Design for people not metrics (and why I quit Facebook)

I love data. A great dashboard with useful KPIs is a thing of beauty. If you don’t have it already, take the time to define and track success metrics for your product. It can force clarity and deeper reflection of your goals.

But, don’t be data driven. Be data informed.

Use data to prove or disprove your hypotheses. Use data to calibrate your efforts and see whether you’re on the right path. Use data to define bold target goals for your product. But first, have a clear vision of what matters.

A clear vision of what you’re trying to do must always be first. Start with the people goals. What do you want users to experience? How will you add value to those users? What will matter about your work?

Then measure the right things to determine whether your work is having the right impact.

Often, the impact you want to have on people isn’t measurable, so you’ll have to use proxies. Don’t let that trap you. Don’t optimize for those proxy metrics.

I quit Facebook right after my engagement with the platform was at a peak. I quit it because my engagement with it was at its peak.

I quit Facebook a bit over a year ago. I also quit Instagram, Twitter, and other social media. Why? They weren’t designing their product in a way that met my goals. I joined those social networks to connect with people. To play a role in my friend’s lives. I had invested 10+ years on Facebook, connecting with friends and sharing photos. But, I found myself spending more time browsing. I would scroll through the news feed, click on articles, watch videos that would autoplay. I would see a friend have a life milestone that I wasn’t present for. If I had spent less time on Facebook and more time on the phone with them, I could have been there for that life milestone. Or maybe that nice person I meant to become friends with was always going to be an acquaintance and not a friend. Why was I distracted by their lives? I would come out of the app and wonder, is this helping me connect with friends or family? Am I happier?

The answer, 9 out of 10 times, was no. That’s a dismal rate of success.

Yet, I’m sure that a well-intentioned Product Manager would like my engagement metrics. “Wow, 30 minutes on the app each time he comes, engaging with lots of content, more than last month, this is fantastic.” Those proxies, time on site, engagement, etc. would say that I must be happy with the product. In reality, I was scrolling and engaging more in the hopes to fill a void that was increasing. I was seeking a deeper connection to friends, family, neighbors, people I cared about. Instead, was wasting the 30 minutes I could have spent on the phone or on video chat with one of those friends. Something that we’d both remember and would deepen our relationship in a way a “like” on a post wouldn’t.

Another problem. I thought those social networks would help me better understand the world around me. I would hear a diverse set of opinions. I had over 1500 connections on Facebook. I thought this would help me hear the diverse set of thoughts, feelings and opinions they had. But, with the 2016 election cycle I realized this was not true. I was hearing from the subset of friends whose opinions I was more likely to “like”. I was hearing less from those that I would more likely disagree with. Those that would challenge my thinking were invisible to me. I was being shown perspectives that reassured me that I lived in a world that didn’t exist.

When that realization daunted on me, it was clear that my time on those platforms was being wasted. Success, as measured by connection with others, was getting farther away. Instead, the platform offered distraction. A fake sense of connection to a reality that didn’t exist.

As measured by proxy metrics, such as time on site and interaction events on the site, I was crushing it. In fact, I remember a cute video that recapped my past 1 year on Facebook. It said that I had liked thousands of things over the past year. I did the math, I had “liked” on Facebook, on average, a few dozen things per day. That’s an outstanding number. Yet I felt emptier the more time I ‘spent’ on the platform.

I requested my Facebook account to be deleted on April 8, 2017. I first did a ‘trial’ by deactivating the account. At first, I found myself mindlessly opening the Facebook app or navigating to facebook.com on my computer. I would do the same with Instagram, Twitter, etc. It was ingrained in my brain. After a few days that habit started to die down and my mind started to open up. When I felt the need to connect, I would now send a friend a text and an invite to coffee or dinner. I called people a few times. Remember when you used to call friends? It is amazing how much you can connect with someone by hearing their voice. By sharing a few minutes with each other, even if on the phone.

The fears I had when first deactivating my account haven’t materialized. My friends didn’t forget about me. My social life didn’t get boring. Instead, meeting friends is even more interesting. We get to actually catch up. They get to tell me what they’ve been up to, without wondering if I already know it from their social media page.

I do hear less about other people. I probably haven’t heard from over 95% of my 1,800 Facebook friends. I’m happy to report that neither my life nor theirs is any worse off. I reclaimed the energy I spent “liking” those people’s posts or wondering when I would next catch up with them. I use that reclaimed energy to further my true connecting with people.

