When it comes to hiring the right product manager, there’s no foolproof technique. Treat it like you’re shopping for a product. You have a set of needs. There are obstacles to meeting those needs, and you’re going to shop for a person who can best remove those obstacles. The situational interview will quickly separate the contenders from the pretenders.

Product management positions are among the toughest to fill due to the broad range of skills and experience that make for success in any given environment.  A successful product manager in one organization doesn’t always translate to a successful product manager in another organization because the circumstances may be very different.

Whether you’re interviewing for a VP, Director or Product Manager, try the “situational” approach on your next candidate. It’s the best way to determine if the strengths of each candidate align with the needs of your team.

The Situational Product Management Interview

The situational interview is centered on the principle that future job performance can be more accurately predicted by a candidate’s past performance in similar situations.

For example, you might ask a product management candidate how they would approach the following scenario.

“We’re in the process of building a formalized product management function. Product decisions have historically been driven by our development team in conjunction with sales. What will you do to earn the trust and respect of development and sales so they’ll look to you for leadership on product decisions?”

Most candidates can probably give you the text book answer like, “I’d meet with several customers to understand where our strengths and weaknesses are and then I’d perform a quick analysis of key market segments to begin formulating a short and long term product strategy, blah, blah, blah.

The situational question will tell you if this candidate is just a well-rehearsed interviewer or has the experience you’re looking for.  Pay very close attention to body language!

“That sounds great.  Can you give me an example where you went through this same situation? Take me through each step, the major hurdles you encountered and how you got past each one.”

A candidate who responds in a relaxed and confident manner is off to a good start.  In fact, a great candidate might give you the answer before you ask.

Squirming, staring at the ceiling, fake coughs, throat clearing, “um…well…you know…,” and general discomfort is not good.  After two or three scenarios, you’ll easily know if a candidate is a good fit for your needs.

Create Your Interviewing Plan

  • Stick to the shopping metaphor. Define the top 10 scenarios that most accurately define your goals and/or challenges this position will be expected to address. Be sure to include a few subjective scenarios that test people’s temperament and their ability to get along with others.
  • Score each candidate on a scale of 1-5 for each scenario to create your short list of the top three candidates for round two, the same type of interviews with heads of sales, marketing, development, etc.

In the end, the success of your team always boils down to the people you surround yourself with. Nothing makes it easier (for everyone) than having the right people in the right job.

Contact Proficientz before you start posting jobs and interviewing. We’ll help you define the ideal product management structure for your unique circumstances so you can find the right people.