Ready for a high-level look at Associate Product Manager (APM) and entry-level PM interviews and the core concepts you'll be assessed on?
Who wrote this guide?
We wrote this interview guide with the help of 30+ APMs, PMs, and hiring managers at startups and FAANG+ companies.
APM Interview Process
The interview process for most APM programs is similar — a recruiter will review your resume and reach out if there is a good fit.
Expect behavioral questions and be prepared to elaborate on your work experience and projects on your first call.
Some programs may require a take-home assignment such as presenting a project or completing a product exercise.
Next is a phone/video interview round consisting of two back-to-back calls. These calls test your product design and analytical/execution skills.
In some smaller APM programs, there may only be one call instead of two.
Product Design Questions
Product design questions assess your ability to build or improve a feature/product. You can use a framework, but the key is to organize your thoughts and have a clear goal in mind to solve the user's problem(s).
Know the company's suite of products and watch recent keynote or conference talks on the company website or through internet searches.
Some recently asked product design questions are:
- How would you improve music listening on YouTube? View Google PM's answer.
- Design a product for Facebook Travel. View Facebook PM's answer.
- Design a Facebook product around movies. View Facebook PM's answer.
Analytical and Execution Questions
Analytical and execution questions test how you do things as a PM. Here, the interviewer wants to see how you would dive deeper and examine data that would be available to you if you were hired as an APM.
Be familiar with the company's product line and any recent news associated with the company.
For example, if you were to interview with Uber, you can likely expect some analytical questions around driver/passenger pickup times.
Recently asked analytical questions:
- How would you measure success for LinkedIn Events? View LinkedIn PM's answer.
- How would you prioritize product management for Tiltbrush? View Google PM's answer.
- What A/B tests would you run on Google's homepage? Practice this question.
"Do I need to prepare for a technical round?" is a common question. The answer depends on the APM program.
Always speak with your recruiter to understand the interview process. Many APMs come from non-programming backgrounds and still do well as product managers.
However, you should be knowledgeable enough to communicate effectively with developers. For instance, you do not need to understand the implementation of graph search algorithms, but you should know their trade-offs to ensure the feasibility of new recommendations.
This builds trust with the engineering team.
Note that most APM programs don’t have a technical component.
After passing the product design and analytical/execution phone calls, an on-site meeting is scheduled.
This round is an intensified version of the phone call round. You will be asked multiple product design and analytical/execution questions for nearly a full day.
Lunchtime offers a chance to meet your potential co-workers.
The last step is an executive round, where you chat with an executive about yourself and what excites you about joining their APM program. If you reach this round, expect to receive an offer soon!
APM Salary and Compensation
The starting salary for an APM can vary depending on the location and company. The compensation package generally includes three components: base salary, stock, and a signing bonus.
For San Francisco Bay Area APM positions, a competitive offer could be around $110k for the base salary, $100k for restricted stock units (4 years), and $30k for the signing bonus.
Please keep in mind that this is only an estimate.
Check out Exponent’s course on negotiating your compensation and offer.
How Do You Pick an APM Program?
With dozens of programs available, how do you decide which one to apply to?
APM programs are well-known in Silicon Valley. These rotational and mentorship-focused programs are designed to accelerate the careers of young, aspiring product managers.
They offer rotations on various teams, face-time with company leadership, and access to strong alumni communities.
When considering which APM program to apply to, assess five key qualities:
- rotation opportunities,
- and location.
Google's APM program, started by Marissa Mayer during Google's hyper-growth period, is one of the oldest and most well-known programs in the world. It has produced dozens of APM alumni each year worldwide, who have become venture capitalists, founders, and product leaders. Some have even started APM programs at companies like Salesforce.
Mature programs have a wider sense of community and facilitate networking both within and outside the company. Being part of a fledgling APM program gives you the opportunity to build something new and effectively mold these programs to fit your vision. Stakeholders at the company may be more willing to take your advice and let you set the tone for the program, giving you a direct impact on future APMs and generating increased career growth and learning.
Questions to ask about the APM program:
- How long has it been around?
- How many cohorts have graduated?
- What's the average cohort size?
- What investment does the company put in?
- How does the company grow their APM community?
Decide between building a new program (and being a guinea pig) or joining an established program (that might be less flexible).
When looking for your first job, prioritize finding a manager who prioritizes your growth. Before accepting an offer, schedule a phone call with your potential direct manager.
