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

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Technical 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 to help you land the job. We have put together the ultimate guide to help you maximize your chances of success.

Here's an overview of what we will cover:

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1. Interview process and timeline

1.1 What interviews to expect

What's the Google technical program manager interview process and timeline? It takes takes more than eight weeks and follows these steps:

  1. Resume, cover letter, and referrals
  2. Recruiter phone screen: one interview
  3. TPM phone screen: one or two interviews
  4. TPM onsite: typically five interviews

Let's look at each of these steps in more detail below:

1.1.1 Recruiter phone screen

In most cases, 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 at Google. You should expect typical behavioral and resume questions like, "Tell me about yourself", "Why Google?", or "Tell me about your current day to day as a Technical Program Manager."

If you get past this first HR screen, the recruiter will then help schedule your first TPM screen. Your recruiter will usually let you know who you are interviewing with, what type of interviews you should expect, and share resources to prepare for them.

1.1.2 TPM phone screen

You'll go through one or two initial 45mins screens which usually happen over the phone with a current Google TPM. The types of questions you'll be asked are the same as during the onsite. Be prepared to cover: program management, technical and leadership questions. More on that below.

The role of the phone screen 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 to meet the hiring bar.

1.1.3 TPM onsite interviews

Onsite interviews are the real test. You'll typically spend a full day interviewing with Google TPMs and software engineers. Each interview will last about 45 minutes and cover one of the following topics:

  1. Program management interview, where you'll be asked to demonstrate you program management and execution acumen.
  2. Technical interview, where you'll come across a mix of system design, technical explanation, and sometimes simple coding questions.
  3. Leadership interview, where you'll be tested on your ability to lead cross-functional teams towards a common goal.

In most cases you'll have three program management, one technical, and one leadership interviews. But for particularly technical positions you might get two program management, and two technical interviews.

[PRE-COVID] In addition to these interviews, you'll also have lunch with a fellow TPM 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 in one of the three 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 (e.g. leadership).

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. That form is constantly evolving, but we have listed the main components we know of at the time of writing this article below.

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 TPMs who can learn and adapt to new situations. Here your interviewer will try to understand how you solve hard problems and how you learn.
  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 instance if you're applying for a "Technical Program Manager - Google Cloud" position then you'll be expected to have in depth knowledge about cloud computing.
  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.
  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.

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

In this middle section, Google's interviewers typically repeat the questions they asked you, 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 is 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 in 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

We believe in data-driven interview preparation and have used Glassdoor data to identify the types of questions which are most frequently asked at Google.

Let's dive in and look at the three types of interviews you can expect at Google:

  • Program management interview
  • Technical interview
  • Leadership interview

2.1 Program management interview

Google TPMs 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, vendors, etc.) and have a track record of executing flawlessly.

We've listed typical questions you can expect in this interview below and grouped them in seven subcatories to help you organize your preparation. All the questions listed are from TPM interview reports available on Glassdoor.

Notice that almost all questions on the list can be asked as hypothetical questions (e.g. How do you manage programs from end-to-end?), or behavioral questions (e.g. Tell me about a time you managed a program from end-to-end).

Although the two phrasings are similar they require different answers. For hypothetical questions, you should explain your hypothetical approach to the question asked (e.g. I would do XYZ to manage a program.) And for behavioral questions, you need to take an actual example from your past and explain what you did (e.g. I did ABC to manage my program last year).

This might sound obvious, but it's a common mistake candidates make in interviews that's easy to avoid.

Example program management questions asked in Google TPM interviews

1. General / End-to-end questions

  • Tell me about a time you had to manage a technical program from end-to-end
  • How would you manage hypothetical project XYZ (e.g. replace discs in a data center)?
  • What methodology do you use in your projects and programs?
  • What makes a successful program manager?

2. Prioritization

  • How do you prioritize your work?
  • How do you make decisions?
  • How do you deliver programs on a tight timeline and with limited resources?
  • How do you prioritize and allocate resources when your team is too small?

