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A Guide To Effective Mock Interview Practices For PM Interviews

Updated: Dec 22, 2023

Transform Interview Anxiety into Confidence with Deliberate Practice Techniques for Aspiring Product Managers


Interview jitters are natural, but what if we told you there's a way to turn that anxiety into confidence? Let’s talk about practice through mock interviews!


You know you should practice, but, how do you practice?


I’ll share a few tips on mock interviews for Product Management roles. Whether you're prepping alone or with a partner, here's a breakdown of how to structure interview practice for maximum benefit.


We will cover:

  1. Why you should practice for interviews.

  2. How to do deliberate practice.

  3. The 3-phased virtuous cycle.

  4. How to prepare answers for behavioral questions.

  5. How to practice answers for behavioral questions.

  6. How to give feedback to a practice partner.

Two people in suit and tie practicing for interviews.
Two people in suit and tie practicing for interviews.

This post was originally published on www.sparkcreativetechnologies.com on Oct 16, 2023.


More articles to improve your interviewing game here:


Should You Practice For Interviews?

Some interview candidates believe they have been there, done that. They’ve worked as a Product Manager, or they have read all the books. Maybe they’ve done an MBA and PMP and SVPG and MTP and Product School, or all of the above. So, they don’t see a need to practice their answers for an interview. They believe their authentic self is enough.


But,

  1. There is minimal correlation between your performance on the job and your performance in an interview.

  2. Your interview evaluator is a human. Humans have biases.

  3. An interview is like a thesis presentation. Candidates spend years doing their thesis work, but they know their slides and speech need to be practiced.


So, practicing for your interviews is crucial.


But, you might notice you start sounding over-prepared and rehearsed at some point. I want to remind you that this is the valley before the peak. This is the bottom part of the hockey stick graph.

You move from sounding unprepared and inexperienced to polished and well-organized as you deliberate practice for interviews.
You move from sounding unprepared and inexperienced to polished and well-organized as you deliberate practice for interviews.

Deliberate Practice For Interviews

I’ll take concepts from these books to explain the practice approaches in this article.


Do these 6 things in your deliberate practice.

  1. Learn your interview answers,

  2. Forget them,

  3. Understand how your answers are evaluated

  4. Test yourself on the answers

  5. Figure out how you can self-evaluate your answers, and

  6. Get tested in a variety of settings.


3-Phased Virtuous Cycle Of Interview Preps

Prepare, practice, and get feedback to continue a virtuous loop of preparing for interviews.
Prepare, practice, and get feedback to continue a virtuous loop of preparing for interviews.

You have 3 parts to preparing for an interview. For each answer, you first prepare, then practice the answer, and finally get feedback. Based on this feedback, you repeat the cycle to refine your 1) answers and 2) delivery of answers.


How to Prepare Your Answers To Behavioral Questions

7 steps:

  1. Start with your resume

  2. Map answers to questions

  3. Answer known unknowns

  4. Map to PM skills

  5. Pick the top 3 stories

  6. Write on flashcards, and,

  7. Test your recollection.


1 - Prepare answers for your Behavioral questions by writing notes in a spreadsheet. Each bullet point on your resume becomes one row in your spreadsheet.


Use the SAR (Situation, Action, Result) or R-SAR format. I refer to SAR as a “diamond” structure, where you spend a small fraction of the time on situation (S) and result (R), and the bulk of your time on the action (A). In R-SAR or T-SAR, you start with a teaser about the result (R) or your operating thesis (T).


I recommend SAR over STAR format. When candidates use STAR, their emphasis on ‘Task’ (what they were expected to do) makes their answer long and adds repetition with ‘Action’ (what they did).

SAR, T-SAR, and R-SAR diamond structures.
SAR, T-SAR, and R-SAR diamond structures.

2 - Search for a list of behavioral questions for Product Managers. Consider which experiences from your resume apply to each question. Generally, you will need stories that fit into these categories:

  1. Leadership experience

  2. Cross-functional collaboration

  3. Persuasion

  4. Technical or business roadblocks

  5. Disagreement with someone

  6. Accomplishment

  7. Failure

  8. Example of your strength


This is not an exhaustive list.


3 - You will encounter questions that do not correlate directly with your resume bullet points. In these instances, pause and reflect on your experiences to recall a relevant event. Create a new row in your spreadsheet for this answer.

