5 product marketing interview questions to help you hire the right product marketer

Your product marketing strategy is business-critical to all aspects of your company. Having the right set of product marketing interview questions is pivotal to hire the best talent on your team because it impacts your growth, retention, and long-term brand positioning.

But if you scour through the online job portals, you will notice a worrying pattern when it comes to recruiting a product marketing manager. Companies don’t have a uniform definition of what is product marketing and, hence, a standard set of product marketing interview questions to ask aspiring candidates.

What is product marketing?

We’ve covered this question in much detail in another blog post. Product marketing helps in packaging and launching your product to the market. It’s essentially the intersection of product, sales, and marketing to get a basic idea of how to position the product and market it.

What is product marketing?

While traditional marketing limited itself to carrying out inbound and outbound activities in order to attract new clients, product marketing has evolved from that ancient world as a response for businesses to overcome the challenges in today’s digitally-disrupted world. It transcends to the territories of product development, sales enablement, production adoption, and even customer retention.

But most businesses go by their own limiting definition of what is product marketing when they post requirements for product marketing managers in online job boards. The result? They attract the wrong crowd of applicants or—worse still—might end up hiring the wrong person for the job.

A lot of businesses unwittingly communicate the need for inbound, digital marketers when they post a vacancy for product marketers. Others wind up recruiting sales copywriters because they post ads for a product marketer who “is a master storyteller able to catapult our brand above the competition” and can “define and develop compelling value propositions, use cases, and overall content for our target audience and decision makers.”

While digital marketing and content writing are some of the core skill sets in product marketers, it shouldn’t stop there. From a broader perspective, product marketing managers should be able to help the product management team to better communicate the product vision, identify feature strengths/weaknesses, and identify growth potential in their immediate competitive battleground. They should sit with customer-facing teams like sales and support—or talk directly to customers when need be—to understand their needs and identify avenues for improving the product.

A great way to discover ideal candidates for the job is to come up with clear and comprehensive product marketing interview questions. Defining a well-articulated product marketing interview questions helps you come up with the accurate job description and communicate the right expectations to the right candidates. It also helps you build a litmus test to filter out the wrong applicants from your hiring process.

Here is a list of product marketing interview questions to help you hire beginner to mid-level PMMs:

 

1. “Describe your job at your previous company”

On the surface, this sounds like the cliched interview question that you would ask to any candidate for any job. But it’s a question that can be especially important when hiring product marketers because it can reveal their truest, more current marketing pedigree. The answer to this question can also segue into other aspects of their capabilities such as how well immersed they are/were in the product and their contribution to the company’s go-to-market (GTM) strategy.

It also tests them for the Einsteinian standard of, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” When a job applicant articulates what they do on a day to day basis in a clear manner, it’s a sign that they have clarity about the product and the responsibilities they shoulder. It is probably also a telling way to check their communication and presentation skills.

 

2. Ask them “how did you deal with churn” or “what channels got you the most leads” in their previous job

This is to test their marketing knowledge in respect with their most recent stint or the business you are trying to hire them for. Marketing as a discipline is universal, but the execution can be insular depending on which domain your business operates on, at what stage is your product, what’s your competitive field, and so on. This question should be tweaked to bring out the candidate’s knowledge pertaining to the job requirement.

For example, ask them how they handle “churn” and “onboarding” in their previous company if you are in SaaS business. If you are an up-and-coming business, you should have your product marketing interview questions designed to test the applicant’s knowledge on “lead generation” and “nurturing”. Likewise, if you are looking to create a buzz around your business that is already gaining some traction, you should check if they know enough about “branded content”, “earned media”, or “guest posting” so that they can amplify your co-marketing efforts to the next level.

Jargons are not always bad—they are actually helpful if you want to gauge a job applicant’s conceptual knowledge.

 

3. “Give me an example of the best product and/or best marketing that you admire”

I love this question for several reasons, but mostly because it’s a great way to see what catches their fancy. Asking them about their favorite brand marketing example can reveal how invested they are in their marketing career. Their answer could be about a movie, a book, or a TV show—any consumable product that an average marketer can recall.

We once had a candidate who we interviewed for a product marketing manager position. When we asked her the above question, she said she loved the way a supermarket near her home marketed their products. It was so electric to see her lay out the marketing genius the supermarket had carried out over the past several years that I was tempted to go visit the shop in person. Her example revealed how well attuned she was to the marketing world around her and how she got inspiration from even the seemingly most uninteresting walks of our everyday lives. Needless to say, she got hired and she’s slaying it in the product marketing game.

For example, you can really tell a person’s enthusiasm about answering this question when he or she replies compared to someone who might be pursuing product marketing for less inspiring reasons. The latter might not even have an answer ready or they might not articulate the example as well if they try to fabricate a response. The right candidates usually have very eloquent answers to this question and they can explain the nuances of their example in a visibly excited way.

Alternatively, you can also flip this question by asking them what’s a product they think is really good but is marketed poorly. This will test their skills in identifying problems in marketing and their rationale around how to solve them.

 

4. “How would you solve this problem?”

It’s become a standard across all workplaces to ignore what job candidates claim that they know, but to demand what they can actually do. The result of this shift in interviewing style perhaps takes inspiration from the tinsel town and the corporate world now calls it as “job audition.” Auditioning candidates is a great way to test their capabilities in real-life by giving them mini projects to work on.

Auditioning, experts claim, is foreboding the death of traditional job interviews because it’s highly scientific, unbiased, and some companies like Automattic are already seeing great results out of it.

Here is an example of the job auditioning process when hiring a product marketing person. Give the applicant a hypothetical product or a feature within a product. Tell them to message it right, package it nicely, and come up with a great product marketing plan to price and launch it. Give them clear goals the project will be measured against and make them put their plan on paper. You can assign the timeline as short as 30 minutes or as generous as 24 hours, depending on how well the candidate has done in other parts of the interview.

You can even pay them, like Matt Mullenweg does when hiring talents in Automattic, so that it doesn’t come across as milking free projects in the name of job opportunities. When you audition people for product marketing positions, by default, you gauge their copywriting and presentation skills too.

 

5. “Who else do you need to collaborate in order to succeed in your goals?”

Being a team player is a very critical skill for any product marketer to possess so that they can get buy-in from decision makers and other stakeholders when experimenting with new ideas. In addition to job auditioning, it’s best to incorporate a critical review and Q&A session in the selection process so that you can test the candidates on their negotiation and team dynamics.

Ask them questions pertaining to their adaptability to work alongside cross-functional teams such as product management, engineering, demand gen, sales enablement, customer success, and so on. Ask them what kind of collaboration do they need to succeed in their job and see if it matches your expectations. Let them know that the job requires them to talk to customers to understand their expectations and make predictions to improve product performance. Make it very clear that it’s non-negotiable for them to collaborate with the sales team to understand the gaps and potential in the path to growth.

 

Asking the right questions is critical

Asking the right question is the perfect pathway to get inside someone else’s head. The right set of product marketing interview questions can be your compass to find the best candidate for the job.

Treat the questions above as a blueprint for hiring the right product marketer, but don’t limit your imagination. Come up with similar questions that show a candidate in their truest potential and identify if they are the right fit for your team. Finally, encourage your favorite candidates to ask questions and test them on that front as well; because the quality of questions they ask can reveal a lot about who they are, what they are capable of, and what are their aspirations.

(Thanks Sudheesh Chandran for the feature illustration)