3. Delivery

  • What is a critical path in project management?
  • How do you make sure you deliver quality outcomes in your projects?
  • Describe and whiteboard a continuous deployment system. And a continuous build system.
  • Compare the agile and waterfall methodologies.
  • Imagine you find a critical bug in software the day before the release date. How do you handle the situation?

4. Kickoff / Sunset

  • What's your process to kickoff programs?
  • What's your process to sunset programs?
  • You're joining a project with no timeline and which didn't have a kickoff. What do you?

5. Planning

  • How do you handle additional requirements in the middle of a project?
  • How do you build a forecasting tool / document?
  • How do you forecast a project with no history?

6. Risk

  • How do you manage risks on projects?
  • Tell me about a time you had to manage a significant risk on one of your programs?

7. Vendors

  • How do you choose to build in house vs. to use a third party solution?
  • What's your process to work with vendors on your projects / programs?

2.2 Technical interview

2.2.1 System design questions

Google TPMs tend to work on very technical programs. They need to be able to engage in system design discussions with engineers and to discuss the merits of architecture A vs. architecture B. This is the part of the interview process where you need to show that you have thorough technical knowledge and can discuss architecture concepts in a clear and structured way.

In addition, unlike most smaller companies, Google's products have millions of monthly active users. Google's systems therefore need to be able highly scalable. As a consequence, you should expect part of the design discussion to focus on performance, efficiency and scalability.

As mentioned previously, system design questions are usually either about diving deep into the design of a system you've previously worked on (e.g. Tell me about the design of the most complex project you've worked on). Or about designing a new system from scratch (e.g. How would you design Netflix).

2.2.2 Technical explanation questions

Technical explanation questions aim to test the depth of your technical knowledge, and your ability to communicate that knowledge in a simple way. A typical example would be: "What happens when you enter a URL in your browser?"

Your interviewer will usually ask you technical questions based on the projects and technologies listed on your resume. You should therefore brush up on the technologies you've used in the past.

In other words, a TPM with a software development background will be asked different technical questions than a TPM with a background in machine learning, embedded systems or hardware engineering.

2.2.3 Coding questions

Coding questions aren't systematically asked but are still regularly mentioned in interview reports. If you're currently an engineer then you'll probably be asked to write working code. But, if you are currently in another role than engineering then pseudo-code will most likely be fine. Also, notice that the questions asked are much easier than the Leetcode questions you can expect in Google software engineer interviews.

 

Example technical questions asked at Google TPM interviews

1. System design questions

  • Design a server infrastructure for GMail
  • Design a global system to upgrade software on a fleet of machines
  • Design a web cache
  • Design a file transfer system that can move 100 Petabytes of data from the US East Coast to the US West Coast
  • How would you deploy a solution for cloud computing to build in redundancy for the compute cluster?
  • Design Facebook (read heavy)
  • Design GDrive (write heavy)
  • Design Whatsapp

2. Technical explanation questions

  • What happens when you enter a URL in your browser?
  • How does the cloud work?
  • What is the Ethernet?
  • What is the difference between TCP and UDP?
  • Describe the TCP protocol?
  • What are threads? What is multi-threading?
  • What actually happens when a file is deleted on a machine?
  • Describe the memory structure of an operating system (heap, data, and stack)?
  • Explain XYZ technology listed on your resume

3. Coding questions

  • Write a program to find if an integer is a palindrome
  • Write a program to select two numbers which sum is lower than a target number
  • Write a prorgam to reverse a string (no built-in functions can be used)
  • Implement a queue in an array
  • Parse all lines in a CSV file with a given string

2.3 Leadership interview

Google TPMs usually work in cross-functional teams with other engineers, QA, product managers, data analysts, etc. They need to be able to communicate clearly, work with others efficiently, build trust and relationships, etc.

In addition, TPMs usually don't have direct authority over most of the resources they work with. They therefore need to be able to lead teams by influencing and motivating others, resolving conflicts when they arise, driving alignment, etc.