I may have emphasized in this post one product, but there are many other products guilty of this. Of optimizing for things that don’t make users better off.

When thinking about your product, start with evaluating what is it that you want your users to accomplish. How their lives will be better, truly better, by using your product. Make sure that you focus on your users’ well-being. Measure those things that will show you whether you are going in the right direction. Realize when your measurements are imperfect. Complement your measurements with a deep understanding of your user and a vision for what your product should be. Don’t let measurements distract you from the reality of your user’s experience. The impact the product is having on them.

Be informed by data. Not blindly driven by it.

 

How to prepare for your Google PM interview

Edit: I recognize PM is a commonly used term for many roles, this post focuses on Product Management interviews.

I wrote earlier about the Google PM Interview Process & Preparation. That article, although lengthy, was focused on the overall interview and recruiting process. This article is going to be much more targeted on the preparation aspect for the interviews.

Although I focus on the Google PM interview, I hope this is also helpful for folks considering interviewing for PM roles in other tech companies, and even for those interviewing for other related functions.

Interview types

You will get a mix of questions throughout your PM interviews. These will range across many different areas, but you can certainly expect a few of the following types of questions:

  • Strategy (“should Google compete in market [X]?”)
  • Design (“design an elevator for blind people”)
  • Analytics (“how much revenue does company [X] make”?)
  • Technical (“how would you design an algorithm to detect duplicate calendar invites.”)

The variances in questions are huge. Your temptation will be to try to prepare by answering a million different questions and getting to the right answer. This is counterproductive.

The real challenge will be structuring your answers

In my opinion, the secret to succeeding in the interviews lies outside of the realm of whether your answer is correct or not. Instead, you should focus on delivery of your answer.

What is your interviewer trying to assess? What is your interviewer likely NOT interested in assessing? Here some things I think are most important, but note that each interviewer and role may be slightly different. However, IMHO, these are directionally correct.

Interested in assessing Likely NOT a focus
What’s your thought process when breaking down a fuzzy problem? Do you get to the ‘right’ answer to my question?
How do you approach a very challenging design question? Do you come up with the best ideas right in the spot, within a 20 minutes interview?
What’s your collaboration approach when working with engineering? Can you code? (typically)
How do you balance long term vision with short term needs? Can you be the next Google CEO?
Do you understand technical challenges that a proposed solution may have? Can you design the best technical implementation for a problem?

Given that, focus your preparation on how you will communicate and how you will structure your answers.

The worst thing that you can do is to give an answer to an ambiguous question without walking through your thought process on how you arrived at the answer.

The interview is not about getting the right answer, the interview is an opportunity for you to show how you get to that answer and your thought process.

Build your own framework

There are plenty of frameworks to structure your answer. Often cited is the CIRCLES method for design questions. I’d suggest that you read through a few frameworks and build your own. Here are the core items that I think are crucial for your success.

Understand the real problem: the question you are asked will likely be ambiguous. Don’t try to answer right away. Think about ways in which you can clarify and make sure you understand the question in detail. Also, understand the goal. What are you trying to accomplish? What are the constraints that you have? What should you consider as ‘in scope’ or within the realm of possibilities for your solution?

Question: “How would you improve Google Search?”

Are we trying to improve revenue? UX? Increase daily users? Repeating visitors? Are we focused on the Desktop version of Google.com? Mobile? Google Home assistant? Is it in ranking the top results? Or on giving answers within the page itself? Or are we focused on improving the ads experience? How much budget do we have for the solution? Is there a particular cost revenue/cost target?

There are a gazillion questions you can ask to narrow down the problem. I’d ask a few of the more crucial ones that will allow you to focus on what matters and understand the goal. If your interviewer readily engages with you in providing additional information, great, keep going. If not, take that as a sign that they expect you to make reasonable assumptions and explain them as you work through the problem.

Structure your solution: Think of how you will solve the problem. Sketch out your solutioning approach. Think of the core elements of how you’ll approach it. If this is a product question, map out the user journey and identify key pain points. Identify your various user personas and how you will prioritize one vs. the other. For technical questions, think of the various alternatives you can think of. Think of complexity of your implementation — what data is needed? Cost of keeping up the feature? Think of privacy concerns.

At this point, you want to set the overall way you will tackle the problem, you are not yet answering the question or solving the problem.

