Insightful. Motivating. Presumptuous. Unethical. However you feel about them, case studies are a standard part of product manager interviews, and they’re here to stay. I recently spoke to a former colleague who was submitting one for a senior-level product manager interview at a business messaging platform. She was curious how I evaluate product sense in candidates as a hiring manager who — unapologetically — has included case study assignments in my hiring process for years.
For me, a stellar product manager interview case study checks three boxes:
Show me the manipulatable parts of the experience
Let’s consider my colleague’s product manager interview. In a business messaging product, there are active users and potential users. If your goal is to grow active users, you could focus on getting existing active users to invite people from their business network to join the platform. You could also focus on optimizing the invitation-to-onboarding flow. This clears hurdles in the user experience, providing a streamlined path to becoming active. Lay all the levers out, identify which one you’d prioritize, then explain why.
Take me on the user journey
Once you’ve identified the lever you’d prioritize, describe the corresponding user experience. Keep in mind that some of the experience milestones may happen off-product. In the business messaging platform example, I’d want to see a candidate walk through each step an active user takes when sending an invitation to someone in their network. Also, don’t forget to include the off-product work of finding that person’s contact information. You can make assumptions about the user experience if you’re unable to access all the steps yourself.
Sell me on a big, bold bet
I love case studies that include an idea that radically alters the existing user experience. While a list of incremental optimizations gives me confidence that you’re a thorough, data-driven problem-solver, I also want to see evidence that you value conviction. This surfaces best when you’re making big, leap-of-faith recommendations. It shows me that you understand that assumptions and complacency can be detrimental to the success of your product. As a bonus, it puts your conviction on full display.
Back to our business messaging platform example: there are plenty of ways to make an invitation experience more intuitive. What’s more interesting to me, though, is questioning whether an invitation experience is necessary to bring an active user’s network onto the platform, or if this could be automated.
At the end of the day, product manager interview case studies aren’t just a set of instructions and mock data points. They’re an opportunity for you to express your unique brand as a product manager. In my experience, a candidate who demonstrates a clear command of product sense — particularly in the three ways outlined above — alongside a healthy dose of confidence and creativity always gets to the next round.
About the speaker
Katherine Kornas is VP of Product at Betterment, where she leads growth, mobile, and money movement product teams. Prior to joining Betterment, she was SVP, Product at Havenly, and held product leadership positions at Pandora and Autodesk. Katherine has also worked on product teams at Dictionary.com and GreatSchools. Katherine is a graduate of the University of Michigan and currently lives in New York City