Cracking TPM interviews guide

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Technical Program Manager (TPM) interviews are tough to crack if you aren't well prepared. Companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon tend to ask three types of questions: technical, program management and behavioral. As a result, you have to cover a lot of ground during your preparation. 

Here's the good news. We've compiled a list of the most common TPM interview questions asked at leading tech companies, using data from Glassdoor.com. And, we’ve analyzed how frequently each type of question is asked so you can take a prioritized approach in your interview preparation.

In this guide, we'll provide 70+ real example questions from Facebook, Google and Amazon you can practice with. And, we will recommend an overall preparation approach you can use to land the TPM job you're targeting.

Here's an overview of what we'll cover:

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1. Example questions

You can expect three types questions in your TPM interviews:

  • Technical questions (37% of all questions) test the depth of your technical knowledge. You'll be asked to design systems, explain technical concepts and in some rare occasions write code.
  • Program management questions (25%) test how good you are at delivering projects. You'll be asked questions about project risks, resources, schedule, stakeholders, etc.
  • Behavioral questions (28%) test your ability to lead cross-functional teams. You'll be asked questions about how you overcame team conflicts, troubleshooted projects, etc.

TPM interview questions breakdown - Facebook, Google, Amazon

Notice that Facebook, Google and Amazon ask the same type of questions but that some questions types are more frequent at certain companies. For instance, Amazon tends to ask a lot of behavioral questions to test you on their leadership principles.

We recommend starting your preparation with the question type that's most common at the company you're targeting and then working your way down. In addition, you should also consider studying our company-specific TPM interview guides to know exactly what to expect:

Now that you know what questions types to expect, let's step through each and discuss them in more details.

1.1 Technical questions (37%)

You're certain to come across technical questions in your TPM interviews. These technical questions will come in three flavors:

  • System design questions
  • Technical explanation questions
  • Coding questions

1.1.1 System design questions

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.

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 a complex system you worked on). Or about designing a new system from scratch (e.g. How would you design Netflix). The two exercises are slightly different and you'll want to prepare for both.

Finally, if you're interviewing with a Big Tech company like Facebook, Google, or Amazon, it's important to remember that the systems you'll work on will serve millions if not billions of users. As a consequence, you should expect part of the design discussion to focus on performance, efficiency and scalability.

Below are the most common system design questions according to the interview reports which can be found on Glassdoor.

Example system design questions asked in TPM interviews

  • Tell me about a system you recently worked on in detail (+ follow up questions)
  • Design Facebook / Instagram
  • Design GDrive / Dropbox
  • Design Whatsapp / FB Messenger
  • Design Youtube / Facebook Live / Netflix
  • Design Google Docs (collaborative editor)
  • Design Google / Facebook search autocomplete (typehead feature)
  • Design AWS / Google Cloud
  • Design WeTransfer (large file transfer)
  • Design a ticketing / travel booking platform

Exercise: Pick one of the questions above and answer it in the comments section below, without looking at other people's answers. This is a great opportunity to gain some practice for your TPM interviews.

1.1.2 Technical explanation questions

Technical explanation questions 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.

Below are some technical explanation questions you might be asked according to the interview reports which can be found on Glassdoor. Once again, please note these technical questions will be adapated to your background and the position you're applying for (e.g. machine learning) .

Example technical explanation questions asked in TPM interviews

  • How does Amazon.com work?
  • What is happening if a webpage is timing out when downloading?
  • How does the cloud work?
  • What is the difference between TCP and UDP? Describe the TCP protocol
  • What are threads? What is multi-threading?
  • Describe the memory structure of an operating system (heap, data, and stack)?
  • What is the difference between a router and a switch?
  • What is a linked list? Double linked list?
  • How are passwords passed securely from server to client?
  • What actually happens when a file is deleted on a machine?

Exercise: Pick one of the questions above and answer it in the comments section below, without looking at other people's answers. This is a great opportunity to gain some practice for your TPM interviews.

1.1.3 Coding questions

Finally, coding questions are rare but still sometimes 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 easier than the typical Leetcode questions you can expect in software engineering interviews at Facebook, Amazon or Google.

Here are some example coding questions that can be found in TPM interview reports on Glassdoor.

Example coding questions asked in TPM interviews

  • Write a program that reverts a string (no built-in functions can be used)
  • Write a program to find if an integer is a palindrome
  • Write a program to find common items between two linked lists
  • Write a program that traverses a linked list
  • Write a program to identify all the equal elements between two arrays
  • Write a program to select two numbers which sum is lower than a target number
  • Write a test scenario for copying a file from one location to another using a wireless connection
  • Implement a queue in an array
  • Parse all lines in a CSV file with a given string

Exercise: Pick one of the questions above and answer it in the comments section below, without looking at other people's answers. This is a great opportunity to gain some practice for your TPM interviews.

