Friday, February 22, 2013

Product Management: Job interview checklist

I have been scanning dozens of resumes and doing initial phone screening interviews with candidates.  I have seen a very wide range of interview preparedness from many candidates, and I thought sharing a few tips for job seekers from hiring manager's perspective might be helpful for some job seekers in the market.  I'm hoping that you can be more successful in landing the in-person interview by following these tips.

1. Study the company and the position that you are applying for.

Many resumes that land on my desk are through recruiters.  When you get connected to an opportunity through a recruiter, it's easy to be passive and not do the homework of finding out about the company and even the job description that you are interviewing for.  Not knowing the company and the job description is a big red mark in my phone interview.  Why?  Because it tells me the candidate is not interested in the company nor the job enough to do the research.  Or it could be that candidate does not know how to prepare for an interview.  Either way, not being able to share basic information about the company and position that can be found from public webpage is unacceptable.  Remember that every hiring manager is looking for someone whom she can depend on.

2. Figure out what you are looking for and make it clear to the interviewer.

Before saying 'yes' to the phone interview, figure out what you are looking for from your next job.  It could be the growth opportunity, it could be the exciting product line, it could be the industry that you are interested in, or it could be expanding your work experience in a small startup environment.  Whatever it is, be clear about what you are going after, and be truthful about sharing your inner motivation.  When you can tell the story about why your next career goal can be met in the company that you are applying for, it makes a more compelling case in interviewer's mind.

3. Honest about why you are leaving or have left the previous job.

I remember reading Jack Welch's favorite question to drill down when interviewing a candidate was why the person left the earlier job.  There are multiple reasons why I ask this question.  First, I want to understand whether the candidate is honest and can explain himself clearly.  When the candidate is not comfortable sharing the reason, I often get a long answer with lot of special circumstances surrounding the departure.  Even if the decision to move on was based on many reasons, boil it down to simple terms, and talk about the reasons clearly.  Second, I am looking to see what job situation the candidate is running away from.  This tells me whether the candidate can survive and thrive in the new environment, or struggle and wither.

"... and I decided not to find out."
Problems exist because we let them.
Take ownership.

4. Listen, answer the question and pause.

I don't run into that often, but there are still people who just talks without pausing to give the other person a chance to talk.  I actually think that you want to be verbose rather than short when interviewing.  The candidates have more to lose by giving brief answers.  But overly talkative to the point where you are not pausing to give the interviewer chance to ask questions can be a minus.  When you are responding, make your response under a minute.  End your response by going back to the interviewer's question.

5. Stand up while talking.

One thing that I've learned about phone conversation is that your voice sounds different depending on your posture.  When you are standing up tall versus slouching on a chair will make your voice sound different.  Research has also found that taking more dominant posture, such as standing or spreading out your arms, will actually increase your level of Testosterone and make you that much more likely to project your confidence.  My advice to all of you candidates: stand up tall when you are taking a job interview call. 

6. Have a few questions for the interviewer.

Don't ever end your interview without asking any question.  Asking questions does a couple of things.  One, it shows the level of interest and desire to find out more about the position.  Two, it demonstrates that you are a self motivated person who can do things without being told.  Ask about the work environment, culture, expected work hours, or strategic direction.  There is no such thing as wrong thing to ask during the interview.  In fact, it may be your only chance to ask questions objectively to figure out whether it is a company that you really want to work for.  The worst possible thing that you can do is to keep your silence and say 'I have no question.'

I hope these are helpful.  Any other useful tips for job seekers as well as job interviewers?  If you have any, I would like to hear from you.


  1. This is one of the more relevant list of phone interview tips I have come across. Do you ever delegate the phone screening process to a junior PM? This is very common in India, and results in a lot of wrong cuts in the screening process.

    1. I don't delegate because it's difficult to describe what I'm looking for a given position. It depends on available position and the fit. I think spending a few minutes each day screening candidates is time well spent when you are looking to scale your team.