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  • Writer's pictureHarshal

A Guide To Functional Skill Questions For Product Management Interviews

Updated: Dec 22, 2023

Bridging Knowledge and Application: A Deep Dive into Functional Skill Interviews for Product Managers

When interviewing for a product management role, you may encounter functional questions. Behavioral questions probe your use of functional skills in professional experiences. Unlike behavioral questions, functional or skill questions focus on your knowledge of those functional skills. Below, we'll discuss some examples and tips to help you ace functional questions.

This guide will cover:

  1. The reasons interviewers ask functional questions,

  2. The functional skills required by a PM,

  3. How to gain knowledge of these functional skills,

  4. Tips to answer functional questions, and

  5. Examples of functional questions.

An interview conversation.
An interview conversation.

This post was originally published on on Oct 20, 2023.

More articles to improve your interviewing skills are here:

Objectives of Functional Interview Questions

Interviewers ask functional questions for 3 reasons:

1 - Current Challenges: They created this PM job opening because their team is encountering a challenge. They seek a candidate who can a) solve the challenge and b) solve it in a style they like.

2 - Compatibility: They have previously worked with Product Managers whose work styles were incompatible. They are keen to understand how similar or different your working style is to their idea of a compatible Product Manager.

3 - Skill Assessment: They require specific skills for the role. They believe that inquiring about your knowledge of a skill is the most effective way to gauge your skill.

 Interviewers ask Functional Qs to assess skills, compatibility, and ability to solve their problem.
Interviewers ask Functional Qs to assess skills, compatibility, and ability to solve their problem.

Drawbacks Of Using Functional Interview Questions

Interviewers assume they know the solutions or styles suitable for their challenges. These questions lead to subjective evaluations. "Nine Lies About Work" discusses the misconceptions around compatibility and humans evaluating other humans’ performance.

Past success is the best predictor of future performance. Interviewers will benefit from understanding a candidate's previous methods for relevant problem-solving. These types of questions are called behavioral questions.

On the other hand, functional or skill interview questions assess a candidate's knowledge without confirming its successful application in a role. Or the candidate could have successfully solved the situation in the interviewer’s mind but in another way.

The Functional Skills Required By A PM

Product Managers require the functional skills to manage products across the 9 phases of the product life cycle, as described here. If you’ve seen the resume checker, you are familiar with these phases.

Gain Knowledge To Answer PM Functional Questions

Here are some tips and resources to help you build a strong foundation of knowledge.

4 directions to build your knowledge:

  1. Study Expert Narratives: Delve into stories and case studies shared by seasoned product managers. You can find some examples of experts in this role models article.

  2. Understand Agile and Scrum: Use online resources to master these essential methodologies. Although not the primary responsibility of a Product Manager, many companies expect PMs to be familiar with these.

  3. Build Tech Fluency: Grasp tech concepts to communicate effectively with engineers and evaluate product feasibility.

  4. Conduct Informational Interviews: You can deepen your understanding by talking to PMs and asking open-ended questions about how they solve typical PM problems like prioritization, stakeholder management, customer research, or roadmapping. This preparation will equip you for similar interview questions.

Books and eBooks often distill years of knowledge and experience into accessible formats. Some recommended books, ebooks, and courses from this webinar are:

Additional recommended books from this article are:

  1. Made to Stick, Switch, and The Power Of Moments by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

  2. Deploy Empathy by Michele Hansen

  3. Continuous Discovery Habits by Teresa Torres

  4. The Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick

Some recommended podcasts and publications from this analysis are:

How can you consume a high amount of content? Speed up your consumption of information by utilizing techniques like listening to audiobooks or leveraging text-to-speech features for online articles, as suggested here.

collage of different ways to speed up your information consumption by listening to it instead of reading it. More details are in the linked article.
collage of different ways to speed up your information consumption by listening to it instead of reading it. More details are in the linked article.

How to gain knowledge of tech concepts? You’ll find blogs online; I suggest my friend Nikitha’s blog, Technical skills to break into product management.

