• Himanshu Joshi

Top 5 Best Books to Crack Product Management Interviews (2020)

Top 5 Best Books to Crack Product Management Interviews (2020)

Top 5 Best Books to Crack Product Management Interviews

Top 5 Best Books to Crack Product Management Interviews – Very rarely you will see such a blog post on something other than product management. Hello, we are in 2020? There is so much content available online, so why are we talking about the books here?

Product Management Interviews are probably among the toughest and most vague interviews to crack. It does not matter how experienced a person is on the product management domain, getting prepared for a product management interview gives goosebumps to everyone.

One of the key reasons for the product management interviews being difficult is that there are no absolute answers to the questions.

Unlike an engineering manager who has questions either around people management or around technical skills, product management interview can revolve around anything under the sun.

Another key reasons for the vagueness is that no two product manager jobs are exactly the same.

This article contains details about the challenges and activities a Product Manager has to undergo.

You can directly jump to the top 5 list by clicking here

What does a Product Manager mostly do?

Product Managers act as a link between various functions in an organization.

  1. When talking to Finance, a Product Manager needs to understand basic financial terminology and concepts

  2. When dealing with engineering, a Product Manager needs to understand the complexities involved in programming

  3. When dealing with leadership, a Product Manager should be well adept at creating and delivering presentations

Every product manager need not do all these things all the time and not all the organizations need all the attributes.

Thus this becomes important for an interviewer to interview a candidate for things that are an integral part of the work in their organization.

This poses a big challenge for candidates as they have to work on many areas for their interview and they are never sure on how to prepare for the same.

I take a lot of Product Management interviews – for my organization, for some product universities and even for some candidates of IIM Bangalore.

Most of the time I have realized that the candidates prepare from scattered resources and don’t have a structure to their answers.

I also get a lot of queries on LinkedIn and my personal email ID asking for PM resources to prepare for the interviews.

So I thought of creating this post and directing all the questions here so that I can cover the resources in details.

I would be covering top 5 books to crack product management interview preparation. I will be posting links for these books. As of now, the post is primarily for India but the same resources are applicable for PM interviews across the globe. I have also tried posting Amazon US link in case someone is interested in buying the books from US.

What makes Product Management Interviews different?

Unlike other jobs, Product Manager does not have a pre-defined list of responsibilities.

Let us take an example – a software developer has one primary responsibility - build a solution for the specified specifications.

Moreover, if we go one level up in the hierarchy – an engineering manager’s key responsibility is to get his team deliver what has been asked in time.

However, a product manager wears many hats – make customer experience for the users better, increase product usage, make sure right solution is built, prioritize, add and cut features and the list will never end.

Along with the outcomes defined above, a product manager’s responsibility does not come with power. Every stage of product development needs convincing capabilities by a product manager. He has to convince multiple stakeholders at each stage:

Convince his leaders

Even though a product manager is called the CEO of his own product, a huge amount of his

Convincing is a key part of Product Manager's job

time goes into convincing his leaders about the right features and strategy that will take the product ahead. This is not a straightforward task and most of the time it takes multiple efforts and iterations to move ahead. This stage also involves a lot of data mining and crunching. The more subjective the proposal, the more time it takes. On the contrary if the proposal is objective and supported by right set of data, it becomes easier to move ahead.

Convince his engineers

Data driven approach to convince engineering teams

Not all the times engineering teams work on features given by product managers. Throughout my career I have seen engineering teams carrying something called as “tech debt” which essentially means features / code changes / architecture changes and anything else that is needed to support the underlying platform.

When prioritising, engineering team can push back to pick up tech debts over features given by product team. A product manager should be able to convince the engineering team to pick up features over tech debt. Having a data driven strategy over story telling helps here.

Convince other dependent teams

There is always a possibility that improvements in your product might happen because of an irrelevant change somewhere else.

To make this point clear, I will give one example –

Assume you are the product manager of all the customer communications, primarily emails. One of the key metric that you drive is bounce rate of emails that are sent through your platform. Your goal is to minimize the same.
When looking out for the root cause of the problem you identified a major bug in the registration module. Registration module does not verify the domain and most of the bounces that your platform sees are because of incorrectly spelled domains (gmial instead of gmail, yahoo instead of yahoo etc.)
So how would you convince the registration team to take up the validation changes to improve your metrics?

