Acing Technical Interviews for Product Managers

Acing Technical Interviews for Product Managers

Hey techies!

Who else is dealing with burnout? Yeah, me too. Having gone straight from the pandemic to leaving Amazon to building Skiplevel for 6 months, launching a little over a year ago and the stresses of personal life, I've never needed a vacation more. Thankfully I'm taking a much needed break in Lisbon -> Madrid -> Berlin starting this Thursday. If you're also struggling with burnout, remember to take it easy on yourself and here's an article on tips for managing burnout from Gabe!

For August's newsletter, I wanted to share my knowledge as an engineer who has interviewed many PMs throughout my career so I wrote an article on how to ace and prepare for technical interviews for product managers. I include a lot of interviewing resources and insights on how to think about technical interviews, and what interviewers are looking for. This is super valuable insight for everyone, especially those of you currently preparing to interview.

As usual, you can always reply to this email with your thoughts, or leave feedback via the section at the end of the newsletter.

See you all when I return! 🧳🛫🥾⛰️

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Acing Technical Interviews for Product Managers

Photo credit: Christina Morillo

Companies and teams are increasingly realizing how important technical literacy is in product managers and the benefits to team efficiency, effectiveness, and overall team cohesion. This in part explains the industry’s shift towards conducting technical interviews as part of the overall interview process for product managers.

That’s why it’s important to develop your technical chops and ace the technical portion of your PM interview in order to stay ahead of the curve. In this article I’ll give you the lay of the land and guide you through how to think about technical PM interviews, and how to ace them.

How “technical” are PM technical interviews?

The short and quick answer is not as technical as you would think.

PM Technical interviews vs. Technical PM interviews

Before we get into the thick of it, it’s worth clarifying the difference between technical interviews for product managers, and Technical Product Management interviews.

Technical product management (TPM) is a separate role from traditional product management (PM). While the main focus of traditional product management is on the customer, a TPM’s main focus is on the technical aspects of building software. The TPM role requires a deep understanding of what goes into building, maintaining, and shipping software while working very closely with engineering teams to come up with solutions and generally play a very active role in the software development process.

As such, technical interviews for TPMs will go deep into the “how” of building software which usually involves system design. An example of a system design question for TPMs would be “Design TikTok.” or “How would you build TinyURL?”.

These sorts of technical solution/design problems are what we usually think of when we hear “technical interviews”. But it’s rare that technical interviews for PMs will ask you to go deep into system design or the how of building software. That’s because the main focus of traditional product management is on the customer and business/product strategy, not on the technical aspects of building software.

Instead, the technical interview portion of product management interviews focuses more on testing what I like to call technical literacy or technical fluency.

What are interviewers looking for during PM technical interviews?

Product management is a multi-disciplinary role with the main focus being the business/product strategy and understanding the customer/market. But another important role of PMs that’s less talked about is enabling cross-functional teams to do their best work.

A core role of product managers is enabling their teams to do their best work.

Interviewers are essentially looking for this quality from product managers during the technical portion of PM interviews. Will the product manager be able to work well with and effectively support their development teams throughout the software development process?

Specifically we can break down this quality into 3 specific traits interviewers are looking for:

  • Skill #1: How effectively you’re able to communicate with engineers
  • Skill #2: How effectively you’re able to collaborate with engineers
  • Skill #3: How well you understand how technical limitations and trade-offs affect product decisions

All the questions you’re asked during your technical interview will be around assessing the three skills above. So let’s talk a little more in-depth about each of these skills interviewers look for and go over some examples of the types of questions asked to assess each of those skills.

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Missed the mid-month PM Roles and Tech Tips Newsletter?

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As always, visit Skiplevel to learn more or connect with Irene on LinkedIn and Twitter and follow Skiplevel on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram.