Today, we'll cover something a little different. We'll do a step-by-step review of a real-world product management mock interview. In this video, our co-founder, Stephen, interviews Celena Tyler, a product manager at Facebook.
If you've got the time, we recommend watching the full mock on your own and reflecting on how you think it went. Then, come back to this article. However, we've broken it down below and provided a transcript you can use to follow along. Together, we'll provide some analysis on Celena's performance, along with tips and advice on how to most effectively answer a PM interview question like this. So without any further adieu, let's get into this PM interview!
Celena: So, I think my first question before we get started would be: is this a product you're envisioning existing within the Facebook app, or would this potentially be separate?
Stephen: You can be as open-ended as you'd like with this question. Feel free to operate within the Facebook app. The constraint is just that the product is something that Facebook itself as a company would launch.
Celena: One more question: what do you think about hardware versus software? I know Portal is a big bet for Facebook, so do we want a hardware direction as well?
Stephen: You can certainly brainstorm in that direction if you'd like to. You're not constrained by that.
The first to note about Celena's interview here is that she begins by asking clarifying questions. Many times, candidates will neglect this step, which is, ultimately, a huge mistake. Remember that your interviews are always conversations between you and the hiring manager. Don't make the error in thinking that they are one-directional speeches.
The start of Celena's interview here is a great example of how you should start your interviews. Her questions are meant to scope out the problem to understand what room she has to play with and the constraints she must operate under. Be sure to take some time to collect your thoughts and write down your initial ideas, as Celena does. Doing so will allow you to formulate a well-delivered answer when you're ready.
Celena: So I think the way that I'd like to go about this is this. First, I'll talk a little bit about Facebook's mission and strategy and why we might be interested in getting into a movie product. From there, I'll do a customer segmentation and prioritize one. Then we'll do a quick brainstorm about potential pain points and needs, prioritize one of those, and then from there, we'll come up with a few solutions. Next, we'll evaluate the impact and maybe a couple other key metrics to choose from. Finally, I'll walk you through how I think I would design an MVP. Does that sound good?
Stephen: Sounds great. Thanks for mapping it out.
Celena: Awesome. So I'm just going to take a quick second to drop down my thoughts here.
Once Celena had asked her clarifying questions, she starts laying out a map of her chosen approach to answering the question. This is a supercritical step you must not forget that allows you to give your interviewer a sense of how you will answer. If they disagree with your initial approach, they have the opportunity here to jump in and redirect. What Celena is doing here is very effective. That is, she's stating upfront what her approach will be, giving her hiring manager clear expectations throughout the interview.
Stephen: What do you think you'd lean into when you think about the competition on Facebook?
Celena: Yeah, so I would say that Facebook's strength is that these other providers don't have the social graph. The power of that connection between friends and family enables you to unlock so much more value in both the watching experience and in terms of content recommendation. So, I would say that would be the angle that I would want to really emphasize here to help us provide something that people would really be excited about.
Like Celena was here, you'll likely be asked follow-up questions regarding the competition. She has a good answer here on what the comparative advantages would be. Specifically, what advantages or strengths Facebook has that its competitors do not. Nevertheless, Celena's answer here could have been much stronger if she provided a specific overview of the relevant competitors. Be sure to note the competition in your interview answers. Give your interviewer details about what actions competitors are taking, what their product strategy is, and how your approach can result in a competitive edge for the company.
Celena: So now I'm going to do a quick customer segmentation. So the way that I see it in terms of segmentation for a movie product, I feel like there are two big buckets. On the one hand, there are creators, and on the other hand, there are viewers. So digging a little bit deeper on the creator side, I felt like there were three constituencies. There's a professional creative vertical which includes major professionals like Hollywood types, you know major motion films. Then, I would say there's kind of professional influencers. I think longer-form content you don't necessarily think of us as the same types of content produced by influencers on Instagram. So maybe that's more like indie film creators who are not quite on the same level as Hollywood.
