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.
Yes, for three reasons:
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.
Here’s a step-by-step approach that you can use to prepare for behavioral interviews at your own pace:
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Real interview questions. Sample answers from PM leaders at Google, Amazon and Facebook. Plus study sheets on key concepts.