Internationals should highlight communication skills in product manager interviews

Product manager jobs are hard to get if you're a non-native English speaker.

Why?

In product manager interviews, interviewers look at communication skills, because they know cross-functional roles like product management require successful communication.

How do you show you have good communication skills if, like many non-native English speakers, you aren't 100% comfortable communicating in English? 

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Why should product managers worry about communication?

Do product managers really need "soft" skills like communication, especially if they work at tech companies like Google? 

Of course.

Many product managers have strong technical skills, but they don't succeed unless they're also excellent communicators.

You may not think of a product manager as a communicator, but if the interviewer thinks you can't communicate well you won't get the job. 

This emphasis on communication can be difficult if you're a product management candidate who isn't a native English speaker.

Tell your interviewer that your English communication skills are good enough to be a product manager

During your product manager interview you'll be asked questions about yourself and your experience. 

You'll want to talk about your education and project experience, but you should also talk about how your communication skills have helped you do your job. 

This will help your interviewer be comfortable hiring a non-native English speaker for this high-profile role.

Highlight these communication skills in your interview

What exactly is "communication" anyway? It's a pretty broad term.

Here are some specific components of communication and ways you can prove to your interviewer that you have these skills.  

Tell your interviewer you can persuade

The ability to persuade people with your words is key for product managers. You don't have direct authority over your colleagues, so you'll need to convince them to do something. 

An interviewer isn't going to ask, "Are you good at persuading people?" But they'll probably ask you a question like, "Tell me about a time you had a disagreement with a colleague."

To answer this you could say "I was working on the X product and the Senior Designer didn't like my proposal for X. We needed to come to a decision so I explained my idea very clearly and showed him the data on it. I knew being diplomatic would help so I was careful not to criticize his decision. After he saw the data and understood what I meant about it being a good choice, he changed his mind."

This answer doesn't use the word "persuade" but you've shown how you can in fact persuade someone using words. 

An interviewer might also ask, "What was one of your favorite products to work on?" You might not think this is related to persuasion. But you can add evidence of persuasion skills to the answer. 

You can say, "My favorite project was X. (Give some details.) I enjoyed working on this because it was a big challenge. I'd never done anything on this scale before. There were so many stakeholders it was a test of my persuasion skills to get everyone on the same page." 

Again, you weren't asked specifically about your communication skills but you've added a sentence that highlights your strong communication skills. You can add sentences like this to any of your answers. 

Tell your interviewer you have good interpersonal skills

Unfortunately, many people are afraid to hire non-native English speakers because they think their English will hold them back from building relationships at work.

When you're answering interview questions, try to mention your good relationships with colleagues or customers. 

If you're asked, "How do you say no to people?" you can say, "In my job it's impossible to just say no to a major stakeholder. My mindset has to be that I can't just say no, I have to offer a constructive alternative or show why what they're asking for doesn't make sense. That way we'll still be able to work together on the next project."

Tell your interviewer you're a good crisis manager

Crisis management is a key part of being a product manager and crisis management involves communication.

If you're asked "How did you handle a challenging situation?" you can talk about your crisis management communication skills as part of your answer. Say "I had to adapt my communication style to the situation. In this case some of the people on the team were emotional so I needed to use a balance of diplomatic and direct language to move past the roadblocks."

Tell your interviewer you can deal with difficult people

You'll have to deal with difficult people in any office environment, but as a product manager you'll probably do it every day.

I've given you some ideas already about how to talk about challenges and relationships, and you can use the same ones for this type of question.

You may actually get a direct question about this, like "How do you deal with difficult colleagues?" or "Have you ever had a disagreement with a colleague or supervisor?" 

Points to emphasize are (1) you deal directly with them instead of going around them, (2) you prefer to use discussion to work things out, and (3) you remain calm. 

So you could say, "While I was working on the X project I disagreed with my boss about how to collect data. I didn't think his idea was very good so I set up a meeting with him about it. I laid out my idea and explained it. In the end he didn't actually agree with me and we did it his way, but because I handled it calmly our relationship was fine and we continued to work together."