At this stage, you want to present how you will tackle the problem to your interviewer and get feedback. For example, you could say:

To figure out how I’d improve Google Search, I’ll first pick a user segment that I think it’s crucial. I’ll then map out their objectives and key pain points when accomplishing that goal. I’ll then propose a solution that will tackle the key pain points and discuss some alternatives I can think of. Once we agree on a solution, I am happy to discuss the implementation approach I will take.

First, however, I want to clearly establish the goal we are going after, which is X. Knowing that X is our goal will help us narrow down to the right user segments and problem types to solve.

I’d strongly encourage you to write down your framework on a large piece of blank/white paper as you’re talking through it and write down the core pieces of your solution (pain points, user personas, core constraints, etc.) and refer back to it as you work through the solution.

Your goal at this stage is to be structured. Remember, you’ll have 10-20 minutes to walk through your solution and you don’t want to be all over the place. A structure is crucial for this.

Propose an option and an alternative: here is where you work through your framework, as you’ve explained it in the last step. You’ll actually identify a persona, identify use cases and user flows, identify unmet pain points, etc.

The core things that I’d stress about this stage is that it’s crucial that you communicate clearly.

  • Don’t just jump through to a solution. Instead, talk about how you’ve arrived at that solution.
  • Don’t simply say “I’m going to assume X”. Why do you think X is a good assumption. How would you validate or double check in the future if X is, indeed, a good assumption. If there isn’t a way you can think of to validate X, how will you test for it or minimize the risk of getting it wrong?
  • Write down key reasons why a particular part of your solution may be difficult to accomplish. Discuss (and write down!) ideas about alternatives you may consider to mitigate some of those difficulties.

Evaluate the pros/cons of your solution. Consider the components of an ROI here. What are the costs, complexities, and risks of your solution? What are the potential benefits? How do you get the most of the latter while minimizing the former?

Talk about implementation & potential complexities and challenges. Time permitting, discuss how you’d implement a solution. If this is a technical interview, pseudocode may be great at this stage, or a general framework of the algorithm component, data sources, etc. that you’d tap into. If a design question, consider sketching out a solution / design or writing down Critical User Journeys and key requirements. Call out complexities of the solution. If it is a strategic question, get tactical about how you’ll implement it. How will you go to market? What parts of your strategy would you implement in the short term, medium term, long term (draw out a roadmap!). How will you mitigate key risks in personnel, execution complexity, costs, PR, etc?

Finally, wrap it all up by discussing next steps. Refer back to your pain points. Discuss, how have you solved the pain points? How have you solved the problem? Moving forward, how will you measure and make sure that your solution works? What will you measure to determine whether you should continue to go down the path you’ve outlined or you need to pivot? What signs will you get that your solution or proposal is good? How will you validate key risks you outlined previously.

How to practice

The above was a very long way to explain what you should be focused on when preparing for your interviews. I focused on the above since I don’t believe it is productive for you to focus on fundamentally acquiring new skills or knowledge you are completely unfamiliar with to pass the interviews. The interview questions are complex and varied enough that such preparation will likely yield OK but uninspiring answers. Instead, prior to an interview focus on what may actually get you from OK answers to an excellent discussion with your interviewer. Focus on what can get you to shine.

Practice with a friend. The best way to practice is to have a friend who has gone through the process practice with you. Ideally another product manager, since they’ll have a ton more context on what makes for a good answer.

Practice by recording yourself. In addition to practicing with a friend, record yourself using your phone/computer as you answer practice questions. Then play back the recording. This is way more helpful than people initially expect.

Review fundamentals. While I think that you’ll succeed mostly by capitalizing on your existing strengths, as you get stuck answering a sample question review the fundamentals behind it. If it’s a technical question, review the algorithm, data structure or infrastructure concepts that would have helped you. If it’s a design question, run through a few design frameworks that may have helped and tweak your overall response framework.

Get plenty of sleep! Personally, I perform 10x better at any task when I’ve gotten plenty of rest the two nights before. I suggest that you prioritize sleep over obsessively reviewing things in the last stretch before your interviews.

Don’t forget the soft stuff

I didn’t talk at all in this article about the soft questions, such as “why do you want to work in PM?” or “why Google?”. I also didn’t touch upon behavioral discussions such as “tell me about a time in which you faced difficulty, etc.” Be prepared to answer any of these, but don’t stress too much about it.

