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Notes on "Cracking the PM Interview" (2008)

Cracking the PM Interview: How to Land a Product Manager Job in Technology. Gayle Laakmann McDowell & Jackie Bavaro. 2014-03-04.

If you're applying or interviewing at a well-known company then refer to company-specific notes in Chapters 3 & 6. Also execute procedures in Chapter 10.

The Product Manager Role

(Chapter 2)

A Product Manager (PM):

  • is like a mini-CEO, but does not have direct authority
  • need to lead teams without authority
  • uses vision and research
  • advocates for the customer
  • main liaison between all other roles

Product Life Cycle:

  1. research & planning
  2. design
  3. implement & test
  4. release

Research & Planning:

  • determine what to build next
  • propose roadmap
  • get people on-board
  • become expert on feature
  • define success, e.g. OKRs

Design:

  • depends on shipped vs. online software
  • determine spec:
    • goals
    • use cases
    • requirements
    • wireframes
    • states
    • internationalization, security, etc.
  • responsibilities varies across companies (ask during your interview)

Implementation & Test:

  • track progress
  • track and aide efficiency
  • lower implementation barriers
  • prioritize
  • gather feedback
  • report bugs
  • dogfood
  • run usability studies
  • A/B testing
  • identify most important issues and iterate feature design

Release:

  • ensure smooth launch
    • run through launch checklist
    • ensure support team is ready
    • prepare for all things that could go wrong
  • announce launch

Types of products:

  • shipped
  • online
  • consumer
  • B2B
  • early stage
  • mature

MYTHS about Product Management:

  1. PMs are Project Managers
  2. PMs are in marketing
  3. You can't become PM right out of college
  4. PMs just write specs
  5. PMs just set up meetings
  6. PMs should build exactly the customer asks for
  7. PMs set dates
  8. PMs are the boss
  9. Ideas are more important than execution
  10. You can say "That's not my job"

How the PM Role Varies

(Part of Chapter 3. Sections pertaining to specific companies and startups should be reread if those roles are being considered)

  • transparency (between teams)
  • ratio of PMs to Engineers
    • high -- more collaboration
    • low -- greater ownership
  • product strategy
    • bottom up (engineers)
    • top down (executives)
  • company culture

Transitioning from Engineer to Product Manager

(Sparse portion of Chapter 4 relevant to me, head of engineering)

Customer Focus:

  • talk to them
  • support tickets
  • user stories
  • practice describing features from the customer's point of view

Think Big:

  • can you tie benefits to fundamental human needs?
  • brainstorm with disregard to reality
  • write down your practical objection, then keep going
  • find a teammate to play the practical pessimist role in brainstorming
  • write yourself a reminder to always think big
  • start your feature planning by writing the press release

Embrace Persuasion:

  • need to master both data and charisma
  • "I've looked at all of the numbers and I really believe this is the bet we need to make."
  • credibility is the currency of PM role

Be prepared for unexpected differences between roles:

  • work is less tangible
  • you become a focus point for criticism
  • you don't have time to do it all

Tips and Tricks for Career Advancement

(From Chapter 5. Definitely something to reread if you're new to this career path.)

  • ship great products
  • get some launches under your belt
  • become the expert
  • find teams where you can pick up new skills
  • pick the company where you'll learn the most
  • choose a growing company
  • find a manager who believes in you
  • focus on your own efficiency
  • understand how your role fits into the company
  • help your team with something tangible early on
  • work on something that's important to your team and the company
  • take on cross-team or company-wide tasks
  • define and measure success
  • don't let your team do unimportant work
  • don't just do what's asked of you -- get the job done
  • demonstrate you can consistently deliver work at the next level
  • find mentor(s)
  • build credibility

Resumes

(From Chapter 7)

The 15 Second Rule: Resumes should be optimized for 15-second skim.

Rules:

  1. Shorter is Better
    • stick to the highlights
    • only use 1 page but maybe a little longer for > 10 years experience
  2. Bullets (Not Blobs)
    • < 3 lines long
    • no more than 50% of bullets >= 2 lines
  3. Accomplishments (Not Responsibilities)
    • "You were a success because ... "
    • focus on impact
    • quantify accomplishment
  4. Use a Good Template
    • don't be fancy
    • use a good template with adequate (but not wasted) whitespace
  5. Don't Skip the Best Stuff
    • what did you not include?

Attributes of a Good PM Resume:

  • is itself a product
  • concisely describes company if not well known
  • demonstrates these skills:
    • passion for technology
    • initiative
    • leadership
    • impact
    • technical skills
    • attention to detail

What to include:

  • Objectives: NO
  • Summary: Rarely
  • Skills: As needed
  • Awards: Yes (but make them meaningful)
  • Activities: Sometimes
  • Projects: YES
  • Website URL: Yes
  • Social Media Accounts: Maybe
  • College Details: Sometimes
  • GPA: Nah
  • Online Courses: Yes

Cover Letters

(From Chapter 9)

Elements of a Good PM Cover Letter:

  • short (~200 words)
  • shows passion
  • demonstrates skills
  • matches company culture
  • well written

The Cover Letter Template:

  • address: "Dear ...,"
  • opening paragraph: introduction, what position are you seeking?
  • second paragraph: discuss how your background makes you a good fit
  • third paragraph: explain why you're excited for this role
  • "thank you"

TODO

  1. Company Research
  • The Product
  • The Strategy
  • The Culture
  • The Role
  • The Questions
  1. Define Yourself
  • "Tell Me About Yourself" (The Pitch)
  • "Why do you want to work here?"
  • "Why should we hire you?"
  • "Why are you leaving your current job?"
  • "What do you like to do in your spare time?"
  • "Where do you see yourself in five years?"
  • "What are your strengths and weaknesses?"
  • Sample Strengths
  • Sample Weaknesses
  1. Behavioral Questions
  • Why These Questions Are Asked
  • Preparation
  • Follow-Up Questions
  • Types of Behavioral Questions
  1. Estimation Questions
  • Approach
  • Numbers Cheat Sheet
  • Tips and Tricks
  • Example Interview
  • Sample Questions
  1. Product Questions About the Product Question
  • Type 1: Designing a Product
  • Type 2: Improving a Product
  • Type 3: Favorite Product Preparation
  • Tips and Tricks
  • Sample Questions
  1. Case Questions The Case Question:
  • Consultants vs. PMs
  • What Interviewers Look For
  • Useful Frameworks
  • Product Metrics
  • Interview Questions
  1. Coding Questions
  • Who Needs To Code
  • What You Need To Know
  • How You Are Evaluated
  • How To Approach Developing an Algorithm
  • Additional Questions
  • Solutions
  1. Appendix
  • Ian McAllister: Top 1% PMs vs. Top 10% PMs
  • Adam Nash: Be a Great Product Leader
  • Sachin Rekhi: The Inputs to a Great Product Roadmap
  • Ken Norton: How to Hire a Product Manager Amazon Leadership Principles
  1. Acknowledgements
  • Gayle Laakmann McDowell
  • Jackie Bavaro