Product Management Interviews Part 3/3: Design and Engineering Cases

Niki Birkner
6 min readSep 18, 2021


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Now that we’ve covered the structure of PM interviews, the take home assignment, and product questions, it’s time to get into the nitty gritty of design and engineering questions. You should note that you won’t get a design or engineering interview until the final round or “onsite.” Usually, the onsite consists of an interview with a PM, an interview with an Engineer and an interview with a Designer.

The reason behind having these three interviews is that you will likely be collaborating very closely with each of these functions:

  1. Product: You will likely be the only product manager of your team (or work under the direction of another product manager while you’re an APM). That said, you will be interacting with cross-team PMs often. So it’s important that you are able to get along well with them.
  2. Engineering: Your team will have one or two engineering leads, and plenty (~5–15) engineers. In order to succeed, you need to know how to speak their language and collaborate well with them. This doesn’t mean you need to know how to code (at least, not in every company with a PM role, some may require you to), but it means you need to have a high level understanding of the tech stack and be able to make technical tradeoffs.
  3. Design: Your team will likely have one designer, and you will be working incredibly close with them as you define the problem and scope the solution. In order to succeed, you will also need to know how to speak their language and generally just have an eye for design.

In this third part of the series, I’ll walk you through how to prepare for the design and engineering interviews, to the best of my knowledge.


There’s four types of questions they can ask in an engineering interview:

  1. Behavioral questions
  2. System design questions
  3. Roadmap/prioritization questions
  4. Technical questions

Behavioral questions

=> Have you collaborated with engineers in the past?

Note that you don’t necessarily need product management experience to have the exposure to engineers. Whatever role you’ve done in the past (business, sales, etc.), odds are that if you’re in a tech company, you have had interacted with engineers at one point or another. If you have, try to think of examples that can answer these questions:

  1. How have you collaborated with engineering in the past? What enabled that collaboration? What are some of the challenges you’ve faced?
  2. How have you dealt with technical debt?
  3. How did you deal when a product you were working on didn’t ship?
  4. How did you deal with a situation where an engineer thought your solution was wrong?

=> Have you not collaborated with engineers in the past at all?

This will make it harder to answer the above questions, but not impossible. If you don’t have concrete examples, use them as hypothetical scenarios. Instead of answering the question “How have you dealt with technical debt?”, for instance, try answering “How would you deal with technical debt?”.

To learn more about the PM / Engineering collaboration, I would recommend you to read Jackie Bavaro’s How we develop great PM / Engineering relationships at Asana. This article should give you a fair understanding of why healthy PM / Engineering relationships are so important and how to build them, which can be beneficial when answering these types of questions.

System design questions

Let’s start with one of my favorite quotes related to system design:

Picking the right architecture = Picking the right battles + Managing trade-offs

System design questions are very relevant for Product Managers as they consider tradeoffs with the engineering team when designing the system, especially as it scales. For this reason, they are some of the most asked questions during PM engineering interviews.

I’m not an expert in system design, so the best I can offer here is a list of the resources I used to prep for this part of the interview (in order of more to less useful):

  1. System Design Youtube Channel by Gaurav Sen — this is the #1 resource you should leverage! Gaurav touches upon key areas in system design, which are used to design real world systems and interview questions.
  2. System Design Cheatsheet by Vasanthk outlines a clear structure to tackle these questions with and key topics you should be knowledgeable about.
  3. Introduction to architecting systems for scale by Irrational Exuberance teaches the building blocks of scalable systems. They walk through the major concepts using helpful diagrams and illustrations.
  4. Scalable Web Architecture and Distributed Systems by Kate Matsudaira mostly focuses on web systems but the material she shares is widely applicable to other distributed systems. She touches upon the principles and basics of systems design.

Roadmap/prioritization questions

As a Product Manager, you will continuously have and want to do more than you and your team can, so one of the most important parts of the job is to know how to prioritize.

During an engineering interview, you may be asked to make a decision on how to prioritize certain features or functionality. The way this usually goes is: the engineer interviewing you will share the problem statement and the options you need to make prioritization decisions on. You will then have an opportunity to ask questions and have a “back and forth” with the engineer. You will want to walk him through your thought process (as opposed to just giving him an answer with no explanations), and you will also want to collaborate with them along the way.

At the end of the interview, you’ll be asked to make a recommendations on what the order should be in which the team builds those features or functionality, and you should provide them with the list (as well as explanations, if you haven’t shared them already).

In order to successfully answer these questions, you will need to be fairly knowledgeable on systems design in order to make technical tradeoffs. Additionally, you should be acquainted with different frameworks that guide the decisions you make. One I like a lot is the RICE Framework; however, this one can get relatively complex, so to play it safe you should default to the classic “Impact vs. Cost 2x2 matrix,” which helps you outline:

  1. The features with the lowest cost and highest impact (should be close to the top of your list)
  2. The features with the lowest cost and lowest impact (should be in the middle of your list)
  3. The features with the highest cost and highest impact (should be in the middle/end of your list)
  4. The features with the highest cost and lowest impact (should be the last thing on your list)

Technical questions

Whether you get asked technical questions will largely depend on what company you’re interviewing for. I’m not too knowledgeable on technical questions beyond system design or roadmap type questions, but here’s a great resource to get you started with more technical PM engineering interviews.


I don’t have too many resources on how to prep for the design interview. I would probably practice more product design cases and practice drawing lo-fidelity wire-frames, as you will likely be asked to draw in one way or another (a physical whiteboard if you’re in person or a virtual whiteboard if you’re remote). Aside from this, I would have answers to these questions, and again, if you haven’t collaborated with a designer in the past, you can use these as “hypothetical” questions:

  1. How have you collaborated with designers in the past? What enabled that collaboration? What are some of the challenges you’ve faced?
  2. How might you engage with your design team? Do you like to provide more or less guidance? How often do you check in with designers?
  3. What is good design? How would you design a great product for a particular cohort group?

And, that’s a wrap! This should give you a solid start to preparing for the design and engineering parts of your product management interviews. Always remember that the number 1 thing interviewers are looking for is how you collaborate with these different functions, because in the actual job you will be doing that 95% of the time.

Next week, I’ll be sharing some additional resources to prepare for the interviews, talk a bit about the PM career and wrap up this series.