The only tip I’d give is to pick ahead of time a few projects or efforts that you’ve worked on in the past that show your diligence, ability to communicate cross-functionally, rise up when there’s a challenge, and collaborate well. Review your past accomplishments and challenges so that, if a question like that comes up, you have fresh in your mind a list of potential activities to talk about.

Closing Thoughts

I’ve seen incredibly talented people not get a job offer after going through the Google PM interview process. The process is optimized to minimize false positives, that is, sometimes even if a candidate seems ‘good’ they may not get an offer if the hiring committee has doubts. Some of these folks that don’t get an offer in the first try interview again, usually 1+ years later, and do get an offer, so make sure you keep that option in mind.

FAQ

Do I need to code during the technical interview? 

While there’s no hard rule I have read about online, for PMs the focus should be in demonstrating:

  • That you recognize technical challenges and scalable vs. non-scalable solutions
  • Can smartly talk through how you’d design an algorithm/solution to a problem
  • Understand data structure and internet infrastructure fundamentals

I haven’t heard about PMs being asked to code during interviews, although pseudocode does seem to come up.

Other resources

Cracking the PM Interview: best ~$15 I spent when preparing.

Thepminterview.com: specifically their Estimations, Product Design and Strategy questions.

My article on Google interview process: for a general overview of the process.

Storytelling is your PM superpower

I was recently reflecting on the following quote:

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

-Howard Thurman

The first thing that came to my mind was, languages. I’ve had some of the richest experiences by being able to communicate with people in their native language. For example, traveling around Japan in 2009. I want to continue having such experiences.

It takes a very long time and effort to get to fluency in a language. The rewards, however, are immense.

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.

-Nelson Mandela

Language is a strong unifying force, and when two people speak the same language, it helps them build bridges, build rapport, and accomplish much more than we can imagine.

What does this means for product management?

Someone recently asked, as a Product Manager do you ever find ourselves wanting to learn more about design?

My answer, unsurprisingly after this preamble, is “absolutely, 100% yes.”

As a product manager, you are trying to speak many languages on a daily basis. The language of marketing, the language of engineering, the language of design, the language of partnerships. You bounce from team to team and, as you do so, you translate ideas, thoughts and feelings from one language to the other. The success of your product depends in large part on your ability to coherently bring these ideas together into a coherent strategy.

You will never become quite as fluent in any of those languages as your counterparts who are immersed in that discipline. Languages rapidly evolve and your colleagues will be fully immersed in the latest slang for their group, while you’ll dabble in it for a few hours here and there. However, to the extent possible, try to speak to your counterparts heart by speaking their language. And never stop learning about the various disciplines’ languages.

One caveat: remain humble. Don’t lose sight of where your limits are. When having a difference in opinion about design with someone who’s much more fluent than you in design, be careful not to overly push your point of view simply because you’ve passed the beginner phase in design knowledge. Propose ideas and explore alternatives together. When at an impasse, suggest getting additional input from users and/or other team members. Resist the urge of contributing too much to disciplines outside of your core language. For engineers turned into PMs, don’t try to dictate your engineering team’s technical design when writing your PRD.

Your core language

There is one language in which you should have primary command of and hone the most: the language of storytelling.

Human beings are able to organize and accomplish amazing things when they all believe in a story that is worth pursuing. You should work the hardest at figuring out why is it that your product matters and tell that story. What will the future look like with your great product initiative implemented? How will your users benefit? Tell that story day after day.

Everyone should understand that picture. Everyone in your team should be able to listen to it, understand why it matters, and be inspired to show up every day to help make that vision into reality.

As a PM, that’s your primary job. It is also your responsibility to drive towards the accomplishment of that vision by doing whatever you can to contribute to the story, as a core believer and participant in it.

Continuously refine the story as the world around you changes, your users change and your product evolves. Don’t forget to evolve your product story, or soon you will find yourself driving towards a vision that’s no longer needed in the world. You will be driving towards irrelevance.

Lastly, you should build an instinct for how your users will react to your product. Speak their language as much as possible and represent your users in your daily conversations. And remember, not all of your users speak the same language, so learn more and more about their language as you go and represent them throughout your company in all of your meetings.

Bringing it all together

I consider communication a PM’s superpower. As someone often seeking to drive initiatives forward through influence rather than authority, having a compelling story to tell and being able to distill it and translate it into what matters most to different audiences is crucial.

Time spent honing a compelling story, figuring out how to best communicate it, translating it for your various audiences, refining it, and lastly driving towards accomplishing it, is never wasted time.

