“Congratulations! You have been selected for the role of Product Management Intern.”
I had finally secured an internship for a role that inspired me to pursue a graduate degree!
It is highly likely you know what a Product Manager is. Just in case, here is a quick rundown. Product management is a relatively new function in the tech industry. It sits at the intersection of engineering, design, and business. A Product Manager is responsible for the success of all aspects of a product or a feature. They are Involved in all the stages of a product’s life: understanding the pain points of their target users, brainstorming solutions, overseeing the implementation of ideas, and taking user feedback. A PM is involved in all the stages of a product’s life. A PM is supposed to understand the business problem, create a vision for the solution, and then translate it into operational modules for designing and development teams to work on. Once the product is shipped, the PM also monitors user feedback to make changes to the product.
ACADEMIA AND PROJECTS
When I started the Georgia Tech Scheller MBA program back in the fall of 2019, I made sure that the electives I chose were relevant to product management. A couple of them, namely Collaborative Product Development and Innovation Analysis, have stood out to me in terms of teaching the skills needed for product management.
Collaborative Product Development provided hands-on experience in building a product that caters to a market need. As a PM, it is important to understand who the customer is and what their needs are. The class taught me that in order to create a successful product, one should always start from the customer pain-points and never rush to a solution based on gut feeling. Rather, they should follow a methodical approach to reach a solution that best addresses the user needs. Our team set out to solve the problem of lack of standardization in the money paid to social media influencers. By the end of this class, we had created a clickable mockup for an application that addresses this problem. Recently, one of the team members even brough it to life by creating an actual platform!
Innovation Analysis was another class that I found extremely useful. In a semester-long project, I worked with another MBA student and a law student to analyze the viability of a Ph.D. candidate’s research and create a go-to-market strategy for it. Working cross-functionally is an important skill that a Product Manager has, and this course helped me improve that.
In order to become an authentic voice of the customer in the product development process, I wanted to learn more about the design aspects of the role. To do so, I enrolled in the MS Computer Science program with a specialization in Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) and became a dual-degree candidate. It has been a challenging but fulfilling endeavor so far. As an MBA student, I learned the steps involved in a product development process, but didn’t go in-depth in its implementation. However, one year into the computer science program, now I can conduct user research, create personas and build high-fidelity prototypes – all thanks to the core HCI class. In this class, I worked in a team of five to complete a project that aims at improving the lives of people with dietary restrictions. We conducted user research through literature survey and stakeholder interviews, which gave us a lot of quality data to analyze. Using affinity mapping, we discovered the recurring pain points and created personas accordingly. We then brainstormed solutions to address the identified needs and created prototypes to test with the end users and iterated based on their feedback.
Product Managers often acts as an interface between the business and technology teams. Therefore, they are expected to communicate the needs of both sides and create a vision that can drive both teams. They should be aware of the most cutting-edge technological developments while building the product but also ensure that they align with the broader business strategy and work with the resources they have. Consequently, recruiters look for candidates whose profile indicates such a skill. Having completed several semester-long projects in both technology and business domains, I understand both these facets and can talk about them during interviews to showcase my experience in a tangible way.
PRODUCT MANAGEMENT INTERVIEW RESOURCES
Apart from classes, there are several other resources that have helped me greatly in learning about the role and preparing for PM interviews. In a product management interview, the candidate is expected to exhibit a combination of soft skills and niche product management skills which employers gauge through behavioral and product case interviews. I found Decode and Conquer by Lewis Lin and Cracking the PM Interview by Gayle McDowell extremely helpful in preparing for my interviews. For tackling product design cases, Lewis Lin has created a very versatile and easy to implement framework known as CIRCLES, which is an abbreviation for the different steps involved in designing a product. The latter book talks about the culture at various top technology companies and what their PM interviews are like. It also dives deep into the various metrics a PM aspirant should be aware of. Both these books do not require any pre-requisite knowledge on the reader’s part and help build a sound approach to tackle PM interview questions.
To internalize these frameworks and become confident in their application, it is however, imperative to practice. Product Managers are expected to be methodical in their approach, rational in their decision-making, and clear in their vision. Practicing through mock case interviews is the most efficient way to improve the qualities mentioned above. A mock case requires two people playing the roles of interviewer and interviewee. The interviewer facilitates the case by stating the problem and providing relevant inputs throughout the session. The interviewee is expected to understand the problem, ask thoughtful questions, and present a solution. The interview is highly conversational in nature. The best way to understand how a mock case works is to observe it. I could provide no better resource than the YouTube channel of Rocket Blocks, where they run through various types of PM interview cases. If you’re having trouble with finding a partner to case with, I would recommend stellarpeers.com, which is an online portal to connect people who are looking for other product manager aspirants to case with. The website allows users to easily book a time slot and indicate the type of case they want to practice.
My journey in the exciting emerging field of product management is just beginning with my summer internship, for which my excitement is unparalleled. I’m looking forward to sharing my internship story with you in the near future and give you the inside scoop.
Priyansh is a dual masters MBA-MSCS candidate at Georgia Tech. He is passionate about building technological solutions for real-world problems using a customer-centric approach. He is a die-hard cricket fan and a foodie who likes to talk to new people about their experiences.