Program Manager (PM) Interview tips

I still can’t believe that I work at Microsoft and I am in a position to help find more talented people to work at Microsoft. As you know I am a Program Manager (PM) and at Microsoft you are typically interviewed by the same discipline for which you are applying. I was recently asked by the UMich recruiter to give some interview tips for PMs so they have an idea of what it is like before they come and interview. I compiled the following list:

  1. Know what a PM is and explain why you want to be a PM

    The first question I ask people is if they are aware of what PM does at Microsoft. I also ask people why they want to be a PM. What was their role in group projects? Do you have opinions when you use software or interfaces?


  2. Ask questions

    When I give you a problem, ask questions! Ask enough questions to understand the problem and what you are solving. Remember that all PMs serve customers so know who the customer is and what they want to do; without understanding customers you cannot make tools which fit their needs and ultimately make them happy. Ask questions.


  3. Talk out load & explain yourself

    When you are given a problem, talk out loud and explain what you are thinking. Which paths are you following in your head? What do you like/dislike? What are you grappling with in your head? Just take some time to explain what you are doing, if you are just standing there silent I don’t know how to judge your skills.


  4. Be prepared to talk about your projects

    If I read on your résumé that you worked on some project, be prepared to explain it. I love to learn something from interviews and if you can teach me something new about what you did in a project the better. I want to understand the challenges you had and what you learned from this.


  5. Be prepared to do UI design, flow design

    As PMs we need to design software that fits the users’ needs (see #2) and therefore we will expect you to go through and do UI mockups and flow. Explain to me what the user sees, what they click on, what they are thinking and how we help them. What would you do to redesign word processors? What would you do to rethink how email is done today?


  6. Technical Questions are valid

    Just because you are a PM doesn’t mean you don’t have hard technical questions. Some PMs work on user facing features and others work on backend server stuff (or a combination of each). You need to be well versed in all of the languages of technical problems and the more you write & understand code the better.


  7. Be passionate about software

    I recall doing recruiting events and I would ask people, “What interests you about working at Microsoft?” Or I would ask them, “What do you find interesting in the computer industry today?” I was looking for people who were passionate about software, services, technology and trying new things out. If you don’t answer with a strong conviction I don’t have as much confidence that you will be a good fit at Microsoft.


I see that my friend Adam Herscher just posted his list as well: Microsoft Program Manager Interview Questions & Advice. Hope this helps!

Comments (14)

  1. natasha says:

    The tips are really very good and helpful. It would be great to have some PM interview questions as well.

  2. Jigar Mehta says:

    Nice information at perfect time!! 🙂

    Thanks for taking time and noting them down. BTW, link from Adam’s blog (for PM interview tips) is not working.

    Thanks again.

  3. Jigar Mehta says:

    Nice information at perfect time!! 🙂

    Thanks for taking time and noting them down. BTW, link from Adam’s blog (for PM interview tips) is not working.

    Thanks again.

  4. Andrew Maclaren says:

    Fabulous email…I’ve worked as a PM for 3 Global Professional Services Teams and frankly, this quick-tips doc should be a pre-requisite read for all potential hires.

    One other point I would add: KEEP THE FOCUS – You can go into length ‘provided’ it’s relevant…this is always a sign of someone who will keep things on track when task-traffic starts to build up.

  5. This list is great to be a responsible and dedicated program manager.

    Thanks for the valuable tip.

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  7. DivyaG says:

    It would be great to get input on how hectic a Program Manager’s job is. Is it a highly demanding / stressfull role in general? In your opinion , would such a role be flexible /suitable for working mothers?

  8. Vir says:

    It is helpful the people like me, who want to be PM in their IT career.

  9. Tommy says:

    These tip were great in my interview. I wrote details of the interview on my blog at, hope it helps others!!