How to Ace your Google Product Manager Interview from a PM Interview expert
“A great product manager has the brain of an engineer, the heart of a designer, and the speech of a diplomat.”
— Deep Nishar, SoftBank Group International
We can all agree that Google Product Managers have a fantastic job. It’s no secret that to become a top Product Manager you will need to wear many hats. Product Managers are admired for being multi-skilled chameleons, but what does it take to land this sought after role at Google?
If you are an ambitious PM, chances are you dream of working at Google, and you’re not alone! Consistently rated one of the top companies to work for globally, millions of candidates apply to Google every year, leaving hiring managers incredibly spoilt for choice.
Within Google, the Product Manager role is one of the most popular positions. It ranks amongst the highest paying, with the salary range on offer sitting between $120K-$250K per annum and doesn’t necessarily require you to have a Computer Science degree.
It’s a safe bet that as a Google Product Management candidate you’ll find yourself up against a giant pool of the sharpest minds in the field.
Google Product Manager interviews are difficult. The questions cover a broad range of topics. You’ll be challenged to think deeply yet quickly to problem solve scenarios thrown at you. The best advice anyone can give you is to be as prepared as humanly possible. Invest time preparing, practicing and applying constructive feedback. It will pay off.
“Practice: Everyone gets better with practice. Practice your interview answers – out loud – until you can tell each story clearly and concisely.” — Google Careers FAQ
What are they looking to see? What kind of knowledge will I need to demonstrate?
Product Managers play a vital role at Google. They work with engineers to assist in developing new products, tailor technologies to Google’s users, link multiple teams together and guide solutions through the execution cycle.
“A good PM is a ‘force multiplier’ across a company”
— Satyajeet Salgar, Director of Product Management at Google
As a Product Manager you’ll need to have a solid grasp of both technology and the requirements of end users. Effectively communicating both tech and user essentials to the teams involved in the development cycle is also a must. This, in a nutshell, is what you have to demonstrate throughout your Google Product Manager interview process.
One of the key areas to cover is your experience in collaborating with Engineers and where you added value to the exchange. Remember, adding value can sometimes look like pushing back against the request if it doesn’t align with business goals, market analysis data or user feedback.
What skills do I need to be hired as a Product Manager at Google?
Technical background. Google values hiring product managers that are former engineers or have a proven track record working with engineers.
Product sense. PMs are ultimately responsible for if a product ‘works’ or not. You’ll need to show that you can cleverly assess a potential product. Does it meet user needs? Is there room for improvement? What would the key features be?
“The way that PMs like to assess product sense varies a lot – there is no one right way to do it, so you’ve got to be ready for anything. I have a friend who used to bring a bag of various products, ask someone to pull out a random product and then discuss the merits and faults of that product.”
— Satyajeet Salgar, Director of Product Management at Google
Start-up experience or mindset. In contrast to other large tech companies, Google’s culture resembles that of a start-up. Here Product Managers have more influence in major decision-making about the product and offer more strategic input. Think of Google as a large company made up of many smaller start-ups, and the Product Managers as the heads of these mini businesses. Because of this, having experience either as the founder or early employee of a start-up is seen as a major plus.
“Google is very much a not-invented-here, build-it-ourselves culture.”
— Eric Schmidt, ex Google CEO
Market research and trend spotting. Google Product Managers need to have comprehensive market research skills. Critical to being a successful Google PM is understanding trends, staying on top of user wants and having an eye on what competitors are putting out to market. For example, your interviewer might want to know what the market size for driverless cars in 2025 is going to be. Knowing your user and their needs is key to product design and developing product strategies. Prior experience in market trend research and analysis, be it in a previous Product Manager role, or through a different avenue is extremely valuable to this function.
What does the Google Product Manager interview process look like?
The interview process is lengthy (on average six to eight weeks).
You’ll attend multiple interviews with various people, so you need to be prepared to tackle this extensive process.
Below is the typical process that a candidate interviewing for the PM role can expect to go through. As with everything in life, there’ll sometimes be some deviation from this typical structure. This could happen based on your unique background, the seniority of the position and the specific role requirements.
Interview process overview:
- 1st round phone screening
- One phone screen with a Recruiter
- One to two phone screens with PMs
- On site (or virtual on site) interviews. Four to six over the course of a day.
- Hiring committee recommendation
- Senior leader review
- Compensation committee recommendation
- Senior executive review
Interview process breakdown/insights:
Telephone screening interviews.
|How long:||+- 30 minutes|
|Who:||First with a Recruiter, then 1-2 PMs|
|Why:||The objective of these calls is to assess if you meet the key skills for the role|
|What:||Recruiters will have a tendency to ask more behavioural and career history related
E.g. Why Google? Why do you want to take on this PM role? Can you give me an example of when you had to make a time sensitive decision without clear direction from a manager?
