10 Questions with Stephen Cognetta

10 Questions with Stephen Cognetta

One of the best things about my blog and other activities is to meet new and interesting people in the Product Management community.  Today I’m happy to present the latest in my 10 Questions series, featuring none other than Stephen Cognetta.  His latest project is an ambitious online Product Management interview course that was launched just last month.  Stephen’s a really great guy, and a strong voice in Product Management; in his own words…

Stephen Cognetta is the founder and CEO of PMLesson, the best online PM course focused on practice-based learning. Stephen is passionate about mental health and has also founded HackMentalHealth, the world’s largest community of mental health + technology advocates. Stephen is a minimalist and owns under 115 items.

Without further ado, here’s his installment of 10 Questions with the Clever PM!

What does “Product Management” mean to you?

Product management is many things, but I particularly I love this article which describes product managers as the janitors of their products. “You do as much of the dirty work as possible so everyone else doesn’t have to.”

How did you wind up becoming a Product Manager?

I fell in love with product management as soon as I encountered the position in my college career fair. I was a Computer Science major, but I knew that I didn’t want to code as a profession. Product management was the perfect intersection of my various interests in college: entrepreneurship, design, people skills, data analysis, technology, and a whole lot more!

That summer, I landed the Google APM internship, and I eventually converted to a full-time Google employee.

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


Product management is a very coveted role, so it’s a challenging one to break into. To successfully land a great PM career, I recommend networking, positioning your resume effectively, and interviewing at several companies to give yourself the best shot.

And trust me, the hustling will come in handy when you’re a PM, too :).

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


Great product managers are execution experts and product visionaries. But the best product managers are not only superb at the job but also kind and genuine to their coworkers. A huge part of product management is team bonding and community building. Happy, connected teams ship cohesive, excellent products.

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

The best advice I ever received regarding product management: get sh*t done.

When I started out as a junior product manager, I remember telling my manager that I was blocked on all my projects and hadn’t made any progress. My manager smiled and explained to me that part of a PM’s job is to unblock him or herself. Stuck in an approval process? Email the VP to get accelerated approval. Designer not responding to you? Have you tried pinging (politely)?

What are some of the most common mistakes that Product Management candidates make in the interviewing process?

The most common mistake I see PM interviewees often make: they don’t pause to think.

This might seem like a no-brainer, but in the heat of the interview it can feel incredibly awkward to do this. I recommend PM interviewees practice pausing for just 10 seconds before they answer a question. It’s incredible how that little bit of time can help PM interviewees develop a cogent and pithy response that far surpasses a hasty answer.

What is the biggest challenge that a prospective Product Manager is likely to be unprepared for in a common interview process?

At the end of the day, interviewing can be random. Google knows that’s it’s better to reject excellent talent than to hire underqualified talent. Therefore, Google’s rejection numbers can be quite brutal – under 1% of applicants actually make it into elite APM programs.

Don’t be discouraged. The best strategy is to apply to several places, and focus your preparation on acing the interview.

If you had to pick only one tip or trick that Product Management candidates should know for interviews, what would it be any why is it so important?

Explain your thought process to your interviewer. I remember feeling so disappointed when a potentially stellar PM candidate answered an estimation question with a 10-minute pause and then a final number. Interviewers want to peer into your mind to evaluate your product sense and critical thinking ability. It’s impossible to assess an interviewee’s ability without hearing some of the interviewee’s thought process.

How does interview preparation differ between an inexperienced (0-2 years) and an extremely experienced (10+ years) Product Management candidate?

Experienced PMs need not only to answer the question at hand, but also to discuss the philosophy of the product. For instance, let’s take a question like “How should Uber redesign its tipping page?” A junior PM might jump right into how to optimize the page for helping drivers get better tips. However, an experienced PM should start by discussing Uber’s approach to gratuities. Should Uber allow tipping on its platform at all? If so, should Uber optimize for the driver-side or passenger-side?

How does your personal philosophy of minimalism influence your approach to Product Management?

The main way I see minimalism and product management intersecting is an embrace of simplicity. It’s important in product management not to bloat the product with feature creep. Keep things clean, simple, and easy to use.

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