Then, on the viewer side, I thought I could bucket that maybe around usages like high usage and low usage. So, I think our goal here is to create a movie product for Facebook. Is there any more specific goal you want me to focus on when I prioritize here? Otherwise, I would probably prioritize scale or scope and impact. So, how many potential users are in here, and which segment do we think might be most impactful to work for.
Stephen: That sounds like a great goal. You can run with that.
Celena: So I think the one that stands out to me would maybe be on the creator's side. I actually think I missed one of my buckets here, my third type of creator, which is an everyday person who might want to create a movie. I think I want to go in that direction, and here's why it's specifically around that kind of competitive advantage, around the social graph, that I feel like we could leverage to make the creator experience, actually making a movie, a more social experience. I haven't fully fleshed out how that might be the case, but to me, that feels like right now when you create content, it's siloed. Either you're alone on your phone, or you're like a fully professional person with a whole team. But, is there some way that we can unlock that creative experience that's more social?
Stephen: Got it. Yeah, super interesting. So you're sort of thinking about the creative experience being a social one, basically?
Celena: Yeah, I think if we look at the scope of this segmentation and we consider pretty much any user that has created some sort of video content in the past. Maybe we take a percentage of those that have not yet created any content - they might be pulled into the market with this product. I think that actually has a very large scope compared to the other creator sides, which are more concentrated within influencers or seriously concentrated in Fox and Sony and those types of places.
Celena continues in her interview question very effectively here. It is always really important to remember during the user segmentation part of a product design interview question to take the time to think about who exactly is being targeted with your proposed product development. The narrower and more specific the user segment the better.
As you can see, Celena runs through a few options here. She also asks again what are the product goals. A really effective technique in an interview is to communicate in such a way as to give your hiring manager the chance to voice their opinion or redirect the approach if they feel it necessary. Celena does this very effectively by clearly enumerating the three different user segments she intends on targeting.
Celena: Are you okay with that direction?
Stephen: Yeah, that sounds good. I'd love to hear maybe one quick thing about one of the other customer segments and why you didn't pick that one.
Celena: Yeah, so I thought about the viewer side as well. This is really a two-sided marketplace to me. You have the creation, and then you have the viewing. But I think right now, Facebook Watch already has a pretty good UI in terms of viewing, and I think we can leverage that. We have really good social features around. If you're watching together, you can comment or react, and you can see the reactions going by, and I think that that is a great start. I think that's exciting, but to me, it's much more zero to one unmet need around that social side that I don't feel is being served right now on the creator side.
Stephen: I think that's a great innovative perspective - that socialness might naturally come from the viewers' perspective when looking at this problem. But, there's actually a way to add a socialness to the creator's perspective. So I'm curious to see what we come up with.
Celena: Yeah, okay. So, I'm going to take a minute now to brainstorm some pain points that creators would have around maybe not being that social in the creative process.
Okay, so I've thought of four pain points around the whole creation process not being that social. So, the first one is wondering: "Is my idea any good?" The overall theme is that I'm approaching my script or the general pitch of my movie, questioning if it is interesting and valuable to people. I think that's something that can be really hard if you're in your own personal mental echo chamber to know. If you make a movie that no one's interested in, you basically waste all your time. So that's the first one.
The next one is that it's a lonely experience. I think this one especially came to mind given we are in socially distant times right now, but I see a ton of people on my feed recording themselves alone in their various places. So, is there some way to make that recording process a little bit more communal? I know a lot of movies are even trying to be recorded via Zoom right now. This interview itself is being recorded via zoom right now. So, is there some way we can make that a more communal experience?
The next one was around "Okay, maybe I lack all the skills needed to get my movie to full fruition. Maybe I'm really great at filming, but I'm not good at acting, or maybe I'm great at scriptwriting or sound editing but not the next steps." Is there a way to bring in more people with more skills somehow?
Then, the last one is around "can my audience be bigger." As one person, I only have a certain amount of reach in terms of my general population that I can reach out to in my network. So, is there an opportunity to leverage more people to bring that bigger audience and make the movie more of a success?
