Advice > Program management (TPM and PM)

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

By Jonathon Yarde on January 28, 2021 How we wrote this article
Google Program Manager Interview

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

The good news is that the right preparation can make a big difference and can help you land the job at Google (or Google Cloud). We have put together this ultimate guide to help you maximize your chances of success.

And if you're targeting a technical program manager position (which is a closely related role), then check out our separate guide on Google TPM interviews.

Here's an overview of what we'll cover in this guide:

Click here to practice 1-on-1 with Google program manager ex-interviewers

1. Interview process and timeline

1.1 What interviews to expect

Google's program manager interview process is extensive and can be quite time consuming. It typically takes 3-8 weeks to go through the process, but it's not uncommon for it to take much longer (i.e. 6+ months). Here's an overview of the interview steps you'll face along the way. If you're interviewing at Google Cloud Platform, you can expect similar steps.

  1. Resume screen
  2. Recruiter phone screen: one interview
  3. Program manager phone screen: one or two interviews
  4. Onsite: typically four interviews

In addition to these interview steps, there are also some "behind the scenes" steps that have to happen before you get an offer. See the "What happens behind the scenes" section below for more on this.

But first, let's focus on more details about the interview steps you'll need to prepare for:

1.1.1 Resume screen

First, recruiters will look at your resume and assess if your experience matches the open position. This is the most competitive step in the process, as millions of candidates do not make it past this stage.

You can use this free guide to help tailor your resume to the position you’re targeting. 

And if you’re looking for expert feedback, you can also get input from our team of ex-Google recruiters, who will cover what achievements to focus on (or ignore), how to fine tune your bullet points, and more.

If possible, it can also be helpful to get an employee or contact at Google to refer you to the recruiting team internally. 

1.1.2 Recruiter phone screen

After your application is accepted, you'll start your interview process with Google by talking to a recruiter on the phone. They are looking to confirm that you've got a chance of getting the job at all, so be prepared to explain your background and why you’re a good fit for Google. You should expect typical behavioral and resume questions like, "Tell me about yourself", "Why Google?", etc.

If you get past this first HR screen, the recruiter will then help schedule your first program manager interview. At this time, your recruiter will probably also give you some additional details about the next interview and the person you're interviewing with.

1.1.3 Program manager interviews

Next, you'll go through one or two program manager interviews. Your first interviewer will usually be the hiring manager for the role, and sometimes you'll also have a second interview before you're advanced to the onsite interviews.

The types of questions you'll be asked in this round are roughly the same as the questions you'll encounter in your onsite interviews. In particular, you'll want to be well prepared for behavioral and program management questions. More on this below.

The role of this step is to make sure it's worth bringing you onsite. Your interviewer will therefore try to make sure there isn't an area where you are particularly weak and don't stand a chance of meeting the hiring bar.

1.1.4 Onsite interviews

Onsite interviews are the real test. You'll typically spend a full day interviewing with Google, and the interview questions you'll encounter will usually fall into one of three broad categories:

  1. Program management questions, where you'll be asked questions about leading projects, working with cross-functional teams, and executing at various stages of the project lifecycle. 
  2. Behavioral questions, where you'll be evaluated on your past work experience, your motivation for applying, your ability to handle conflict, and more.
  3. Role-specific / technical questions, where you'll be assessed on skills and experience specific to the role or functional area that you're applying for, this could include questions that assess your technical knowledge.

[PRE-COVID] In addition to these interviews, you'll usually also have lunch with a fellow program manager while you are onsite. The lunch interview is meant to be your time to ask questions about what it's like to work at Google. The company won't be evaluating you during this time, but we recommend that you behave as if they were.

In some cases, Google may ask you to do a follow up interview after your onsite to drill further into one of the areas listed above. This means you're close to getting an offer but the company wants to double check you're meeting the hiring bar for a given criteria.

1.2 What exactly is Google looking for?

At the end of each interview your interviewer will grade your performance using a standardised feedback form that summarizes the attributes Google looks for in a candidate. The form is constantly evolving, but below we have listed the main components we know of at the time of writing this article.

