Google Product Management Interview process and preparation

I get asked this question a lot. How’s the Google PM interview process? How do you prepare?

I must admit, it is a lengthy and convoluted process. Below I distilled everything that I learned about the process before becoming an employee or going through the process myself. This is all information found online in generally available sources (e.g., Quora) so nothing I learned while under an NDA.

First, an overview of the Google PM interview process as of 2017.

  1. Submit your resume (or get referred).
  2. 30-minute phone screening with a recruiter.
  3. 45-minute phone interview with a Product Manager.
  4. 5-hour on-site at Google offices.
  5. Hiring committee review
  6. Team matching process
  7. Pre-review Committee
  8. SVP review

That’s a whole lot of steps. Here are the interesting bits on each of those.

Step 1. Submit your resume / Get referred

A few articles mentions that Google receives over 2 million resumes each year [1], maybe as high as 3 million in 2014 [2].

So, how do you cut through the noise? Get a friend already working at Google to refer you. It’s the easiest way. Also, make sure your resume is sharp by following pro tips. [3]

One thing that I’ll stress is this tip: ” If you’re applying through an ATS, keep to the standard formatting without any bells and whistles so the computer can read it effectively.”

You’d be surprised at how many resumes are never looked at just because a computer system wasn’t able to parse out the information properly.

Step 2. 30-minute phone screening with a recruiter. 

If you’re resume is selected as a candidate, you’ll get an email from a Google recruiter to schedule a 30-minute review of your background and ask some high-level questions. The recruiter will try to match you to an open position for which you may be a good fit.

Preparation for the recruiter screening

Be ready to discuss your background, skillset, and anything that’s on your resume. The recruiter may screen you out if they don’t think that you have the right skills for a position or the right attitude.

Step 3. 45-minute phone interview with a Product Manager.

Assuming that the recruiter thinks that you’re a good candidate for PM, the next step is a 45-minute phone interview with a current PM.

Preparation for the PM phone interview

The interview questions can vary a lot. I recommend that you read over the book “Cracking the PM Interview” [4] as it was an amazing resource to me.

Google loves seeing how you think about problems in action. Most interviews focus on working through a problem or hypothetical situation. The critical piece here is to talk through your reasoning. Write down each step and describe it out loud to your interviewer so that they can follow. Practice is important, in particular having reference frameworks for different product types. I picked a few practice questions from each area within the “Cracking the PM Interview” book and worked through them simulating an interview (speaking out loud as I went through the problem.) I also had a friend quiz me on these and give me feedback.

Tip: you want to be mindful of time, but it is more important to explain your reasoning and write it out clearly as you work through situations and problems. Your interviewer will nudge you if you’re taking too long, and will help you move along. This is OK and far better than your interviewing not understanding how you reached a solution.

Step 4. Onsite interview at a Google office.

This is the most difficult step in the process, but the preparation for it is pretty much the same as for step 3 (the phone interview). The one additional consideration is to ensure that you review all of your computer science fundamentals if you haven’t yet, since you’ll have one technical interview with a Google engineer. During the technical interview, it will be crucial for you to show your understanding of data structures, software design, system architecture, and more.

Outside of the technical interview, the rest of the interviews are pretty much a deeper view into aspects that might have been covered during the phone call (analytics, product design, marketing, etc.) You will also have lunch with a Googler. The lunch is more relaxed and not an interview, but your lunch buddy may submit feedback that may be factored in the overall decision.

Step 5. Hiring Committee review

You don’t do anything here. You just wait to hear back. The hiring committee is in charge of reviewing all of the feedback from your interviews so far and providing a hire/no hire recommendation. The way this works is as follows:

  • Each of your interviewers submits a report detailing what was covered during your interview. This includes a summary of the questions they asked, your answers, and their evaluation of your thought process and answers. They also give a recommendation based on this. Your interviewers submit this information independently, that is, they don’t talk to each other about you at all.
  • Each member of the hiring committee reviews all of the feedback from the interviewers and give an overall score to your application. This ranges from 1 (no hire) to 4 (hire). A score of 2 is a hesitant no hire, while a 3 is a hesitant hire.
  • During the hiring committee review, the committee approves those candidates that got mostly 4s and no 1s or 2s. Rejects those that got 1s and 2s. And discusses those in the middle (maybe a 4 and some 2s, etc.) The higher the spread in the reviewers ratings, the more likely it is that it will be discussed.

Getting the hire recommendation from the hiring committee is a feat in and of itself, but it’s not the end of the process.

