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3 types of product leadership interview questions and how to answer them3 types of product leadership interview questions and how to answer them3 types of product leadership interview questions and how to answer them

3 types of product leadership interview questions and how to answer them

Interviewing for a product leadership role can be a daunting task, but hitting the mark when answering questions can be made easier with the right tools to hand.

To help you better prepare, we have identified 3 types of product leadership interview questions you might get asked, outlined what the interviewer is looking for in each instance and how you might structure your answers.

For clarity, this advice is aimed at those who are at the second stage of an interview process (the stage that occurs after an initial conversation with HR / similar) and who are interviewing for a Head / Director of Product role in a larger, more established organization. However, that’s not to say that some of it may be relevant for others!

The ‘hypothetical product’ question

Although product leadership roles are typically less hands-on with the day-to-day development of the product, it’s common to be asked about your approach to product problem solving and design during the interview process.

These types of questions are really designed to get you thinking on your feet and are less about coming up with the perfect solution and are more about how you think and approach the problem. They are often posed as “How would you…?” or “Imagine XYZ..?” questions and contain a hypothetical problem or situation to solve for, although they may come in other guises - something to look out for!

You will need to set the expectation that you are answering these as hypothetical questions, ask any necessary questions as you go and state your assumptions at each stage of your answer.

Example ‘hypothetical product’ questions

  • Imagine you had access to a bank's database, how would you use that information to design an ATM for elderly people?
  • How would you design a mobile social app for a chain of local orthodontist offices
  • How would you solve homelessness in London?

What the interviewer is looking for in ‘hypothetical product’ questions

  • To understand how you break down a problem and structure an approach to solving it
  • Evidence that you can think on your feet
  • Evidence that you can clearly express yourself
  • To see if you’re customer-focussed in your approach
  • How you weigh up pros and cons to potential solutions
  • Evidence of your end-to-end product thinking and knowledge

How to structure your answer for ‘hypothetical product’ questions

It’s easy to get carried away with ideas and solutions when answering these kinds of hypothetical questions, so it’s best to counter that urge with some structure!

We really like the CIRCLES framework, first popularized by Google for use in their product interview process. This framework helps you to organize your thoughts to the question in a meaningful way and covers all the things you need to consider when answering this kind of question. Each letter of the word ‘CIRCLES’ stands for a part of your answer:

C - Comprehend situation

In the first part of your answer you should be asking focussed questions to understand the following:

  • Clarify the goal (e.g. increase revenue, market share, acquisition etc)
  • Understand the constraints of the work (e.g. time, people etc)
  • Understand the context of the situation (e.g. What it is, who it’s for)

I - Identify customer

In order to suggest a great idea or solution during the interview it’s crucial to understand who you’re designing that product for. You will need to:

  • Define 2-3 potential target customer segments - consider their demographics and particular behaviors
  • Choose one to focus on for the purpose of your answer and explain why you have made that choice

R - Report customer needs

Once you have identified your target customer, you will need to articulate:

  • Their needs or use cases
  • Any jobs to be done

It’s enough to describe what your target customer wants to do or achieve in simple language here

C - Cut through prioritization

In this next section you are aiming to define which customer need to focus on first. You should:

  • Evaluate the needs you have identified in the previous section
  • Identify one to focus on based on what you consider to be most crucial to solve first (criteria might include: ease of execution, user experience, revenue potential) and explain why you have made that decision

L - List solutions

Once you have a need to focus on, you can suggest potential ways to solve it. There is always more than one way to solve a problem, with that in mind:

  • Suggest solutions - put forward at least 3 ideas

E - Evaluate trade-offs

Now that you have your shortlist of ideas, you will need to demonstrate your ability to make trade-offs between them.

  • Identify pros and cons of each idea
  • Consider your goal and success metrics when making a decision about which to focus on

S - Summarize recommendation

Finish by summarizing which product or solution you have chosen:

  • Explain why it’s beneficial to the customer and the business
  • Identify why the solution is preferable to other alternatives

The ‘tell me about a time’ question

In addition to understanding how you might solve hypothetical problems, interviewers are also keen to understand your existing product experience.

Your past experience and behaviors are often seen as an indicator of your future success. In the eyes of the interviewer,  if you can successfully demonstrate examples of the things you have accomplished before then it’s highly likely that you will be able to do it again in the role you are applying for. Your answers to these kinds of questions also help to give the interviewer a steer on your soft skills and personality traits.

