How to become a Program Manager (at Microsoft or anywhere) – dos

“How would you design a kitchen?” – asked the campus recruiter, during my first on-campus screen. I completely flunked that question during the interview, due to mistakes that seem obvious now, but were way beyond my understanding of the role. During interviews, the interviewer is not judging a candidate’s creativity in a 30-minute conversation about designing a kitchen. The intent is to rather observe the approach and validate certain basic things – whether the candidate cares about the customer’s/user’s requirements or just goes ballastic on designing the kitchen, is the process iterative, etc.

To us engineers, it is tempting to start designing (read drawing screenshots/diagrams on the whiteboard) right away, but I would urge to pause and spend as much time as you can on understanding the user, the user’s intent, the constraints, the affordance, etc. before even starting to design. Over the years, I’ve developed a personal template for answering any design questions during an interview for a PM position and it has worked for most of my friends. Below is a quick snapshot of what you could write on the whiteboard (typically, most interviewers will ask you to use the whiteboard in asnwering such questions).


Divide the board in three vertical sections and start with the first section (top -> down). Discuss the requirements and constraints, and use the white board to take notes. Follow the template (top -> down, left -> right)

Let’s design great things!


Technorati tags: Program Manager , Product Manager , design , Microsoft

One thought on “How to become a Program Manager (at Microsoft or anywhere) – dos

  1. I’m a bit confused about the way your design model is structured. After gathering requirements and brainstorming possible options and features, doesn’t one start to do a cost-benefit analysis of the options and triage the most important features? And then build specs/prototype?

Comments are closed.