With the COVID crisis, and the focus on digital going up, we’re flushed with talent who have delivered spectacular solutions in the past. However, as I interview a lot of them over the last few months, few things set a select few apart.
The following are the qualities that set them apart:
1. Clarity of Thought
No matter how experienced you are, or the greatness of the solution you’ve delivered, if you cannot communicate your achievements and your contributions in a clear and concise manner, you have failed.
Clarity of thought is achieved after spending a rigorous amount of time understanding your work, the problem you are solving, and the impact your solution has/had on the customer. Sentence fillers, in excess, are a direct indication of a lack of clarity.
If you cannot convey your achievements clearly, you need to work on your communication.
Tip: Go through your CV and understand how you explain each position and work done. Think of projects/features you want to talk about and run a mock interview with yourself to understand the kind of questions you’ll get.
2. Structured Approach to Answers
Sure, you can arrive, eventually, at a solution to the problem posed before you. I’m, however, looking at the way you reached the solution. Show off your ability to logically arrive at an answer — it’ll help to convince me that you’re in control of your creative mind.
Tip: Ask for some time when posed with a problem. Have a pen & paper handy. Use the time you have to pen down your thoughts and structure them. A simple structuring tip is to start wherever you can and go from there. Speed is critical — don’t spend 10 mins coming up with the answer. 2–3 mins is a good time.
Capturing the attention of the interviewer is essential, but don’t go overboard with a wild idea that’ll jeopardize your prospects.
3. Interviewer Empathy
Empathizing with the interviewer is essential to understand the kind of answer they are expecting. If you find yourself getting interrupted regularly, take a few seconds (have a sip of water), and understand if you’re going down the right path. Ask questions — Is this route acceptable for us to explore?
Remember, the interviewer is trying to understand your skills and has a certain bias. It’ll help if you validate the approach before going deep into a particular topic.
Tip: If you have done your due diligence around the interviewer, you’ll know their strong points and their mindset towards product management. E.g. a prioritization question from a data-focused product manager will require an answer that emphasizes data.
Note: some might say this is dishonest and that you’re playing to the gallery, but to that I say, Product Management is in-part theatre. You have to convince your audience that the play you’ve put on, is reality!
Checking in with the interviewer regularly and understand your path — if you’re talking for 10 mins without interruption, you’ve lost the interviewer OR worse, you’re digging yourself into a bigger hole than you imagine.
4. Ask Valid Questions
Product managers who take time to understand the problem before solving it are those who’ve understood that assumptions are a sure-fire way of getting lost. If something is unknown to you, please ask. Knowledge can be acquired! Don’t shy away from validating your assumption.
Tip: Check the validity of your questions before you ask them. There is no point validating a common understanding — if you’re doubtful, clarify your stance. This converts the interview into a dialogue. Dialogues are remembered more than one-way information dumps of interviews.
Pauses are good and should be used often. This gives the interviewer the chance to intercede and pose more questions.
5. Take a Stance/Justify Your Stance
Product management is all about making a decision and sticking by it unless the situation and environment change drastically. Your ability to process the new information that is thrown at you in your interviews will determine how strong your product skills appear.
Similarly, justify the stance you’ve taken. E.g. if you’ve decided in a particular situation to proceed with a release, in service to customer experience, justify why you’ve decided. Drum up the situation and put quantitative numbers where possible. By putting those numbers, you’ve forced the interviewer to think along your lines.
Tip: Take control of the problem presented by changing the underlying dynamics. Numbers usually force the conversation to follow a certain path — especially if you dictate them.
If you’ve made it this far, you deserve a bonus tip!
Prepare for your interview by studying the organization you’re joining. Read up on the news, the interviewer, and their achievements. Spend time in getting to know the underlying technology used by the organization. Identify the common areas of interest with your interviewer — by viewing their LinkedIn/Twitter/Medium activity.
Interviewers interview on their strengths. If you can find common ground, use it!
Speaking on common grounds can help boost your chances of successfully converting the interview. Avoid blatant flattery though.