Seek to understand

As I mentioned in my last essay, I took my first PM interview on the spot.​

On the day of my first on-campus interview, I woke up at 10 AM, spent the next two hours finishing up a coding project, and got exhausted. Subconsciously, I had been resisting to prepare for the 1:30 PM interview until 12:30 PM.​

Seeing that I won’t have time to learn a new algorithm, I began to search for Microsoft in my Evernote. I found some statistics on Skype and some random formulas and metrics. I tried to memorize them, but they were not helpful at all. I didn’t like the stress of last-minute prep, so I decided to set aside all the notes and calm myself with breathing exercises.​

The interview began on time. I introduced myself to the interviewer. He asked me about my graduation date. He seemed a bit confused when I said “May 2020.” Anyhow, he decided to give me a try. He then asked about the role I wanted to interview for, and I intuitively replied PM. That reply was a game-changer.

​My interviewer asked me to solve a system design problem from the PM viewpoint. He shared a high-level legacy system and asked me how I would go about automating it. What would you do next?

Instead of jumping to brainstorm or answer the question, I framed the question in my own words to confirm that we are on the same page. I began to ask him questions and take notes on the whiteboard:

  1. What is the problem?
  2. What are the assumptions?
  3. What does success look like?
  4. Who are the key users and what are their pain points?
  5. How much (engineering / design) resources do we have?
  6. When do we need this project by?​

While the interviewer may not answer all the questions, you can often get a lot of hints on the direction they have in mind.

These questions also turned my anxiety into curiosity and gave me time to think. With all this information, I was able to collaborate with the interviewer and solve the question together. That was fun!

If you are interested in how I answered real PM interview questions, sign up for the free email course now.

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