This is one of the most complicated and tough part of a product manager’s job.

Clutter Free Mindset

In order to ensure that a candidate can do all this without one getting impacted by the other, the candidate needs to have a clutter-free & structured mindset.

Thus the Product Management interviews are more about testing the structure and width of thinking. There is no golden rule to test those and hence the PM interview is a lot more perception based than facts based.

There is a lot of content available out there which talks about PM interviews and how to crack them.

I have tried collating the top 5 books which are available on Amazon India which will help you prepare for the interviews. All of them are unique and have something different to share. I strongly recommend reading all 5 if you have luxury of time and money to purchase them.

Without any further delay, let us move to the list:

Top 5 Best Books to crack Product Management Interviews

1. Cracking the PM Interview: How to Land a Product Manager Job in Technology by Gayle Laakmann McDowell

Amazon Rating - 4.4/5

Purchase it on Amazon India | Purchase it on Amazon USA

You may call this book a bible for all product management interviews. This is probably the oldest book available in the market which talks about product management interviews.

This is a superb book to make you think about structure to various types of problems asked in the product management interviews.

What is Good about this book?

This book should be the first book that you use. It inculcates structural thinking and makes product management interviews much more structured and approach based.

There are chapters around multiple types of questions and every chapter comes with detailed strategy to handle different types of questions.

Moreover, the book contains many examples both from the digital world as well as non-digital world.

How to use it?

My recommendation in using this book is to go through each chapter in detail instead of going through the examples only and try understanding the concepts first. If possible, try to make your own frameworks out of the content in this book and use them generously while practising interviews.

Purchase sticky bookmarks and put them all across the key titles. I know this sounds odd but believe me this is really helpful if you just want to skim through the book fast before an interview.

What is not so good about it?

This is an old book (first published in 2013) so every product manager at some point of time has read it or came across. This is true for the interviewers as well. So please keep in mind if you are directly copying the frameworks and using them as is, there is a high chance of getting caught and sounding bookish as the interviewer would also have read this book.

Purchase it on Amazon India | Purchase it on Amazon USA

2. Decode and Conquer: Answers to Product Management Interviews by Lewis C Linn

Amazon Rating - 4.4/5

Purchase it on Amazon India | Purchase it on Amazon USA

If previous book was the bible for product management interview questions, this book is definitely the constitution of PM interview resources.

Famous for CIRCLES method, the book takes on the PM interview structure in a very different way. Simple to use examples and easy to use frameworks are key highlights of this book.

What is Good about this book?

This book is newer as compared to Cracking the PM interview and thus it built on what the PMs already learnt in the previous book. The book builds on concepts such as CIRCLES method (I will try to cover these specific topics in my next blog posts) and other work flow based approaches which are easy to remember and easy to apply.

This book also comes with new age examples including improvements to LinkedIn which will definitely be of more interest to the readers.

How to use it?

Like previous book, this book is also supposed to be read in completion rather than just skimming through it.

CIRCLES method is a very powerful framework which can be used in most of the product improvement interviews. However, do not try to simply mug up the examples in this book. I would recommend translating CIRCLES method to something as per your needs so that you do not sound bookish in your interviews.

What is not so good about it?

Like the previous book, this book is also very popular among the product managers community. So if you blindly follow the recommendations and frameworks, there is a high possibility that you are going to be labelled as bookish and do not have your own structure.

Sometimes, you will find that the author arrives at solutions in a flash without giving reasons or justifications for the same. Please make sure you do not follow same strategy in the interviews.

Purchase it on Amazon India | Purchase it on Amazon USA

3. The Product Manager Interview: 164 Actual Questions and Answers by Lewis C Linn with Teng Lu

Amazon Rating - 4.1/5

Purchase it on Amazon India | Purchase it on Amazon USA

This is an expensive book but if used correctly, can be used to master the PM interviews. Also, the value of this book increases manifold if readers work on creating their own frameworks from the examples instead of remembering the solution.

Remember this is an extension of the previously mentioned book and not many new concepts are told.

