As I type this, Uber and Airbnb have announced significant layoffs. Although tech has fared better than many industries, there are now more than 40,000 jobs that have been impacted. Luckily, some companies like Facebook are still hiring.
This guide contains everything I know to help you ace the Facebook product interview. Of course, this article is useful for people interviewing at Facebook. It’s also worth reading for any product candidate or hiring manager — Facebook has honed its process for identifying exceptional product managers, and there are many lessons to take away.
I’ve experienced the Facebook product interview on both sides of the table — as both a successful candidate and a calibrated interviewer at Facebook. Facebook’s product interviews are challenging but in a straightforward and thoughtful way.
When I initially interviewed at Facebook, I was surprised by how much information the recruiter was willing to share with me about the process. Other companies treat their interview process like an exam — they don’t want candidates to know the questions for fear they’ll lookup the answers.
In contrast, Facebook wants their candidates to be prepared. Prepared candidates bring their best ideas to the table. As a result, the interviewer and interviewee will have a more in-depth conversation — one that helps Facebook understand whether someone will fit into the way they work.
🤫 A peek behind the curtain.
Facebook evaluates PM candidates against three competencies: Product Sense, Execution, and Leadership & Drive. You’ll have a 45-60 minute interview for each competency with a calibrated interviewer. Each of the three interviewers will make a Hire / No Hire recommendation based on whether or not you met the requirements of the competency.
Facebook believes (correctly) that interviewing is a skill. Companies shouldn’t assume that anyone on any team can interview well. As a result, initial interviews at Facebook are not conducted by a hiring manager or members of that manager’s team. Instead, interviews are conducted by calibrated interviewers who have been explicitly trained on how to interview.
The calibration process is extensive. Interviewers must study each competency, and then do at least one “shadow” interview and one “reverse shadow” interview. During the shadow, the interviewer-in-training observes an interview conducted by a calibrated interviewer. After the interview, the trainee and calibrated interviewer discuss the interview feedback and hiring decision. At that point, the calibrated interviewer either recommends another shadow or graduates the trainee to the reverse shadow phase.
During the reverse shadow phase, the trainee conducts an interview while being observed by a calibrated interviewer. Again, the trainee and the calibrated interviewer discuss feedback and the hiring decision. At this point, the trainee either goes through another reverse shadow or gets calibrated for that competency.
NOTE: You may find yourself in an interview with two interviewers. If so, that means that one of your interviewers is getting calibrated. Don’t worry if this happens. You can safely focus on the primary interviewer who is asking the questions.
Interviewers must get independently calibrated for each competency before they can interview for that competency. This process usually takes a few months. As you can see, Facebook invests a lot of time ensuring that interviewers are good at interviewing and make consistent, fair decisions.
Calibrated interviewers are in demand at Facebook, and they continue to get better as they build up their “reps.” In contrast, many companies rely on interviewers who don’t get proper training and may only interview a few times a year.
All of this means you should expect an interview that is challenging for the right reasons — not because the interviewer doesn’t know what they are doing or is out to trick you.
🤯 Wait, what? I don’t meet my future boss during the interview?
In many cases, the three calibrated interviewers make the hiring decision. So, you can get hired at Facebook without ever meeting a hiring manager who has an open role. This is what Facebook refers to as being “unallocated.”
Unallocated PMs start at Facebook without yet knowing which team they will be working with. Once they get to Facebook, they’ll receive a list of open roles and start talking to hiring managers throughout the company to find a match. The first 4-6 weeks of Facebook are Bootcamp — a dedicated training program that gets new hires off to a fast start. You’ll have lots of time during Bootcamp to meet with hiring managers and search for a role.
Alternatively, you may interview with a hiring team before receiving an offer. In this case, the hiring team will weigh in with a Hire / No Hire recommendation. If the hiring team wants to hire you, you’ll get an offer to join that particular team. If the hiring team decides to pass, you may get an offer to join Facebook unallocated, or you may not receive an offer.
Joining Facebook unallocated seems like fun. It’s a unique experience — you don’t often get the chance to join a company without knowing what you’ll be working on. That said, I found that many unallocated PMs had an anxious first few weeks at Facebook.
You never know which teams will be hiring when you join, and you may not vibe with every hiring manager you meet. On top of that, you’ll start at the same time as many other PMs who are competing for the same roles.
For this reason, I encourage candidates to work with their recruiter to explore allocation opportunities as soon as possible in the recruiting process. You’ll then be able to make a more informed decision before joining — particularly important if you are leaving a well-loved role behind.
👀 So, what exactly is Facebook looking for?
Facebook is looking for people to excel in three areas: Product Sense, Execution, and Leadership & Drive. Before I jump into those competencies, I want to touch on a few things that Facebook is looking for beyond the competencies:
- Facebook looks for PMs that think at scale. Their products reach billions of users. The company can’t afford to invest in product features that serve a niche. Facebook focuses on features that have broad appeal or platforms (such as Facebook Groups) that support niche use cases at scale. As you answer interview questions, think to yourself: “Am I solving a big enough problem?”
- Facebook looks for people who dive into the weeds. Yes, they want people who gravitate to big problems — but they also want people who can get granular. What specifically are you solving for? How do you break the big idea into small, iterative, testable pieces?
- Facebook looks for people who use and love Facebook products. This is particularly true for product candidates. Facebook expects that you’ve already started to think about how to make Facebook better. Most questions during the product interview will be related to Facebook products in some way. Spend some time before the interview familiarizing yourself with key features and recent developments.
😍 Product Sense: Can you turn big, ambiguous problems into products people love?
