[Guide] Ace Your Product Sense Interviews

Stephen CognettaStephen CognettaLast updated

Product sense interview questions are designed to showcase your creativity, empathy, and problem-solving skills.

You'll need to effectively brainstorm, understand user needs, and solve relevant problems to their experiences.

Stephen Cognetta, a former Google PM, talks about the product sense interview.

These questions have no correct answer. However, using a structured framework can help you deliver your answer clearly and effectively highlight your product sense intuition.

This product sense interview guide accompanies Exponent's product management interview course, trusted by 25,000+ senior product managers and APMs to ace their interviews.

Sneak peek:
- Watch a Google PM answer, “What’s your favorite product?”
- Watch a Google PM answer, “How can Airbnb increase bookings?”
- Watch a Meta PM answer, “Design Facebook Movies.

8 common product sense questions

Exponent users say these are the most commonly asked product sense questions. They include a mix of product design, improvement, and strategy questions.


Companies with product sense interviews

These are notable companies with distinct product sense interview rounds.

Interview framework

To deliver an effective answer to product sense questions, follow this 7-step process. This same framework can be applied broadly to product design and strategy questions.

  • Step 1: Clarify and get context
  • Step 2: Define users
  • Step 3: Identify pain points and opportunity areas
  • Step 4: Brainstorm possible solutions
  • Step 5: Define a product vision
  • Step 6: Prioritize features
  • Step 7: Evaluate and recap
How to Answer Product Design Questions Framework

Step 1: Clarify and get context

First, clarify the problem you’ve been given.

Gather context that will help you understand the problem space and define any strategic considerations that might influence your design.

Questions like these are fair game:

  • What’s the timeline?
  • Are there any constraints I should be aware of?

But be prepared for an interviewer to give you a vague answer!

Make assumptions. Then repeat them back to your interviewer so they have a chance to correct you if you’re veering off-track.

Step 2: Define users

Next, divide the total userbase into subsets of users. Then, select an interesting group for a more detailed analysis.

A few starting points could be:

  • Demographics like age or income level
  • Behavioral traits such as frequency of use or users performing certain actions
  • Geographic location

Choose a segmentation method that is relevant to the question at hand.

After choosing a segmentation method and identifying basic user subsets, select a subset that interests you and explain why it's valuable to discuss.

Consider the following factors:

  • User subsets that may be strategic, such as early adopters
  • Scale of impact, or the intensity of pain that users experience
  • How effectively you or your company can address these users in the context of your question

Step 3: Identify pain points and opportunity areas

Next, consider any goals your users might have. Do they have any obvious obstacles or pain points?

If nothing’s blocking users from achieving their goals but some point of friction clearly exists, you’ve uncovered an opportunity area.

Take a moment to summarize the goals you think your user subset has, then brainstorm pain points and opportunity areas preventing them from achieving those goals.

Use the "broad then deep" mini-framework to quickly hone in on key pain points.

Consider the circumstances users are in.

  • Is the user's goal urgent?
  • Are the decisions involved important or trivial?
Asking yourself these questions and putting yourself in the user's shoes demonstrates user empathy.
Check out our guide to Meta (Facebook) product management interviews. Meta is known for their product sense interviews.

Step 4: Brainstorm possible solutions

Now, brainstorm ideas that could solve the pain point you’ve identified.

One helpful tip for coming up with solutions is to think of products you like — especially anything solving a similar problem in another context.

For example, Duolingo might be a good analogue for improving a gym. Both products remove barriers for people who want to improve themselves (by learning a language) but who have trouble with motivation, routine, or planning. The app is fun, easy to use, and the emphasis is on consistency rather than intensity.

These are all characteristics you might incorporate into your recommendations.

Aim to generate at least three solid ideas before moving on to the next step. It’s fine to brainstorm a bigger list and eliminate weak ideas.

Check each idea against the pain point you identified and don't be afraid to get creative. Interviewers want to see excitement and passion for products.

Step 5: Come up with a forward-looking product vision

Pick the strongest solution from the previous section and take a moment or two to envision what that product will look like in five or ten years.

Come up with a brief tagline that really emphasizes the point you're making. You want to leave the interviewer with a soundbite they’ll remember when they’re scoring your interview.

Write it on the whiteboard (if you’re using one) and refer back to it as you continue.

Step 6: Prioritize features

Once you’ve crafted a compelling product vision, it’s time to prioritize features.

Take the interviewer through a quick user journey where a user interacts with your product. This will help you concretely identify how your product fits into the existing user flow which will help you prioritize features.

It’ll also help you stay user-centric instead of over-defining an idea that appeals to you personally.

Then, brainstorm a short list of features based on your use case(s) and prioritize according to which features best support your product vision. Be sure to tie the discussion back to user pain points.

Here are a few helpful dimensions to consider:

  • Scale: How many users does this help?
  • Ease of expansion: How easily will this feature expand to other user subsets? Will it attract new users?
  • Strategic impact: How well does this feature support the company vision?

You don’t need to describe every part of the feature in detail, but interviewers do expect you to describe what the user sees and interacts with and how that delivers on the product goals and vision you defined.

Step 7: Evaluate and recap

As you wrap up, summarize your insights for your interviewer, then spend a few minutes evaluating your design and discussing next steps. Consider:

  • Tradeoffs you made
  • Alternate use cases and edge cases
  • What you’d do differently given more time

Common follow-up questions from interviewers include:

  • Can you see any risks with this design?
  • What challenges do you anticipate in implementing this product?

Discussing risks and challenges preemptively signals to interviewers that your ideas are grounded in reality.

This is a sample whiteboard from a product design interview where a candidate was asked to design a better gym experience.

