Is this book the Holy Grail of PM interview prep? We'll weigh the pros and cons to help you decide whether it's right for you.
There’s always more to learn about product management, whether you’re a seasoned PM or just trying to break into the role. Luckily, there’s no shortage of resources-- from blogs to podcasts-- to give you the advice and information you need. One of the most commonly recommended books for beginners is Cracking the PM Interview: How to Land a Product Manager Job in Technology, which offers a comprehensive guide to navigating the product manager recruitment process. While it doesn’t claim to teach you everything you need to know about product, it takes you through all the steps you need to get started, from understanding the role to practicing interview questions and challenges.
Cracking the PM Interview was co-written by Gayle Laakmann McDowell and Jackie Bavaro. McDowell is well-known for her best-selling book Cracking the Coding Interview, as well as other titles. She’s worked at big tech companies like Apple, Microsoft, and Google, and even served on Google’s hiring committee. She’s also the founder and CEO of CareerCup.com, where she uses her industry knowledge to help prepare candidates for tech careers.
Jackie Bavaro has worked in product for over 15 years. Like McDowell, she’s had experience working at Microsoft and Google. Currently, Bavaro works as an advisor at Asana, where she served as the Head of Product Management for over 8 years. Outside of her book, she also uses her online presence, like her Medium and Quora pages, to share her expertise with the PM community.
The pair also released a book called Cracking the PM Career on January 19, which follows up its predecessor by providing a roadmap to becoming a great PM.
McDowell and Bavaro begin by defining the product management role, debunking myths, and explaining how it varies by company. Then they talk about what experience you need and how to advance your career, using advice from accomplished PMs at top companies. They also go into the specifics of how recruitment works in big tech, sharing insider information from prestigious companies like Google, Yahoo, and Twitter.
Before they get into their advice for fielding the interview questions, they go over the beginning steps of the recruitment process, starting with how to prepare a good resume and cover letter, as well as how to conduct research on a company that you’re applying to.
When they do start talking about the interview process, they split up the questions into different categories, including product design questions, estimation questions, coding questions, and more. They even go over common questions that may come up even outside of product management interviews, like “Tell me about yourself,” or “Why should we hire you?” In addition to providing some examples for each type of question, they also show you how to prepare for the questions and give you a framework for answering them.
Throughout the book, McDowell and Bavaro make their instruction more detailed and actionable by including real-life industry examples from their colleagues’ and their own experiences. Many readers find that this company-specific advice makes the book especially valuable to anyone interested in working at a big tech or FAANG company.
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While Cracking the PM Interview is available at many book and retail stores, the book’s website suggests buying it on Amazon. Although it typically sells at a list price of $39.95, right now you can buy it for a discounted price of $17.99, or you can purchase the ebook for $9.99. Its customer reviews average an impressive 4.5 out of 5 stars, and it’s currently rated as the #3 title in product management.
Cracking the PM Interview has earned high praise from many of its readers, as evidenced by its Amazon rating. McDowell and Bavaro highlight some of their rave reviews, including one from Ken Norton, a partner at Google Ventures and former Google PM:
“I wish this book had existed when I first found my way into product management. Gayle and Jackie don't just help you land a PM job; they show you what it takes to be great once you've got one. Finally there's a game plan for charting your career as a product manager.”
But Cracking the PM Interview has gained fans from all backgrounds and experience levels. Here are some of the main reasons why it’s so highly recommended.
Unlike its counterpart for software engineers, Cracking the PM Interview is much more than a list of product management interview questions and solutions. Rather, many readers find it to be a more complete resource for those who want to learn about the industry and how to get a job as a product manager.
One Amazon reviewer said:
“Must-have book for anyone looking for a PM role. This book covers all areas of the PM career, including required skills, activities performed in different companies, and much more. Touches the interview itself, with questions and background knowledge and skills, but also tangential areas including algorithms, specific problems, and domains of expertise. Great insights for aspiring PMs.”
A reviewer on Goodreads also appreciated the high-level approach to product management:
“The book is structured very well. After describing and clarifying the various roles, it describes concrete examples of people working in these roles in well-known companies. It mentions their day to day life and professional histories. It is fascinating to see how people arrive at Product Management following very different paths.”
Although a lot of readers appreciate the context that McDowell and Bavaro provide around the PM career, the interview prep is what brings most of them to purchase it in the first place. Fortunately, many say that the book lives up to its title, giving readers a leg up in the PM recruitment process.
