Saurabh Arora

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There is no “back” button, only a “next” button

Noam Cohen has an interesting article in NYTimes questioning the premise that social networks are bringing us together. She tries to answer this using ChatRoulette as a case study. It’s an interesting read and recommended one if you have five minutes to spare. I have noted the main points below:

  • ChatRoulette as “a probabilistic community” that “relies on the transitory connections between users that cannot be maintained beyond the initial period of contact.”
  • Tim Hwang, co-author of a study of ChatRoulette describes it as “..a social network that’s not a social network.”
  • “It doesn’t spread in the way that social networks normally spread, through social connections and strong sustained communities,”
  • ChatRoulette may never move beyond faddish interest. Mr. Hwang, however, counts himself a ChatRoulette optimist, arguing that the service will inevitably become more like other social networks and lose its radical anonymity and chaotic spirit.

It’s hard to make out what the site will be in the next year or so. As Fred Wilson puts it – “Is this the adult friend finder 2.0 or Facebook 2.0?”

I believe ChatRoulette is too simplistic in it’s current avatar – doesn’t require a login, no friends to be added, no address book import, no software to be installed to chat. And has the component of “instant gratification” – you see a lot and move on if you don’t like the other person. However, the underlying principle of anonymity is what makes the site popular. This also means that community can not be monitored by it’s members and more often than not good members (genuinely interested in knowing others) will eventually leave the community, leaving behind a pile of not-so-good members. I have already left!

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What to expect in an interview for Product Manager?

Off late I’ve spent a lot of time interviewing candidates for Product Manager position. I have tried to list down some of the common questions I ask along with possible line of answers for most of the questions. Personal Questions mentioned below may not be specific to Product Management but are nonetheless important. It’s important for me (the interviewer) to know your (the candidate) thought process in real life situations. Hence, I almost always mention specific situation for each question.

Product Management

  • What is the metric you track?
    • Apart from the common web metrics such as unique visitors and pageviews, one should also mention business specific metric. Often, I will ask this question for a specific business. I do not expect the candidate to know the inner working of the business. However, I do want to know what they think would be an important metric if they were to run that business.
  • How do you segment the data?
    • More often than not, I haven’t seen candidates go beyond standard segmentation such as demographic and source of traffic. Though segmentation is business specific but one could think segmenting users based on their online behavior (readers Vs contributors etc), potential value to the business, etc.
  • How do you know your customers are happy?
    • This one is a little tricky. In fact, the question is incomplete. There can be many metric which can help us answer this but it would depend on the type of product/service. For example, average time spent/PVs per visit on the site can be good for some sites (such as social networks) but for information searching sites (such as classifieds etc) this could mean too many intermediate steps before the final call to action. One good measure that usually works for most sites is how many users are willing to recommend your product/service to others.
  • How would you improve a particular product?
    • This could be any product and not necessarily the product you have been working on for the past year. I’m more interested in knowing your thought process rather than the actual improvements you suggest. So it’s important to think ALOUD.
  • What would you do if one day your PageViews are down by 30%?
    • This is one of the sample case study. I want to see the thought process. How you break the problem? How do you analyze? This is followed by more case studies covering various scenarios.
  • What do you do if the engineering team says “not possible” to the feature you love the most?
    • I want to see how you react at first to such situations and ways adopted to find alternative solutions.
  • How do you convince others of your ideas?
    • I want to know how you persuade others. What are the techniques you adopt for convincing others? Is there a different strategy for your boss vs co-workers?
  • Why did you enter market X when Y is clearly the market leader? (this is based on candidate’s resume)
    • If that is something you have done, I want to understand the reasons behind it. Was the market big enough? How big it is? Why do you think you would succeed? Was there any unmet need that you identified? Was your product different? If yes, why wouldn’t the competitor copy it? How long they would take?

Personal Questions (not specific to product management)

  • What are you most proud of in your current job? Or, looking back two years, what are you most proud of?
    • This one requires a little introspection on part of the candidate. One line of thought could be to summarize your achievements and tie them with a common thread.
  • Why this job?
    • This may be the most common question to expect, yet many candidates give reasons such as salary, location and/or bad boss among others. Try finding a real good reason before appearing for an interview. One line of thought could be how the prospective job could help you in your long term goal. Yes, it’s important to know where you want to be in the short term (2-5 years) and in the long run.
    • Grab this opportunity to show your research about the organization. Have you talked to current employees? What do they say? How about talking to customers? You will be surprised to see how much interviewer would love to hear this from you.
    • Golden rule is not to say anything negative about your current/past organization. The negativity can be expressed in a positive manner. Instead of saying people are rigid and there exists too many processes to follow, one could say that I want to join an organization where I can leverage my creativity in solving problems.
  • Why we should hire you?
    • If you have ever sold something, this should be easy. The interviewer is asking you to literally sell yourself. It’s important you answer this within two minutes, otherwise the interviewer may lost you. Think the skill sets you have and how those skill sets could be beneficial to the role you are applying. Don’t mention standard stuff such as your educational qualification (unless it’s very unique, yet relevant to the job). Instead use this opportunity to demonstrate the fit between your abilities and employer’s need.
  • Why did you decide to shift from engineering to product? (for role switchers)
    • It’s common for candidates to move from engineering to product. Many organizations encourage this and it’s a good thing to happen. However, the important thing is for you to articulate the reasons for the shift. Reasons such as this was a logical progression for me or I was tired of coding are not the reasons you would want to say in an interview.
    • It would also be good to show how your engineering background/experience is helping you in product. Or is proving to be a disadvantage at times.
  • If given an offer, would you be willing to join at the same or below your current salary?
    • Yes, I actually ask this question. More often than not, towards the end of the interview, it’s generally known that candidate would lack at certain skills or would need to pick up certain skills. Do not allow the interviewer to take advantage of this situation. I want to know how you can be diplomatic under such situations.

Point of Caution

  • Be ethical
    • You should never reveal any details about the company which is not in the public domain. If your company is public, be sure to read the annual report and share only information that’s presented there. For information not in public domain, don’t reveal absolute numbers. Instead, share relative percentages and always provide a range. Say, between 10 to 25% rather than saying 15% (or between 60 and 110 instead of saying 80). If the interviewer is pressing you hard for absolute numbers, don’t give up. Most likely, this is a trapped interview where interviewer is only interested in knowing your employer’s internal information.

The above list may not be exhaustive but I have tried my best to cover as many questions as I can. Let me know in comments what are your favorite questions.

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Saurabh Arora is is crunching numbers at Faceboook. Previously, he got his hands dirty doing product development, online customer acquisition, product marketing and online revenue generation for one of the India's leading online job portal.

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