10 Questions: Lewis C. Lin

10 Questions: Lewis C. Lin

This is the first in a (hopefully) continuing series of interviews with leaders in the Product Management community, hosted right here by the Clever PM.  The idea is to have five static questions about Product Management in general, and five questions that are specific to the current participant’s areas of focus.  For the very first installment, I called on my good friend Lewis Lin, one of the most knowledgeable resources around in the arena of interviewing for Product Management roles, and the Amazon.com bestselling author of Decode & Conquer: Answers to Product Management Interviews and his new book titled Secrets of the Product Manager Interview.

What does “Product Management” mean to you?

​Product management is the leader of the product development process. Being the product development leader means that he or she brings the product vision, has the grit & courage to make it happen, and helps the team to make it into reality.​

How did you wind up becoming a Product Manager?

​Like anything else in life, it wasn’t planned in advance.​ In college, I was a computer science major who didn’t love programming. So I decided to take a business development role after I graduated. One re-org later, I got shifted into a product management role, and I’ve been in product management ever since.

What one piece of advice would you give to someone who wants to be a Product Manager?

​You don’t need anyone’s permission to be a product manager. Here are some ideas on how you can gain product management experience in your spare time:

1. Serve as a product manager in a weekend hackathon.

2. Create your own software start-up. ​Do all the things that product managers do: understand customer needs, develop user stories, build roadmaps, generate wireframes, spec out your v1 and if you’re inclined, code it!

What is the most commonly overlooked ability that separates the “1%” Product Manager from the rest?

​Most PMs can “get things done.” A smaller group can “explain why things should be built.” But rare are the folks who can define for an organization “what” should be built. In other words, product visionaries (a la Steve Jobs) are rare. Today, the only definitive successor to Steve Jobs, as the world’s top product visionary, is Elon Musk.

What’s the best advice you’ve read or received that positively affected your approach to Product Management?

Nir Eyal’s book, Hooked, made a deep impression. My favorite takeaway: great product managers connect their products to a human emotion. Some examples:

  • I’m feeling bored…go to YouTube
  • I’m feeling lonely…go to Facebook
  • I want to capture the moment…go to Instagram

It works for enterprise products too:

  • I just finished a sales call…go to Salesforce

Thanks to Eyal, I think about the human emotion I want my products to latch onto — so I can drive repeat usage and customer loyalty, taking advantage of that emotionally-connected Pavlovian response.

What’s your most favorite Product Management interview question?

​This is not necessarily the best interview question, but it’s my favorite. Credited to Peter Thiel, it goes like this: What’s one thing that you believe to be true, but nobody else agrees with you?

The most common responses are things like “I believe I can do anything,” “I believe in God,” or “I believe the Boston Red Sox are better than the Yankees.” However, those who are willing to be vulnerable and creative can come up with some entertaining and memorable responses to this question.

What’s your least favorite Product Management interview question?

Asking the biggest weakness question is almost always a waste of time. Most try to evade the question by saying something ambiguous such as “I work too hard” or “I’m not organized.” Interviewers can try to get something meaningful, but it would require significant patience and effort to do so.

What’s the single biggest mistake that most people make when interviewing for a PM role?

​Doing passive, not active preparation. To me passive preparation is reading TechCrunch and Business Insider articles about the company. While it could provide valuable context, my hope is that candidates spend no more than 60 minutes with passive preparation. I’d rather use the limited time they have doing active preparation whether that’s pre-thinking solutions to the company’s product and business challenges or preparing for anticipated interview questions (both outlining and verbal rehearsal).​ The active preparation is hard. It forces the candidate out of their comfort zone; most candidates feel that as an external person they shouldn’t be suggesting solutions for problems they don’t know much about. But that’s how the good candidates distinguish themselves from mediocre ones.

What’s the best thing that any PM candidate can do to increase their chances of passing an interview round?

​Improvising is not a successful strategy. Comedians, even improv specialists, practice A LOT. No one is crazy enough to show up unprepared.​ So prepare, prepare, prepare. Anticipate questions, sketch out responses in advance, do verbal rehearsal, and anticipate responses to follow-up questions.

What’s the funniest interview story that you’d be willing to share with The Clever PM’s audience?

​Going back to the Peter Thiel interview question, the two most memorable responses I’ve heard to that question are:

  • I believe Jack Nicholson, not Heath Le​dger, is the best Joker.
  • I believe the Quarter Pounder with Cheese is the best thing on the McDonald’s menu.

Lewis C. Lin is CEO of Impact Interview, an interview coaching firm. Lewis was named by CNN as one of the “top 10 job tweeters you should be following.” He has also been featured on FOX, ABC News, San Francisco Chronicle, The Atlantic, The Telegraph, and Business Insider. Before Impact Interview, Lewis was Microsoft’s Director of Product Management. Prior to Microsoft, he worked at Google, leading new AdWords product launches. Lewis holds a B.S. in computer science from Stanford University and an M.B.A. from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

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