At this point in her interview question, Celena is providing an overview of the pain points of the product development. As she did with her user segmentation, Celena does a great job enumerating the most important pain points of the targeted users. She also does so in a way that allows her hiring manager to ask follow-up questions if need be.
At the end of the day, it is critical for an effective interview question answer to clearly communicate the actual pain points felt by the targeted users. Always be sure to think about these pain points from different perspectives. The most effective product strategies that alleviate pain points are those with various nuances in mind.
Stephen: What are you sort of thinking are the priorities here?
Celena: So, I think I really want to measure impact. So if our goal is to make a movie product for Facebook that is inherently social, which one do we believe will have the most impact? So I would probably try to see which one is the biggest pain. Looking through, I think there's definitely some immediacy around the loneliness of creating. I think this one's differentiated too because most of the ways that individual people create a video for social media is with the front-facing cam. This, in itself, is a lonely experience, so that one, to me, feels highly impactful to this goal. I think another one that stands out is building a bigger audience. I think there actually might be an opportunity to tie those two together. If you're doing this more socially, there may be an endpoint in which the audience would be magnified as a result.
Stephen: Totally, yeah. I think I really thought the lonely experience one was interesting because it's kind of a not thought about problem but definitely true. Yeah, particularly a problem for this day, so, yeah - curious about that one.
Celena: I think it's interesting because it's almost inherent in the workflow today of how video exists, so that, to me, signals that there's maybe a new way to think about it. That could be really additive to mention one that I didn't pick - lacking skills. I think that that's an interesting one that feels a little bit outside of Facebook's wheelhouse. I would expect that that's more on the Final Cut Pro, maybe Reddit boards, or wherever creatives go to meet up and collaborate together. I think that it would be better served to focus more on the essence of socialness in itself.
As you can see, from here, it gets a little more complicated. Now, Celena is prioritizing these pain points that she previously outlined. This is a necessary step to devise a product design agreeable to both the candidate and interviewer. One thing that Celena's doing really effectively is prioritizing against the goal stated at the beginning of the problem.
It is also clear that Celena is not using a framework based on her answer. Rather than being formulaic, she's delivering persuasive arguments on why the chosen pain points should be a priority in the product design. This conversation here is a great example of the back-and-forth you should be seeking during your answers. You'll find that your interviewers are typically very excited to have a rich, creative, fun conversation with you. It will take you a long way if you can develop a thoughtful dialogue with your interviewer as Celena does here.
Celena: So we're going to focus on this: "I'm lonely." Maybe we'll see if the audience can be brought in as a result, but really the main pain point is the loneliness here. Okay, so I will take a minute now to brainstorm some solutions for this.
Okay, so I've thought of three potential solutions here. The first one is something we could probably MVP via groups, but this would be focused on creating creative groups for moral support throughout the movie process. So you could join this particular subset and let people know about your general project timeline, and they could kind of check-in with you and give you kudos and act as a sounding board for ideas as you move on. I could see this being really beneficial to have networking between creatives so that if you're part of this group, then you can more easily work together in the future and kind of percolate from the hive mind of creative ideas.
The next idea I had was this new feature for Portal called Portal Audience. So, this would be a way to really quickly get viewers earlier on in the creative process. If you're recording via Portal, people could just join in and drop in and see what you're up to, and you could talk to them. However, I think there are some privacy concerns there we could talk about - how we can set up those features, but that could be a fun way to kind of get more people in your creative room.
And, the last idea. So this one is a little bit out there, but I think there's an opportunity to maybe create a movie together through Facebook. So I got this idea through the moments that you can share with your friends when it's your friendversary, and there you can create a movie of your friendship. So, what if we went even a step further with that, and we made it so that you could create an actual recording movie with your friends and film each scene and kind of hand it off so you could even do it asynchronously and kind of slowly create a movie overtime? I'm thinking even further about this now; maybe it could be like the movie Boyhood, how they kind of record little snippets. Maybe, you could make a video of your life on Facebook. I think that would align really well with the rest of the platform.
