How to Ace Google Product Manager Interview Using the CIRCLES Method

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Working with a big corporation, such as Google, in any role is the dream of many people. But only a very tiny fraction will ever have an opportunity to get to the interview stage, let alone getting a job there.

It gets even tougher when talking about the position of a Google product manager. But if you are qualified and lucky enough to get an interview, the CIRCLES Method can be quite helpful to you while preparing for such.

What is the CIRCLES Method?

Proposed by Lewis Lin in the book Decode and Conquer, the CIRCLES method is a framework that serves as a useful guide for dealing with product design interview questions. It encapsulates product design best practices used by Google and other top companies.

This is a “framework on what makes a complete, thoughtful response to any design question,” using Lin’s own words. Put differently, the method offers a guide on how to answer product design questions in a well thought-out manner that will impress your interviewers.

The CIRCLES method can be useful not only for tech products. It applies to practically all design-related interviews. You can use it for answering questions on design of consumer products or even a bookshelf.

How Can it Help?

In assessing your answers to product design questions, there are certain components interviewers look for. These are what determine whether your response cuts it or not.

The CIRCLES method provides a logical, step-by-step approach to providing responses that have all the required attributes.

“CIRCLES” is actually a mnemonic or memory aid reminding you how to structure your responses. Each letter in the word represents a step. These steps are briefly described below.

Comprehend

You need to understand the existing situation or problem to some extent before addressing questions pertaining to it. Seek clarification on things you are not clear about.

If asked how you’d improve a product you know little about, ask to know what it is and the targeted users. You can also ask why people need it and how the product works.

This is important because it’s practically impossible proposing solutions to problems you don’t know. Lin recommends making assumptions with the little you know if your interviewer won’t answer your questions for clarification.

Identify

Empathy for the customer is crucial for answering design questions satisfactorily. You want to assume the position of an end user to know what product to propose.

Make a list of customer personas or qualities. Identify the behavior or preferences of targeted users and know the demographics.

Report

Next, you need to describe the use cases or needs the identified personas would need a product for. How will your identified customer find such useful? You have to mention the way or different ways a product fills an identified need.

Cut

There will often be more than one use case or need among the focal personas. But it may not be feasible to fill all of them based on certain considerations.

Therefore, you need to make a list of use cases in order of importance. This can be based on ease of implementation, benefit to customer and revenue.

List

The next step involves making a list of solutions. Come up with different approaches you can adopt to fill a need or solve a problem.

You may want to be careful about suggesting incremental solutions, such as improving on a feature already offered by a competitor. Show creativity and innovation.

Evaluate

There will often be tradeoffs between proposed solutions. Consider the complexity, customer satisfaction and revenue potential of each one. Point out the benefits and downsides of the solutions.

Summarize

You may need to provide a summary of what you are recommending, depending on your interviewer. Indicate your preferred solution and why you think it’s the best.

Is the CIRCLES Method Really Dependable?

Product management interviewers say the biggest mistake on the part of most candidates is their inability to provide response to questions in a logical, clear and convincing manner.

Google product managers, and other people who have interviewed for the same position, recommend the CIRCLES method when preparing for interview. Interviewers also think it helpful. Business Insider described it as the best for preparing for product design interviews, based on opinions of Google’s recruiters.

The framework helps you to properly structure your responses. It makes it easier for you to organize your ideas and thoughts to be more persuasive. When it comes to practicing for product design questions, this offers a superb means of doing so.

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