1.2 Program management questions (25%)

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, stakeholders, schedule, cost, etc.) and have a track record of executing flawlessly.

We've listed typical program management questions you can expect below and organized them in seven categories to make your preparation easier. 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 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 / process do you use in your projects and programs?
  • What makes a successful (technical) program manager?
  • What's the difference between program management and technical program management?

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?
  • You're working on a program where part of the features were completed with errors. The team that's responsible has moved on to another project and has no time to fix the errors. What do you do?

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 create a strategy and roadmap for your programs?
  • 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 manage external team dependencies in your programs?
  • 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?

Exercise: Pick one of the questions above and answer it in the comments section below, without looking at other people's answers. This is a great opportunity to gain some practice for your TPM interviews.

1.3 Behavioral questions (38%)

TPMs work in cross-functional teams and are the glue between product, design, engineering and QA. They need to be able to communicate clearly and demonstrate a track record of delivering projects flawlessly.

This is the part of the interview process where you really want to show that you are good at working with others and anticipating potential issues before they arise. 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 for comprehensiveness.

Example leadership questions asked at Google TPM interviews

  • Tell me about yourself
  • Why Google / Facebook / Amazon / Etc?
  • Tell me about a conflict you resolved in your team
  • Tell me about a time you disagreed with your team / manager and how you handled the situation
  • Tell me about a time you worked with a difficult engineer / executive / stakeholder / client
  • Tell me about a project you worked on where goals were ambiguous and changing
  • Tell me about a time you bridged the gap between engineering and less technical cross-functional teams
  • Tell me about the most difficult challenge you had working in a cross-functional team
  • Tell me about a time you failed / made a mistake
  • Tell me about a time you successfully delivered a project without a budget or resources
  • Tell me about a time you got buy-in from peers who were initially resistant to your idea
  • Tell me about a time a resource from another team did not want to work on your project
  • Tell me about a time you received difficult feedback you received from a manager
  • How do you manage someone who doesn't deliver what they promised / underperforms
  • How do you deal with difficult stakeholders

Exercise: Pick one of the questions above and answer it in the comments section below, without looking at other people's answers. This is a great opportunity to gain some practice for your TPM interviews.

2. How to prepare

Now that you know what questions to expect, let's focus on how to prepare. Here are the three most important things you can do to prepare for your technical program manager interviews.

2.1 Practice by yourself

As mentioned above, you'll have to answer three types of questions in your TPM interviews: technical, program management and behavioral. The first step of your preparation should be to brush up on these different types of questions and to practice answering them by yourself.

2.1.1 Technical questions preparation

For system design question, we recommend getting used to the step-by-step approach hinted at by Amazon in the video below.

Here is a summary of the approach:

  • Step 1: Ask clarification questions
    • Understand the goal of the system (e.g. sell ebooks)
    • Establish the scope of the exercise (e.g. end-to-end experience, or just API?)
    • Gather scale and performance requirements (e.g. 500 transactions per second)
    • Mention any assumptions you're making out loud
  • Step 2: Design at a high level then drill down
    • Lay out the high level components (e.g. front-end, web servers, database)
    • Drill down and design each component (e.g. front-end first)
    • Start with the components you're most comfortable with (e.g. front-end if you're a front-end engineer)
    • Work with your interviewer to provide the right level of detail
  • Step 3: Bring it all together
    • Refer back to the requirements to make sure your approach meets them
    • Discuss any tradeoffs in the decisions you've made
    • Summarize how the system would work end-to-end

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.

2.1.2 Program management questions

For program management questions, we recommend starting by brushing up on the 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.

2.1.3 Behavioral interview preparation

For behavioral interviews, we recommend learning our step-by-step method and creating a bank of 10+ personal stories where you've showed you can lead and collaborate with a cross-functional team.

Once you've got a bank of stories you can practice using them to answer the behavioral questions we've listed above. You should emphasize different aspects of your story depending on the exact question asked.

Finally, a great way to practice technical, program management, and behavioral questions, is to interview yourself out loud. This may sound strange, but it will significantly improve 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.

2.2 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.

2.3 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 Facebook, Google, Amazon 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 Facebook, Google, and Amazon. Learn more and start scheduling sessions today.

TPM Interview Coaching

Any questions about Technical Program Manager interviews?

If you have any questions about 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!