Here, Celena is providing solutions to these prioritized pain points. This is usually one of the most fun and creative parts of your product management interview questions. Celena's answer here is effective because she's mentioned problems along with related caveats. As you can see, she made a point about privacy concerns.
Another interesting thing that should be pointed out is Celena noting that some of her ideas may be unconventional. This can communicate to your interviewer that you can be both practical and capable of thinking of moonshot ideas. This is something that Celena's answer here accomplishes.
Finally, Celena's answer here displays clear passion and enthusiasm for solving the problem, which goes a long way during PM interviews.
Stephen: I would love to hear a little bit more about what you're imagining and also to hear your preference on which one you want to dive into.
Celena: I think I am excited about this last one as I'm thinking about it more. I think it aligns well both on the social experience with being able to create something together but also with Facebook's bread and butter. I think that's the one I want to go with. This one is probably a little higher effort than creating groups for moral support. for example, but I think the impact would be super high on making movies a more inclusive social creative process and maybe potentially impact a lot of people's lives for the better if they can kind of chronicle their life over time. And, everyone could have their own personal movie that could be very rewarding and special.
Stephen: Yeah, totally. I mean, there's a lot of interesting thought there, even the statement you just said about everyone having their own personal movie and what that even means for people and how they view their lives.
Before going any further in the PM interview, there is something you should take note of here. Celena's solution here is interesting because it is not necessarily something you would think of when thinking about movies. Chances are, you probably think about movies being a cinematic or narrative experience rather than a collection of social moments as Celena describes here. This could potentially be an instance that an interviewer may redirect the candidate if such a direction was not what they were expecting. However, as you can see, the hiring manager seemed happy with this direction. The idea does feel creative and exciting.
Don't be afraid to take chances with creative directions as Celena does here, even if your hiring manager does redirect you. PM interviews should be a creative back-and-forth between you and the interviewer. Don't feel like your performance would be penalized in the eyes of your interviewer if you're not following the exact parameters of your question. The most effective PM interviews are those where the candidate and the hiring manager are creating something together. This part of Celena's interview is a good example of this.
Stephen: Tell me a little bit more about what you're imagining in this experience. I would love to just maybe poke out some of the features or hear a little bit about what the high-priority features would be.
Celena: So, I think this would be probably creating a video post in the near term, and it could ask you: "do you want to add this to your movie." So, actually, maybe it could be super lean - whenever you're sharing a story or something instead of kind of collecting it to memories, you could say you want to add this to your movie, and that could be the first discovery point.
Then, it could explain collecting movies throughout your life. I think there could be a separate entry point within Facebook Watch if you're a more real deal video creator with an army of socially distant creators to make this amazing thriller. So, then you could go to Watch, specifically, and I think there would be probably some sort of video pop-up, and you could hit record. There probably needs to be some basic editing, which is trimming on the ends, initially. I don't think we need to get too far into more mechanics of effects and sound editing at the initial point.
Then there's probably something like tagging people in the project, so you could probably add people in and remove them. I could see if someone's just doing a little moment. Maybe you don't want them in there the whole time.
Then there's somewhere you'd need a database to store all of these movies. If this is longer-form content, then there's definitely storage that we need to think about. Then, maybe it's like do you have a publish versus still editing mode? So there probably needs to be some sort of library of existing in-process movies and ones that are already published.
Stephen: I'm curious. Youtube is obviously a place for people to upload and brainstorm and create some of these lower fidelity or lighter weight videos and moving experiences. So, in this world that Facebook is creating, how will you leverage some of the social stuff to really differentiate it from Youtube?
Celena: Yeah, I think it's really about tagging other people to be able to add one of their videos to your life movie or your thriller. I think both can work. Yeah, maybe you can even have people as contributors over time. So, I think with Youtube, you finish something, upload it, and that's it. Maybe there's a little bit of editing you can do versus this as a continuous ongoing project that again can be asynchronous that you can tag your friends and do it in little chunks that measure up to something really big and meaningful.