A) Questions asked

In the first section of the form the interviewer fills in the questions they asked you. These questions are then shared with your future interviewers so you don't get asked the same questions twice.

B) Attribute scoring

Each interviewer will assess you on the four main attributes Google looks for when hiring:

  1. General cognitive ability. This is often referred to as "GCA" by Googlers. The company wants to hire smart program managers who can learn and adapt to new situations. Here your interviewer will try to understand how you solve hard problems and how you learn. For more information, take a look at our guide to the GCA interview.
  2. Role-related knowledge and experience. This is often referred to as "RRK" or "RRKE" internally. The company wants to make sure that you have the right experience, domain expertise, and competencies for the position you're applying for. For more information, take a look at our guide to the RRK interview.
  3. Leadership. Google looks for a particular type of leadership called “emergent leadership.” You'll typically be working in cross-functional teams at Google, and different team members are expected to step up and lead at different times in the lifecycle of a project when their skills are needed. More information in this guide to Google leadership questions.
  4. Googleyness (i.e. culture fit). The company wants to make sure Google is the right environment for you. Your interviewer will check whether you naturally exhibit the company's values, including: being comfortable with ambiguity, having a bias to action, and a collaborative nature. More information in this guide to Googleyness.

Depending on the exact job you're applying for these attributes might be broken down further. For instance, if you were applying to be a TPM then "Role-related knowledge and experience" might be broken down into "Program management" and "Technical judgement".

In this middle section, Google's interviewers typically document your answers in detail, and give you a score for each attribute (e.g. "Poor", "Mixed", "Good", "Excellent").

C) Final recommendation

Finally interviewers will write a summary of your performance and provide an overall recommendation on whether they think Google should be hiring you or not (e.g. "Strong no hire", "No hire", "Leaning no hire", "Leaning hire", "Hire", "Strong hire").

1.3 What happens behind the scenes

If things go well at your onsite interviews, here's what the final steps of the process look like:

  • Interviewers submit feedback
  • Hiring committee recommendation
  • Team matching
  • Senior leader and compensation committee review
  • Final executive review (only senior roles)
  • You get an offer

After your onsite, your interviewers will all submit their feedback, usually within two to three days. This feedback will then be reviewed by a hiring committee, along with your resume, internal referrals, and any past work you have submitted. At this stage, the hiring committee will make a recommendation on whether Google should hire you or not.

If the hiring committee recommends that you get hired, you'll usually start your team matching process. In other words, you'll talk to hiring managers and one or several of them will need to be willing to take you on their team in order for you to get an offer from the company.

In parallel, the hiring committee recommendation will be reviewed and validated by a senior manager and a compensation committee who will decide how much money you are offered. Finally, if you are interviewing for a senior role, a senior Google executive will review a summary of your candidacy and compensation before the offer 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 can spread over multiple months.

2. Example questions

To help you prepare strategically for your interviews, we have used Glassdoor data to identify the types of questions which are most frequently asked in Google program manager interviews.

Let's dive in and look at the three broad types of interview questions you can expect:

  • Program management questions (57% of questions)
  • Behavioral questions (28%)
  • Role-specific / technical questions (16%)

2.1 Program management questions

Google program managers design and execute programs from end-to-end. It's therefore important that they have a strong ability to plan, prioritize and deliver projects.

This is the part of the interview process where you need to show you think about programs in a comprehensive way (e.g. resources, risks, etc.) and have a track record of executing flawlessly.

And in order to make a strong impression on your interviews, you'll need to cover a lot of ground during your preparation. This is because the specific questions asked in program manager interviews tend to vary significantly depending the circumstances and the role or functional area you're applying to.  

