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Necessary Skills to Enter PM Roles/ Crack PM Interviews in India
Part 2: Assessing the Effectiveness of PMs and PM Roles
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This post is part 2 of the series: Assessing the Effectiveness of PMs and PM Roles. If you haven’t read part 1, you can read it here.
To understand the necessary skills to crack PM interviews, we have to start by looking at what happens in companies across India during PM Interviews.
Knowing What Happens in PM Interviews in India
To understand what happens in the PM interviews in India, we conducted a survey with the readers of Growth Catalyst. The results exceeded my expectations, and this post is being written based on data from 50+ companies, filled by their current or former employees.
We will keep updating this post basis of more responses that we get in the future. Please take the survey if you would like to help the community.
The PM interview process at big global tech (FAANG) is pretty standard across the globe, and there are enough resources a google search away for you to familiarise yourself with them. We aren’t going to cover them here and focus on what happens in the Indian product companies.
From the survey, we can see that the PM interview process across Indian product companies varies to a large extent. Though the data may be slightly off for a single company, they present a high-confidence picture when aggregated.
So let’s start.
In total, there are 5-6 skills PMs are evaluated for.
Product Thinking: Product thinking goes by others names like product design and product sense. You are expected to showcase your product skills in answering
hypothetical scenarios like ‘Design a fridge for a blind person
improvement questions like ‘How will you improve the Uber app?’
Problem-Solving: Most of companies do not have a separate problem-solving round, but they rate candidates over it by observing how the candidate solves a problem in analytical, technical, and product sense rounds. Usually, it’s seen the same as with product thinking round.
Technical: In the technical round, PMs are assessed on their understanding of technical architecture and why certain choices were made. Questions in this round can include
explaining the current architecture of the app, you are working on
explaining the architecture of a popular app like Youtube or WhatsApp
explaining popular tech concepts like APIs, AI, etc., to a 5-year old
Analytical: While assessing analytical skills, you will get questions like
define success metrics of a product
guesstimates like ‘how many balls can fit in a 747?’
define north star metric for a new launch
Execution: Like problem-solving, there aren’t separate execution rounds, but candidates are rated around it. Execution means different for different companies, but usually, it’s the ability to prioritize and get things done.
Behavioural: Behavioural rounds are conducted by either hiring managers or HRs. Common questions in the behavioural rounds are around
your projects and decisions you made around product, process, and people in those projects
your strengths and weaknesses
your goals/aspirations, and how they fit into the current company you are interviewing for
Only some companies assess all of these skills. Here is the chart showing how many # of rounds were conducted by what % of companies.
We should really look at which ones are more important than others. One way to answer this is by looking at what fraction of companies assesses a particular skill.
If you are a PM who doesn’t come from a software background, you can checkout my book ‘Tech Simplified for PMs and Entrepreneurs’ which has been immensely useful (readers’ word, not mine) in getting them to understand tech well :) 240+ people have rated it 4.5+ on Amazon.
Skills That Matter
In software development, majority of companies test candidates on Data Structure and Algorithms to hire. But when it comes to product development, there is high variability in the process. Even in FAANG, the process is different for different companies.
So it’s important for an aspiring PM to understand which skills are more likely to be assessed so that they can focus on those skills more. Here is what we got from the survey we conducted.
As you will see, it’s absolute necessary to focus on the product design/problem solving as a skill to crack PM interviews. Analytical and behavioural comes second and third. If you want to prepare very well, I would suggest you prepare for every round. But if you don’t have much time (<6 months), you should focus on product design, analytical, and behavioural.
One may wonder why does the process varies so much across companies. The answer can help you gain insight into psyche of the people recruiting you.
Why Does the Process Varies So Much
The PM is a generalist role, and the roles and responsibilities of a PM varies from company to company. The PM interview process is a reflection of that. Even in the FAANG companies, the requirement differs.
Google and Microsoft build deep tech products like OS, Cloud, Search Engine, etc. and so they want the PMs to have strong technical knowledge.
Amazon, on the other hand, is a business first company, and they don’t have a technical round.
In startups/newer product companies, the interview process is a function of
skills of the current management team in place
needs of the product
quality of PMs available to them basis their brand and funding
For example, technical rounds don’t happen because of one or more of such reasons
interviewers don’t have a deep technical knowledge
the management feels their products don’t require strong technical knowledge
they can’t find good PMs with strong technical expertise
Over time, the process for a company is set by the people they are able to hire, and becomes increasingly difficult to change. But the three factors listed above not only impact what skills are assessed in the interview rounds, but also the depth at which these skills are assessed.
