9 Need-to-Know Behavioral Interview Questions for Product Managers

Behavioral interview questions for Product Managers can quickly become a messy bog if you don’t prepare for them in advance. If you haven’t encountered these interview questions before, they usually take the form of a scenario or situation, typically one with some form of conflict, and ask you to share your approach to addressing (not necessarily solving) the issue presented. That last bit can be tricky because often the question involves you self-disclosing an error you made or a shortcoming that you have identified in yourself, which is counterintuitive in an interview where you are trying to put your best foot forward.

The hard part is in crafting an answer that reveals enough information to seem genuine, but not too much information that it becomes a red flag. How do you find the balance between the two? Let’s break it down.

How to Answer Behavioral Interview Questions for Product Managers

As with any Product Manager interview question, the best approach to answering behavioral questions is to understand the formula for presenting an answer. These are generally frameworks like STAR, or SAR. The reason you want to get good at using these is because every behavioral question can be addressed using this approach. Keep in mind that most interviewers will have heard versions of this being used so their ear is particularly attuned to the format. If you deviate, the interviewer may interpret your answer differently than you intended.

How do you know when it’s time to use this answer formula? They typically start off with a prompt similar to “Tell me about a time” and then ask you to relay an event or situation from your work history.

When you hear any question structured similarly, you’ll know that this is the type of answer that the interviewer is looking for. Behavioral interview questions for Product Managers can be the hardest type of questions to answer so having prepared answers ready is imperative to getting through this part of the interview.

What Types of Behavioral Interview Questiosn to Expect

Categorically, there are 3 primary types of behavioral questions you will get asked in a Product Manager interview. This list is not exhaustive and I’ve had some pretty strange variations of these, but generally you should prepare for the following types of behavioral interview questions:

  1. Addressing Conflict
  2. Personal Failure
  3. Product Sense

3 Behavioral Questions for Addressing Conflict

Being able to handle difficult situations and conversations is absolutely essential to product management work. Here are some typical conflict-based behavioral interview questions for Product Managers that you may be asked:

  1. Tell me about a time when you missed a delivery deadline
  2. Tell me about a time when you had to say no to an important stakeholder/your supervisor.
  3. Tell me about a conflict you had with a stakeholder or stakeholders, and describe how you resolved it.

If you have not practiced responses to these questions, you won’t have stories ready to deal with how you have handled conflict in the past. You will be caught off guard. No bueno. You can put together a stellar, reusable answer for behavioral questions about conflict by following 3 steps.

1. How to Pick a Scenario

To avoid being caught off guard with the conflcit question, think about a conflict ahead of time. Use a recent scenario you’ve found yourself in where you were confronted with this type of pressure. From there you want to briefly summarize what the situation looked like. For example “My team was weeks away from an important deadline to deliver (some feature or product) and we realized we were not going to meet the delivery date due to (some reason)…”

You can add a few details here to add nuance to your answer. Still, the strategy is to keep it succinct and easily relatable. Make sure you name the product or feature and the title of the people involved that you had to relate the bad news to: this will add to the believability.

2. Explain Your Course of Action

Next, formulate a sensible course of action to address the problem. Keep in mind that most books on conflict resolution focus on addressing the concerns of the other party with empathy, active listening, and other such constructs, and charting a forward path that satisfies the parties as much as possible. You don’t have to be a magician, but at least have some common sense about how to present bad news and work your way through to an outcome.

Pro-tip: In this part of the story, I highlight how I shield my engineering team from negativity by not using them as the lightning rod when things go south. It’s easy to blame delays on engineering to avoid the heat but it’s generally the coward’s way out, so don’t be that guy. Take it on the chin and keep the process inching forward.

3. How to Frame the Outcome

Lastly, you need to have a good outcome to share. Don’t make it unrealistic. You delivered bad news, so often people will be pissed — and that’s okay. The key is to outline what you were able to accomplish (some compromise or agreement to press on) and how you got back on track with as little collateral damage to your team as possible. If you want extra credit, highlight the lesson you learned from this event (better estimating, communication frequency, etc.) and how you incorporated that learning into your skill set for future situations.

3 Behavioral Product Manager Interview Questions About Personal Failure

These questions are classic. Some behavioral questions that address personal failure include:

  1. What is your biggest weakness?
  2. What’s an example of a challenge you had to overcome?
  3. What would your boss/teammates say is your biggest weakness?

Regardless of how they phrase the question about your personal failings, the interviewer is asking you to admit a weakness. You may feel like this runs counter to everything you want to focus on. You should have some degree of self-awareness to answer this question adequately.

Some might advise you to identify a fake weakness, such as “I’m an overachiever” or “I work too hard.” However, this approach is usually paper thin and anyone who has done this before will spot it a mile away.

How to Answer Questions About Personal Failings

A better way forward is to think about your weaknesses honestly and work on presenting them with mitigation. Having weaknesses is human. Doing nothing about them seems like laziness even though you may make little progress. How have you worked on yourself to improve your weaknesses?

