3e. Pacing of answers

How should I pace my answer?

How much to say and how to pace an answer is worth having its own mini-article. Some candidates, wanting to be concise and efficient, will answer what seems like a straightforward product question with too short an answer, not demonstrating enough of their product thinking. Others, when faced with a more open ended question, flounder a bit and end up rambling through a convoluted answer – even if there are good ideas in there, they’ve been buried in all the verbiage. Here are some general tips for how to pace the answer to a product question.

If the question seems fairly direct, it’s generally a good idea to still go through the product framework. This means your answer will be longer than you expect.

“What is your favorite product and why?” is one of the most common product interview questions, and seems tantalizingly direct. You could say “My favorite product is X because it has a nice interface, is simple to use, and my friends are on it too.” That technically answers the question, but shows roughly zero product thinking!

If you are ever talking about a product, go through the product framework. Talk about who the product’s target users are, what their needs are, and how the product addresses (or doesn’t address) those needs. You shouldn’t ramble, but you should clearly articulate an analysis of the product to show off how you think about products overall. If your answer is getting too long and the interviewer wants to hone in on something in particular, she will probably interrupt and do so, but until that happens, you should aim to get through the product framework.

If the question is very open-ended, try to structure your answer from the get-go.

Some product questions are very open-ended, such as “Suppose you developed <cool technology> – what would you do with it?”. If you just dove in and started talking, your thoughts may come out jumbled, and you may end up focusing too much time on certain topics but not enough on others.

In these cases, it’s useful to lay out the structure of your answer from the get-go. The product framework will probably make an appearance early on – say you’ll think about the target users, their needs, and the features to develop to meet those needs. Then, lay out some other topics you want to hit upon – perhaps things like marketing, legal, partnerships, privacy, etc. Write all of these topics out somewhere, and unless you’re stopped by the interviewer, start going through all the topics.

If you have a lot of topics you want to cover, be thorough but snappy.

If you’re tackling one of these big open-ended questions, you want to touch upon all the different topics in order to show you’re a thorough thinker. But, you don’t want to get bogged down on any one point – it’s usually better to address a topic, talk about some of the major points relating to that topic, and move on. At the end of your answer, you can always ask “Is there a particular point you’d like me to do a deeper dive deeper into?”

For every topic, aim for a small handful of examples, and a caveat.

For every topic of your answer, it’s generally good to bring up a few examples of what you’re talking about. For example, if you’re describing a marketing campaign of a completely new technology, you could mention that you want to make sure you have SEO covered, that you’d consider doing some traditional print ads, and that you may want to consider a campaign that tries to go viral, given the network effects that might exist for the product. Listing out examples like these show your creativity. Not every example has to be fully fleshed out or brilliant, but just qualify your ideas appropriately (e.g. “We might want to look into X as well”).

Caveats are also fun, and can often demonstrate that you’re a pragmatic thinker who tried to anticipate any problems with your launches or work. If we continue with the marketing example, a caveat could be that you wouldn’t want to invest too much in a large campaign before testing out some messages with cheaper marketing channels, like social.

Some points in summary:

  • Touch upon all the points you want to make, especially from the product framework
  • Provide at least a small number of examples
  • Make all your points, but keep things moving
  • If your entire answer to a product question is one or two sentences, it’s probably too short
  • If your entire answer to a product question takes up all hour, it’s probably too long
  • Depend on your interviewer to circle back on topics she really cares about after your initial answer