Facebook uses the term “people problems” to describe the underlying needs the Facebook product solves for (“people problems” are similar to use cases or jobs-to-be-done). The choice of words is deliberate. It highlights Facebook’s focus on people — not users or customers — and on solving problems for those people.
Facebook seeks PMs who can work through ambiguous problem spaces that impact billions of people, and who can translate those problem spaces into concrete products. “Product sense” is the ability to do that well.
During your Product Sense interview, your interviewer will be looking for several things:
- Can you frame the problem by articulating it clearly and putting it in context?
- Can you break the problem space down into smaller, more manageable pieces?
- Do you have a thoughtful point of view?
- Can you provide clear reasoning for why Facebook should or should not focus on specific aspects of the problem?
- Do you make intentional design choices as you work your way from problem to product?
- Do you build?
The last question is important. Facebook is not looking for you to just talk about a solution. They want to see you start building. That includes concretely defining priorities and goals. In an onsite interview, they want to see you up at the whiteboard sketching up wires. In a video interview, you can sketch ideas out on paper and walk the interviewer through those ideas.
The ultimate goal of the Product Sense interview is to see how you turn ambiguity into specifics. What do you prioritize? What tradeoffs do you make? How exactly will users be able to solve their people problem using your product?
Example Product Sense Questions
Facebook provides interviewers with a set of questions for each competency. New interviewers pull from these questions, but experienced interviewers will develop their own questions. These examples provide a sense of what to expect, but the actual questions will vary.
Often, interviewers will ask questions related to Facebook's products. However, I've heard interviewers have started asking general questions that aren't specific to Facebook products. In either case, the goal is the same – to understand how you translate ambiguous problems into concrete, thoughtful products.
- Design a better camera roll app for your smartphone.
- If you were the PM for “birthdays”, what would you build?
- How would you improve Facebook’s Event product?
- You are the PM for a new team at Facebook dedicated to health. There is an opportunity for Facebook to play a role in donor matching for organs, tissue, and blood. You are tasked with leading that product effort -- how would you think about it?
🎯 Execution: Can you get the right things done?
Facebook’s campus is decorated with posters that remind employees of Facebook’s values and principles. One poster describes Facebook’s framework for product development:
- Understand the people problem you are trying to solve.
- Identify the best way to start solving that problem.
- Execute that solution flawlessly.
The Product Sense interview evaluates your ability to Understand and Identify. Aptly named, the Execution interview is focused on understanding how you execute — how do you make the decisions necessary to get the right things done?
Note that Facebook thinks about execution differently than a lot of companies. The Execution interview focuses more on analytics than project management. Facebook assumes that you can get tasks done. Instead, want to know how you make the decisions that drive execution.
Your interviewer will be looking for several things:
- How do you approach prioritization? In other words, how you do make sure the right things get done first?
- How do you navigate trade-offs — both for your product and across the Facebook app/ecosystem?
- How do you make data-based decisions? What would you want to measure? Which metrics are important? Which aren’t?
- How do you turn analytical results into actionable decisions?
As with the Product Sense interview, Facebook is looking for you to be specific. In an onsite interview, you’ll want to go up to the whiteboard to outline your approach concretely and visually. In a VC interview, you’ll want to articulate a clear, specific approach. Your answers should be structured, not meandering.
Example Execution Questions
- Android weekly usage dropped all of a sudden. How do you find out what happened?
- Friending is slowing down, how do you find out what's happening?
- If you were responsible for News Feed, what goals would you set? How would you evaluate success?
- How would you decide whether to show someone an Ad vs. a "People You May Know" story in the News Feed?
- Imagine you are the PM for FB Live (or the News Feed or another Facebook product)… What suite of metrics would you want to see for the product? What should the goal of the team be? What are the pros and cons of the goal you selected? Why is that the right goal for the team?
🚀 Leadership & Drive: Can you lead yourself and your team no matter the challenge?
I’ve found that every company defines product management somewhat differently. At a high level, you can plot product management on a spectrum from facilitator to owner. Some companies define PMs as owners. These companies see PMs as the CEO of the product — leaders who are directly and singularly responsible for the business impact of the product.
Facebook takes a different approach. Facebook sees PMs as facilitators who enable a co-equal, cross-functional team to deliver product results. The PM’s peers include Engineering, Design, Data Science, and User Research. An excellent Facebook PM rallies their cross-functional team to collectively understand the problem, identify the right solution, and flawlessly execute that solution.
Leadership at Facebook is more about influence than authority. Facebook values people who manage themselves, work effectively with their team, collaborate laterally with other teams, and manages upward with leadership.
Your interviewer will be looking for:
- Do you have the grit to push through challenges? Do you set that example for your team?
- Are you introspective? Have you grown from past challenges and mistakes?
- Are you convincing? Can you rally a team around an idea even in the face of obstacles?
- Are you a supportive leader? Do you adjust your leadership style to coach different people differently?
- Are you scrappy? Will you make the most out of scarce resources, asking for more only when it is needed?
- For managers: Can you make the right hiring decisions and the tough firing decisions?
The Product Sense and Execution interviews focus on how you think about Facebook products. In contrast, the Leadership & Drive interview will focus on your past experiences.
Example Leadership & Drive Questions
Tell me about a time when:
- ...you were aware of an important problem, but you were not able to resolve it.
- ...your team wasn't working well together.
- ...you had to change the way you work with others to be successful.
- …you rallied people behind an idea you were passionate about.
- …you needed something from another team, or other teams needed something from you.
- … you didn't have the resources to get something done but got it done anyway
Good luck with your Facebook interview. It will be challenging, but it is also rewarding — regardless of whether you get to the offer stage. It’s fascinating to get an inside view into how Facebook recruits product managers, and prepping for your Facebook interview will make you a better interviewee for any PM role.