[Episode 3] Five secrets about “Your Favorite Product” question

Photo by Icons8 team

“What’s your favorite product?” is probably the most popular PM interview question, ever. You will always get asked about your favorite product. Period.

The first secret is that this question is so popular because the interviewer doesn’t need to prepare anything.

Just kidding... The true reason is that “What’s Your Favorite Product” is probably the best question to test a candidate’s fundamental understanding of product. This applies to any job that requires a spirit of craftsmanship, e.g. architect, designer, musician, chef. By asking this question, the interviewer will get a good sense of your passion and appreciation for product, as well as the cohesiveness and depth of your mental model. The simplicity of this question also makes it useful for evaluating candidates of all levels, from APMs to Chief Product Officers.

Photo by Khara Woods

Now you know that this question is not as simple as it looks. Next, I will talk about five things you may not know about Your Favorite Product question.

Secret 1: It’s not about your FAVORITE product.

Interviewers usually don’t care about what product you picked. No judgment on people’s taste. You should talk about a product that can best demonstrate your knowledge and skills as a PM instead of the product that you use the most.

You want to pick a product that is neither too common nor completely unknown. Indeed, many PM’s favorite products are iPhones. However, it’s really hard to come up with unique insights about a super popular product like iPhone. It’s also kind of boring to interviewers if you are the 100th person telling them that iPhone is your favorite product. In contrast, picking a product that your interviewer has never heard of is not a good strategy, either. This is because you need to spend a lot of time explaining product features to your interviewer. It’s also harder for an interviewer to resonate with your insights without any touch or feel about the product.

You should not have a single favorite product. Interviewers may ask “What’s your top 3 favorite products?”, or add constraints like “What’s your favorite XYZ products?”, “What’s your favorite mobile apps?” or “What’s a product that you most recently purchased?”. The best strategy is to prepare 5–7 products that cover various categories, e.g. software, hardware, non-tech, etc.

Secret 2: It’s not about YOUR favorite product.

A common mistake is talking about why YOU like this product all the time. As a PM, you want to demonstrate the ability of empathizing with users. It’s very dangerous for a company to hire PMs that love designing product for themselves. Even if you are a target user, frame your answer in a way where you are not the only user. You can talk about different user groups that all benefit from this product.

Source: https://images.app.goo.gl/a85muMXKpySJnsYk9

I will use a camera feature of iPhone, Live Photos, to illustrate my point. You can say something as follows.

“The goal of Live Photos is to help people record precious moments in their lives easily. This product is particularly beneficial for two user groups, people who want to record life moments and people who often take pictures of moving objects.”

Secret 3: The more hats you wear, the better.

The more perspectives you can bring to discussion, the better you can demonstrate the over-roundedness of your PM skills. PMs are at the intersection of design, business, and engineering. Have you thought about answering your Favorite Product question in this way?

Source: https://images.app.goo.gl/sHbBe7YvLjQxCGAUA

Here is an example answer for Live Photos.

“DESIGN: A pain point with recording a life moment is that users usually don’t have enough time to switch from Photo to Video mode. Live Photos allow users to record both a video and photo at the same time without any extra step than shooting a still photo. Another problem users face is when taking photo or videos, people tend to pose too much. By capturing the world before users are ready, Live Photos create a very rare sense of authenticity that is often missing in still photos.

ENGINEERING: The eng design of Live Photos is extremely smart. iPhone camera starts taking pictures at a speed of 15 frames per second as soon as the camera app is open. Once the users press the shutter, 45 frames that record 1.5 seconds before and after the moment are extracted and synthesized into a 12MP JPEG image and a 3-second MOV video.

BUSINESS: Live Photos are also critical to Apple’s business. Live Photos are currently sharable across all Apple devices but not outside the Apple eco-system in a straightforward way. As the first smartphone to launch this feature, Apple would strength the perceived value of Apple eco-system with continuing, ground-breaking innovations.”

Secret 4: Interviewers love creativity, but structures more.

One way to structure your answer is by design, engineering and business. Another way is to follow design principles.

Source: https://images.app.goo.gl/C94cTbAWDZAT2Tj59

This post on StellarPeers has some good examples. I have extracted those design principles here:

Usefulness — is the product solving a key pain point?
Efficiency — is the product solving the issue quicker and with less effort from the user?
Feedback to the user — does the product provide feedback to the user after each action to prevent the user from getting lost or making mistakes
Intuitiveness — is the interface intuitive and easy to figure out?
Exceptional user experience — does the product make the user feel happy and smart?
Fit the user’s mental model — does the product work the way the user thinks it should? Or, is there a dissonance between the UI and how the user believes it should function?
Innovation — does the product solve a problem in a new way that makes the user get their job done faster and smarter?

You can always add more to the list based on your own product intuition. There is no need to talk about them all because you don’t have enough time and it can make you sound robotic. Prioritize 3–4 design principles that you resonated with the most.

Let us revisit the Live Photos example.

INTUITIVE
Both taking and viewing Live Photos are very intuitive. To take a Live Photo, users don’t need to do anything different from before. They just take Live Photos the same way as they took still photos. The 3D touch technology makes viewing Live Photos very easy too. Users just need to long press a Live Photo and it will be played from the beginning. Whenever users release the long press, Live Photo will also stop immediately.

INNOVATIVE
Users often forget the context of a still photo after taken for a while. Live Photos bring much more richness and liveliness of the past moment to users and completely refresh their memory. Live Photos also have a unique feel like the interactive newspaper in Harry Potter movies. As a result, viewing Live Photos is often a refreshing and fun moment for users.

USEFUL
With Live Photos, users don’t need to worry about missing the best picture when the object is moving quickly. They just need to take a few Live Photos and be assured that the best frame is always captured and can be selected later.”

Secret 5: Don't forget to talk about competitors.

You would be surprised by how few people have a good sense of competitors of their favorite products. By incorporating competitive landscape into your Favorite Question answer, your answer would be much stronger because it’s wholistic and neutral.

Source: https://images.app.goo.gl/gZK73Q2S21MFUqBLA

Let’s see how to talk about competitors of Live Photos.

“Both Samsung and Pixel have launched Live Photos’ competitor product, Motion Photos. Live Photos have both advantages and disadvantages over Motion Photos.

In terms of advantages, Live Photos give users more options of viewing than Motion Photos. In addition to Loop mode, iPhone also offers a Bounce mode to make animation more interesting. Another advantage of Live Photos as compared to Motion Photos is its ability of recording sound.

In terms of disadvantages, sharing Live Photos with non-iPhone users is very difficult. Currently, users can’t share Live Photos with non-iPhone users or on the web. However, Motions Photo give users the option of converting into a video or GIF for sharing.

In addition, moving camera immediately after taking Live Photos can ruin the picture so there is a learning curve for iPhone users. In contrast, Pixel has already used computer vision technology to auto edit out the blurry bit at the beginning or end of a Motion Photo, which a pretty covenient feature for users.”

Summary

Secret 1: It’s not about your FAVORITE product.

Pick a product that serves your goal of acing an interview. Be prepared for talking about 3 -5 products.

Secret 2: It’s not about YOUR favorite product.

Always put users first.

Secret 3: The more hats you wear, the better.

Show the diversity of your skillsets.

Secret 4: Interviewers love creativity, but structures more.

Have a framework for your answer. Design principle is a good start.

Secret 5: Never forget to talk about competitors.

It will make you sound like a pro.

A rational idealist into product and learning