PMs will likely move directly to product design and strategy questions such as, “What is your favourite app? What do you think their success metric is? How would you improve it 10x?”
On-site / virtual on-site interviews.
|How long:||Full day of 4-6 interviews with each interview lasting 30-45 minutes.|
|Who:||Typically Product Managers; sometimes an Engineer|
|Why:||The goal is to learn how you think and approach problems. In the case of the
Engineer/s they’ll be assessing your technical aptitude and ability to communicate effectively with developers.
What can I expect to be faced with? Some insights into typical Google Product Manager interview questions.
Fortunately, Google has moved away from the sometimes bizarre brain-teaser style questions they once favoured.
“Our data showed that brainteaser questions didn’t predict how well someone would do on the job so we no longer ask them. Instead, we do work sample tests and ask structured interview questions.” — Google Careers FAQs
Instead you can expect to field open-ended questions that aim to uncover your thinking style, how you problem solve, how you engage in a team and what your strengths are.
An evaluation of the Google product manager interview questions reported by past applicants on Glassdoor revealed that you can absolutely expect to be asked product design / product improvement questions. (32% of all reported questions fell into this category).
Carrus Coach Robert is a subject matter expert on acing Google Product Manager interviews.
He agreed, saying that you can expect to be faced with a typical product improvement question during a PM interview at Google such as:
“How would you improve the rider experience of Uber for people attending sports events or concerts?”
He provided the following insider tips on how to go about answering just such a question:
“This is a classic product improvement question, and to answer it well you need first to explain why this use case matters.
Uber wants to provide an excellent rider experience, and getting to/from large events is often challenging because a lot of people are trying to arrive/depart at exactly the same time; there is a surge in demand and typically a lot of congestion. From there you should think about who has this problem, how it manifests itself (not knowing when to request a ride, not being able to get a ride, etc.), and then move on to ideas to improve the experience.”
Robert went on to provide the following gems to consider when encountering such a question:
“Think big — your ideas can be very broad and ideally are not just about the ride itself — perhaps you work with venue owners to estimate demand ahead of time (so you can incentivise drivers to work at a particular time/in a particular area), or offer people a discounted fare if they agree to arrive early (this could, for example, drive extra sales for concessions so the venue might even consider part-funding the discount). Share several ideas and then prioritise them by considering the potential impact and return on investment. Pick the strongest idea, set out how it might work and explain how you’d measure success. If there are any significant risks associated with it, bring them up.
The structure I’ve used here applies to almost all product design and improvement questions, and you should deploy both divergent and convergent thinking along the way. All through your answer make sure you are providing an appropriate level of detail — the best PMs clearly demonstrate both big picture thinking and attention to specifics.”
Google’s Ex Director Software Engineering shared some insights on what to expect from the technical questions.
“I’m looking for analytical and system design ability and problem solving skills, and a good grasp of how software is put together. Ideally my question will also cause the candidate to think about how the product features and architecture interact. Eg hearing about how certain UX assumptions can greatly simplify backend architecture.”
Expecting the unexpected – what sets this interview apart and how can you be prepared?
We asked a Google PM Interview subject matter expert to talk a bit about what makes this interview different from any others you may have taken on. This is what he had to say.
What makes the Google PM interview different from other interviews?
“There are no right answers. You will see lots of examples on the web, and of course the Uber one I shared here is just that, an example. There are many other ways to answer the question well; what matters is that you take a perspective and construct a coherent argument. If there is a right answer to a PM question, it is probably a bad question! This is significant because a lot of product management work hinges on trade-offs… usually we are trying to weigh up several options and none of them is a clear winner. Your thought process is just as important as the conclusions you reach.”
What might surprise an applicant about the PM interview process?
“Although some companies ask domain specific questions related to their products, many (including Google) will ask you to talk about things that you have never worked on or considered. It’s important to get comfortable with this and be able to come up with opinions and ideas on almost any product.”
Ready to practice and prepare for your Google Product Manager interview? Reach out to Carrus Coach Robert to equip you with the tools to succeed.
Recommended reading for PMs from Satyajeet Salgar, Director of Product Management at Google:
- Good PM, Bad PM by Ben Horowitz
- Be a Great Product Leader by Adam Nash
- Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead by Laszlo Bock, ex Google Head of People Operations
- How Google Works by Eric Schmidt, ex Google CEO
Other Google related reads on Carrus:
- How to land an interview at Google
- Top Tips on Nailing the Technical Interview from ex-Amazon & ex-Google Engineers
- Insider Advice on Crafting Your Resume to Catch the Attention of Hiring Managers at Google, Apple, & Amazon
- 5 Key Differences Between Working at Google and Facebook
- Unpacking the Google Interview Process