If you want to understand the answers better, I would strongly recommend you to purchase Decode and Conquer: Answers to Product Management Interviews first and then go for this one.

What is Good about this book?

This book contains examples in short to quickly give you an understanding of possible solution of the problem. This book does not contain very detailed explanation of the answers so this can be a quick one to read if you know the concepts defined in the other book.

How to use it?

Take a problem from the book and try applying the concepts taught in Decode and Conquer to it.

It is obvious that the solution proposed in the book will not be exactly the same as what you come up with. However, the book will give you enough problems to solve and good direction for similar problems in the interview.

Do your homework, divide these questions into multiple categories and try creating your own frameworks / strategies to crack such problems.

What is not so good about it?

Very first thing which immediately pushes an individual back from purchasing it is the price. This is an expensive product not because of the value but because this is not published in India and is imported from US. It is cheaper to purchase this directly from Lewis Lin’s website.

Also, this is not a book to learn concepts or structure. It does have a chapter to revise but this is a practice book which ties well to the concepts taught in Decode and Conquer.

If you are purchasing the paperback version of this book in India, you can expect 2-3 weeks of delivery time as it is shipped from USA.

Purchase it on Amazon India | Purchase it on Amazon USA

4. Amazon Product Manager Interview: A Step by Step Approach to Ace the Product Manager Interview at Amazon (Kindle) by Coursetake

Amazon Rating - 3.8/5

Purchase it on Amazon India | Purchase it on Amazon USA

Though this book's title is Amazon Product Manager Interview, this can be very easily used to prepare for other organizations as well. The book is divided into sections and some of them are specific to Amazon. The book is a quick read even on Android Kindle app and should not take much time to skim through the pages.

What is Good about this book?

The book covers behavioural questions in detail as well and provide some good frameworks to work on them.

Other good thing about this book is that it is not so known in the PM fraternity so you can use examples quoted here, specially frameworks and behavioural questions, when you interview for other organizations.

How to use it?

Rather than reading the articles in details, skim through them quickly so that you are not spending a lot of time in generic concepts which you would have learnt by now from other books.

This book contains some good information (including infographics, links and images) about Amazon's business so do go through them specially if you are preparing for Amazon.

Also some of these businesses or products can also be taken as reference for product improvement questions in other interviews (build your knowledge on these rare products because interviewers might not be aware about them in details).

What is not so good about it?

This book can be generic at times. There are many sections which are redundant and focus on Amazon only makes it difficult to comprehend specially when it talks about Amazon Cultural fit. However, this can also be taken as a benefit for candidates specifically appearing in Amazon interview.

Another thing that comes to mind when you look at this book is that this is a Kindle only book. What this means is that you either need a Kindle from Amazon to read this book or you need to download Kindle app on your device to read this. The experience on Kindle app might not be same as that on paperback edition of the book or on a real Kindle device.

You can download Kindle for Android from the following url to read this book

Purchase a Kindle on Amazon India | Purchase a Kindle on Amazon USA

Purchase it on Amazon India | Purchase it on Amazon USA

5. Preparing for Product Interviews: A Product-ive Guide to Landing a Job in PM (Kindle) - By Akash Ramdas and Advaith Sridhar

Amazon Rating - 4.2/5

Purchase this book on Amazon India | Purchase this book on Amazon USA

Finally a book by Indian author. The book covers basic fundamentals of building a structure for PM interviews.

It should not be the first book that you read as it does not go into deep for various topics. But definitely an excellent option for additional ideas and examples. Given the price point, I think you should not think twice before buying this.

What is Good about this book?

This is a small and easy to read book with very modern examples as compared to the other books I mentioned in the post earlier. Also this is a very straightforward book with bigger focus on examples rather than on theory. This can be challenging at times but given the standard approach taken to solve the examples, it becomes very easy for the users to grasp the underlying concepts.

Another aspect of this book which I loved a lot is the chapter on "Preparing for Product Interviews". This section of the book has interviews of Product Managers in Sr. Management and insights from them on what do they look out in a product manager while hiring. If you are able to understand the underlying needs, you can easily focus your interview towards achieving the same.

How to use it?

Do not try to remember the frameworks used in this book. The authors have very clearly given the reason of taking an approach. If you are able to understand the approach of the authors, you can crack any of the product management questions asked in the same area or line.

