wondering, here’s how I would describe the technical product management role to a 7-year-old: “I help create stuff that makes life easier.”
3. How does your role differ from a typical product manager?
As you can probably tell, things are getting a bit more specific at this point.
The interviewer isn’t looking for an accurate response or a textbook definition here.
Ideally speaking, the candidate’s answer shouldn’t reflect that they’d restrict themselves to the technical side of things (if selected for the role).
Sure, they can list down some of the main responsibilities, but they should also understand that during tight deadlines and intense phases, everyone ends up doing everything.
This is their chance to step up and show that they’d be willing to go above and beyond the call of duty, and assume additional responsibilities of product management, which are usually not a part of the job description.
4. Tell me about a product that you love.
The crucial part of this question -- or the answer to it -- is not the product itself, but the candidate's explanation of why they love that product.
This will tell the interviewer a lot about the candidates' understanding of what's behind good product development, and about their passion for the field.
Mentioning something they would change on the product is a plus. This demonstrates a sense of critical thinking that any good technical product manager must have.
5. What is it about our product(s) that excites you?
Keep in mind that the interviewer might choose to ask this question right in the beginning (in fact, these questions have been listed in no particular order – they’ve merely been categorized).
Solid preparation is the mark of a strong candidate.
If they don’t know the company or the product they’d be working on, it’s going to look bad.
In case they’re not aware of the project they’re being interviewed for, they should at least do some research about their potential employer.
This is where things get a little exciting (or intimidating – depending on where you stand and who you are in this situation).
With the help of the following questions, the interviewer can gauge the technical skills and the relevant life experience of the candidate:
6. What technical skills do you have that set you apart?
This question is an opportunity for candidates to highlight their strengths and outline what technical skills will help them succeed on the job. It's important that the candidate's answer aligns with the position requirements. This will show recruiters that the potential hire understands what it takes to succeed in the role.
The way that this question is answered could make the difference between a good and a great candidate clear for recruiters.
7. Do you have experience with XYZ methodologies?
Developing a new product from scratch – whether it’s a lightweight B2C SaaS or a comprehensive suite for business managers – takes time.
But product teams don’t have all the time in the world. There are deadlines to meet and competitors to beat.
To keep up with all of those challenges and ensure the product’s success, people have come up with different methodologies over the years.
The most widely recognized is the agile methodology.
To test the candidate’s technical know-how and level of hands-on experience, a recruiter might ask if they have ample experience with any of the methodologies.
8. What is it about our product that you would change? (Or any favorite product)
This goes back to the importance of preparation and judging the candidate’s ability to perform under pressure.
Recruiters should look for candidates who can take a good product and turn it into a great product, and not just create something mediocre.
If they’re able to suggest some new promising product features during the interview, they already have one foot inside the door.
At the very least, they should have some fresh ideas for new product features for any of their favorite products (other than what their potential employer is aiming for).
9. How would you tackle a technical hiccup?
This question somewhat overlaps with the previous one.
That’s because the recruiter actually wants to know how the candidate would handle a stressful technical situation. It could be anything – a bug in the code, problem with the design, etc.
Furthermore, they’d want to see if they would use the best practices to overcome the challenge with their team(s).
While the answers may vary, the best possible way would to sketch out a rough roadmap or the step-by-step process they would take to handle the situation.
Additionally, the candidate should also come up with a decent reiterative solution/framework to prevent that technical error from happening again.
10. Would you be more comfortable managing an engineering team, sales/marketing department, or both?
Another one of the commonly asked technical product manager interview questions is related to teamwork.
Product management is a very hands-on field.
Communication, collaboration, and consistency – or as I like to call them, the “3 Cs of product” – are key to winning the race.
Whether you’re a regular PM, a TPM, or a PMM (product marketing manager), you need to have a knack for teamwork.
Working in silos and resisting collaboration with other departments is a classic recipe for disaster.
Sure, a TPM would mainly be involved with the engineering/design team, but they would also have to work closely with sales, marketing, and other departments to ensure the product’s success.
11. Let’s say you get a budget cut. How would you tackle such a situation?
When creating a new product, prioritization matters a lot.
In fact, the ability to “prioritize tasks” is often included in the required skillsets of TPM job descriptions.
A sudden budget cut (or just a really tight budget right from the beginning) can hamper progress and force development teams to cut corners.
However, it can also encourage creative thinking.
To gauge where the candidate stands, the recruiter might pop this question during the interview.
Not only will this help tell about the candidate’s mindset, but also their ability to deal with executives.
The remaining technical product manager interview questions don’t really fall into any specific category.
They mainly lean a bit towards the personal territory.
Let’s take a look at what they are.
12. Do you have any experience managing a team?
Again – a recruiter may choose to ask this question right in the beginning.
While managing a team is a huge plus, it’s certainly not a prerequisite.
If the candidate has ample experience in their field, impressive knowledge, and a proven track record, it doesn’t matter if they never got the opportunity to supervise a team.
13. What’s the most exciting project you’ve ever worked on?
This question has the same essence as the very first one.
The interviewer can use this question to see the type of work the candidate enjoys (and whether their interests align with that of their organization).
14. How would you interact with users and customers?
The answer to this question will reveal candidates' experience handling user interviews and how they leverage users' feedback. Different from what many think, technical product managers must also have strong communication skills.
Hiring managers should look for structured processes that involve individual and group interviews, user forums, analytics, and surveys.
15. Your team makes a critical mistake. How would you handle the situation?
Finally, the recruiter would want to test perhaps the most important soft skill needed to become a technical product manager – leadership.
When things go south, a great leader doesn’t throw their team members under the bus.
Instead of pointing fingers, they accept the responsibility for the failure.
And they don’t just stop there – they go one step ahead and come up with a solution to prevent this from happening again.
If the candidate’s answer ticks both of those boxes, they’re golden.
Everyone knows the best practices and the unwritten rules of morality, but when deadlines close in and emotions run high, some people crumble under the pressure.
However, with the right questions and answers, recruiters can filter candidates right from the beginning, ensuring a smooth product launch.
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