Find out what kind of mentorship you want and whether the company can provide it. Also, gauge whether product managers at the company are willing to spend time with and coach APMs.
Assess the company culture and whether there are recurring chats with product leaders. Ask your recruiter or an APM at the company for potential APM managers, a current APM's experience, and the involvement of leadership in the APM program.
Also, ask about the ease of meeting with people at the company and the prioritization of career growth by your manager.
Consider two types of scale:
- company size, and
- investment in the product.
Big companies move slower, have established processes, and have already figured out product-market fit. Working there may not provide opportunities to build those skills. Smaller companies move faster, have less process, and are still working out product-market fit.
Big companies have vast resources, brand recognition to aid future recruiting, and mature products. Smaller companies fight an uphill battle and must excel in their niche to have a competitive advantage.
Choosing between a large or small company to start your career has no definitive answer. Large companies tend to pay more initially, but smaller ones may offer more meaningful equity in the long run. To gain unique insights, consider working for both a product with 2B active users and one with 1k users.
Choose a company size that aligns with your personality and the skills you want to acquire. Smaller companies may be more open to new ideas, while larger companies offer opportunities to work with massive user bases. There is no clear benchmark for which category a given company falls into.
To determine where you’d be more likely to thrive, ask these questions:
- Where do new product ideas come from?
- How is customer feedback managed and leveraged?
- What was the most unexpected task to ship a product on time?
- What are the biggest worries in managing new product managers?
Scale of Investment
A key factor to consider when deciding to work on a team is the level of investment the company is making in that team. For instance, Microsoft invests heavily in products like Azure and Teams, while internal tooling for frameworks may not be a high priority for the company.
Working on a product that is important to the whole organization can lead to meaningful work and early career wins. Additionally, important investments attract the best talent, giving you the opportunity to learn and grow.
To gauge the company’s investment in a product, ask about the team size, duration of activity, contribution to the company’s mission, high-level OKRs, and traction. It’s important to ask a broad audience, including engineers, designers, marketers, product people, and recruiters.
At a large company, it can be difficult to assess the unique impact of one team. Reading about team leaders on LinkedIn can help you form an opinion about the company culture and whether you would like to work with them.
Ability to Rotate
The number and length of rotations in a product management program is a balancing act between the breadth and depth of learning.
Programs like Uber APM, which have multiple rotations, give APMs a broader perspective on product building at the company.
This allows APMs to develop a larger breadth of knowledge over different types of problems, products, and target markets, which can be useful for picking a team after the program ends.
However, rotating quickly and often may prevent APMs from shipping a fully developed product and force them to switch contexts multiple times instead of becoming an expert in one area. A program that matches rotation length to product lifecycle would be more effective.
For example, Android has a yearly release cycle, so it makes sense to have a yearly rotation on Android since an APM would still be able to ship features during their rotation.
Aspiring product managers often fear being stuck on a team or product they don't resonate with.
This is a fair perspective, but non-rotational programs like Microsoft's Program Manager role allow new PMs to focus on one problem and gain deep expertise. This results in them shipping more features over the same amount of time since they do not have to pay the ramp-up cost associated with switching teams repeatedly.
To determine if a rotational program is right for you, ask these questions:
- Do APMs typically ship impactful features during their tenure with a given team?
- What’s the release cycle for this team and does it line up with the rotation cycle for the program?
- What happens after the program?
- Do I go to a new team or can I choose one of my old teams?
Ultimately, you must decide if you want a program that rotates quickly to provide breadth or if you prefer to dive deeper in a program with fewer rotations.
By focusing on maturity, mentorship, and scale, you can minimize the ramp-up cost. Choose a company that invests heavily in its APMs to make them as productive and impactful as possible.
When considering companies with multiple offices, prioritize the office where product leaders and decision makers are located. HQ is usually the best option.
This way, you can learn from experienced colleagues, increase visibility for your work, and network more effectively.
Also, research the tech ecosystem in that location to gauge career mobility. To determine where decision makers are located, ask questions like:
- Is my manager in the same office?
- What about her manager?
- Who is the top-level leader and where are they based?
- Which teams do we collaborate with most frequently and where are they located?
Choosing your first PM offer is tough, but you can break it down into 5 key assessments: maturity, mentorship, scale, ability to rotate, and location. Make sure to ask lots of questions to your recruiter and anyone they connect you with.
Remember, you're not just being interviewed – you're also interviewing the company to see if they're a good fit for you.