How to succeed in a product owner interview
When it comes to a product owner / product manager interview it can be a tricky thing to prepare for. I’ve been on both sides for a product owner interview. For these interviews, the candidates tend to fall into one of three categories:
- Type 1: You are an expert in your field / sector but haven’t yet done a role as a product owner / manager
- Type 2: You are an experienced product owner but haven’t worked heavily in the field / sector
- Type 3: You are an experienced product owner AND are an expert in the field / sector
I’m mainly going to focus on type 1 and type 2 in this article. For those of you in type 3, hopefully this will still be some helpful things to remember. Look out for an article in future around how to interview for more senior roles. It’s also worth reading ‘how to do well in a business analyst interview‘ as that will add even more helpful things to consider.
Know what to expect
Similarly to the Business Analysis process, you can expect the product owner interview to be in stages. I would generally expect at least 2 stages and occasionally 3 if the role is part of a large organisation.
Stage 1 – phone interview
Generally the first phase is a phone interview. This allows the organisation to understand more about you and your CV. Generally this stage has more wide ranging questions which cover your skills and interests, rather than going into specific examples. It is essentially there as a filter so only the best candidates come in for the main stage. For the telephone interview, you want to make sure you know your CV, know the company your talking to and have questions ready for them.
Stage 2 – face to face interview
It is then usually followed by a face to face or video interview. This will be much more in depth and may include a presentation. This interview will go into your knowledge of the sector, and expect examples of where you’ve managed products before. You may also get asked to do a test. The test or presentation may focus on:
- Product roadmap – how you analyse and improve a roadmap
- Product requirements – how you structure and improve requirements
- Vision – how you derive and share a product vision
- Scenarios – you might be presented with a case study of a current product and the issues it is facing, then be expected to give suggestions
- Options – you might be given a product and some constraints and be expected to give options for how to deliver it.
The test / presentations for product owners can be quite varied, so it’s important to prep for a range of scenarios.
Stage 3 – final product owner interview
The final interview is usually less structured than the second interview. It tends to be a session with a senior member of the team. It will cover areas discussed on other interviews and discuss your fit with the company.
Prepare for the interview
Like in my previous interview posts, there are two key phases – review and research!
- Review the key competencies of being a product owner and check you can evidence them. These are usually on the job spec or they will follow DDAT competencies. If you haven’t had experience as a product owner and are type 2 that can be fine. Make sure you prep an answer of what training or other activities you’ve done to strengthen that space. You can apply examples from your other roles to show how the skills are transferable (and a lot of the skills are!).
- Review the job spec. Chances are if you’re job hunting then you’ve got a heap of job specs hanging around! Make sure you’re familiar with the one you have for that role. Keep it up on screen or in your notebook so you can refer back to it. Make sure you can speak about everything which is on there – they will ask across the spec!
- Prepare your questions. One of the most important aspects on the interview is your questions back to the interviewer. This job is something which can potentially take up the majority of your working hours, have some questions to ask! I am always worried if you don’t have any questions prepared. Even seemingly basic questions like ‘what’s your typical day as a product manager’ or ‘what’s your approach to product management’ are great as they show you are interested.
- Research your interviewer. It’s common to find out who your interviewer is beforehand. Have a look online to find out more about them. Reference what you learnt in your questions at the end, ‘I saw you have been at the company for a long time, what has kept you here’ is a great way of showing your interest.
- Research the company. When you research an organisation, it’s more than just learning the key phrases like the values or motto. Research into different areas the company prioritises, check out their social media, review glassdoor and the comments on there. Be prepared to answer the question ‘why do you want a job at this company’ and give specific examples. Use this research to help you plan your interview questions!
- Check your logistics. If you are doing your interview by video then make sure you have an appropriate location and background. Check the software and if you haven’t used it before then trial it out. If your interview is in person then check your routes, there is nothing worse than being late and then feeling flustered for the entire interview!
Typical product owner interview questions
Product owner / manager questions can fall into a wide variety of categories, but try and cover most of the below:
Delivering a product
- Product road map: How do you plan the future of a product? What do you do if there are issues with this? How do you balance different needs within the road map?
- Delivery methods: How do you deliver products? Have you worked with development teams or with external suppliers? What are the benefits?
- Financial considerations: Have you managed a product business case? How do you ensure financial return on your product?
- Delivering into live: When your product is live, how do you manage it? How do you ensure users can adapt to new features? How do you manage support?
- Requirements: What do you do for requirements? How do you write your stories? How do you recognise a good story?
- User research / feedback: How do you get ideas for future features? How do you conduct user research? What ways do you use to engage your users?
- Managing through the lifecycle: What do you think is important for a product throughout the product lifecycle? How do you manage different GDS phases?
Ways of working and stakeholders
- Agile working: What delivery methods are you familiar with? How do you ensure that there is success in agile delivery? How do you work with concepts like scaled agile?
- Managing stakeholders and communications: What is your approach to working with difficult stakeholders? How do you communicate a product vision? How would you approach bringing about change?
- Handling problems and priotising: Do you like challenges? How do you manage them to get excellent outcomes? How would you prioritise between two important pieces of work?
- Sector specific questions: Any specific questions about the sector the role is in, such as what are the biggest challenges, opportunities and risks.
- Questions about you and your motivations: Why do you want to work for the company? What do you like doing the most as a product owner?
There are a lot of areas which your interview can cover so it’s always great to feel fully prepared!
The three most important tips for a product owner interview
Keeping all of the above in mind, what are the three key things to keep in mind?
- No matter what type of product owner you are, be honest, open and willing to learn. It’s not a bad thing to admit where you may not have done things before. It shows that you open and keen to learn those areas.
- Understand the product lifecycle and your approach at each stage. Focus your learning and prep around the product lifecycle. This will ensure you give well rounded answers
- Find the right role for you. No matter what, this is a key decision for you and it’s important you enjoy the role too.
Have a read of some other articles all about product management to expand your knowledge such as, how to combine product management and user research, seven tools to manage your product or what is the difference between a product and service?
What are your tips for a successful product owner interview?
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