Based on various answers by prior hiring committee members and recruiters, about 10-20% of people that make it to hiring committee review get approved to move forward. [5]

If you do get the thumbs up from the hiring committee, it looks like you have about a 90% chance of getting the final offer. So, at this point, you don’t yet have a Google offer. [6]

Step 6. Team matching process

After the hiring committee approves your job application, you become a candidate to meet managers to get matched to a team. Your recruiter will talk to you about your interests first, if they haven’t already. The recuiter reaches out to managers with PM openings in their teams if they align with your interests. The managers get your resume and interview feedback. For those managers interested in talking to you, the recruiter will set up a few meetings (typically a 30-minute phone conversation).

These meetings with potential managers are not interviews. You shouldn’t be asked to answer difficult questions, but you’re speaking with your potential future boss, so keep that in mind. Also, the manager needs to want you on their team if you want to work for them. The calls tend to be 30 minutes of informal conversation. Managers with openings are often eager to find a candidate that made it past step 5, so it’s often more of an opportunity for you to rank the teams you’re interested in and ask them questions that give you a good sense on whether you’ll enjoy working with that team.

With luck, that manager will also want you in their team and your team will be chosen. Then things move quickly to the final 2 steps.

NOTE: if you don’t get matched to any team with an open position, you won’t get an offer. It is important to keep that in mind.

7. Pre-review Committee

Once you’ve been matched to a team, the recruiter puts together the review packet for approval by the pre-review committee.

The function of the pre-review committee is to calibrate the hiring bar across the many hiring committees. There are 100s of hiring committees, but only a few pre-review committees who help bring consistency across the many hiring committees. [4]

In addition, the pre-review committee helps discuss your compensation. Pre-review committees are composed or very senior Google employees and are thus in a better position to review and discuss your compensation and calibrate it.

8. SVP review

This is the final step. The Google SVP group reviews every candidate that passes through all of the steps before it. They are the final offer approvers. They do company-wide calibration. It is only after this step that you get your official Google offer.

Additional notes

Looking at the overall funnel and the stats I’ve found, it seems that here are the odds of getting an offer are 0.3-0.5% overall. This means that the process is going to be quite rigorous.

If you’re curious, I estimated based on some online research the percentage of folks that get an offer at Google by interview stage. That’s all based on a ton of estimates, and thus not super helpful, but I found it helpful to keep things in perspective as I went through the process. It was a good reminder to prepare hard, hope for the best, but be prepared for a bad outcome. The process is optimized to minimize false positives, thus many people apply and interview multiple times before getting an offer.

Stats (mostly quoted above)

  • Google gets about 3M resumes a year (as of 2014 [2])
  • Google added about 9k employees to its headcount between 2014 and 2015 [7]
  • A 0.3% to 0.5% overall hiring rate would yield between 9-15k hires out of 3M applicants. That range seems about right based on attrition and offers rescinded.

This breaks down roughly as follows, by stage:

  • Resume screening: based on the overall yield of 0.3% to 0.5% and pass rates used below, it seems that about 35% of applicants pass this step. That’s ~1M per year that pass this step, ~1.3% of which will ultimately get an offer.
  • Got a phone interview: 10% pass this step [8], that’s ~100k per year, ~13% of which will get an offer.
  • Onsite interview/Hiring committee approval: 10-20% pass this step, ~15k per year, 90% of which will get an offer.
  • Pre-review and SVP review: 90% pass these steps (~13.5k per year final offers estimated)

References

[1] https://www.forbes.com/sites/stanphelps/2014/08/05/cracking-into-google-the-15-reasons-why-over-2-million-people-apply-each-year/

[2] About Sept 2013 to Sept 2014, “The year Bacon was there, he says that Google received about 3 million resumes.” https://www.fastcompany.com/3052371/a-former-google-recruiter-reveals-the-biggest-resume-mistakes

[3] https://www.themuse.com/advice/43-resume-tips-that-will-help-you-get-hired

[4] http://www.crackingthepminterview.com/

[5] https://www.quora.com/What-happens-in-the-pre-review-and-svp-review-steps-of-the-Google-software-engineering-application-process | https://www.quora.com/What-percentage-of-applicants-that-make-it-to-Googles-hiring-committee-get-approved

[6] “…generally about 10-12% are not extended offers.” https://www.quora.com/My-Google-recruiter-has-asked-me-about-my-current-compensation-and-external-references-Whats-the-probability-of-not-getting-an-offer-from-this-point/answer/Bob-See

[7] From quarterly earnings reports, March 31 2014 headcount (46,170) vs March 31 2015 (55,419) headcount, a 9,249 increase. https://www.quora.com/How-many-employees-does-Google-have/answer/Kelvin-Ho

[8] Re: the phone interview, “About 1/10 candidates pass this step…” https://www.reddit.com/r/cscareerquestions/comments/1z97rx/from_a_googler_the_google_interview_process/

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