I'd have to go with this classic: "Describe your process for launching a new product."
Why? A product launch is the quintessential act of product marketing. It places the product marketer as the orchestrator between product, sales, customer success, and core marketing. If you understand how to successfully launch a product, you understand how to be a successful product marketer.
The best answers to this question don't start with a laundry list of channels and assets--they start with the "why". Why are we launching the product? What do we hope to gain? Is the goal primarily to generate leads? Drive revenue? Gain awareness? How will we measure success?
Once the purpose and goals of the launch are made clear, the next steps are typically as follows:
1: Nail the messaging and positioning (get this into a doc as a single source of truth, and ensure every single deliverable and piece of content ladders up to it)
2: Make a list of the deliverables (internal and external content that needs to be created, the customers who need to be involved, approvals and buy-in, etc.)
3: Build your launch plan (specific activities that need to be completed by certain dates by specific owners)
4: Establish a regular check-in cadence to execute on the plan and ensure everyone is aligned
Well, the question of "What is Product Marketing" Could mean different things at different companies, but my answer is that we provide the voice of the market and the voice of the customer internally to the product manager so we can build products that resonate with our audience, and we are the voice of the product externally providing the appropriate messaging and positioning to go to market.
I have started to ask "What is the biggest trade-off decision you had to make?"
Most people go straight to themselves and a trade-off that they've had to make about a job or career path, not a company decision. One interviewee floored me when he talked about hard decisions on needing to lay-off members of his team, but then described how he worked through his network to get every person on that team a job at another company. Not only did he show he could make tough calls, but he was trying to be a good person too in a rough situation.
What is your superpower?!
This one is great because it gives you insight into how a candidate perceives themselves. There's a self-awareness that comes through with the responses that allows for you to getting a sense of who they are an individuals and how they work in a team. The best example of this was someone who told me their super power was being able to make silos disappear.
I often like to ask, “What accomplishment are you most proud of?” as well as, “In your last performance review, what were your opportunities to improve and how have you worked to address them?” I like the question “What accomplishment are you most proud of?” because it often helps me understand what really motivates a candidate and what type of worker they are. The best answer I’ve heard to that question was a candidate who talked about overcoming some very challenging obstacles for a new product launch and the launch actually turning out to not be nearly as successful as they or the company hoped; however, the candidate walked through how the team had really given it their all and worked very collaboratively across the org, learning a tremendous amount along the way that they were actively applying to the next launch. That answer was a great example to me of someone who didn’t just associate success with hitting metrics or getting praise, but instead taking on an incredible challenge and delivering their best work. I also like to ask, “In your last performance review, what were your opportunities to improve and how have you worked to address them?” because it tells me how open a candidate is to improving in their work and whether they take feedback seriously. I sometimes find candidates give very surface-level answers with the classic weaknesses that are actually strengths like we’ve all heard about (e.g. “I work too hard”), which I usually interpret as a candidate not being comfortable enough to admit their true opportunities. Obviously in an interview, candidates want to impress their interviewers so I definitely don’t write someone off if they can’t discuss a true weakness, but it is something I’m mindful of. For me to be an effective manager and help my team members grow, I want to be able to openly discuss opportunities for improvement, knowing that we all have skills we’re working on and should be able to get help on. The best answer I’ve heard to this question was a candidate honestly talking about how they lacked direct experience with certain elements of a product launch. Given the role I was hiring for involved a huge immediate product launch, I could tell they were hesitant to admit this, but it was exactly what I wanted to hear. Throughout the interview they had proven they had enough other experience and general product marketing chops, that I wasn’t at all concerned about that weakness and instead was just very excited to work closely with them on those launch elements to help them improve.
My favorite question to ask is something along the lines of "Here's a big initiative we're planning to roll out, and whoever gets this job will own at least part of the planning and execution. How would you go about making the initiative successful?"
A great answer always includes something like "Before I get into the tactical details, let me just first check that I understand why this initiative is so important. Please tell me where I'm mistaken, but I assume the objectives are..."
And the best answer also includes something that sounds like "Wow, this is really interesting. We faced a similar objective in one of my past roles. Here's how we approached it then, and here's how this sounds a little different..."
It's hard to pick a favorite because most of my interviews look different from candidate to candidate. Often, my questions are focused on deeply understanding their past experience and asking for relevant examples that demonstrate the skills and compentencies that will be unqiue to the role and business need. Or, we unpack a case study together.
