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Interviewing
Product manager
Facebook
18:30

Intro

45:04

Product sense

51:54

Execution

38:17

Leadership & drive

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Getting started

What interviewers are looking for

Most people think product sense is a finnicky exercise in creative genius. It's not. Once you learn the formula, you'll reliably nail the interview — every time.

This interview is less about your ability to come up with brilliant product ideas on the spot — and much more about your ability to methoditically explore the search space, communicate clearly and make strong, framework-driven decisions.

The product sense interview step-by-step

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Setup & clarifying questions

Start the interview by listening carefully to the question, asking any clarifying questions and laying out the structure you'll follow. The structure we recommend:

  • Goal
  • User
  • User needs
  • Solutions
  • Prioritization

It's less important what exact structure you pick, but it's critical you use something and lean on it as the backbone for your thoughts.

Goal

Align with the interviewer on the goal: what are we optimizing for? This will come in handy later in the interview.

  • List a few different goals (like revenue, DAU, number of transactions, etc.) and describe the tradeoff
  • Be crisp and clear about the one you pick. If you're not sure, take a moment to collect your thoughts.
  • Be precise: "engagement" is not precise enough, speak of DAU, time-on-site, etc.
  • Paint a clear picture of how your goal connects to an overall company goal

The interview is less about "being right" and much more about your ability to clearly articulate your decisions, always be crisp about decisions you make.

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Users

Identify the core users of the product.

  • Users over user segments: "Users" means things like Uber driver and passenger, "User segments" means things like high-frequency vs. low frequency passengers or groups vs. solo passengers.
    • Focus on users — on needs that are true of broad swaths of people — and only call out segments if they're truly meaningfully different.
  • Identify all users: especially if you're building a marketplace or a social product, it's critical to account for user needs on both sides
  • Focus on the big picture: You can discuss user segments, but don't pick a segment unless you absolutely need to. Focus on solving the needs of a large swath of people: don't make unecessary cuts by focusing on a narrow segment unless you're convinced you'll still be able to drive big impact.
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User needs

For each user, identity their needs. Focus on being creative and thorough: doing this well is critical to being able to generate thoughtful solutions.

  • Identify both functional and aspirational needs.y For example, for a dating app, you might say "I want to find people of the right age & gender" as well as "I want to feel in-demand and validated"
  • Focus on core needs rather than painpoints of existing solutions. What do people fundamentally want in this space?
  • Practice being able to generate 10+ needs and doing it quickly. If you get stuck, think of needs along the entire user lifecycle.
  • Don't narrow down/prioritize one need. Focus on generating impactful solutions that solve many needs.

This section can easily be the biggest part of the interview, frequently close to half of the 30-35 minute interview.

It's absolutely essential that you only advance to the solution stage once you feel you've really explored needs and have the right background to be able to generate big, impactful solutions.

Solutions

Brainstorm solutions that solve the user needs. Focus on generating big ideas that genuinely have a shot at meaningfully moving your goal. This will come naturally if you explored user needs well.

  • Think big: a few big ideas is better than a lot of very incremental solutions
  • Focus on the big picture: don't got into implementation details upfront, first make a pass and generate varied, create high-level ideas
  • Make it a brainstorm: it's ok to be a bit less structured in this part, put yourself at ease by telling the interviewer upfront this will be a brainstorm
  • If you get stuck:
    • Think through the lense of What is Facebook's unique advantage in this space?
    • Consider surfaces like Instagram or Whatsapp and more niche products like Facebook Portal. How could you augment those to solve your problem?
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Prioritization

In this step, you collect all the information you brainstormed in the solution phase and make a clear, structured proposal.

  • Narrow down to one specific proposal: you can combine a few solutions/features if you want, but it should be crystal clear what exactly you're proposing we build.
  • Articulate clearly why this is the right decision: make your argument in the context of the goal you set at the beginning.
    • Reference a prioritization framework: e.g. "I believe this has the best ratio of effort to impact towards the goal"
    • Be ready to address pushback: If you're not sure how to answer a question, don't jump on the first thing that comes to mind. Take a moment and tell the interview you want to collect your thoughts.
  • Add more detail to your solution: Walk through how exactly it will work and if there's time, be ready to sketch it out.

You'll likely be pressed for time at this point, but make sure to always continue to make clear, articulate arguments. The interviewer will likely give you a few minutes for your questions at the end.

The 3 most common mistakes

Structure & communication

The #1 reason for rejection is, in some way or another, tied to communication. Being a PM at a place like Facebook requires a very high standard of communication and decision-making clarity.

  • Before the interview begins, announce the steps you're going to take. Write them out on the whiteboard, reference them throughout and make it clear when you're progressing from one step to the next.
  • Before making a decision, think of how you'll make that decision. For example, if you have to decide between two features, tell the interviewer you'll prioritize the one that has the biggest impact towards the goal (e.g. DAU).
  • If you're asked a question and you're not sure, don't jump on the first thing that comes to mind. Tell the interviewer you need a few minutes to think it through, jot some notes and come back with a clear answer. Use this technique liberally.
  • Monitor yourself and immediately as soon as you catch yourself rambling, stop yourself. Tell the interviewer you need a moment to collect your thoughts.

If you master these simple tips, your performance will improve leaps & bounds. Practice mock interviews with others and be ruthless in your standards for communication.

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Why CIRCLES is terrible

If you find yourself coming up with small, incremental solutions, it's because you're making too many hard decision early on (e.g. picking one user segment or picking one user need). Realistically, Facebook isn't interested in a product that helps e.g. seniors or college students with one minor use case.

To develop big ideas, give yourself space to focus on solutions that help a big group of people and solve many user needs.

Postpone picking until the solution stage, and leave as much of the search space open as possible.

For example, you can describe user segments, but don't pick one user segment unless absolutely necessary and you're getting something very meaningful in exchange for cutting the impact/opportunity of the product.

Ditch the painpoints

Instead of thinking about "Joe" and "Mary" and their different painpoints with the product, focus on core needs that are true of all personas. This will help you a lot come up with genuinely impactful products.

Focus on aspirational needs over functional needs. For example, instead of thinking "what's wrong with Groups today", think more "Why do people use Groups? What do they fundamental want?".

If you identified needs like "feel connected", "feel in the know", "be part of an in-group", etc., perhaps you would have suggested VR-based solutions or radical new ways of hanging out virtually.

Thinking of core needs (rather than painpoints) will help you identity solutions that go beyond shuffling some pixels around in the existing product.

Next up: Execution
Next chapter →