Tell your interviewer that you can manage meetings

Managing meetings and running brainstorming sessions are necessary tasks for many professionals, and normally they aren't important enough to bring up in interviews. However, if you're highlighting your English skills, I advise you to work them into answers.

For example, when you're asked to talk about your last project or your current responsibilities you can add that you "schedule stand up meetings every morning" or "start off with brainstorming sessions" or "prefer to have regular team meetings."

Show comfort with all modes of English communication

Communication "modes" are different ways you can give or receive information, such as reading, writing, listening, and speaking. A good product manager will be able to communicate in all modes. 

Reading you might do for work: Doing research on a project, reading emails and reports, keeping up with industry trends via websites, magazines, newspapers

How can you show in an interview that you're comfortable with reading in English? How about when you're asked a question like these: 

"What methods do you use to get the info you need to make decisions?"

Good answer: If we're planning something big like a new feature I look at any data we have on the problem already or else make a plan to get data before we start. Then I'll meet with stakeholders and the team and also survey our customers. I keep up with industry trends as well, because I need to be able to make the final decision on the feature.

(notice you don't have to actually use the word "read" because it's obvious that some data and industry news will be in written form)

or you might be asked "How do you collect data?" which is a slightly different question from the one above

"When was the last time you learned a new skill. How did you do it?" 

Good answer: I just learned how to bake apple pies. I read this great book called, "How to Bake Apple Pies" and then I watched some of the author's videos. 

This is a good answer, but substitute a work-related skill you've just learned (and don't lie because the interviewer may have read the book too). Don't give an answer with only one mode — say you watched the video, read the book, and listened to the podcast. You're trying to show how you are fully capable of gathering information in English in all modes. 

Writing you might do for work:  Emails to colleagues and customers, reports, presentations, customer stories, marketing materials

How can you show in an interview that you're comfortable with writing in English? How about when you're asked a question like this: 

"How do you manage a remote team? What tools/software do you use?"

Good answer: We have stand ups every morning on either Hangouts or Slack video, and then throughout the day we use our Slack channel to keep each other up to date on anything we need to talk about. I also spend a lot of time talking to my team members one-on-one, either on the phone or Hangouts. 

(again, you aren't using the word "writing" but chat messages are a form of written communication)

Listening you might do for work: Talking to colleagues, talking to customers, watching video, participating in teleconferences, going to conferences

How can you show in an interview that you're comfortable with listening in English? You won't be asked specifically about your listening skills, but you'll be asked to talk about past projects you've worked on or how you've overcome challenges, so you can incorporate listening skills into your answer. 

Many non-native English speakers avoid the phone because it's hard for them to understand spoken English without visual cues, so if you can mention how you talk on the phone a lot as part of an answer that is a good idea. You could say something like, "I find that if I can spend five minutes on the phone with someone it clears up an issue."

Speaking you might do for work: presentations, one-on-one discussion, meetings

Product managers often have to speak in front of audiences, whether large or small. They also have to make sure they have buy in from their stakeholders, and the most common way of getting this is by talking to them. 

Mention how you talk to people in your answers. When discussing your projects say that you "always talk to each stakeholder" or you "hold meetings every morning with your team."

If you've done any presentations at conferences or in front of large groups, mention that in your answers. 

Communication is more than English

Don't worry about having perfect English. Don't spend the time before your interview practicing perfect tenses or the conditional. A good solid intermediate level of English is fine for product management. 

Answering the questions well is more important. Spend your time reviewing lists of possible questions and practicing your answers. Focus on your English, yes, but more importantly practice showing how your communication skills are good enough for the job.

I hope this post helps you in your product management interview. If you need help preparing for your interview, email me at jennifer@interviewgenie.com to schedule a consultation.

Interview Genie is an interview prep company that specializes in coaching non-native English speakers.