I also go beyond the resume when I'm interviewing. One question that I typically ask is where the candidates want to learn and grow. The best answers to those also demonstrate steps they've taken recently and proactively to grow in a specific area.
I like to ask PMM candidates to deliver their company's pitch. I'm not grading their pitch but rather the empathy and insight they display for and about their customers' challenges, the way they deliver it, and the storytelling ability of the candidate. There's no one answer to this that's stood out but it's the delivery that makes the difference. People who can clearly explain what pain point their customer feels and succintly how their company solves it (and can throw in some proof) are always the stand outs. The best answers are from the few people who aren't afraid to role play and pretend i'm a customer that they're pitching.
What is the role of product marketing, and why do you want to do the job. I care about not just what the answer is but also how candidates deliver it. Are they giving me a textbook answer or telling me a story about their proudest PMM experience or a project that significantly impacted the business or a day in their life as a PMM.
My favorite question is "What would be your positioning statement for yourself as a product marketer?"
I love that question because it shows me how comfortable they are with the basics of positioning, and it tells me a lot about the aspects of product marketing that they care most about. For example, they may highlight their strength in messaging and positioning, or their customer-centricity, or their ability to partner with teams across the company. It's also another opportunity to see how they communciate complex concepts in a clear, concise, and compelling way.
I've heard a lot of great responses, and there is no right answer. But I always come away with a deeper understanding of how they view their strengths, as well as the type of work they like to do.
I am going to provide a highly opinionated answer. Please forgive the strong tone, but I hope it will be more helpful for you than a generic response:
For any question I ask, I want a short, succinct, and direct answer that tells me within the first 3-5 sentences what outcomes you achieved. If you can do that, you’ve already impressed me so just stop right there. Any additional info I need, I will follow up with more questions and then we can dig into the details.
If I’m interviewing you, I want to know - what was your goal, and how did you make progress to that goal? I am not looking for a lot of background info or stories. What I am really asking is, can you deliver? If the answer is a long and rambling response, you’re inadvertently communicating that you are not focused on outcomes.
I’ve come across very few marketers who actually give outcomes-focused responses during interviews. If you can train yourself to do that, you’ve instantly set yourself apart from the competition.
Any interviews with me will involve a case - real world, but sanitized case questions like "you are the PMM for xyz product and your subscriber growth has slowed down [insert whatever metrics, scenarios] in the last 2 quarters. You need to get it back on track. What would you do to tackle this?" I look for ability to break down a problem, identify hypotheses, look for right data/ fact base to validate hypotheses and creative ideas to solve a problem. My best tip is to not jump into answering the question right away. Take 30-60s to structure your thinking first.
Let me give you the one interview question, out of every interview I've ever been to, that literally stumped me. "Give me a time that you were the most creative".
It stumped me at the time because I approach my role in PMM from a very systematic, repeatable, scalable, and data driven approach. There have been plenty of times where I've had to be creative, but at the time all I could think about were things like "ad messages" and "campaigns" and "graphic design" and I don't participate in much of that. And in terms of my messaging, I don't pull it out of thin air. All of my messaging and narrative for the product is backed by the needs of the market and the customer, literal data that I can point to, that says the messaging we have is accurate and correct. So that was one that REALLY caught me off guard at the time - but I know how to answer it now :)
I have product marketing candidates give me the Who Cares and Why Is That Important pitch for their current product. Walk me through the positioning and messaging development, what resonates and why, stuff like that. Another key question I ask all candidates is what kind of non-profit or volunteer things they do outside of work. That gives me a gauge of how team/other they are oriented. Great PMMers have a strong element of empathy and their volunteer work lets me know how well developed that empathy is.
Here are some of my favorites:
Walk me through a product launch of yours that went really well and one that may not have done as well. What were the differences in retrospect?
Now that you've had a chance to review our website and other marketing materials, what's something you think we could be doing better or an opportunity we may have missed that you'd love to dive into in this role?
Here are a few of the questions that I like to ask:
- Tell me about a time that you influenced the product direction.
- How do you define the role of product marketing?
- What is the one thing that we can help you with, that you can take away from working here?
I also agree with Carrie that case studies are the best. I like to ask about a specific project from the resume and then go into great deal about that particular experience. I look for self-awareness and ability for the individual to describe success in terms of results as well as acknowledge learnings and areas to improve.