Interview tips

Consider the company strategy

Bringing strategic concerns into the mix can help you reach a broader and deeper understanding of the problem at hand. Here are some prompts to consider:

  • Company mission: What’s the company mission? Why does the company care about this space? How could this product support the mission?
  • Company strategy: What are the relevant strategic goals the company might have? How could this tie into those or open up a new strategy? What products make sense strategically?
  • Market understanding: What alternatives already exist in the market? Where are the gaps? What’s valuable in this market?

Abstract the problem

Moonshots are bold ideas that go beyond incremental changes.

They’re frequently associated with Google interviews, but you can “moonshot” any design question by digging deep until you’ve uncovered the root of an important problem in a way that feels transformative.

You’re on the right track if you’ve found a way to solve the problem completely and simply for the user. If you’re able to eliminate the conditions that cause the problem in the first place, even better.

First, try to think of the product as a black box. The input is the user’s current state, and the output is the user as they want to be.

By eliminating all assumptions about how to get users from where they are to where they want to be and exploring what could happen in that space, really transformative solutions can sometimes become clear.

Another strategy is to use something like the 5 Whys technique to dig deeper and deeper until you uncover the root of the problem.

You could also consider what the user’s actual goals are. For instance, if you’re asked to build an alarm clock for deaf users, consider that the user’s goal is to wake up at a certain time. Rather than limiting yourself to modifying how existing alarm clocks work, this framing allows for new options that rethink what an alarm clock is.

Focus on the user and their needs — this approach will never steer you wrong.

Consider existing users and goals

Sometimes, you’ll be asked to improve an existing product.

Questions like “Improve Instagram’s homepage” are similar to “design X” questions.

Consider established users, goals, and market dynamics. Keep these in mind, and consider addressing under-served users, supporting new use cases, or adapting a product to open new strategic opportunities.

Common mistakes

  • Jumping straight to a solution: Ensure you articulate your thought process so the interviewer can understand your reasoning and why your idea is a viable solution. Avoid settling on a solution immediately after hearing the question. Maintain an open mind as better ideas often emerge as you delve deeper into the problem.
  • Forgetting to segment users: In certain design questions, you may be given a specific user subgroup or constraint to design for, such as "Design Gmail for kids." A common mistake is overlooking the need to segment users despite having an upfront constraint. For the Gmail question, "kids" is a broad group. You could focus on a specific age range or school level. To delve deeper, consider discussing capabilities and constraints relevant to your segment. For instance, if your segment is early elementary school kids, some key constraints could be their limited writing skills, potential lack of tech savviness, and the paramount importance of their safety. These factors will influence your product design and can be easily overlooked if not explicitly considered.
  • Trying to design for everybody: Designing for everyone often results in a product that fails to resonate with anyone. Without narrowing your scope, obtaining meaningful insights about your users and their pain points becomes challenging.
  • Checking off the boxes: While using a framework can be helpful for staying on track, remember that its steps are recommendations for gaining insights, not a mandatory checklist. Ensure you evaluate your answer comprehensively at each stage.

Improving your product sense

Shreyas Doshi is a product lead at Stripe. We discuss improving the elusive "product sense," a relevant skill for all product managers. Previously, Shreyas served as a director of product management at Twitter and a group product manager at Google and Yahoo!.

This is an excerpt of an interview on 10-30-50 product management.

The first step to enhance your product sense is to understand what it means. I define it as the skill to make the right decisions, even when things are unclear.

This applies to all levels: from deciding on what products we should create, to the details of user interactions and interfaces, and everything in between. This is what product sense is all about.

There are three main parts to product sense.

Empathize with users, explore the market, and get creative with your solutions.
  • User empathy. This means imagining how different people will react to situations. For example, how users, partners, or competitors might respond to what we do.
  • Domain knowledge: The better you understand your area, the better your ideas will be. This means knowing your customers, your competitors, and the possibilities and limits of your technology.
  • Being Creative. This is about thinking differently and developing new ideas for problems or situations.

Improving your product sense involves developing more empathy, growing your domain knowledge, and boosting your creativity.

To enhance your empathy, interact with diverse users and partners. Instead of simply acquiring information, understand the reasons behind their responses. This understanding lets you predict user reactions even when they're not present.

Another strategy is to deepen your understanding of psychology. Engaging with cognitive biases, behavioural economics, and general psychology literature can help you build user archetypes and empathize with them.

Domain knowledge requires identifying relevant resources and reviewing them regularly. Books, online resources, and podcasts can be useful for this purpose.

If you're building smartphone apps, use as many apps as possible. Scrutinize the details and ask questions about design choices. When faced with a challenge, draw on your extensive experience, enabling creativity through pattern recognition.

Acing PM interviews

Landing a product job requires more than just applying! 

Spend time understanding the companies you want to work for, practice top questions alone and with peers, and build a story bank for your big day.

  1. Create an excellent PM resume: Companies like Google receive over three million applications yearly. 80-90% of candidates never pass the resume screen. Ask friends, mentors, or our tech resume coaches to review your resume. Use our PM resume template if you need help getting started.
  2. Prepare for interviews: The product management interview process will test your product sense, product design, product strategy, analytical and estimation skills, and behavioral fit with the company. Review the most frequently asked questions and answers (below). 
  3. Review the company: Each company has a unique mission, products, and approach to PM interviews. Spend time understanding how they envision their place in the world. How could you help them achieve that vision? 
  4. Practice: Even the most knowledgeable candidates can feel nervous during the interview. You can practice with Exponent's free peer-to-peer PM mock interview portal. Every day, PM candidates role-play in 1:1 mock interviews and give feedback.
  5. Interview: All the preparation and hard work you've done has led up to this moment! It's time to turn on your camera and nail those PM interviews!

Learn everything you need to ace your product management interviews.

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