Google PM interview: the only post you'll need to read

PM interviews are really challenging. The questions are difficult, specific to Google and cover a wide range of topics.

But the good news is that with the right preparation it can actually become relatively straightforward to land a Product Manager job at Google. We have put together the ultimate guide to help you maximise your chances of success.

Here's an overview of what we will cover:

  1. Interview process and timeline
  2. Example questions
  3. Preparation tips

1. Interview process and timeline

Google product manager hiring process

What's the Google PM interview process and timeline? The process takes 4 to 8 weeks on average and follows these steps:

  • Step 1: Resume, cover letter, referrals
  • Step 2: Phone screens (1 to 2 interviews)
  • Step 3: On-site interviews (4 to 6 interviews)
  • Step 4: Hiring committee recommendation
  • Step 5: Senior leader review
  • Step 6: Compensation committee recommendation
  • Step 7: Senior executive review
  • Step 8: You get an offer!
1.1 What interviews to expect?

First it's important that you understand the different stages of your interview process with Google. In most cases, here are the steps you'll go through:

  • Resume and cover letter screening
  • Phone screen: 1 to 2 interviews
  • On-site: 4 to 6 interviews

Phone screens typically last 30mins and are carried out either by a recruiter or a PM depending on cases. The aim of the call is to check that you meet the basic requirements for the position and stand a chance of getting hired. Recruiters tend to ask more behavioural and resume questions, while PMs tend to jump straight into product design, estimation and strategy questions (more on that below). If Google is really excited about your profile they might send you on-site straight away and skip this step.

On-site interviews are the real test. You'll typically spend a full day at a Google office and do five to six interviews lasting 30 to 45mins each. Most of the interviews will be with PMs, but you can expect one or two of them to be with an engineer who will ask you a technical question.

You'll do three to four interviews in the morning with junior interviewers and then have lunch with a current PM where you'll be free to ask questions about the company. Google won't be evaluating you during lunch, but we recommend that you behave like if they were. If your morning interviews go well you'll be invited to do another two to three interviews with more senior interviewers in the afternoon (e.g. managers, directors).

1.2 How is the final decision made?

If things go well at your on-site interviews here is what the final steps of the process look like:

  • Interviewers submit feedback
  • Hiring comittee recommendation
  • Senior leader review
  • Compensation committee recommendation
  • Final executive review
  • You get an offer

After your on-site your interviewers will all submit their feedback and grade your answers to their questions. This feedback is then reviewed by a hiring committe, along with your resume, internal referrals and any past work you have submitted.

At this stage, the hiring committee makes a recommendation on whether Google should hire you or not. That recommendation is reviewed and validated by a Senior manager before your candidate packet is sent to a compensation committee which will decide how much money you are offered. Finally, a summary of your candidacy and offer are reviewed by a Senior Google executive before it is sent to you.

As you've probably gathered by now, Google goes to great lengths to avoid hiring the wrong candidates. This hiring process with multiple levels of validations helps them scale their teams while maintaining a high caliber of employees. But it also means that the typical process lasts 4 to 8 weeks and sometimes much more.

1.3 How many PMs does Google hire every year?

At this point you might be wondering what your chances are. The good news is that Google is growing quickly and needs an increasing number of engineers and PMs every year.

We estimate that the number of PMs at Google grew from about 800 to 5000 between 2007 and the end of 2018. At the time of writing this article Google hires about 500 to 800 new PMs per year.

Here are the steps we took to get to these estimates if you are interested in more details:

  • Step 1: Number of employees. Google reports their number of employees every year in their annual report.
  • Step 2: Number of engineers. At the time of writing, 40% of job ads for Google are for engineering positions. For each year we therefore multiplied the number of employees by 40% to get to the number of engineers.
  • Step 3: Number of PMs. The typical ratio of PMs to Engineers at tech companies is between 1 to 8 and 1 to 10. We've assumed 1 to 8 here to convert the number of engineers into a number of PMs.

Number of PMs hired at Google every year

Note: the total number of employees at Google decreased between 2012 and 2013 which explains the dip you can see in the number of PMs at the company for these years.

