Here’s What it’s Like to Be a Product Manager at Google

Google Product Manager

The role of Product Manager at Google is one of the most popular jobs and also one of the highest paying. Salaries for Product Managers range from $120k-$250k and it’s a role that doesn’t necessarily require a technical background. 

But what exactly do Product Managers do, and what is it like to be one at Google?

We’ve compiled the information you need to know if you’re exploring this role and how to know if it’s the right fit for you. 

What do Google Product Managers do

In a nutshell, Product Managers work with a variety of the company’s teams to help design and launch new technologies. They’re essential in the strategy of the development and success of a product, and typically need to understand different angles that impact the development of a product including the implications of legal, financial, technological, and end-user requirements. Product Managers have excellent communication and organizational skills to bridge between each of these departments. To learn more about the role itself, check out this great compilation of classic and famous articles

Here’s an example of what a day in the life of a Product Manager can look like at Google:

Product Manager at Google

Meeting with Engineers & Designers

The Product Manager is in charge of leading and facilitating a meeting in which designers will present product innovations and engineers will make comments on any constraints or technical difficulties. The facilitation is aimed to resolve pending issues and to create action items after a meeting has ended. 

Another key focus of being a Product Manager is making sure that everyone has a shared understanding of the product.

“[Facilitate] the team to have a shared understanding of the product – Everyone on the team should understand what is important, what isn’t important, what the guiding principles are, and what key tradeoffs are being made. The team should know enough to be able to execute autonomously and do the right things,” says Rob.

Usability Testing

While a product is in development, it’s essential that the product is tested on end users as this helps clarify the marketability. Product Managers conduct testing sessions in which they can gather either coworkers or outside participants to experience a product. During the session, Product Managers can take notes about their observations of how participants use the product, and also conduct surveys to gather feedback on what went well and what could be improved. 

Meeting with the Legal Team

When you’re leading the development of a product, it’s important to involve legal teams to ensure that compliance requirements are met for the technologies so that you can understand what is viable at every stage of the design. Avoiding risk during the development and launch of a product is both standard and crucial in the success of the product. 

One to One Meetings

In addition to collaborative meetings, a Product Manager might meet privately with individuals for a casual chat to discuss product, solicit opinions, or ask for feedback. 

Even though topics might have been discussed in groups, it’s essential to meet with people individually, especially if there is a disagreement. 

“[It’s important to] avoid disagreeing in public if possible – People are much more defensive if they are being watched and risk losing face. Disagree in private where possible,” Rob adds.

In between these meetings, a Product Manager at Google might visit one of the many food stations for a meal with colleagues, or participate in a free event, talk, or class via Talks at Google

Want to hear in more detail about the experiences of Google PMs? Here are some stories to read about, here: 

Do you qualify for the role? Here are the skills you need to be a Product Manager at Google

In general, being a Product Manager requires strong skills in unifying people from different departments on a clear goal and vision, facilitating effective meetings, communicating cross-functionally, organizing action steps and deadlines, asking insightful questions. If you feel confident that these areas are your strengths, then product management can be a great avenue for you. 

Interview Product Manager at Google

Do you need prior experience? 

Not necessarily, as long as you have experience that relates to the product concept in which they’re hiring a manager for, you can send in your application. If you don’t get an interview, you can always try to apply again. Google has had people reapply for positions and found that those who have eventually been hired have typically gained an additional 12-18 months of experience working at a different company before being hired at Google. 

Does being a Product Manager mean being a Generalist?

Yes and no, it depends.

Here’s what Bruno, a Senior Product Manager at Google had to say about this: 

“There are companies that value SME (subject matter experts) and ones that value generalists. The key to being a good PM is being interested in the topic and wanting to solve its problems. I have a short attention span so I had to be a generalist. If I was [concerned about being an SME or generalist], I would choose a subject I like, try to get a job in it and work on it for a couple of years. You can always jump to something else if you get bored.”

Do you need a background in engineering?

You don’t, but it could help. 

I have a couple of engineering degrees. I would say that my technical capability isn’t “make or break”, but it definitely makes my job easier as I can understand my engineer’s conversations and make sure that we’re doing what we need to do,” says Bruno.

Have a growth mindset

Growth Mindset Product Manager Google

At the end of the day, as long as you have strong interpersonal skills and a growth mindset, your personality can be a good fit for this position. 

Here’s Richard’s take:

“I think two of the most important things I have learned [at Google] are the concepts of technical courage and a growth mindset. Acquiring technical courage means you do not get intimidated by complex technical concepts and terminology. Once you dig into a technical subject, for example, like reading a white paper or book on some aspect of data science or security, you find the core concepts are actually quite simple once you unpack the jargon.”

Being a Product Manager at Google can have a great career trajectory. Many go on to run business units or start their own businesses. Some common avenues post-Google include Entrepreneur, Product Executive, and Venture Capitalist/Angel Investor.

How to prepare for an interview for Product Manager at Google

One of the key things you can do to prepare for an interview for a Product Manager role at Google is to study their Product Excellence Framework.

Sara, a Product & Program Manager at Google, talks about a framework that’s used at Google to ensure Product Excellence. “When you’re building products for millions of people, you can’t really make assumptions,” Sara says. 

Product Excellence Framework Google

Here are the 7 points to remember:

1. Know Your Users

It’s easy to have bias when you think about a product, especially if you’re knowledgeable about its purpose and functions. Sometimes, having too much knowledge can lead you to false assumptions about how users will experience a product. To mitigate potential bias, make sure you analyze, observe and ask

A great concept to learn about is Design Thinking, which helps individuals think out of the box when innovating new technologies and ask questions that challenge assumptions. 

2. Critical User Journeys

A Critical User Journey is basically the path that a user takes to achieve a goal. When a person wants to engage with a technology, what are the steps they take to go through the process of achieving their goal? For example, if a user wants to play a game, you can find out information such as how they search for the game, what buttons they hit, and what browsers or apps they use. When you understand the path a user takes, you understand how they use the product.

3. Prioritization

Prioritization involves empathizing with users. This takes into account that users are not all the same and that all avenues of how they use a product need to be covered and assessed.  

4. Pitfalls

Preparing for potential pitfalls is essential to being a successful Product Manager. Understand any downsides, risks, and be ready for them.

5. Principles

The concept of principles is that you determine what keywords your team will use to describe product excellence. When you have these key principles in mind, you can make sure to calibrate the product to meet those principles. 

6. Measurement

What kind of measurement will fit your goal? Google has two different models that you can use for the product you’re managing: HEART, and SUPER

7. Bringing it All Together

“Launch and Iterate” are the final steps. Cross-check the progress of the product against the key principles, and continue to improve the product. 

And, here are some great interview questions you might get asked:

The interview questions will be focused on evaluating your capabilities in these areas: management, technical knowledge, analytical skills, and creativity. Here are some sample questions:

  • Explain the concept of “protocol” to a four-year-old child using an “ice cream store” as an analogy.
  • Explain the concept of “recursion” to my grandma.
  • Describe a typical page load time distribution on desktop? What about on mobile?
  • Design a simple load balancer for Google.com. What data structures would you use?
  • How would you write an algorithm to do X?

If you want more ideas on the kinds of questions you’ll be asked during an interview for Product Manager, come check out this article on how to prepare for an interview for product management at Google. And this great resource from TopTotal explains where a PM  fits in the org and looks at it from the perspective of the hiring manager. 

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