As a result, we'd suggest practicing two broad categories of program manager questions to prepare:

  • Program management processes
    • Kick-off
    • Planning
    • Execution
    • Monitoring
    • Closing
  • Program management skills
    • Leadership
    • Partnership
    • Estimation
    • Other

As you can see, each category has some sub-categories within it. But don't worry, they're actually fairly easy to remember when you understand what each category represents.

Let's begin by digging into the process questions, then we'll cover the skill questions later. 

2.1.1 Program management process questions

If you're familiar with project management, you may notice that the 5 categories listed under program management processes, are roughly aligned with the PMBOK project management process groups.

For our purposes, essentially all this means is that "process" questions are aligned with the lifecycle of a project (e.g. kick-off, planning, execution, monitoring, and then closing). 

Below you'll find several examples questions that you can practice with. All of the below are real program manager interview questions from Glassdoor, we've just edited the phrasing in some places to improve the grammar and clarity. Also note that we've added a few questions from other Tech companies to provide further practice materials. These questions are indicated with parentheses at the end of the question, all other questions listed here are from Google. 

Example program management process questions

  • Kick-off
    • How do you kick off a new project?
    • Tell me about a program you managed from from kick off through execution. (*Facebook question).
  • Planning
    • What is critical path and what happens if it changes?
    • You have 12 months to roll out a new product, describe in detail how you would manage the process.
    • Your team currently handles calls pertaining to a product at the rate of 150 calls per day. It is expected that the calls will increase to 10,000 per day in 4 months. How would you plan to handle this spike in demand?
    • What steps would you take to launch “x” product?
  • Execution
    • Tell me about the challenges you had while implementing a project
    • Your entire team can only use one spreadsheet. How would you optimize the design of the spreadsheet to make sure it works well for everyone?
    • How do you manage a complex program that consists of multiple projects?
    • Tell me of a problem you faced when going from strategy to implementation. (*Facebook question).
  • Monitoring
    • How would you derive metrics?
    • Tell me about a project you managed. What were some of the metrics you used to determine the success of the project? (*Facebook question).
    • How would you handle reporting for multiple projects when some of them are falling behind schedule? (*Amazon question).
  • Closing
    • How do you know if a project is done?

2.1.2 Program management skill questions

The second broad category of program management questions to cover, are "skill" questions. These are commonly asked in program manager interviews to assess key skills, like leadership and partnership.

You'll see that these questions are different, in that they are not specifically associated with a particular stage of the project lifecycle. Instead, these skills could prove useful at any stage of a project.

Below you'll find several example questions that you can practice with. All of these are also real program manager interview questions from Glassdoor, we've just edited the phrasing in some places to improve the grammar and clarity. Also note that we've added a few questions from other Tech companies to provide further practice materials. These questions are indicated with parentheses at the end of the question, all other questions listed here are from Google. 

Example program management skill questions

  • Leadership
    • What 5 slides would you use for a presentation to a CEO?
    • Imagine you are working with a lot of engineers in this role, knowing they speak a slightly different language, how would you approach communications?
    • How do you advocate for a commitment to a priority, when that priority is not high on someone else's list? (*Facebook question).
    • How do you manage timelines in a highly matrixed environment, where there is no top down authority? (*Facebook question).
    • Tell me about a time you shared a common vision with your team for a project you were leading? (*Amazon question).
  • Partnership
    • Tell me about a time someone changed your mind on a topic. How did you feel about it?
    • How would you convince someone to get your work done if they happen to be a difficult personality?
    • What would others say about you? (*Facebook question).
    • Have you ever collaborated with multiple teams? What challenges did you face? (*Facebook question).
    • Describe a time when you had to earn the trust of your project team and break their resistance to change. How did you do it, and what was the biggest challenge? (*Amazon question).
  • Estimation
    • How many website domains are there in the world?
    • Estimate the costs of building a subway system (i.e. a metro)?
    • How many Pizzas were consumed in certain state
    • What is daily collection at the busiest toll road in [name of local city]?
    • How many cars are registered in [name of local city]?
  • Other
    • What would you include in a program management 101 course for new grads?
    • How do you prioritize features?
    • How many ways can you choose 3 desserts from a menu of 10?
    • What is the angle between the hour hand and the minute hand on a clock at 4:20?
    • What would occur on earth if the sun "went out"?