Google needs more and more PMs every year which might lead you to believe that getting hired isn't that hard. But this actually isn't the case. Google hires less than 1% of applicants and is therefore one of the toughest employers to break into in the world. (Interestingly, this number grows to 5% if you are referred by a current employee.)

However, the good news is that cracking PM interviews is actually really manageable once you know what to prepare for. So, let's take a look at the different types of questions Google will ask you.

2. Example questions

The main difficulty with PM interviews at Google is that you will be asked a wide range of questions. We've grouped them in six buckets and analysed how frequently they were asked by Google using questions reported by former candidates on Glassdoor.com.

Google product manager interview questions

Here are the results:

  1. Design questions (32%)
  2. Strategy questions (18%)
  3. Estimation questions (15%)
  4. Behavioural questions (14%)
  5. Technical questions (13%)
  6. Data analysis questions (8%)

Let's step through each type of question, take a look at a few examples and briefly discuss why Google asks these questions.

2.1 Design questions (32%)

One of the PM's core tasks is to help design new product features and improve existing ones. It's therefore not surprising that design questions make up about a third of the questions Google interviewers ask.

These questions assess your customer empathy, creativity and ability to use a structured approach to design products. Here are a few questions Google has asked in the past.

Example design questions asked by Google
  • What's a product you love / hate and why? How would you improve it?
  • How would you improve [Chrome / GMap / Android / etc] ?
  • How would you improve [Dropbox / Netflix / Facebook / etc] ?
  • How would you design X product for Y people? (e.g. a phone for deaf people)

Exercise: Pick one of the questions above and answer it in the comment section below without looking at other people's answers. Our team will get back to you with suggestions on how to improve your answer.

2.2 Strategy questions (18%)

PMs are responsible for setting the product vision and the roadmap to deliver it. In other words, they're in charge of product strategy. In your interviews you'll therefore be given strategic questions to discuss with your interviewer.

These questions assess if you're comfortable thinking about the wide range of aspects good PMs need to take into account when making product decisions. This includes competition, pricing, marketing, time to market, etc. Thinking through all these aspects requires creativity and a structured approach. Here are a few questions Google has asked in the past.

Example strategy questions asked by Google
  • How would you solve homelessness in downtown San Francisco?
  • Why does Startbucks sometimes have coffee shops on both sides of the road?
  • Google has invented a technology that makes air travel 4x cheaper and 4x faster. What do you do with it?
  • You are the CEO of company X. What new products would you launch and why?
  • Tell me about a competitive move by a company in the past 6 months and what you think about it.

Exercise: Pick one of the questions above and answer it in the comment section below without looking at other people's answers. Our team will get back to you with suggestions on how to improve your answer.

2.3 Estimation questions (15%)

Making product decisions often requires estimating market sizes, revenue potential, number of customers, etc. Estimation questions test your ability to work with numbers and to break down problems.

In estimation questions, interviewers don't care so much about whether you get to the right number or not. What they are really interested in is how you think through the problem and how comfortable you are making assumptions and  simple calculations.

Example estimation questions asked by Google
  • How much money is spent on gas in the US every year?
  • What is the market size for driverless cars in 2025?
  • How much storage space is required for all the images in Google Street view?
  • How much does it cost to run Youtube for a day? How much revenue does it make in a day?
  • What Internet bandwirth is required for an average US college campus?

Exercise: Pick one of the questions above and answer it in the comment section below without looking at other people's answers. Our team will get back to you with suggestions on how to improve your answer.

2.4 Behavioural questions (14%)

As in most interview processes you'll also need to answer behavourial interview questions. These questions tend to fall into three categories: a) Your motivation to work at Google and as a PM, b) Your past experiences and c) Your understanding of what good PMs do and don't do.

These questions aren't particularly hard compared to some of the other ones we are listing in this article and are sometimes overlooked by candidates. So, it's worth spending some time to prepare answers for them and to build a small edge against other applicants.

Example behavioural questions asked by Google
  • Why Google?
  • Why this PM position?
  • Tell me about a time you demonstrated leadership / solved a difficult team conflict / cracked a tough problem / etc.
  • What's a good PM? A bad PM?
  • How do you make product decisions? How do you run your product lifecycle?