Do this, and allow your teams to contribute their talents and skills towards helping you refine and accomplish that great story, and you’ll delight your users with a great product only a great story could have inspired.

How to ramp up as a Product Manager. Gain context before you try to change things.

I always remember a song I heard as a child by Guatemalan singer Ricardo Arjona. It said (with a profanity substituted) “aquí no es bueno el que ayuda, sino el que no [molesta], acuérdese.” This translates to “here the good are not those who help, but those who don’t [bother], remember that.”

Having recently completed my first 3 months as a PM at Google, I’d say that this is good advice to keep in mind in the beginning of a new job. Instead of having a grandiose plan to make a big difference and impact, start by learning as much as you can without disturbing others.

Here are the things that I’d keep in mind as you ramp up on a new product or team.

Admit that you’re in a learning phase

As a new PM to an existing product, your focus must be in learning. Even when there is an improvement that seems obvious to you, a product idea or process tweak, you should abstain from trying to make your ‘quick win’ or contribution too hastily.

Consider that:

  • You lack context. Your new colleagues have been working on the product area for months, maybe years. They have tried many ideas that failed, talked to many customers, and learned a lot in the process. Try to gain that context quickly.
  • You have zero reputation. You can only go far if your team actually cares about what you have to say. You can quickly tarnish your reputation if you babble ideas or decisions before thoughtfully thinking through problems and considering all aspects of a problem.

So, focus on learning. How do you get started? Instead of trying to revolutionize the team’s dynamic, I suggest that you pick a small project or initiative and use that to prove yourself.

Picking up a few small initiatives

The most important thing I’ve done while ramping up on a new product or area has always been to dive in and pick up a small, non-critical project. It doesn’t matter how small or uninspiring the project might be. What matters is that it is an initiative with the various phases that a typical project will go through.

Your goal is not to amaze everyone by how well you did on this first project. Your goal is to maximize learning by getting through a full cycle of contribution. You will learn many of the quirks of working with your new team.

Going through a small initiative end-to-end will help you figure out the many tactical things that will later on make you much more productive:

  • What template should you use to write product requirements?
  • Who should you consult in the process?
  • How do you communicate impacts to other teams?
  • How do you break down your requirements into stories? Where do you file bugs?
  • Will you have help from other teams (design, eng, user research, etc.)? If so, how much?
  • How often do you need your manager’s input while working through the initiative?
  • Do you need to get approvals or reviews by other teams? Which ones?

Going through the process will help you see gaps in knowledge that prevent you from moving a project forward. Try to maximize the number of times you go through this cycle in your first few months by picking many small, tiny initiatives and owning them. It doesn’t matter if the initiative is ultimately built or makes a big difference.

As you go through the initiatives, just remember that you’re trying to learn, so look for learning opportunities. As why things are the way they are, but don’t try to offer solutions or change things. What you’re looking for is opportunities to learn what’s effective and to tune yourself to make a bigger contribution within your team’s established processes.

Which brings me to my next point.

Tweak your habits, not your team’s process.

It is easy to look at any process and find ways to improve it. There’s a reason that’s the case, most processes just need to be ‘good enough’ to allow the team to work effectively. Constantly tweaking processes so they are ‘better’ is often more distracting than it is worth.

As such, instead of trying to change how your team does things, first accept their processes and tools and use them. Give them a genuine try and, as you do so, observe the pros and cons of sticking with them. Often I’ve seen new PMs reject a team’s way of working, just to come around months later to admit that it’s the easiest ‘quick and dirty’ way to get it done and not worth changing. Prioritizing using a simple Google Doc may feel inefficient when all your requests are in JIRA (or some other tool), but if that’s what your team does, try it out.

Unless something is an impending disaster, wait a few months before trying to change existing team tools and processes.

If and when you do try to change something, make sure it’s something that is worth trying to change. It must be a pain point that’s frequently observed and big. Also, since your change may fail, look for solution that is easily reversible if it doesn’t work out for your team.

Meeting your team

You will need a lot of help over the coming months and years from the people you are meeting now. Meet them as people. Try to learn about their personalities, what they are interested in, what they like and dislike about their job.

You will soon find yourself in meetings and discussions where decisions will be made that will impact the work your team does. You may be working with the engineering lead to decide how to distribute work among the team. Or in a meeting where an initiative is about to get killed or swapped by another one. Knowing your team will help you weigh their feelings and likes/dislikes into the process. It may not change the outcome, but it can surely help you make the process smoother for everyone and provide the right amount of context.