Try not to pick a weakness that is integral to being a good Product Manager. For example, if I share that I’m terrible at multitasking, that’s going to paint a pretty bad picture — or at least a really deep hole to climb from. A better way would be to concede that I sometimes get laser-focused on a specific task or project, especially when it’s critical to deliver.

Have a story prepared about working long hours one specific deliverable at the expense of maybe another priority. Most importantly, have a story about how you address this shortcoming on a daily basis. This might be with the latest time-management philosophy, a fancy new tool (jira/asana) or something tangible that demonstrates you are aware of how to rectify this aspect of your personality and have taken steps to improve.

Answer Stategy: Reframe the Conversation

The important part of moving forward from this quagmire is to end on a positive note, that will move the conversation forward into an area of strength. If you continue with the above scenario, you might end with your favorite blogs or authors that you follow and some principles you incorporate into your planning exercises with your team.

Whenever possible, readjust the conversation to things that you are good at or that you would like to highlight. The key here is to give an acceptable answer and move on to the next as quickly as you can. If you practice these responses and have the right level of detail prepared, you should be able to succeed.

3 Behavioral Questions About Product Sense

Another favorite type of question interviewers ask Product Managers is “product sense.” While people may have different opinions around what constitutes product sense and whether or not these questions belong in their own genotype, generally the interviewer wants to know several key things. They’re expecting to learn how you decide what to build, why you should build it, and how you can determine if the product will be a success early on.

Product sense is basically the ability to be an entrepreneur. It is not something you can learn by studying cases or reading a book. You need to have some real-life situations where money or resources are at stake ready for your answer. These experiences are what will allow you to fully comprehend the weight of the choices Product Managers must make and how they impact an organization. Some examples of these types of questions include:

  1. “What process do you go through when deciding what features to build?”
  2. “How do you determine if your (product or feature) is successful?”
  3. “Tell me about a time when you had to make a decision with little or ambiguous information.”

Who’s Asking Product Sense Interview Questions?

There are two different types of interviewers that will ask these questions: those that are told what to look for and those who know what a great answer is supposed to sound like.

If you are in a round one interview or screening call with a recruiter, even an internal recruiter, they will likely know what they are listening for. They may even have a guide sheet or template. These folks will usually provide you with very little information while you fumble around for a coherent answer which can leave you feeling awkward and wondering whether your answer was sufficient.

The other type of interviewer, people who know what good answers sound like, will often give you clues as you share your answer to help push you in the right direction. These second types are extremely helpful and can get you through the exercise. However, they are more critical and will judge responses more severely based on how much prompting they had to supply. You may finish the interview with a false sense of satisfaction given their ability to make the conversation seem smooth — but then five days later you get the rejection, which leaves you befuddled.

Regardless of which type you get, there are some straightforward approaches you can take to creating stories and answers for product sense questions that will satisfy both types of interviewers.

How To Answer Questions About Product Sense

The biggest error made when approaching interview questions about product sense is to supply a single “correct” answer. Building product sense takes time and should be an iterative process of discovery, testing, validation, and reinvention. On the other hand, your process should be consistent.

What do you think about first when presented with a problem? Typically, you want to offer an answer or “the” answer to the question. But products rarely have a “right” answer. Here are three keys to building a product sense strategy that will impress your interviewer.

1. Start with the Problem

Instead of searching for the right answer, start with the problem. Think about the problem thoroughly and try to share your structured thoughts around the problem. Who has the problem? How big is the problem? How painful is the problem? How are people solving the problem presently? You can and should have about four to five questions similar to these that you ask yourself whenever you are tasked with creating a product or features that should form the basis of your product sense strategy.

2. Define Success

Would your company be happy if your product added an extra $100,000 per month in revenue? For some companies, that would be a tremendous result. For others, that could be a rounding error. Understanding where your company fits, what opportunities and objectives your team is striving to achieve, and what is meaningful to you are all requisite considerations when designing your solution.

Whenever you answer product sense interview questions with an example of a situation, make sure you define success appropriately and with consideration of the company — or, who is asking — by explaining what you were trying to accomplish and how it fit relative to your company’s ambitions

3. Assess Your Solution

Product Managers are constantly making decisions with limited information. If all the important aspects of a decision are known, there really isn’t much for a PM to do. You have to find answers to ambiguous questions by exploring, identifying, and prioritizing possible solutions before you pick one.

Build your own organic process to explain how you define and refine your solution space. Make sure to include trade-offs. Every solution you craft will have risks and a counter-argument: identify these and include them as part of your solution. Building in checkpoints that incorporate data, sampling, surveys, or any market signal early in the process is a critical part of your product sense and one you will want to highlight in your answer(s).

Master Behavioral Interview Questions

There are as many types of questions around behavior as there are interviewers asking them. If you prepare your strategies for dealing with behavioral questions, you should have an easier time during interviews.

Try not to get thrown off by the structure or detail of the question being asked. Instead, focus on which Product Manager trait is being addressed and respond accordingly. Lastly, remember to practice, practice, practice. Just like any performance based activity, the people that perform the best in interviews have spent thousands of hours practicing. Don’t expect to walk into the interview cold and nail it perfectly.

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