These are often posed as ‘Tell me about a time…?’ questions, but again, they may be asked in a different way. The key is to identify that the interviewer is asking a question about your existing experience - if you're unsure, you can always ask for clarification.

Example ‘tell me about a time’ questions

  • Tell me about a time when you led a team to launch a product from scratch
  • Tell me about a time when you had to lead a strategic shift within the product organization and how you aligned other teams outside of your remit
  • Tell me about a time when you had to solve a difficult team conflict

What the interviewer is looking for in ‘tell me about a time’ questions

  • Clear examples of your experience and your approach to those experiences
  • Evidence of your role and leadership in those experiences
  • Evidence of the impact that your approach resulted in
  • How you handle things like communication, collaboration and conflict

How to structure your answer for ‘tell me about a time’ questions

Again, the temptation to dive straight into storytelling about your experiences here is high, but it’s best to take a pause and think of a specific example that clearly demonstrates the answer to the question.

We really like the STAR framework when considering how to answer these types of questions - there are 4 things to remember here:

  • Situation: Describe the situation and when it took place
  • Task: Explain the task and what the goal was
  • Action: Provide details about the action you took to achieve this
  • Result: Conclude with the result or impact of your action

S - Situation

In the initial part of your answer it’s important to set the stage for your example by sharing context around the situation or challenge you were faced with. Focus on talking about a specific situation rather than just your general responsibilities.

Keep this section brief as the interviewer will be more concerned with hearing about the actions you took and the impact that you had. Two or three pieces of information that cover off the most important points should suffice.

T - Task

In the second part of your answer you are aiming to describe your responsibility or role in this particular situation or challenge. Again, you don’t need to spend too much time on this - just one or two points that clearly illustrate the task you needed to complete.

A - Action

This part of your answer should form a large part of the discussion and should be an in-depth description of the most impactful steps that you took to try and overcome the challenge, handle the situation or reach success.

Avoid a common pitfall in this part of your answer by using the word ‘I’ to highlight your specific contributions and how the goals were achieved, rather than the word ‘we’.

R - Result

Here you are aiming to describe the outcome or impact that was achieved through your actions. Pick 2-3 of the most impressive results and talk about those by quantifying your success or providing concrete examples of the effects of your efforts. You can also consider touching on what you learnt and how you grew as a result of the experience.

The ‘leadership style’ question

When interviewing for a product leadership role, it’s important for the interviewer to understand how you manage and lead in different scenarios to assess whether your style is a good match for the company.These types of questions can feel a little more intangible as they are deeply rooted in the values you believe in and how you act upon those values in different situations.

For example, if you value open and honest communication, how does that translate in your day-to-day work?

You may be asked more open-ended questions about your leadership style or to give specific examples based on scenarios that you have experienced in your work.

Example ‘leadership style’ questions

  • What is your management / leadership style?
  • How do you earn trust and respect from your team?
  • How do you help your team to learn and develop?
  • As a product leader, what are your values or principles?

What the interviewer is looking for in ‘leadership style’ questions

  • The kinds of principles and values that are important to you and why
  • How those values and principles compare to those of the company (i.e. is there a good match)
  • How you behave in different situations, based on the values that you hold
  • Evidence that you can approach situations with empathy

How to structure your answer for ‘leadership style’ questions

A bit of research and preparation on the values of the company that you’re interviewing with is useful when answering these types of questions.

Many larger companies publish their values, principles and behaviors on the Careers section of their website, so it’s always worth taking the time to look at those and consider how they align with your own values before the interview.

There are 2 core parts to consider for structuring your answer:

1. Describe what you believe in and how this aligns with the company’s values.

If the question is about how you earn trust and respect from your team, for example, you might talk about things like your communication style, how you give / receive feedback or how you collaborate with others

2. Give an example and describe how you put those values into practice.

Your example might be describing a time when it was important to earn trust and respect from a team you worked with and the approach you took to achieve that, using the values you have described in the first part of the answer.

In summary...

Understanding these three types of interview questions will help you know what your interviewer expects in an answer, and enable you to give them the information they need in the most compelling way possible. It takes a little practice to identify the question types but it's well worth putting in the effort given the potential rewards.

If you would like to work with an expert product coach on your own interview preparation, book a call to have a chat and see how we can help.

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Monica Viggars
Monica Viggars

Monica has worked at many large organisations including The Guardian and Microsoft. Notable achievements as a PM include leading the habit-forming and loyalty strategy across The Guardian's digital platforms which resulted in a number of products being launched which increased user visit frequency and engagement.

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