4 - Each of your experiences demonstrates one or more of the 9 hard-skills of a Product Manager. Map the skills demonstrated in each of your experiences in your spreadsheet. You can also use the Product Manager resume checker tool for this purpose.


5 - Once you are comfortable with your spreadsheet, select your 3 most high-impact high-effort experiences (or stories). Select stories you can summarize in 2 minutes, but can expand upon for 20 minutes if probed with follow-up questions. Select stories versatile enough to respond to questions from multiple categories mentioned above.

Gauge showing 2 minutes in green, the sweet spot length for your answer.
Gauge showing 2 minutes in green, the sweet spot length for your answer.

6 - Write down these 3 and other stories onto flashcards. Using flashcards lets you carry your flashcards around, lets you refer to them without the distraction of an internet-enabled device, and forces you to be concise.


7 - Shuffle your flash cards. Read the question on the top card and vocalize your answer without reading the flashcard’s content. Check to self-correct. Move to the next random flashcard.

flashcards.
flashcards.

How To Practice Behavioral Answers

Here are some dos and don'ts to practice your behavioral answers.

Do not:

  • Look in the mirror, as you won't see yourself at a 1:1 scale in an actual interview, whether in-person or virtual. A mirror makes you hyper-self-conscious, which is not the goal.

  • Read your written answer. Reading content creates an illusion of preparation but it does not improve retention of the content.


Do:

  • Vocalize your answers after reading a question, even if you're alone.

  • Record yourself on video in an environment similar to your video interview setup. Place your video in one corner of your laptop screen, not in full screen. Watch your recording, even if it feels awkward to observe yourself.

  • Ask your spouse or a friend to interview you, regardless of whether they're a Product Manager, work in tech, or are currently employed. As you tell your answers out aloud to someone in a safe zone, you would self-evaluate your answers. Or you gain insights from your mock interviewer’s facial microexpressions.

  • Use StellarPeers, even on its free tier, to find practice partners. Find practicing partners on lewis lin slack community or product school’s slack community.


How to Prepare And Practice Product Case Questions

See-saw finding for a balance between innovation and structure in case questions.
See-saw finding for a balance between innovation and structure in case questions.

Check out Excel at Product Case and Strategy Questions for case questions. Here is a summary.


You should be able to show innovation and structure. Demonstrate deep tech-business insight and capability. Have a framework for your practice that you’ll internalize through practice. You can enhance your innovation muscle by compiling ideas in a spreadsheet, concentrating on your expertise in technology, and knowing product trends to help with instant innovative ideas in interviews. Avoid suggesting all-in-one products, minor enhancements, or integration ideas. Also, skip choosing well-built popular products to improve them and ad-based revenue models.


4 Tips To Give Feedback To Your Practice Partner

You want great-quality feedback. It is hard to demand your practice partner to give you feedback in a certain way, but you can be a role model as the interviewer. So, here are 4 tips for the mock interviewer.

  1. Use pen and paper,

  2. Write the questions asked, positives, and areas of improvement,

  3. Summarize the candidate’s strengths, and

  4. Encourage Self-assessment.

4 steps to give interview feedback: record the plus and delta while encouraging self-assessment.
4 steps to give interview feedback: record the plus and delta while encouraging self-assessment.

1 - On a piece of paper, divide your notes into 2 columns: 'Plus' and 'Delta.' Jot down everything that went well in the 'Plus' column. Write areas of improvement or aspects missing in the response in the 'Delta' column.


2 - Write the question before each note, so the candidate (interviewee) can refer to it later. Jot down notes in the Plus and Delta columns as the candidate shares their story.

Identifying deltas can be challenging unless you are clear on the qualifications expected from the candidate from the interview.


3 - At the end of the mock interview, highlight the candidate’s strengths and areas for improvement.


4 - Ask the candidate about their perceptions of what went well at the end of the mock interview. After writing down their response, ask about their perception of areas of improvement.


Why ask for the self-assessment? We want the candidate to develop the ability of self-evaluation for times when they are practicing alone. Encouraging self-evaluation promotes self-awareness.


Why ask about positives first? We want the candidate to focus on their positives and strengthen them further. Concentrating solely on negatives might lead the candidate to over-correct and get into never-ending correction loops.


If you have any further questions or need more tips on acing your next big interview, feel free to reach out at Spark Creative Technologies.


This post was originally published on www.sparkcreativetechnologies.com on Oct 16, 2023.

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