How to Answer Senior PM Interview Questions With Your Own Structure

Matt SusskindMatt SusskindLast updated

Read the first part of this blog series here.

In our last post, we described some of the issues with structures and frameworks that interfere with answering interview questions at the level we expect of a Senior PM (or demonstrative of a highly-qualified PM at lower levels). Now, let’s talk about how to improve!

Though we are going to change our answering strategy, there’s good news—we’re not completely lost. Nothing you’ve learned from frameworks has led you astray. We’re just moving beyond simply following them and into a more insightful mode of answering. Do note, to make this work takes:

  1. Practice. You'll need to incorporate these skills and build your intuition, so give yourself enough time to make it natural (i.e. don’t read this the night before your interview and change your whole answering strategy!)  
  2. A certain amount of comfort with answering interview questions. If you consistently forget to consider the user’s needs/the product’s goal/the company’s KPIs, practicing with frameworks might help drill those into your head.

Also note, we still need to structure our answers! We want to make it easy for the interviewer to understand where we’re going. We’re just moving beyond using a framework as our only source of structure.

Your goal is to arrive at an answer with a compelling and well-presented argument for why your answer is a good one. There’s no one approach that works for all questions (or else that would be a framework, wouldn’t it?). In the moment, it can be as much intuition as well-reasoned thought.

Luckily, with practice we can develop our intuition, even if it might be tough at first. Our goal is to do enough problems and get comfortable enough departing from the frameworks that it becomes natural. With some time before your interviews (again, not the night before), let’s throw some twists into answering practice questions to develop our skills. Our goal here is to figure out what is helpful to you and what is not, rather than trying to answer exactly as you would in a real interview—much like players run drills in basketball practice to hone shooting ability, not emulate a real game.

Developing Our Intuition

Below are a number of methods for getting used to using our intuition to guide us. They may not all be comfortable at first, but give them a try and see what starts to click.

Questioning Answers

Here’s a method to help you find the gaps in your frameworks and give you a sense of when to dig in other areas.

  • Answer: Approach the question as you normally would with a framework, and take notes on the points you make.
  • Reflect: Look back at your answer. Do you feel happy with it overall? What feels like it was missing? Consider what elements of your answer weren’t built on previous points as solidly as you’d like—how could you have better laid the groundwork for them? Look at what aspects of the framework ended up not mattering to your final answer—were those points useless, or did you not capitalize on the insights? How could you make use of them?
  • Brainstorm:  Explore how you can flesh out these missing pieces. Would you want to lay out a user journey to really hone in on their needs? Describe the competitive landscape for this product to explain what the market is missing? Take note when any of these explorations end up generating real insights.
  • Track: note what kinds of explorations you’re doing and what insight it brought you: how did these lead to new pain points, solutions, metrics, strategies, etc., because they forced you to dig deeper & in different areas.

You may end up not wanting to incorporate everything you try into your final answer, but again, this is about practice. You’re training both your ability to do these kinds of dives when needed & to build a sense of what other information will be valuable to your answer.

Try a Different Lens

It might mean modifying a question a bit (again, this is just practice), but changing what you focus on can build your ability to see what else is out there. Instead of just focusing on the single product’s features, design for the ecosystem it lives in. Instead of listing the metrics that best measure performance, talk about what unique metrics this product might generate. What new insights might you bring back to the original question?

Compare with Other People's Answers

Find a write-up or video of an answer. First, answer the question yourself. Don’t briefly think through it, don’t handwave it, actually answer it and take notes. Then, check out the answer given.

What do they consider that you didn’t? Practice any new perspectives they brought to it. What did they miss that you thought was important? Consider how it might have improved their answer.

Record Yourself Answering

Make a recording of your answer, video and audio both work. Don’t replay it immediately—give yourself some time to get some distance. When you do, focus on your answer and what does/doesn’t make sense to you now.

Using Your Toolbox

After trying these, you should have a whole toolbox ready to use as needed. You might find that a lot of the things you found important are covered by existing frameworks. We’d certainly hope this was the case. Otherwise frameworks wouldn’t be doing their job! However, you should also find a number of cases where you dug in an unexpected direction, and it ended up producing results. You should have a sense of the tools that are available to you and what kinds of arguments they’ll help you build.

Of course, as you get closer to your interviews, you should focus on practicing the way you’ll actually answer. You may even rely on a framework you like for most of the heavy lifting, and that’s totally fine. However, you should now have a sense of when to go off-book and how to use that to create great answers with deep product insight and your own unique perspective.

Interested in landing your dream PM career with the help of Exponent's expert interview coaching and courses? Visit Exponent's Interview Course and website to learn more.

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