While Celena's performance in this mock interview has been great thus far, this part would likely be seen as the weakest. Celena started by listing a few different parts or features of this problem. However, there did not seem to be any significant structure. Celena's answer could have been more effective if she said something along the lines of: " I'm going to brainstorm some ideas. I'm just gonna throw things against the wall to see what sticks, and then I'll pick the ones that I think are the best." While this would not have ultimately added more structure to her answer, it would have provided more space for her to play with the question and to brainstorm these ideas. Since she didn't do it, though, the interviewer could feel a bit lost.
Considering the interview question is rather broad and abstract, it may feel difficult to decide which features are the most important. If Celena had reiterated the goals of the product while listing her features here, her answer would have been much stronger. So, in this case, she could have tied her feature set back to the goal of reducing loneliness or tying them back into Facebook's larger mission. i
Stephen: I'm curious - what are some worries that you have about this? Obviously, this is a new type of content - it could be a lot of work, but what are some of the key issues that you're worried about when thinking about moving this direction or designing this direction?
Celena: Yeah, I think the first thing that comes to mind is privacy. So, if you are chronicling someone's entire life, I think you know there's a lot of questions there. Maybe someone's okay with it when they start, but then they're 40, and they're no longer okay with it. So, how do we manage that?
I think there's another one around retention. So, if this is something that you're not posting for years, then the value to the user, I mean there's a huge peak in value when you post it, there's definitely value through chronologing or chronicling it, but can we make sure that people still stay engaged and excited if they're not posting until that point? Do they want to post it in chapters? Is this something that we want to make visible sooner? I think that's definitely something I'd want to experiment with pretty early on to understand totally.
This part of the interview is important to note for a few reasons. First and foremost, the conversation surrounding privacy is very significant and ties directly back into Facebook more generally. Privacy is a massive concern for Facebook, so Celena could have brought these concerns into her answer a little more to have been more effective here. Her answer could have been stronger if she had, for example, brought Facebook's mission around privacy into perspective when thinking about how she should build this product.
Ultimately, the solution that we have here is not super precise. It would have been helpful for this hiring manager at this point if Celena had clarified or reiterated that this product vision is a personal movie product for Facebook. You'll find that adding a tagline and repeating it throughout your answer can be a very effective way to create clarity around your solution. Doing so will help your hiring manager understand exactly what your product solution actually is. Up to this point, Celena had so much great thought up, so you'd really want to crystallize your thoughts around something really clear and easy to understand.
During your own interviews, you can ensure your proposed product vision is defined by bringing in that tagline or summary of what the product we're designing actually is. For instance, in Celena's case, it could be something like: "we're gonna compile all these photos and video content to make a personal or living movie for everyone." Such a tagline has the gravitas and clarity that would help you continue to answer your PM interview question effectively.
Stephen: So, yeah. I mean, obviously, privacy will be important because you might not want to show everyone your life story. You might want to show parts of it. So I'm curious, as the last follow-up question, what metrics would you look at here to see or evaluate the success of this product?
Celena: So, I think, in terms of metrics, it definitely depends on what stage this is in at launch. I would be concerned more tactically. Is this working? Are people able to use these features versus more downstream? I'd be interested in engagement around the actual posts themselves. I think that does, again, call to question like when are people posting? If we're posting more in chapters, and we can test engagement sooner, I think retention is another one.
So, I think my first metric would probably be click-through rate and maybe the number of installments added on average per user. I probably want to look at a monthly number if this is something I wouldn't expect people to do necessarily every day but probably a couple times a month. I probably also want to look at the average length of an installment. I think that has important implications on the storage side, which is more of an infrastructure thing, but I think that's important to consider.
I probably also want to look at the average number of friends included in the creation process. I think the key hypothesis here is this isn't solo creating, this is a social living creator experience. So, I would want to definitely validate that by seeing additional people added. I don't know what the sweet spot is there, but definitely more than one person. On the retention side, I'd probably want to look at the two-month retention for the users who added something a month ago.
