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Google product management interviews

Details on hiring criteria, interview questions, company culture and a mock interview video with an ex-Google PM

Kenton Kivestu, ex-Google, ex-BCG, Founder at RocketBlocks
Updated: April 22, 2022

Hiring criteria | Video mock interview | Interview technique | Sample interview questions | Business and culture

A product manager is an extremely rewarding and lucrative role at Google.

Becoming a Google Product Manager gives you an opportunity to conceptualize, build and launch products for billons of users that impact the world.

The job comes with brilliant perks, 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.

Google campus in Mountain View, CA

It’s therefore no surprise that landing the role as a Google PM is extremely difficult. In fact, the Google Associate Product Manager (APM) program haws a 0.55% acceptance rate.

That’s where Google product manager interview prep can help you stand out among the sea of other candidates. At RocketBlocks, we believe in providing comprehensive, skills-driven interview tools to anyone preparing for an interview. We’ve got the knowledge and the experience to help you land your dream product management job at Google.

What are Google’s product management hiring criteria? What are they looking for in PM candidates?

In this deep dive, we'll present you with a high-level plan for preparing for your Google PM interviews and give you all the information you’ll need to land your dream job at Google.

Understanding Google's product management hiring criteria (Top)

What is Google looking for in their product management candidates? To figure this out, it’s important to understand how Google defines the responsibilities of a product manager.

Here are the 5 key responsibilities they list on their PM job listings:

List of Google product manager responsibilities from PM job posting

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

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:

  • Launching new products/features: Can the candidate conceptualise product ideas, features and improvements and credibly describe (e.g., draw rough wireframes) how to implement them?
  • Assessing customer needs: Can the candidate put him/herself in the customer's shoes and clearly understand the needs and pain points of the user base?
  • Setting a product vision: Can the candidate articulate how this product would evolve in the future and how each feature he/she proposes would help achieve that vision?

"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.

Technical chops

Google is a famously technical company. They’re expecting their candidates to have a wide range of technical knowledge and know how to articulate product ideas and processes in technical language.

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:

  • Communicate effectively with engineering: Is the candidate technical enough to communicate effectively with his/her engineering team about technical issues?
  • Understand technical architecture: Does the candidate understand how modern software and web applications work? Can they explain how the critical pieces fit together?
  • Understand product tradeoffs: Is the candidate technically fluent enough to understand the core product implications of technical decisions?

Analytical skills

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 the company’s keen focus on data analytics, 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.

  • Analyzing features: Can the candidate articulate the data they'd need to analyze user behavior and feature performance and run the correct analysis?
  • Building estimates: Is the candidate capable of building directionally accurate estimates for things like feature usage, market adoption, etc.?
  • Measuring success: Can the candidate define how'd they measure success for feature(s) / product(s) and which metrics would be critical to track?

Communication skills

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.

  • Structured: Does the candidate structure his/her communication so it's easy to follow and understand?
  • Clarity: Is the candidate capable of taking complicated concepts and explaining them simply?
  • Varying communication: Can the candidate tailor their communication appropriately for the audience they're speaking to (e.g., executives versus customer support reps).

Culture fit

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).

  • Humble: Does the candidate have a balanced sense of themselves? Do they understand their own strengths and weaknesses and how others perceive them?
  • Dynamic: Is the candidate determined to make an impact and will he/she break through barriers to make it happen?
  • Forward thinking: Does the candidate have innovative, exciting, meaningful ideas for what the future looks like?

"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

Interview technique (Top)

Current Google employees and product manager applicants note that Google’s approach to interviewing isn’t all that dissimilar to any other high-level job interview.

That’s why we believe the STAR framework is the best way of answering behavioral Google product manager interview questions.

What is STAR?

“STAR” is a technique for answering interview questions that helps focus your answers towards highlighting your skills and experience.

We’ll outline the STAR method here as it’s the easiest to understand.