2.2 Behavioral questions

Google program managers usually work in cross-functional teams with other engineersproduct managers, PMMs, data analysts, etc. They need to be able to communicate clearly, work with others efficiently, build trust and relationships, and resolve project issues (before or after they arise).

Your ability to perform these functions will be assessed using behavioral interview questions. Be prepared to talk about your top accomplishments, situations where you've resolved conflict, and your motivation for applying to be a Google program manager.

Below, we've compiled a list of example behavioral questions, and you'll notice that we've included a few subcategories. We've added the subcategories to make the list of questions easier to understand, but you don't need to learn the categories themselves. Just focus on practicing with questions from each sub-category and that will give you a great start on your preparation.

All of the below questions are real Google program manager interview questions from Glassdoor, we've just edited the phrasing in some places to improve the grammar and clarity.

Example behavioral questions asked by Google

  • General / resume
    • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
    • How will you go about doing this job during the first 90 days?
    • What skills do you possess that will help you succeed in this role?
    • What skills have you used less over the years and what have you used more?
    • Tell me a little about your current situation
  • Fit / motivation
    • Why do you want to leave your current role?
    • Why Google?
    • What do you like to do?
    • Define your ideal work environment and manager
  • Conflict
  • Failure
  • Creativity
    • Tell me about a time when you had to come up with a creative solution to solve a problem.
    • Tell me about a time you created something from nothing

2.3 Role-specific / technical questions

Google program manager interviews tend to focus on the two areas we've just covered above. However, not all program manager jobs at Google are the same, so you should also do your homework on the job description and any other details about the role that you can find.

You'll want to be prepared to speak knowledgeably about the functional area where you'd be working. If your role would be in a technical area, or if you'd be working closely with engineers, then your interviewers may also decide to ask you a few technical questions to evaluate your depth of knowledge and your ability to communicate about technical details.

Below you'll find several example questions that you can practice with. All of these are real Google program manager interview questions from Glassdoor, we've just edited the phrasing in some places to improve the grammar and clarity.

These example questions are focused on technical topics, specific products, or functional areas. When you begin practicing for your own interviews, you'll want to customize the questions below to a product or topic that is relevant to your target role.

Example role-specific / technical questions asked by Google

  • Describe the logic for writing a doubly linked list
  • Explain how TCP works
  • What are some challenges facing cloud technology?
  • Suggest 5 ways to improve Google Maps & Gmail
  • Suggest a new product / market segment that Google should develop

3. How to prepare

Now that you know what questions to expect, let's focus on how to prepare. Here are the four preparation steps we recommend, to help you get an offer as a Google (or GCP) program manager. For extra tips, take a look at our guide to program manager interview prep.

3.1 Learn about Google's culture

Most candidates fail to do this. But before investing a ton of time preparing for an interview at Google, you should make sure it's actually the right company for you.

Google is prestigious and it's therefore tempting to assume that you should apply, without considering things more carefully. But, it's important to remember that the prestige of a job (by itself) won't make you happy in your day-to-day work. It's the type of work and the people you work with that will.

If you know program managers who work at Google (or used to) it's a good idea to talk to them to understand what the culture is like. In addition, we would recommend reading the following resources:

3.2 Practice by yourself

As mentioned above, you'll encounter three main types of interview questions: program management, behavioral, and role-specific / technical. Below, we've compiled resources and tips to help you prepare for each of these. Let's get into it!

3.2.1 Program management questions preparation

For program management questions, we recommend starting with our program management primer. Also, take a look at the following video, which outlines how Google thinks about program management.