One thing I like to do when meeting people for the first time is to let them know that I’m here to help. “I don’t know anything right now, but if there’s something that you think I can be helpful on, just let me know.” It’s simple, recognizing that you are unlikely to be helpful, but shows your willingness to step up and assist others.

Remember, you’re a PM. You’re not the CEO of your product. You are not here to issue commands or speak of visions for the team to execute. You probably won’t be hiring or firing anyone. You’re here to collaborate with your team to come up with a direction that will make the product awesome. You should be very involved and willing to help your team’s life easier. Make it clear to them that you’re here to do that.

Ask your manager and coworkers for ‘braindumps’

When ramping up, my manager and I lovingly started to use the term ‘braindumps’ for many of our conversations or exchanges. These would be sessions in which she would give me a ton of information and context and I’d just soak it all up while asking clarifying questions. These sessions would be unstructured and we would often jump from one topic to the next.

The idea during these sessions was to surface all sorts of information that may be helpful later. Information such as:

  • How does the product work?
  • How does the product initiative fit within the overall product and company strategy?
  • What are the known issues with a given feature?
  • Why hasn’t an important issue been fixed?
  • Why do these two parts of the product feel so disjointed?
  • What did the team try and succeeded with? How did they start down that path?
  • Who are the players involved in making your product area a success?

Keep these sessions flexible. They are best in person, but often we’d do these asynchronously by using a Google Doc. My manager would type up a bunch of thoughts about an area or topic I needed context around. We’d then discuss.

During these braindump discussions you will have many ideas, thoughts, and potential solutions. Don’t jump into looking for solutions. Remain focused on surfacing issues and tidbits of knowledge.

What you’re after is building a foundation of knowledge around the team and product. At first, all the information that you’ll gather will be in a disarray. That’s OK. You will then take time on your own to organize all this new information in a way that’s useful to you. As you do, try to explain in your own words the things that you’ve learned. Ask “why” until you’ve hit on a point that is easily understandable and actionable.

For example, consider that your note says that your product feature A has stability issues. Ask why? Is it due to a component of the system that it leverages? If so, what are your options to rewrite/substitute/improve that component? How much effort would it take? Why hasn’t it been done? Processing your notes from your braindumps, asking why, and finding the answer to those questions should take several times longer than the braindumps themselves.

The biggest benefit I find of getting ‘braindumps’ from co-workers is that they will naturally gravitate towards talking about things that are currently or were recently relevant to them and the rest of the team. This will make your learning process more focused, since you will quickly uncover the substance of the various discussions that your team has been having over the past 6-12 months, which will allow you to more easily understand what’s going on as you join team meetings and work on new initiatives. This is much more helpful than reading an internal documentation portal with information that hasn’t been updated in 3 years because no one cares about that topic any longer.

Observe your users

I could, and probably will at some point, write an entire article about the importance of getting first-hand exposure to your users. You can learn a lot from talking to your coworkers. But, ultimately, your goal is to build a product for your users. Deeply empathise with those users. Observe them. Talk to them. Find ways to watch them in action. The more you can identify with your users and understand their real goals and needs, the better of a product that you’ll be able to build.

Bringing it all together

Your first few months as a PM can be quite unsettling. You are brand new, want to make a contribution, may have a lot of relevant experience to bring to the table, yet have little to no knowledge or context about your new team and product area. There are major gaps in your understanding that will prevent you from making a large contribution. Thus, focus on learning by picking up many small initiatives, assimilating your team’s processes and tools, asking your co-workers for braindumps, digging deep into the ‘why’ behind what you’re told, and observing your users. After a few months consistently doing this you’ll be ready to take on larger initiatives and will be much more effective at helping your team.

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.

NOTE: if you’re only looking for concrete steps on how to prepare for the phone interview or onsite interviews (steps 3 and 4 below), you may want to skip to How to prepare for your Google PM interview.

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.

Consider this, the recruiter is trying to get a quick sense of whether you have a shot at getting hired. They speak to about a hundred people before they come across one person that will successfully make it through the process. As such, be prepared to give them a reason to ‘bet’ on you and put you through the process.

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. Since there’s a lot to it, I wrote a more in-depth article on how to prepare: How to prepare for your Google PM interview.

