Google product managers have a great job. Full stop.
An opportunity to launch products for billons of users, great compensation and perks and wide latitude to execute on the most important features to drive their products forward are all part of the gig. As a result, landing a Google PM role is extremely tough - but worth it.
In this deep dive, we'll present a high level plan for preparing for your Google PM interviews:
First, let's understand how Google defines the responsibilities of a product manager. Here are the 5 key responsibilities they list on their PM job listings:
Ultimately, Google assesses whether you'll be able to perform the PM job by assessing you in five core categories: 1) product sense 2) technical chops 3) analytical chops 4) communication skills and 5) culture fit (e.g., "Googley-ness").
Product sense is critical. At the end of the day, the only person responsible for how the whole product "fits" together in the PM and that's why it's such as critical category during interviews.
Google interviewers will be assessing how/if the candidate can do the following:
"The way that PMs like to assess product sense varies a lot - there is no one right way to do it, so you've got to be ready for anything. I have a friend who used to bring a bag of various products, ask someone to pull out a random product and then discuss the merits and faults of that product."
Satyajeet Salgar, Group Product Manager, Google
What does a product sense question look and feel like in a real interview setting? Check out the mock interview video below where I interview ex-Google PM Allen Yang.
Google is a famously technical company.
Its two founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, were computer science PhDs (albeit dropouts) and they pride themselves on solving deep technical problems. While equally impressive companies like Facebook focus on "softer" products like social networking, Google has always distinguished itself on really tough technical problems like search.
This technical DNA spills over into the criteria for their PM interviews, even though Google won't expect a PM to write a single line of code on the job.
Google interviewers will dig into whether or not a candidate is technical enough to engage with and lead a technical engineering team:
Google sits on the world's largest treasure chest of data.
It follows that PMs at Google are expected to use a data-driven decision process to inform and guide product decisions on a regular basis. Marissa Mayer, a former Google PM who founded the APM program, infamously tested 42 different shades of blue to see which color drove the highest click-through rates.
Given this analytical bent, Google interviewers will probe to make sure that PM candidates possess the necessary analytical toolkit to effectively wrangle massive amounts of data, analyze it and present their insights.
Google requires that its PMs have strong communication skills.
Why? Well, even if a product management candidate is excellent from a technical, analytical and product sense perspective, if they can't communicate well, their ability to build and ship products will be dead on arrival.
This means that PM candidates must be competent at communicating up and down (from executives to individual contributors) and across (from customer support reps to software engineers) the management stack. At Google, communication skills are the lynchpin that force multiplies a PMs other skills and helps him/her manage products successfully.
Google has a unique culture and internally its referred to as "Googley-ness."
Like all cultures, it's tough to define but, all things equal, Google has a bias for hiring "athletes," who are multi-talented folks that can contribute in a variety of ways, have a strong vision for the future and maintain humility (despite impressive achievements).
"As a PM, you are the custodian of the product and you help ensure the right decisions get made - but it's not glamorous. The better you are at taking blame and deflecting credit, the more success you'll have in the role."
Satyajeet Salgar, Group Product Manager, Google
Like all tests, knowing what's going to be on it is only the start of the battle.
Practicing is the key. But don't take it from us... here's a snippet from Google's own hiring page:
"Practice: Everyone gets better with practice. Practice your interview answers - out loud - until you can tell each story clearly and concisely."
Google Careers page advice
When prepping for interviews, the rubber has to meet the road.
Don't put off sitting down and drilling yourself on likely questions - across the all the skill types likely to be tested: analytics, technical, strategy, product design and culture fit.
There are a ton of ways to do this. You could ask a friend to quiz you. You could use Google products like Gmail, Docs, Photos, Search, etc. and make up sample questions for yourself. Or you could use a dedicated interview prep tool like RocketBlocks, which includes interview drills and sample answers from expert PMs.
"Rocketblocks was essential in my PM internship prep. Overall, RocketBlocks allowed me to develop crucial PM interviewing skills without which I could not have landed multiple internship offers." -- Anurag Ojha, incoming Google PM, Darden MBA
Regardless of the method, don't go into the interview cold turkey. To kick start your prep, here are a handful of sample questions.
Google products are ubiquitous. There is a good chance that if you're reading this you likely used Google search to find it or a friend emailed it to your Gmail account.
Warning! Don't delude yourself into thinking that usage equals thinking deeply about the products, features and business. If you're interviewing for a PM position at Google, devote time to thinking about this.
One helpful helpful exercise here is to consider how Google thinks of itself as a company. To do so, start by thinking about the overall Google organization (technically Alphabet, Inc.).
Google, which is technically part of the Alphabet, Inc. holding company, is a massive organization.
Understanding how this organization fits together, where the revenue drivers for the company reside and what they've invested in can help build our understanding of Google as a company. Review the diagram below and think about what key insights pop-out:
Every company has a product philosophy and for decades, Google's overriding product philosophy has been "Put the user first and all else will follow." Executives mention it publicly and it repeatedly is mentioned in company strategy meetings and all hands meetings like Google's company TGIF meetings.
That phrase helps explain Google's dominant position today - by building incredible products and giving most of them to consumers for free they've earned the loyalty and data of many users which now gives them a leg up building and distributing new products.
Another overriding product dictum is "speed is a feature." Google has earned billions of dollars, literally, by shaving micro-seconds off of time it takes to deliver search results to a user. That insight and payoff has been baked into product culture. Google executives push not only for speedy products but for teams themselves to execute fast.
Like everything, there are downsides and one criticism is that Google's fetishism of speed has led it to launch many half-baked products and complicate its offerings for consumers and employees (e.g., how many chat applications does Google have now??).
Finally, for analysis on Google's overarching strategy, Ben Thompson's Stratechery has the best, in-depth coverage.
Finally, take the time to learn more about the scale that Google's operates at.
While you shouldn't worry about memorizing numbers, it's very helpful (especially in analytical exercises) to have a ballpark sense of key metrics and facts about the company (e.g., revenue, user numbers, key products). To help, we've put together a Google data pack here.
In conclusion, if you're preparing for a product manager interview at Google, you'll want to make sure you prepare carefully for the five key areas they'll test you: 1) product sense 2) technical chops 3) analytical skills 4) communication ability and 5) culture fit.
In addition to making sure your skills are top-notch, do your research on the company and its products. While you obviously don't need detailed knowledge on all Google's products (that'd be crazy), having a well-formed perpsective on some of your favorite products, how they could be improved and what Google launch in the future is important!
Real interview questions. Sample answers from PM leaders at Google, Amazon and Facebook. Plus study sheets on key concepts.