Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Why Product Management Interviews Suck

Before becoming a product manager, I was a software engineer for about eleven years. During my career as a software engineer, I interviewed for many different positions and many different companies. Some of the companies had perfected their interview process; they employed such methods as:
  • Analysis and design sessions
  • Coding quizzes
  • Design pattern questions
  • Development process question/answer sessions
The candidate's performance during each segment was fairly objective and straightforward to assess, and hiring managers felt confident that a candidate would excel on the job if she performed well. Any software engineering "rock star" felt confident that she would come close to acing these exercises and quizzes.

Now, as an experienced product manager having recently interviewed at various companies, I'm struck that 95% of product manager interviews yield almost no useful or reliable information for assessing how well the product manager would perform on the job.

Unfortunately, most interviewers concentrate on broad and fluffy questions about previous experience but don't probe into what methods and principles a candidate employs to make key decisions as a product manager. In particular, notably absent from these interviews have been such tools as:
  • Requirements elicitation exercises
  • Product positioning exercises
  • Quizzes on product management principles, methods, and concepts
  • Product management process quiz (or Scrum quiz for companies that practice it)
In fact, the only quiz on product management I've ever seen is the one that Pragmatic Marketing uses for its certification exam. (Seilevel has a somewhat rigorous set of exercises and questions in its interview process, but it focuses more on product specification than on product management.)

If you're hiring a product manager, try creating a rigorous set of tools for assessing how well a candidate knows product management. You'll not only make better hiring decisions, it will help build a better understanding of why you're hiring a product manager in the first place.