Notes on “Cracking the PM Interview” (2008)

Cracking the PM Interview: How to Land a Product Manager Job in Technology. Gayle Laakmann McDowell & Jackie Bavaro. 2014-03-04.

If you’re applying or interviewing at a well-known company then refer to company-specific notes in Chapters 3 & 6. Also execute procedures in Chapter 10.

The Product Manager Role

(Chapter 2)

A Product Manager (PM):

Product Life Cycle:

  1. research & planning
  2. design
  3. implement & test
  4. release

Research & Planning:


Implementation & Test:


Types of products:

MYTHS about Product Management:

  1. PMs are Project Managers
  2. PMs are in marketing
  3. You can’t become PM right out of college
  4. PMs just write specs
  5. PMs just set up meetings
  6. PMs should build exactly the customer asks for
  7. PMs set dates
  8. PMs are the boss
  9. Ideas are more important than execution
  10. You can say “That’s not my job”

How the PM Role Varies

(Part of Chapter 3. Sections pertaining to specific companies and startups should be reread if those roles are being considered)

Transitioning from Engineer to Product Manager

(Sparse portion of Chapter 4 relevant to me, head of engineering)

Customer Focus:

Think Big:

Embrace Persuasion:

Be prepared for unexpected differences between roles:

Tips and Tricks for Career Advancement

(From Chapter 5. Definitely something to reread if you’re new to this career path.)


(From Chapter 7)

The 15 Second Rule: Resumes should be optimized for 15-second skim.


  1. Shorter is Better
    • stick to the highlights
    • only use 1 page but maybe a little longer for > 10 years experience
  2. Bullets (Not Blobs)
    • < 3 lines long
    • no more than 50% of bullets >= 2 lines
  3. Accomplishments (Not Responsibilities)
    • “You were a success because … “
    • focus on impact
    • quantify accomplishment
  4. Use a Good Template
    • don’t be fancy
    • use a good template with adequate (but not wasted) whitespace
  5. Don’t Skip the Best Stuff
    • what did you not include?

Attributes of a Good PM Resume:

What to include:

Cover Letters

(From Chapter 9)

Elements of a Good PM Cover Letter:

The Cover Letter Template:


  1. Company Research
    • The Product
    • The Strategy
    • The Culture
    • The Role
    • The Questions
  2. Define Yourself
    • “Tell Me About Yourself” (The Pitch)
    • “Why do you want to work here?”
    • “Why should we hire you?”
    • “Why are you leaving your current job?”
    • “What do you like to do in your spare time?”
    • “Where do you see yourself in five years?”
    • “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”
    • Sample Strengths
    • Sample Weaknesses
  3. Behavioral Questions
    • Why These Questions Are Asked
    • Preparation
    • Follow-Up Questions
    • Types of Behavioral Questions
  4. Estimation Questions
    • Approach
    • Numbers Cheat Sheet
    • Tips and Tricks
    • Example Interview
    • Sample Questions
  5. Product Questions About the Product Question
    • Type 1: Designing a Product
    • Type 2: Improving a Product
    • Type 3: Favorite Product Preparation
    • Tips and Tricks
    • Sample Questions
  6. Case Questions The Case Question:
    • Consultants vs. PMs
    • What Interviewers Look For
    • Useful Frameworks
    • Product Metrics
    • Interview Questions
  7. Coding Questions
    • Who Needs To Code
    • What You Need To Know
    • How You Are Evaluated
    • How To Approach Developing an Algorithm
    • Additional Questions
    • Solutions
  8. Appendix
    • Ian McAllister: Top 1% PMs vs. Top 10% PMs
    • Adam Nash: Be a Great Product Leader
    • Sachin Rekhi: The Inputs to a Great Product Roadmap
    • Ken Norton: How to Hire a Product Manager Amazon Leadership Principles
  9. Acknowledgements
    • Gayle Laakmann McDowell
    • Jackie Bavaro