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Cracking product management behavioral interviews

How to answer behavioral interview questions in product management interviews, includes preparation techniques, 16 common behavioral interview questions and sample answers.

Mikul Patel, Product Manager at Microsoft
Published: Feb 2, 2022

Context | How to prepare | During the interview | Common mistakes

While product management is one of the most sought-after jobs, there is no mandate for certification or knowledge of a particular hard skill.

This is because most of the time a PM is trying to bring in clarity and align the stakeholders. The PM gets the most credit when a release is successful and is the one to be made accountable when something goes wrong. Hence, having the right attitude and behavior matters even more for a PM role than any other role. So the interviewers stress behavioral questions, which could make you or break you in the interview.

Cracking product management behavioral interviews

Do I need to prepare for a behavioral interview? (Top)

Yes, for three reasons:

  1. As discussed, they can make you or break you.
  2. Behavioral interviews are mostly about YOU, so preparing for behavioral interviews essentially involves self-reflection and putting structure to your life experiences and learnings. And preparing for the top 10-15 types of questions can get you covered for 80% of the potential behavioral questions that the interviewer can possibly ask. This is because, assuming that you have less than 10 years of work experience, you will probably have a countable number of stories to share in those answers.
  3. Your competing candidates will be sharing a prepared answer and raising the bar high, so you don’t want to lag behind.

And the good news is that answers to behavioral interview questions can be prepared in a very systematic way; this article will walk you through doing just that.

How to prepare for behavioral interviews (Top)

Here’s a step-by-step approach that you can use to prepare for behavioral interviews at your own pace:

Step 1: Collate a list of common behavioral interview questions

If you have already had a few interviews, then you already know some commonly asked behavioral questions. If not, here’s a handy reference to get you started:

Introductory behavioral interview questions:

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • What has motivated you to become a product manager?

Leadership behavioral interview questions:

  • Describe a decision you made that wasn’t popular. How did you handle implementing it?
  • Describe a time when you had to motivate employees or coworkers.
  • Tell me about a time when you showed initiative.
  • Tell me about a time when you had to give a presentation to people who disagreed with you.
  • Tell me about a time when you built a team.
  • What would your co-workers say about you?

Problem solving behavioral interview questions:

  • Tell me about a time when you faced a challenge and overcame it.
  • Tell me about a time when you weren’t able to reach a deadline.
  • Tell me about a time when you had to deal with conflicting priorities. How did you handle it?
  • Tell me about a time when you had to make a decision quickly or with insufficient data.
  • Tell me about a time when you handled a risky situation.

Successes and failures behavioral interview questions:

  • Tell me about a time when you failed.
  • Tell me about a time when you improperly analyzed a situation.
  • Tell me about something you're proud of accomplishing.

Step 2: Reflect on your life and career experiences

Now that you have your list of questions ready, start reflecting on your life and career experiences, and note them down when you are in a peaceful state of mind.

The experience need not necessarily be an achievement, but rather think about everything that evolved you into a better person. Note down the story, what impact you created (if any), and what you learned from it. And do not underestimate the power of stories - they resonate with every human being, including interviewers.

Here’s my story of how I motivated my team during a tough time:

At my startup Moodcafe (an anonymous chat app), there was a phase when we had to do a monotonous experiment of chatting with users for two weeks to understand how the users felt and their pain points when they chat with our listeners. The entire team got bored and started taking breaks for half of the day. I gathered the team together and approached them about the situation and told them why conducting this experiment was so important - because it would help us validate our assumptions and we could extrapolate the data to make projections, which would then help us raise the next round of funds. I also gave them the flexibility to collect lesser data if they find completing the targeted chat conversations too exhausting. But the team members themselves suggested I do not make any changes, and we collected 1.5x the required data, which reduced the sensitivity of our projections considerably.

Step 3: Match questions to your career experiences

Now it’s time to match steps 1 and 2. For each of the questions, think of at least 2 life experiences that can help you answer these questions. The reason for getting at least 2 experiences is because you don’t want to end up telling the same story in every other answer.

For example, if I were to think about 2 examples where I had shown initiative, then there would be:

Example #1: How I formed a startup community in my hometown - During my undergrad at IIT Roorkee, I was co-heading the entrepreneurship cell and wanted to have similar activities in my hometown Ahmedabad. I started with a Whatsapp group of Entrepreneurs in Ahmedabad. Within a few days, the group became full. I personally met half the group members and got them to volunteer to make this group active and sustainable. We formed a committee and started conducting meetups. To date, we have 250+ entrepreneurs having quality conversations, lead-generations, and meeting twice a year.