Depth of Skills Assessed
To give you an example, the questions in product thinking can vary from ‘How will you improve Uber’ to ‘Design a robot vacuum cleaner’. The first will test the rigour of your ideas, whereas the second will test many skills including technical, problem-solving, creativity, etc.
A simple analytical question can be around success metrics of a product. But it could become complex when coupled with a problem solving question — ‘how will you reduce returns of Flipkart?’
The depth of skills assessed mostly depends on the interviewer. This is one of hardest areas for an interviewee to judge, and sometimes despite doing everything right, you can fail because the depth at which you are answering doesn’t matches the depth at which your interviewer is evaluating.
So the interview process can get tricky. But don’t worry, we have good resources to prepare well.
Resources to Prepare Well
One of the best resources to prepare well is the book ‘Cracking the PM interview’. You should specifically pay attention to behavioural, estimation, and product design sections covered in the book.
Once you have done decent preparation with the book, you can take some mock interviews with friends/seniors who are already PM. This is a critical stage and you shouldn’t miss it.
Here are some resources for you to explore if you can’t find people to do mock interviews with:
We would recommend you to try the free mock interviews platforms and not go for a paid platform initially. We haven’t hear very strong reviews for paid platforms yet.
Courses: To Take or Not to Take
Most of the courses for entry-level PMs are expensive, in the range of $500-$3000. For example, upGrad offers a course at $2400, along with others in the same range. The reason these courses are expensive is because:
These courses have live sessions, and live sessions have a recurring cost to run each cohort.
The people who can teach product management are highly paid/qualified, and charge a premium to build such courses.
Assignments evaluated in the course are subjective, and need additional mentors to provide personalised feedback.
Placement support, if offered, also adds to the cost.
There are couple of red flags you should watch out before taking a course:
Time period — To learn the skills mentioned above, such as Product Design, Tech, Analytical, Problem Solving, you need to devote anywhere between 3-12 months, depending on how closely you have worked with the PM function. Live courses usually run at the same pace for everyone and are mostly 2-3 month long. So unless you are already good at many things that a PM does, it is unlikely you would be able to crack the interview. You should definitely skip any course that offers you to be a PM in 4-6 weeks.
Syllabus and time taken to cover parts of the syllabus — A case in point here is that you can find courses that spends 1-2 weeks on the topic ‘Tech for PMs’. It would be impossible for someone from a non-tech background (>50% of PMs are from non-tech background) learn enough around tech in a week to clear technical rounds. The good news is that technical round doesn’t happen in many companies so it doesn’t hurt your chances that much. But if they claim to teach you Tech in a week and you end up going in an interview and claim you know it, you are bound to fail the round. Same can be said about analytical round.
So put more weightage to rigour than live learning in the courses. Look at total hours of content, # of assessments, time you need to spent on each of these broad topics in the course.
Once you have done these sanity checks, the final test is the peer reviews. Rather than going by overall placement stats, try to find people on LinkedIN who have taken these courses. Further, narrow down to people who had similar background with you and ask how they found these courses. Were they able to transition? Were they able to get value?
The biggest value an entry-level course can provide you is to get you an interview. That is why I recommend people to take courses after they have done basic preparation from books and taken mock rounds. That way, you have higher chances of doing well in the course, and getting shortlisted.
If You are a Founder/Product Leader Reading This
Here are some steps to follow to build a great PM interview process:
Create a list of standard questions for your org — Have a list of questions which interviewers can refer. They don’t have to use these questions, but the list primes interviewers to maintain certain quality in questions.
Create sample answers — Sample answers to the questions also helps interviewers see the gaps they themselves might have. You can add best practices in sample answer comments as well.
Create an interview panel — Create an interview panel and assign different interviewers different rounds/skills to assess.
Ask people to take notes — This should be sacrosanct for all product interviews. Penalise people who don’t do it by doing the next step.
Create a review committee — The review committee should read the feedback and discuss to make a decision. It is ideal to have review committee separate from the interview panel (happens in Google), but it may not be feasible for a smaller company. You should definitely have some people in the committee who aren’t part of the interview panel so that they can ask/observe in an unbiased manner. The review committee should act on written interview notes, rather than relying on what Interviewers have to say in this meeting.
If while reading the above pointers you are feeling skeptical, you aren’t alone. There is a reason most of the Indian product companies have a sub-standard product interview process — it’s hard to do it right! But that also means that those who do it right, create a competitive edge.
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