Behavioral Interview Questions in Product Marketing Job Interview
A common type of interview question in a product marketing job interview is a behavioral interview question. In these types of interviews, you are asked to demonstrate how you acted in a previous situation. For example, interviewers can ask you, “Tell me about a time when you….” They ask you to recall a specific experience from a previous employer or project.
A popular framework for addressing these questions is the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, and Result). As I had been practicing for job interviews, I felt as if this framework left something to be desired in demonstrating your experience and value.
The STAR framework focuses heavily on recounting your previous experiences, but I felt that it missed on taking advantage of the opportunity to demonstrate growth and future success. As a result, I developed the SAIL framework for interview questions, with the letters being an abbreviation for Situation, Action, Impact, and Learnings.
When you think about the purpose of an interview, it is not to just share a story and bond with your interviewer. The purpose of the interview is to act as an assessment of your previous behavior. It presumably is a useful indicator of how you would behave in a future similar circumstance. When you think about answering interview questions in that context, the goal is to provide the person asking you the question with data about why you’d make a successful hire. Here’s how to implement the SAIL method to ace your following product marketing/product management job interview. Download editable template to help you prepare for your interview.
I would start my response by setting the context for the experience that I am drawing from. Something to keep in mind is that the context needs to be brief enough to set the scene for your behavior to your interviewer, but it doesn’t matter the most.
In providing context, a mistake is over-indexing on setting the context and forgetting that they are the star of the show. The hiring manager isn’t working on acquiring your previous employer; they are working on hiring you if you’re the best candidate for them. The inner workings of the company don’t need to be the majority of your response. Considering the reality of life is that no two situations are exactly the same. Given that, what is important is your decision making and initiative in a certain context.
Another thing to keep in mind when choosing an experience to draw from is to have a very specific scenario in mind. By selecting a specific scenario, you switch from providing opinions to providing facts.
For example, if someone were to ask you, ‘Tell me about a time when you worked well on a team.’ Saying, ‘At my last job, I got along really well with my coworkers, and I was able to boost team morale when we worked on projects together’ doesn’t provide any actual evidence of your ability to work well in a team. You’ve provided a self-assessment based on your perception of how your coworkers received you by not being specific.
In comparison, ‘At my last job, I worked with a product designer and a developer to build a landing page for our organization. We would meet weekly during that project. And at those meetings, I would make sure to start with a mood check of everyone in the group. To ensure that my teammates knew that I cared about them personally, also to provide the opportunity to discuss any personal blockers that may impact the progress of our milestones.’
‘The product designer that I was working with provided feedback to me and the team a month later that she considered resigning from the project due to limited bandwidth. And the only reason she had stayed was that I took intentional time to build a relationship with her and make her feel included and considered during our work together. Caring to be flexible and accommodating in our responsibilities enabled our organization to retain her and launch a beautiful website ahead of the deadline.’
In the STAR method, the T positions the action as what you were tasked to do. In the context of office work especially, people are rewarded for the quality of their decisions. Two people can be in the same situation but not respond with the same course of action. When explaining your course of action in a situation, a compelling candidate would demonstrate a sense of leadership, ownership, and initiative over their work beyond just waiting to be told what to do.
When referring to a specific scenario in your answer, be careful not to claim ownership over a team effort. In a related manner, do not let your ownership get diluted by incorrectly using “we” on things that you specifically did
How does it work
In the example that I provided, I stated that I would make sure to start with a mood check of everyone in the group to ensure that my teammates knew that I cared about them personally, also to provide the opportunity to discuss any personal blockers that may impact the progress of our milestones. This is a statement of the actions that I took.
A way that people can mislead themselves is by assigning value judgments to their behavior. For example, someone might say, “I was nice to my coworker during meetings, and she appreciated that.” For one, that doesn’t outline what specific behavior constitutes as nice. Secondly, it forgets that human behavior value judgments, such as “nice”, are up to interpretation. Two people can look at the same course of action and think that I was behaving inappropriately, while someone else may believe that I was acting kindly.
By stating the specific actions, I allow the interviewer to assess their interpretation of my behavior. What works in one workplace may not work in a new one, and that is okay. By being upfront about your actions during the interview, the person with more experience with your possible new teams’ culture can infer a culture fit.
When you take action in an environment, the action is to solve a problem. You can analyze the effectiveness of your decision by sharing how you measured success relative to your intended goal. Differentiating between ‘Impact’ in SAIL and ‘Result’ in STAR is essential. With STAR, you explain the result of your action, whereas ‘Impact’ in SAIL provides focus because it targets the results that had a meaningful effect on your intended outcomes. It is a slight difference but a difference of leading with intentionality, critical thinking, and creative problem solving behind decisions.
How does it work
In my example, my goal had been to create an inclusive, collaborative work environment for everyone on the team. ‘The product designer that I was working with provided feedback to me and the team a month later that she considered resigning from the project due to limited bandwidth. And the only reason she had stayed was that I took intentional time to build a relationship with her and make her feel included and considered during our work together. Caring to be flexible and accommodating in our responsibilities enabled our organization to retain her and launch a beautiful website ahead of the deadline.’
As we move through our careers, we grow as we take on more responsibilities. An important part of growing is the ability to learn from prior experiences and apply those learnings to future situations. Keep in mind that your future employer wants to benefit from your previous experience. It should enable you to take what you learned and apply it productively in a new environment. Rather than going through the motions, you can demonstrate a growth mindset and reflective self-awareness by explaining how a specific situation influenced your behavior moving forward.
How does it work
For my product designer example, I could explain that I learned from that experience to prioritize expressing concern and appreciation for every stakeholder that I collaborate with. Not only because it is the right thing to do, but also because it leads to more successful teamwork meeting our project milestones smoothly.
Download SAIL Framework Template to prepare for your job interviews.