Here is a summary of the video:

  1. Communication and influence. Make sure you communicate in a structured way and use data to anchor your arguments whenever possible.
  2. Navigating ambiguity. Show you use program requirement documents and roadmaps to align stakeholders and move forward despite ambiguity.
  3. Stakeholder management. Show you are proactive about managing stakeholders by constantly making sure everyone is aligned and trying to anticipate issues before they arise.
  4. Technical partnership. Make it clear you're comfortable diving into technical details when your team needs you to.
  5. Strategic insight and creativity. Show you never lose sight of the product's users and that you find creative ways of solving their problem.
  6. Execution. Explain how you measure the success of your programs and proactively solve issues before they become bottlenecks.

Once you've watched this video or studied the summary above, we recommend brushing up on program management basics. You can use our program manager interview guide to learn more. And a big part of a program manager's role actually comes back to project management skills. As a result, we also recommend brushing up on project management fundamentals using a free guide, like this one published by Wrike.

This will give you an opportunity to refresh your memory on the key aspects of project management, like scope, schedule, resources, stakeholders, etc.

In addition, you should make sure you're on top of common concepts used in Agile project management. A great resource here is Atlassian's Agile project management guide. In particular, we recommend brushing up on the difference between Kanban and Scrum, and the common structures used in Agile projects (e.g. epics, stories, themes, etc.).

Once you've refreshed your memory on project management best practices, you should go through the list of program management questions we've listed in the previous section and draft answers for those.

3.2.2 Behavioral question preparation

For behavioral questions, we recommend starting with the following video:

Here is a summary of the video. Notice that some elements overlap with the program management section above.

  1. Communication and leadership style. Show you are comfortable with "emergent leadership". Explain how you're leaning on different people at different times in the lifecycle of a program.
  2. Navigating complexity and ambiguity. Make it clear you're good at keeping all your stakeholders up to date. And that you can protect your team's time when necessary.
  3. Working with teams. Show that you've got empathy for other people's opinions. And that you can create alignment without generating frustration.
  4. Vision. Be ready to articulate the mission of the program you're currently working on, to explain who your users are and how you're solving their problem.
  5. Delivering results. Show that you deliver results by running a clear process with goals and metrics to measure progress. In addition, make it clear you're leaving room to adapt and be creative.

In addition to studying the video above, we also recommend consulting our leadership and people management primers, as well as learning our step-by-step method for answering behavioral questions. You can then use that method to craft answers for the example behavioral questions we have listed previously in this article.

3.2.3 Role-specific / technical questions preparation

You should also make sure you're well prepared for role-specific questions, and you should learn as much information as you can about the role, industry, and/or functional area to which you're applying.

You can begin by doing online research, and carefully understanding each part of the job description. It's also a great idea to reach out to any connections you have that are involved in similar roles. Your Google recruiter may also be able to provide you with some additional information in advance.

If you anticipate that you'll have a technical role, or you just want to make sure you're prepared for any technical questions that may arise, then our Google Technical Program Manager guide would be another helpful resource. 

3.2.4 Practice out loud

This may sound strange, but it will significantly improve your confidence and the way you communicate your answers during an interview. Play the role of both the candidate and the interviewer, asking questions and answering them, just like two people would in an interview. Trust us, it works.

3.3 Practice with peers

Practicing by yourself will only take you so far. One of the main challenges of program manager interviews is communicating your different stories in a way that's easy to understand. As a result, we strongly recommend practicing with a peer interviewing you. A great place to start is to practice with friends or family members if you can.

3.4 Practice with ex-interviewers

Practicing with peers can be a great help, and it's usually free. But at some point, you'll start noticing that the feedback you are getting from peers isn't helping you that much anymore. Once you reach that stage, we recommend practicing with ex-interviewers from top tech companies.

If you know a program manager or someone who has experience running interviews at Google or another big tech company, then that's fantastic. But for most of us, it's tough to find the right connections to make this happen. And it might also be difficult to practice multiple hours with that person unless you know them really well.

Here's the good news. We've already made the connections for you. We’ve created a coaching service where you can practice 1-on-1 with ex-interviewers from leading tech companies like Google. Learn more and start scheduling sessions today.


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