Exercise: Pick one of the questions above and answer it in the comment section below without looking at other people's answers. Our team will get back to you with suggestions on how to improve your answer.

2.5 Technical questions (13%)

Google was founded by PhD students and has retained a tradition of hiring particularly technical candidates. This applies to product management too, and Google PMs tend to be more technical than average.

As a consequence, you'll typically need to answer one or two technical questions during your interview process. As you can see below these questions don't tend to include coding or pseudo-coding. They are centered on whether or not you understand certain technical concepts and can explain them simply.

Example technical questions asked by Google
  • Explain the concept of "protocol" to a 4-year-old child using an "ice cream store" as an analogy.
  • Explain the concept of "recursion" to my grandma.
  • Describe a typical page load time distribution on desktop? What about on mobile?
  • Design a simple load balancer for Google.com. What data structures would you use?
  • How would you write an algorithm to do X?

Exercise: Pick one of the questions above and answer it in the comment section below without looking at other people's answers. Our team will get back to you with suggestions on how to improve your answer.

2.6 Data analysis questions (8%)

Finally, PMs routinely have to set success metrics and report on them for the different projects they run. Your interviewers will therefore ask you one or two questions about what metrics you would track for a situation; or how you would investigate the changes in a given metric.

Example data analytics questions asked by Google
  • How would you measure the success of Apple's WWDC event?
  • What are the things Netflix should measure and analyse on a daily basis? 
  • YouTube traffic went down 5% yesterday. How would you report this issue to Larry Page?
  • You are the PM for YouTube analytics. What are your three most important metrics?
  • You launch a new feed algorithm for Facebook and the average time per session goes down by 20%. What do you do?

Exercise: Pick one of the questions above and answer it in the comment section below without looking at other people's answers. Our team will get back to you with suggestions on how to improve your answer.

3. Preparation tips

In this section we are going to cover four of the most important things you can do to prepare for your Google PM interviews. Let's start with product fundamentals.

3.1 Brush up on product fundamentals

If you're already an experienced PM then this step doesn't apply to you, but if you're more junior or if you're trying to break into product management then it's worth spending some time on refreshing your memory about basic product management concepts.

Here is a list of free resources to give you a starting point:

3.2 Practice interview questions

As mentioned previously, Google will ask you a set of questions that falls into pre-determined categories: design, strategy, estimation, behavioural, technical and data analysis. It is therefore critical that you learn to quickly recognise these types of questions and that you develop a consistent method of answering them.

Approaching each question with a pre-defined method will enable you to build strong habits. On the day of your interviews, these habits will make a huge difference as they will reduce your stress and save you a lot of time and mistakes.

Developing your own step-by-step method for each type of question will take you a little bit of time but in our experience it's really worth doing and maximises your chances of getting an offer.

3.3 Practice out loud

Another key element to succeeding at PM interviews, is practicing in real conditions. If you can practice PM interviews with a partner you should definitely do so as that will help you progress faster.

However, when you practice by yourself there still is something you can do to create the right PM interview conditions: practicing out loud. While this may sound a little awkward at first, in our experience, candidates who force themselves to use this technique progress much faster than others.

When you practice out loud, you should both play the role of the interviewer and the interviewee. You should ask yourself the questions your interviewer would ask you and then answer these questions out loud as if you were in the interview.

The reason this technique works so well is that it forces you to practice communicating your answer to your interviewer. As mentioned previously, communicating in a structured and simple way is a key skill assessed by Google. Developing this skill will make a big difference on the day of the interview.

3.4 Deep dive into the product / org

As you've probably figured out from the example questions listed above, you can't become a PM at Google without being familiar with Google's products and its organisation. You'll therefore need to do some homework before your interviews.

Here's are some resources to help you get started with this:

Any questions about Google PM interviews?

If you have any questions about Google PM interviews, do not hesitate to ask them below and we will be more than happy to answer them. All questions are good questions, so go ahead!

The IGotAnOffer team