One Amazon reviewer said:
“I just finished reading this book and I'm highly satisfied with the content. I'm preparing for PM interviews, with mock interviews coming next, and I feel much better having read this book.
I have more work to do as a result of this book, practicing my answers to the ‘self-pitch,’ behavior questions, product questions, estimation, case, & coding. There are tons of example questions that I can now practice answering before interviews begin. I was very unsure of what to expect before this book, and now I feel like I'm on the right trajectory to land a great job.”
Other reviewers even credit this book with landing them a PM job offer:
“Landed a PM job at Microsoft using this. Best and most comprehensive book to get you prepared and ready for what to expect in these interviews.”
Not only do McDowell and Bavaro have plenty of stories to tell from their own career journeys, but they also share advice from other industry professionals-- PMs from prominent companies like DocuSign, Yahoo, and Airbnb. Many readers also appreciate that the company-specific details can give them an edge in recruitment.
According to one Amazon reviewer:
“Given that these companies continue to lead the way, this book also provides insight into the workings of these specific companies and the different emphases each brings to their development process. A must read if you desire to move to Silicon Valley, but still a great read if you are looking to play in the sandbox in your own backyard.”
Another Amazon reviewer said:
“This book was obviously produced with very thorough research guided by sage real-world experience and amplified by adding in the wisdom of outside influencers.”
Although Cracking the PM Interview earned a flood of glowing reviews, like any book, it still received some critiques. Here are some of the main issues brought up by readers.
Many of the book’s negative reviews on Amazon were related to its physical quality, not the content inside. This comment has continuously come up in reviews throughout the past few years, and while many customers resolve it through returning and repurchasing the book, it’s definitely something to keep in mind.
Some of the copies were just generally bad quality, according to one Amazon reviewer:
“This book has severe typos, misaligned printing and bad binding. Looks like a common manufacturing problem. I returned my first copy assuming it was a pirated print. But the second copy was even worse. I cannot comment on the content as I have yet to go beyond the first chapter because of the glaring quality issues. I'll be returning my 2nd copy as I do not want to be a patron for bad quality books.”
However, the printing errors varied pretty widely:
“I received this book and quickly realized it was printed backwards. The appendix is the first page so I have had to read the book starting from the back. The content of the book is great but at the end of each page, I'm reminded of how weird it is to be reading in this way and it breaks my concentration. I've reached out to the author but I'm guessing she's too busy to respond. If I can ever find a copy that is printed correctly, I'll be happy to rate this higher.”
Cracking the PM Interview was originally written in 2013 and hasn’t seen a significant update since. Although a lot of the information is still applicable today, readers notice that some of the industry news has become less relevant over the years.
According to one Amazon reviewer:
“The content is definitely dated and feels like it was last updated over a decade ago. The book lists Yahoo as one of the top companies for PMs and goes in depth alongside companies like Google, Microsoft, etc. It also says Facebook has very stringent technical requirements for PMs. That is actually no longer true and hasn't been true for several years. Facebook doesn't ask any technical questions in their PM interviews.”
A Product Gym review of the book also found that the startup section may need an update:
“The startups that Lackman covers in her book are now big tech companies that either completed their IPO or on the brink of one. Examples of such companies include Uber, Dropbox, and Airbnb.”
While many readers find that this book can be useful to established PMs by refreshing their skills or even teaching them new techniques, others were disappointed to find a lot of information that they already knew. And since Cracking the PM Interview is mainly geared toward beginner PMs or anyone transitioning into the role, you can expect it to cover a lot of basic content.
One Amazon reviewer found that it’s more useful for those without industry experience:
“Decent book, but recommended only if you are in undergrad or have close to zero experience in tech. If you are an experienced professional looking for a transition this is not the book for you.”
Another Amazon reviewer agreed:
“This book is definitely not for seasoned product managers trying to secure their next great role. It’s meant for fresh out of school or individuals transitioning to Product Management from another career path...I would say if you have never had a Product role, it’s probably useful to a decent extent, but if you’re more seasoned, look elsewhere, it won’t provide too much meaningful information that you don’t already know.”
While you shouldn’t necessarily use Cracking the PM Interview as your product management bible, it’s definitely worth giving a try. Its real-world examples and strategies to solve interview questions will offer useful context for your recruitment process, especially if you’ve never done a product management interview before. On the other hand, if you’re an experienced PM, you may need to temper your expectations a bit. But it can still be an interesting read and a useful resource, even if you’re just checking it out to see what everyone else is talking about.
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