Please read Tech Titbits in this book as these are small sections on basic science behind common technologies (How does the internet work?, Password protection and hashing?, Compression etc.)

What is not so good about it?

First thing that strikes you when you read this book is that the context of interviews is primarily Indian. This is not a big problem if you are looking for a PM job within India. Rather this becomes a boon for you. However, the examples covered in the book could also have been more international.

Like the previous book, this is also a Kindle only book. What this means is that you either need a Kindle from Amazon to read this book or you need to download Kindle app on your device to read this. The experience on Kindle app might not be same as that on paperback edition of the book or on a real Kindle device.

Purchase a Kindle on Amazon India | Purchase a Kindle on Amazon USA

Purchase this book on Amazon India | Purchase this book on Amazon USA

So this completes my list of Top 5 Books to Crack Product Management Interview (2020)

2 Bonus Books for Product Management Interviews (Apart from top 5 Best Books to Crack Product Management Interview)

Apart from the books mentioned above, I would like to recommend two more books to the aspiring product managers out there.

Please note that these two books do not give advise on cracking Product Management interviews. However, the frameworks and structure presented to common world problems is something to look out for and understood in depth to be used in interviews.

These are primarily case interview preparation books. Case interviews can go in any direction and product / market evaluation are few of them.

Another advantage of reading these books is that they are less read by Product Managers and thus the frameworks presented are not very obvious to the interviewers.

1. Case in Point 10: Complete Case Interview Preparation By Marc P Cosentino

Purchase this book on Amazon India | Purchase this book on Amazon USA

The wall Street Journal calls case in point the MBA Bible! Cosentino demystifies the consulting case interview.

This is how this book is being pitched. I personally like this book a lot as this gives you interviewer's views on how much is he willing to get pushed back.

This book has helped me a lot in creating my own frameworks on New Product Development & Launch types of questions. When most of the books talk about asking questions to the interviewers, this book actually covers examples of what kind of questions you should be asking them.

This book is also very good for estimation kind of questions. Though rare in India these days, estimation questions can still come as a surprise in product management interviews.

Though not in the list of top 5 best Books to Crack Product Management Interview, this is definitely a book to expand your thoughts.

Purchase this book on Amazon India | Purchase this book on Amazon USA

2. Hacking the Case Interview: Your Shortcut Guide to Mastering Consulting Interviews by Taylor Warfield

Purchase this book on Amazon India | Purchase this book on Amazon USA

With 90% 4 & 5 star ratings on Amazon and 80% 5 star ratings, this is one of the most sought after book by MBA graduates across the globe for case preparation interviews.

However, given the content and strategies defined in this book, this can be easily extended to cover Product Management interviews as well. Definitely not in the top 5 best books to crack product management interview, this book is definitely an extended read if you want to solidify your concepts and expand your horizon.

Many organizations ask for a case round presentation these days to test the detailed thought process of candidates and their analytical and strategic mindset. This book will definitely help you out there.

Purchase this book on Amazon India | Purchase this book on Amazon USA

One Must Read Book for Product Managers

Before closing this post, I wanted to recommend one book to all the product managers and aspiring product managers out there. Rather I would like to extend the recommendation to everyone as all of us in some way or the other are involved in product creation and management process.

Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir Ayal

Purchase this book on Amazon India | Purchase this book on Amazon USA

This is one book that I would recommend every Product Manager to read. It gives a scientific approach to why some products stand out and why others sink.

Might not be absolutely necessary for product management interviews but of course this will add much more value and depth to your thoughts and structure to your answers.

Closing Remarks on Top 5 Best Books to Crack Product Management Interviews

Though these books are great to give you a direction, please note that reaching the destination is a function of your speed and efforts.

The books will be more useful if you practice the problems before looking out for solutions.

Also, I would recommend to not mug up the structures, rather work on the reason for their existence.

If you know why is there a structure, it automatically comes into your thinking and when you put one in place during an interview, it sounds more natural.

Thanks for reading my article.

Want to Know More

If you have any question regarding the post or would like a personalized guidance, do reach out to me.Leave a comment and I will reply back to you soon.


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