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 a mix of 2s and 3s, 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. 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. That’s both the good and bad news. If you think that you can succeed at Google, and at first get rejected for a role, you should apply again after some buffer time (discuss this with your recruiter), since many folks I’ve met have gotten a job offer only after applying 2-3 times.

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] Cracking the PM Interview Book

[5] https://www.quora.com/What-happens-in-the-pre-review-and-svp-review-steps-of-the-Google-software-engineering-application-processhttps://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/

Resources when transitioning into Product Management

A reader was curious as to what resources I found most helpful while transitioning into Product Management from a non-technical background [1]. Below is a list of things that I have found both helpful and rewarding, which are mostly about Product Management related topics. Most of the online resources are free. I’ll update this with new resources later on as I learn more.

Note: Product Management is done quite differently in different companies, but the resources below are applicable across a wide range of companies and roles.

General Management

Design

Agile

Technical knowledge

Entrepreneurship & Product Strategy


[1] Post inspired by a question a reader submitted via Medium on https://omareduardo.com/2017/05/21/my-transition-into-product-management-from-a-non-technical-background/

My transition into Product Management from a ‘non-technical’ background 

It will soon be 3 years since I transitioned into Product Management full-time. Prior to that, here is what my résumé included.

  • Bachelor’s in Chemical Engineering
  • Healthcare Consulting (3 years)
  • Customer Success Management (1 year)

I then transitioned into Enterprise Software Product Management at BloomReach, a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) company. It was particularly important to me to do Product Management (PM) at a company in which Software is the core product.

In my specific case, the opportunity to transition was a mix of preparation and luck. In this article, I want to highlight some of the more practical aspects of my transition. I want to offer it as one sample journey that didn’t involve going back to school for either Computer Science training nor an MBA.

Personal awareness and setting a goal.

The first step to transition into PM was being clear in what I wanted to do. Without this clarity of mind, I doubt that the transition would have ever happened. The reason I quit consulting to join a Silicon Valley startup was to learn how to lead in a startup environment. In particular, it was important to me to gain skills that would be relevant when building and growing a new company.

With three years of consulting experience and working in a Customer Success role at a technology startup, I had a great set of skills that helped me engage successfully with enterprise customers. I understood my customers’ businesses and could effectively position our product so that the customer crisply understood our value. I was fluent in business talk — talking to an executive about ROI, year-over-year growth, market trends, opportunity cost, etc. became second nature to me. Given this level of comfort, I decided that it was time for the next phase in my quest to build skills relevant to building and growing a new company.

At the recommendation of a mentor, I wrote down what I wanted to be able to deliver over the next year. My keen interest, I realized, was to gain the necessary skills to understand and influence the core product. As a software company, it is the product that carries the most weight in the success of the company. A PM is best equipped to influence the product and, I realized, the gap between my skillset at the skillset I needed for a PM job was centered around product design and technical understanding. Developing those skills was within my power — there are many great online resources for this. Also, working at a technology startup in Silicon Valley I was surrounded by brilliant minds that could assist me in the process.

Communicating my intent unambiguously.

Having clarity was crucial as a first step. The next step was more important. I communicated clearly and unambiguously my intent. I told my boss that I wasn’t interested in moving up the ladder within my current team, the logical next step in my career. Instead, I wanted to spend any of my discretionary time at work on projects that would allow me to transition into Product Management.

Some people within upper management were surprised by how candid I was on this point — it isn’t every day that an ambitious millennial comes to their manager refusing a potential promotion. I will admit, there was risk taking this step — I could end up not getting promoted within my team nor able to transition into Product Management. I considered this. However, if being clear on this point could aid, even in the slightest, my chances of moving into PM it was worth it.

Preparing for the next step through a project.

At the time, this wasn’t as clear to me as it is now. However, the most important next step was getting involved in the right project. Doing that wouldn’t have been possible, however, if I hadn’t spent my time closing some of my knowledge gaps on product and technology.

I spoke to other Product Managers and read up on the job. I also asked a lot of questions about how our product worked. A nice engineer gave me a quick overview of Hadoop and MapReduce. An Integrations guy taught me how to see in the web-browser when our JavaScript tracking pixel ‘fired’ and see if there was anything wrong with it. A product manager taught me how she worked with the design and engineering teams to define a new feature and sequence its execution. Our data analysts helped me get SQL Workbench setup on my computer and taught me basic SQL scripting to get data off of our analytics databases. Yet some other nice person taught me what an API call was, what it looked like, how it was executed, and how the customer would work with the response. Someone explained to me that the Cloud I spoke of was just a bunch of servers on Amazon Web Services (AWS). In my spare time, I did a few programming exercises in HTML, CSS, JavaScript and jQuery to better understand what the hell was going on when I browsed to a website.