This is the part of the interview process where you really want to show that you are good at working with others and driving successful cross-functional collaboration. Be prepared to talk about situations where you've troubleshooted program bottlenecks, negotiated design components with engineers, adapted your program when requirements changed, etc.

We've listed common examples that you can expect in this interview according to data from Glassdoor.com. Again here, you should be ready to answer both hypothetical questions (e.g. How would you do XYZ), and behavioral questions (e.g. Tell me about a time you did XYZ). Finally, we've also included typical behavioral questions (e.g. "Tell me about yourself", "Why Google?", etc.) that you might get asked in any Google interview for comprehensiveness.

Example leadership questions asked at Google TPM interviews

  • Tell me about yourself
  • Why Google?
  • Tell me about a time you worked with a difficult engineer / executive / stakeholder / client
  • Tell me about a time you failed
  • Tell me about the biggest challenge you faced as a TPM / in your current role
  • Tell me about a time you faced a technical and people challenge at the same time
  • Tell me about a time you had to work with a "superstar" and how you dealt with them
  • Tell me about a time your team didn't agree on the path forward
  • How do you manage someone who doesn't deliver what they promised / underperforms
  • How do you deal with difficult stakeholders
  • What makes a good leader?

3. How to prepare

Now that you know what questions to expect, let's focus on how to prepare. Here are the four most important things you can do to prepare for Google's Technical Program Manager interviews.

3.1 Learn about Google's culture

Most candidates fail to do this. But before investing tens of hours preparing for an interview at Google, you should take some time to 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 TPMs who work at Google or used to work there 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 have three types of interviews at Google: program management, technical and leadership.

3.2.1 Program management interview preparation

For program management interviews, we recommend starting with 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. An efficient way to do this is to take a free course designed to prepare for the Project Management Professional (PMP) exam such as this course on LinkedIn Learning.

This will give you an opportunity to refresh your memory on all key aspects of project management including: scope, schedule, resources, cost, quality, communication, risk, stakeholders, etc.

In addition, if you're interviewing for a TPM role in software development, 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.).

Similarly, if you're applying for a hardaware TPM role then you'll want to be on top of the different engineering validation stages (EVT, DVT, PVT).

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 Technical interview preparation

As a reminder, you can expect three types of questions in technical interviews: system design, technical explanation and coding questions.

For system design questions, we recommend studying the following video as a starting point.


Here is a summary of the video:

  1. Communication. Make sure you ask clarifying questions, gather requirements and communicate outloud in a structured way.
  2. Designing to scale. Get to a first design in less than 20mins, and then dive into how to make it scalable, reliable and efficient enough so that it can be used at "planet scale".
  3. Concrete and quantitative solutions. Be familiar with common design patterns (e.g. sharding data) and ready to estimate the cost generated by the system you designed (e.g. read from disk / memory).
  4. Trade-offs and compromises. Proactively call out the trade-offs and compromises you've made in your design. Iterate the design if necessary.

In addition to studying the video above, Grokking the System Design Interview is also a good course where you can both study system design basics and work through a few practice examples.

For technical explanation and coding questions, we recommend learning the step-by-step method we've developed. To practice, you can use that method to craft answers to the technical questions listed in the previous section.

3.2.3 Leadership interview preparation

For leadership interviews, we recommend starting with the following video which outlines how Google thinks about leadership.


Here is a summary of the video. Notice that some elements overlap with the Program Manager and Technical interview.

  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 learning our step-by-step method to answer behavioral questions. You can then use that method to craft answers for the main leadership questions we have listed in the previous section of this article.

3.2.4 Practice outloud

This may sound strange, but it will significantly improve the way you communicate your answers during an interview and really makes a difference in our experience. 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 TPM interviews is to communicate your different stories in a way that's easy to understand. As a result, we strongly recommend practicing TPM interviews with a peer interviewing you. A great place to start is to practice with friends 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 TPM or a software engineer 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.

TPM Interview Coaching

Any questions about Google TPM interviews?

If you have any questions about Google TPM 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!

Applying for other companies? Check out our other company guides for Facebook, and Amazon, and our TPM interview guide