STAR stands for situation, task, action and result. It’s a brilliant way to answer questions about what you’ve done in previous roles. Let’s walk you through it:

  1. Situation: This involves giving the context of your answer. Where did you work? What was your role? Who did you work with? Were you leading a team or working within one? Were you a Product Manager at your previous role? Remember, this isn’t info-dumping – this is simply to provide the minimum information for your interviewer to understand the rest of your answer.
  2. Task: It’s important to outline the specific task or problem you faced. It’s useful to spell out what goal or key business objective you were to trying to meet.
  3. Action: What did you do to solve this problem? Interviewers are looking at how you dealt with your responsibility and the decisions that you made. What steps did you take? What problems did you face along the way?
  4. Result: What was the result of your hard work? Did you meet the objective or solve the specific problem? It’s okay if you didn’t, but Google’s interviewers are testing to see whether you’re able to get results. Focus on multiple positive results here.

Sample interview questions from Google PM interviews (Top)

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

That’s where it’s useful to prepare some answers for common sample interview questions. We can’t guarantee that your interview will definitely ask you the following questions, but being comfortable with how you formulate the answers will really help you on the big day.

Dedicated PM interview question practice

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.

Got a Google interview?

"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, 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.

Product sense question examples

  • What are three key ways you could improve Gmail?
  • What's the biggest pain you have with Google Docs? How would you fix it?
  • How would you design a new Google to-do list app?

Technical question examples

  • Explain how the internet works: what happens when you type a URL into your browser?
  • Imagine you're a PM on Gmail and you decide to launch a new "schedule an email" for sending feature. What parts of the Gmail tech stack would this feature require you to touch?
  • How would you explain what an API is to someone who is completely non-technical (e.g., an English major with no coding experience)

Analytics question examples

  • Estimate how many Gmail messages are sent per day.
  • If Google Play store downloads were down 4.5% WoW, how would you investigate that dip?
  • How would you determine if a new Google Search feature launch was successful?

Communication question examples

  • How would you explain a critical system outage on your product to the director of product who leads your group? How would you communicate that same issue to the director of customer support for your product?
  • Heads up! Remember that regardless of question, your communication skills are being assessed and evaluated in every question you answer.

Behavioral question examples

  • Talk us through a situation where you overcame a problem.
  • What is your proudest achieving leading/working with in a team?
  • Why are you interesting in becoming a Product Manager at Google?
  • Why Google?

How to answer an Interview Question with the STAR Framework?

Now that we’ve given you a few sample questions, let’s cover how to use the aforementioned STAR method to give the best answer possible.

Let’s take the “talk us through a situation where you overcame a problem” question. How should you answer this question?

Situation: Set the scene: “Working within a product management team at a prominent SaaS company, I was responsible for maintaining and developing new features.”

Task: “We noticed that our churn rate has increased by 30% after a new feature update.”

Action: “I led an effort to engage with our user community to gather vital feedback on this update. This feedback research found that users weren’t quite sure how our new feature fit into the initial product offering. I then identified a way to better integrate this feature into the product flow of the existing product.”

Result: “As a result, our feature adoption had risen by 25% and we were able to make a dent in our churn rate. We gathered further feedback from our community and found that our customers were far satisfied with the update than previously.”

Build knowledge of Google as a business and company culture (Top)

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.).

Key business units

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:

Shows the corporate structure of Alphabet Group, Google's parent company
  • Google is still the "workhorse" of Alphabet in terms of revenue (99%) and Google itself is still driven predominantly by ads (85%).
  • Alphabet has used its ad revenue work horse to fund a staggering amount of iniatives: from lifespan extention (Calico) to autonomous vehicles.

Product philosophy

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.

Google scale

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.

Summing it up

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
  5. Culture Fit

A key driver of success in a Google Product Manager interview is polishing up on your interview technique. We believe that the STAR framework is brilliant for this, helping you accurately sell your existing experience and skills.

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 unreasonable), having a well-formed perspective on some of your favorite products, how they could be improved and what Google launch in the future is important!

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P.S. Are you preparing for PM interviews?

Real interview questions. Sample answers from PM leaders at Google, Amazon and Facebook. Plus study sheets on key concepts.