Example #2: How I tried to improve bonding within my team at Microsoft - I had realized that many of our team members had joined remotely and never met each other physically. While Microsoft is probably one of the most employee-friendly companies I know of, the work-from-home setting does create some stress and distance. So I started an informal community wherein we organized coffee chats, shared relevant articles, planned meetups, and got to know each other. As a result, the teams started collaborating better with each other.

Step 4: Structure answers using the STAR interview method

Note down the bullet points for each answer. Here, it is important to keep the answers short and focus on the most important point. For every bullet point, ask yourself if the answer could still be complete if this point was missing - if yes, then remove that bullet point.

You might want to follow the STAR method of answering questions:

  • Situation: Share the context around the situation you were faced with
  • Task: Talk about what was expected out of you
  • Action: Talk about how you approached the situation
  • Result: Show the impact you brought in

STAR is a commonly followed practice of answering questions, as it helps the interviewer first understand what you are going to talk about so that the interviewer gets mentally prepared to hear the later half. STAR also ensures that you are focused on the end impact, which is critical. However, do not force yourself to stick to STAR or any one method. Some people prefer first summarising the end outcome and then talking about how they reached there.

In this step, you don’t need to write down the entire script but rather some key points that will help you build the story.

Step 5: Practice with your friends, peers, and mentors

Ask your trusted ones to do mock interviews with you and share their honest feedback. Also, encourage them to ask follow-up questions on your answers. This will make your stories stronger and prepare you for the unexpected, otherwise awkward situation.

💡 Got a PM interview? Our PM interview drills help get you in top form

During the interview (Top)

Congratulations on preparing your questions well. During the interview, make sure that you understand the INTENT of the question. Do not try to force-fit any of the prepared answers, but rather take 1 or 2 seconds to understand what the interviewer is trying to know. Use your best judgment to think about what type of skill the interviewer is trying to evaluate here (leadership, problem-solving, etc.), gather your thoughts, and then speak.

If the interviewer asks a totally new question, do not panic. By preparing 10-15 behavioral questions, you have learned the art and science of thinking for an answer in a structured way. Take a few seconds to think of an interesting story and speak up.

Common interviewing mistakes (Top)

Most candidates make some common mistakes, which is totally understandable, but consciously being aware of them can help you answer better. Some of these mistakes are:

Beating around the bush: Rather than answering the question upfront, candidates try to tell all the surrounding stories. Eventually, the interviewer loses interest in your answer. Wherever possible, try to restrict your answer to < 2 min. If a question is an objective one and can be answered in 5 seconds, then do that.

Trying to over-sell yourself: Candidates always feel that in every answer they will try to tell how amazing they are and what great things have they done in the past. While this is important, be very cautious that you are not coming across as a self-centered, egotistic individual. Rather, coming across as an interesting person is more important because most of the time as a PM you will be interacting with multiple stakeholders and trying to get their buy-in, which requires them to like and trust you.

Lying: If you think you are smart, then remember that your interviewer is probably years smarter than you. She likely has conducted many interviews in the past and will easily be able to catch your lies. Besides, it’s best to let the interviewer judge if the role is really suited for you, otherwise, it would hurt both you and the company.

Flattering: As a PM, you are expected to be firm and frequently say NO if required. People pleasers are not the right candidates for product management.

Not answering the right question: Sometimes candidates talk about things that are totally tangential to the question. If you are not clear on the question, then ASK.

Not sounding confident: Sometimes, after making a mistake, candidates tend to carry that debt throughout the interview. Instead, acknowledge the mistake, know that it can happen with anyone, and move forward. To err is human.

Sounding disinterested: Additionally, before the interview, try to walk, dance, meditate or listen to your favorite music for 10-15 min to keep you in a fresh, conversational mood. Stretching your body outwards and sitting in a straight, upright posture can also help increase your confidence.

The next steps: Preparing for a behavioral interview

In the end, know that we learn every single day, and behavioral interviews are all about your attitude towards work and life. If you feel you have the right attitude, then with some practice it will come out well in the interview.

Once you prepare these answers, you can always have your mock interviews with our expert coaches.

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.