Before we move on to the final part of the interview, we should discuss Celena's choice of metrics here. Celena did a great job of mentioning specific metrics. Although, she did not necessarily include a bucket of metrics that she was looking for. Ultimately, her choice of metrics is focused mostly on engagement, in which she was mentioning things like click-through rate.
When it comes to the metrics portions of your interviews, be sure to always think about the user funnel. Ask yourself what aspects of the funnel you actually want to improve. So, in this case, it is a great choice by Celena to focus on engagement metrics. It could have potentially been stronger if she mentioned retention metrics in greater detail, considering the product in question (videos/movies) would require users to engage with the content for some time.
If you provide an overview of your metrics, as Celena has done here, it is not necessarily as important to be highly specific about what the actual metrics are. Typically, you only need to mention a few ways to measure them. For example, Celena could say something like "Okay, I want to focus on engagement, so I would look at click-through-rate potentially. I would also look at X and Y, possibly and maybe not focus too much on Z. But, ultimately, I am trying to measure and understand engagement." Remember during your interviews that it is always very effective to mention the underlying goal of your metrics.
Stephen: Well, is there other pieces to this interview that we didn't get to touch on or pieces you wanted to add or clarify or hone in on before we start to wrap it up?
Celena: I do want it to be differentiated, so do we do a big splash? Do we even launch a movie like Boyhood to promote this, or how do we let people know that this is a new special, different way of chronicling your life and of creating a video that is social and living? I think there's an opportunity to make a really big splash to actually do a video even if that's like a year. So, yeah, I would be considering that rollout plan, or maybe we just want to focus on a particular country and tell the story of that country, and then you got to gain momentum.
Stephen: The last question before we close would be which one of those two pop user populations would you prioritize?
Celena: I think the more general user. as we talked about it, it really sounded to me like a big opportunity that could impact any everyday person, and so I think the scope is much larger. I think that's great if indie film producers can get value out of that same feature set, and maybe in the long term we would want to put some more professional additional advanced features on there, but I think the wheelhouse of Facebook is really for the everyday civilian. It's not necessarily an artistic product, though we do have creator content on there. So, I would want to design it for the everyday person.
Now we've arrived at the end of the interview. We should take the opportunity to say that whenever your interviewer provides you with the chance to say anything, as Stephen does for Celena here, remember these are huge lobs. Always be sure to take advantage of these opportunities. Take the time to share anything that you missed in the interview. This could be anything that you wish you had stated previously or something you wanted to dive deeper into, or an area you're really excited or passionate about. You could even just use the opportunity to create space to develop that connection with your interviewer.
As you can see, Celena did a great job of mentioning a couple pieces that she thought were really important. Here, she even slightly revised and talked a little bit more about user segmentation. Ultimately, you'll find that as you go through the question, you're naturally going to think of different nuances or angles. In some cases, you may want to slightly modify the way that you went about the problem. So, take advantage of the opportunity that your hiring manager provides you to do so. Create space for those aspects you think are important overall.
In the end, Celena's interview here was strong and very effective. She did an excellent job of thinking about the problem and breaking it down concretely. The area that could have used some improvement was in the solution space. It felt as though that the solutions being brainstormed were not as concrete as they could have been. That portion of the interview felt a bit jumbled compared to the rest of the question.
Nevertheless, Celena did a great job of tying in the product goals, driving us towards a solution that was creative, interesting, and thoughtful while maintaining a really great structure throughout the interview. So, Celena's interview here is an example of an awesome PM interview. For those wondering, Celena totally crushed it!
Hopefully, this was a very helpful deep dive into an effective PM interview answer. We do hope you can use our analysis here to further your prep for your upcoming PM interview.
While we hope this article was helpful, chances are you'll need more resources to best prepare for the product management interview. Luckily, there are tons of different resources on Exponent to help you practice and get ready for your upcoming PM interview:
💬 Get prepared with example PM interview questions
📖 Read through our Product Management interview guides
👯♂️ Practice your behavioral and product sense skills with our interview practice tool.
👨🎓 Take our complete Product Management interview course.
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