You’ll find a lot of content online to learn about Agile and Scrum, but I don’t have any specific reference for it.

Tips To Answer PM Functional Skill Questions

Here's how to share your insights:

  1. Showcase Expertise: Ground your response in proven best practices. Display your command over these concepts. This is the foundation. You build on this foundation from the other 4 steps below.

  2. Use Visual Frameworks: Enhance your explanations by incorporating visual aids. Examples include 2x2 matrices, Kano model graphs, NPS scales, or Venn diagrams. These tools can clarify complex points, making your narrative more engaging and understandable.

  3. Propose Real-world Scenarios: Offer to share instances where you've applied best practices. Rather than delving into detailed narratives, ask whether the interviewer wants to hear your experience. This approach respects the interviewer's time and interest. Posing this question allows them to opt to hear more about your experience.

  4. Engage Your Interviewer: Conclude by inviting dialogue. If the interviewer is a Product Manager, seek their insights on effective strategies they've observed. If they are from a different function, ask if they have encountered similar situations, and express your interest in discussing those scenarios.

  5. Customize to Company Culture: Read up on the company culture, for example, its core values or leadership principles. Use words from their cultural description in your answers. You have a distinct advantage by reading and internalizing their cultural pillars, so capitalize on it. Highlight the resonance between your approach and the company culture. Your efforts will show your in-depth preparation.

On your foundation of knowledge, visualize your answers, offer examples, tailor to culture, and engage the interviewer in functional skill questions.
On your foundation of knowledge, visualize your answers, offer examples, tailor to culture, and engage the interviewer in functional skill questions.

I recommend finding ways to involve your interviewer in the discussion. The more your interviewer talks, the more they’ll like the time spent with you. Make it a conversation instead of an interrogation. The less you talk, the less likely you are to say something incorrect.

Examples Of Functional Interview Questions

Let us approach this step by step. We want questions to evaluate each step of the 9 phases of a product lifecycle. Here are some example questions. This list is not exhaustive.

1 - Identify User Problems

  • How do you identify customer problems?

  • What is your approach to customer interviews?

  • How do you ensure you are continuously in tune with customer problems?

2 - Prioritize based on Problem Impacts

  • What is your approach to prioritization?

  • If you need to prioritize between a bug for existing customers and a feature to gain new customers, what would you do?

  • How do you prioritize requests coming from internal stakeholders?

  • What is your approach to build your roadmap?

  • How do you handle pushback when you decide to prioritize one problem or feature over another?

  • How do you set goals?

3 - Deep-dive into Needs

  • How do you separate user needs vs desires? How do you separate must-haves vs nice-to-haves?

  • What is your customer research process?

  • How do you ensure you have a comprehensive understanding of a user's needs before moving to solution ideation?

4 - Requirements, use-cases

  • How do you communicate customer needs to your developers?

  • Describe your process for translating user needs into detailed requirements and use cases.

5 - Ideate on Solution

  • How do you handle conflicting ideas or opinions during the solution ideation phase?

  • What strategies do you use to foster creativity and practicality in solutioning?

6 - Planning and Execution

  • How do you handle requirements or scope changes once development has begun?

  • How do you keep cross-functional teams aligned during the execution phase?

  • How do you manage stakeholder expectations?

  • What is your leadership approach?

  • How do you make data-driven decisions?

  • How do you approach creating a robust product planning process?

  • What strategies do you employ to overcome potential challenges?

7 - Go-to-market plan

  • What would you want to consider prior to launching an existing product in a new country?

  • What approach do you take to measure the success of a go-to-market strategy?

  • How would you launch a feature in a B2B product?

8 - Monitor Pains and Success

  • How would you leverage data collected during the monitoring phase to influence product strategy or direction?

  • What metrics do you regularly monitor to evaluate product success?

  • How do you define success metrics for your product?

9 - Iterate

  • How do you decide when to iterate on a product or feature?

  • How do you decide to end of life a product or feature?

Is there anything else that stumped you about functional skill questions? 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 on Oct 20, 2023.



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