All in all, this was a time of just learning the basics of many technologies so that I could build a baseline framework in my head of how our cloud product worked. This made me feel more comfortable talking about the product to customers and developers integrating our product.

I also found it helpful to learn about the software development process. Learning about Agile Development, scrums, PRDs and design tools was helpful in this regard.

I will be perfectly candid here, I was searching for a clear list of things to learn. I wanted something titled “The perfect guide to all things technical that you must learn to become a Product Manager.” I never came across such a guide. If you are looking for something similar, I find the following exercise to be more helpful. Just pick any service that seems interesting and learn about the components that were used to build it. For example, a simple search about how was Facebook built yields answers such as this and this. Also, kind folks over at Quora answer just about any question people have.

A project to showcase readiness.

The next step is where readiness and luck both played a role. A few months after I explicitly asked to spend my discretionary time on Product Management activities, an initiative with a top client came up. It was an initiative that required a mix of customer success, integrations, and product management skills. It also happened to be related to our new product, which I had spent my spare time learning about.

An executive within the company endorsed the idea of having me as the ‘glue’ between the customer and engineering for that initiative. The other Product Managers didn’t have the time to do this so I would work directly with the executive in charge of the product to deliver this initiative.

This wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been clear with my boss about my intent to focus on Product Management. It also wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t done well at my primary function in Customer Success.

Ship and wait for the next opportunity.

Once on this project, it was a matter of dedicating all that I had to ensure that it was successful. I had to work with the customer to understand requirements and clarify prioritization, worked with engineering to design the product functionality, and do a lot of project management to ensure things were done on time. The project was executed smoothly and it showcased well.

Once this had been completed, the timing was on my side. The Product Management team had a few openings and it was only natural for me to transition into a junior role within the team.

A helpful framework

Many things could have been different in my story. I may not have gotten an opportunity within BloomReach to transition into PM, in which case I would have had to look elsewhere. Or maybe it could have taken longer. But, there were a few crucial steps that I strongly believed can help you also maximize your chances of a transition into Product Management.

Be clear on why you want to transition into Product Management and communicate it. Everything else is much easier if you have clarity of purpose on this. Be willing to give up other tempting opportunities to focus on what truly matters to you.

Take the risk and put in the time and effort. When I started learning more about the product, a Product Manager at BloomReach candidly told me that it was possible that an opportunity within BloomReach may never arise for me to transition into Product Management. However, not letting that deter me was key to continue focusing on learning and growing into what would eventually become my opportunity to move into a Product Management role.

Find a logical adjacent move to make. My journey into Product Management is filled with adjacent moves. From a bachelor’s in Chemical Engineering, I went into Technology Consulting. I had strong analytical skills but needed to learn business and project management. From there I moved into Management Consulting. I had good general business skills and financial acumen but could improve in Strategy and Business Transformation processes. This then opened the door to join a Customer Success team in a technology startup where I could contribute broad business skills and learn about technology and Silicon Valley. Finally, with this broad knowledge of business and diving deep into the product, the next adjacent step for me was the PM role.

Learn, learn and learn. All of these adjacent transitions were enabled by doing a ton of learning. I personally read up a ton about our products and the technologies that we used. A popular option in Silicon Valley is to build your own website or app. You can partner with someone who’s more technically or business savvy, depending on your skillset, and build a simple app or web browser plug-in. The process of figuring out what to build, what features to prioritize, how to build it, etc. will start giving you an idea of the product management process. You can also read other books or online sources. Here are a few I used.

Volunteer your time to help on your area of interest. This is how you find sponsors! Every transition I’ve made within a company, whether a company such as Accenture with over 200k employees or BloomReach with less than 150 at the time, came after a more established senior person endorsed my transition. When I moved from System Integrations consulting into Management Consulting at Accenture it was thanks to the endorsement of a Senior Manager I helped on my spare time. Moving into Product Management required the endorsement of my boss, an executive I worked with, and our CTO whom I had a chance to interact with thanks to the project I mentioned above.

I hope that this helps you in your journey. If it does, I’d love to hear from you!