Product Manager Interview prep: Setting goals

Photo by Felix Mittermeier on Unsplash

I now call it “The common pitfall”. After so many interviews it is the mistake that comes back most often and that I see most: Candidates do not set goals and this is a recipe for disaster.

In this article we will go through some steps to identifying coherent goals that will help you answer your PM interview questions. Do not engage in design or user research if you don’t know what your goal is. The reason for that is simple, you need to know what you are optimising for. For example if I ask you to improve Spotify, great! But what is my goal? Your interviewer might give you a goal (true for more junior candidates) such as “We would like to increase the customer lifetime value”. Great, this is a clear goal that will guide you in your design. However, for a bit more senior folks we expect you to define the goals based on your understanding of the company or product and strategic analysis.

Key takeaway: “Before starting your interview repeat to yourself ”Don’t forget to set a goal, don’t forget to set a goal, don’t forget to set a goal!” You will thank yourself later in the interview for that :) ”

Strategic analysis

Let’s work off a classic question: “Improve Netflix”. Clear and simple. However there are so many ways you can go about this and what I see in most candidates is the willingness to dive right in with two feet and start finding solutions. Hold your horses! Understand the strategic value these improvements should bring. Clarify with you interviewer: “Do we have a goal in mind?”, the answer might be yes and they will share it with you but in some cases your interviewer will ask you to figure something out. Here’s a framework you can use to come up with a potential goal on your own.

1 — Do a quick assessment of the current product offering

Quickly summarise your understanding of the product. “Netflix is one of the leading online global entertainment platforms primarily focusing on video streaming and immersive experiences (remember the interactive Black Mirror episode?). They are available across many form factors such as smart TVs, Mobile devices, web apps etc… They generate content in two ways: Movie/TV shows production and licensing of certain movies and shows (bring Friends back!). They’re available in most countries around the world through a monthly subscription fee ranging from ~10$ to 18$”.

Through this very short analysis you know that this is a leader in the market, self producing and licensing content across most form factors operating on a subscription model. That is crucially important because by doing this you start noticing potential strengths and weaknesses of the platform.

Key takeaway: Run a quick analysis of your understanding of the product, ask clarifying questions to your interviewer to make sure you are both aligned on product. Don’t spend more than 2–3 minutes on this part. This is just warming up the engine and making sure you didn’t forget anything.

2- Outline current product positioning and position in the market to identify potential goals

This is a step many candidates skip but that is crucially important. Here what you are expected to do is to simply run your interviewer through what you think the opportunities or threats for the product are. For instance, in the case of Netflix, the mounting pressure of competition and studiots is one. They also started slowing down in growth as they are reaching a high adoption rate and penetration in certain markets. Out of this it seems like a clear goal is emerging: retention. It is utterly important for Netflix to retain its current users from going to the competition. The name of the game: Content. Disney already pulled out contracts such as Daredevil pushing Netflix to cancel the show and produce more original content which is extremely costly.

Key takeaway: Again do not spend too much time on this but figure out what are the current strengths, weaknesses and opportunities for the product. In this case at the moment of writing this the clear goal for Netflix is to retain its current customers and make sure they do not leave the platform. Another goal could be in this case revenue growth since stagnating growth means plateauing revenue coming in and churn might not be a big issue (people often mix a number of streaming services).

3 — Set a MEASURABLE goal

I already wrote about this but as the PM you are the guardian of the metrics galaxy and every goal should be mea-su-rable! Please make your goals measurable :)

This is very important for two reasons, this allows you to show your interviewer that you are conscious about metrics but also that you have a clear way to measure success.

In our earlier example retention was key to the company goal we want to drive. Then the goal you are aiming for here could be “Based on my analysis, one of the main objectives for Netflix is reduce churn by a certain percentage” if churn is an issue or it could be the customer Lifetime Value. It could also be that we see a decrease in engagement so your goal could be to drive the time spent, number of “plays” up or 28DAs.

Key takeaway: Make your goals measurable, this will help you when you wrap up your interview to clearly outline how you will measure success of the solution you design. This will also be your north star to guide your brainstorm for your design. In this case your next step will be to identify user cohorts that might be less engaged or have churned out of your platform so you can identify solutions to retain them or keep them more engaged.

I really hope this article is useful, I can’t stress enough the importance of this step in your interview. You don’t want to arrive in the middle of your interview and have your interviewer ask you “what is your goal?” or “Do you really think this an issue worth addressing?”. This can throw you off your game or destabilise you so make sure you repeat to yourself not to design anything without setting a goal first, you will thank yourself later :)

Ready for the next step? Move on to the Product Design interview prep! You can also find my collection of resources to help you prep in this article. Good luck!

— Darbi

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Darbi Imlas

Product Manager in the tech industry. Here to help you elevate your PM career!