Preparing for a job interview isn't about acquiring more skills or knowing more things. It is about organizing the skills and your existing knowledge to use them to your benefit. Especially for a position like the technical program manager, you need to manage your skills and knowledge so that you can access all the information when you're required to think on your feet for an hour. This article will walk you through the areas you'll evaluate and some of the best practices to succeed at a technical program manager job interview.
Knowing the interview's structure and the type of questions that will be asked helps you prepare better by practicing and determining your approach with a particular kind of problem. Let us know more about the various evaluation areas in a technical program manager job interview which will help you prepare better and devise your strategy for answering questions from each of these areas.
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Evaluation Areas in a Technical Program Manager Interview
TPMs require a broad spectrum of technical and non-technical skills to manage technical programs for companies, from strategy to execution. You'll be evaluated on various areas in a technical program manager job interview to see if you're suitable for the position. There are 6 primary areas:
As a technical program manager, you'll be responsible for the seamless execution of every project part of your program. Project managers will turn to you whenever a problem occurs in the project they're managing with the hope of finding a solution.
Recruiters will test your ability to plan, organize and execute a project, and create, manage, and improve business processes. The main components of evaluation will be behavioral and hypothetical questions about projects and the side projects you have participated in.
Technical program managers are hired for various technical disciplines like software development, integration, business intelligence, ERP, localization, hardware, and more. Your grip over domain knowledge of the discipline you're being hired for is another significant evaluation process component.
This area depends mainly on the kind of projects that you'll be working on at the company. The questions you'll be asked will test whether you fully understand the methods, practices, and processes or not.
Technical depth questions test your ability to have discussions about design and features with the engineering team and contribute to the program's technical decisions. Typically, interviewers will ask design questions about your side projects in this round. System design questions are also a significant component of the technical depth evaluation.
Analytical ability and problem-solving skills are essential components of the technical program manager job interview. Analytical ability in a technical program manager job interview is generally evaluated using guesstimates and hypothetical troubleshooting problems. The interviewers ask this series of questions to test your approach to problem-solving.
Technical program managers lead various project teams, design teams, and engineering teams and require strong leadership skills to manage, lead, and inspire. In a TPM job interview, your leadership skills will be evaluated to see if you can show the team without pulling rank or formal authority. Typically, you'll be asked about your leadership experiences or about your actions in given situations to see if you'll be able to handle them well.
Technical program managers have to collaborate with different teams and are also responsible for ensuring collaboration between various project teams. Your collaboration affinity will be evaluated with behavioral and hypothetical questions that will measure your ability to work with others, providing and receiving feedback, and resolving conflicts.
You'll find that most of these questions will be asked about the side projects and experience you listed in your resume. So keep your resume aligned with the problems you are confident about and elaborate on every detail you mention in your resume.
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Tips to Succeed at Technical Program Manager Job Interview
Preparing for each of these areas is equally vital if you want to succeed at your interview. However, each of these evaluation areas' questions can be daunting if you don't have some tricks up your sleeves to tackle them. Here are some tips to help you get an edge over other applicants and ensure success in your technical program manager job interview:
1. Have a Basic Understanding of different Technical Domains
You need to be well-versed in the domain knowledge of the primary technical discipline you are giving the TPM job interview. But having a basic understanding of other/related technical domains and their functional relationship with each other will help you with the questions about technical depth in the interview.
This is not to say that you need to master every technical discipline. Just a basic understanding of the functions and processes is enough. The specialized fields that every technical program manager should have a basic knowledge of are:
- Application Development
- Process Optimization
- Business Intelligence
Gaining a decent knowledge of these disciplines will help you throughout your career as a technical program manager.
2. Develop an All-Inclusive approach for Project Management questions
For testing your project management skills, you'll be asked behavioral and hypothetical questions related to project management. The interviewers evaluate your answers with three significant criteria- Initiative size and impact, execution strategies, and communication with stakeholders.
By developing an all-inclusive approach to answering the project management questions, you will give them answers that ace all three of the criteria. The approach is:
- Wrap your head around every aspect of the project that is the subject of the question (Stakeholders, scope, time, resources, communications, risks, cost, quality, and others if applicable)
- Use your experience of side projects and strategic thinking to understand the tradeoffs between these aspects
- Propose evaluation methods for the risk of each tradeoff and, more importantly, how to mitigate them.
Using this approach, you will showcase project management skills that are treasured in a technical program manager, such as fact-driven decision-making, strategic thinking, and risk management.
3. Develop Proficiency in System Design Skills
To succeed at a technical program manager job interview, you need to be proficient in system design to showcase your technical fluency. The goal of asking system design questions or questions about your side projects is to evaluate whether you can actively participate in technical discussions with engineering teams.
Practice building and designing your systems that solve a minor problem or pain point and gain system design skills and intuition. Ask for feedback on the designs you create to polish your system design skills. A great approach to answering system design questions is to rationalize different techniques and tradeoffs and address several similarly viable design alternatives (such as building a rudimentary cache to maximize performance and the tradeoffs of including various content pieces in a cache. This can be done by either using a CDN that makes sense for your use case, how to best scale up your database, etc.)
4. Use Your Side Project to Answer Leadership and Collaboration Questions
In leadership questions, you are evaluated on your ability to lead without authority and take initiatives. Similarly, for collaboration ability questions, interviewers look for answers that reflect your ability to work well with others, resolve conflicts, and provide and receive feedback.
Your side projects are perfect braces that you can support your answers about leadership and collaboration. Using this, you can reflect your leadership and collaborative skills to the interviewers and showcase your project management skills.
5. Use STAR Framework to Answer Behavioral Questions
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Unlike traditional job interview questions, behavioral questions look for concrete examples of skills and experiences that relate to the position. They are designed to assess how you would respond to a specific workplace situation as a technical program manager. The STAR framework is a method that you can use to ace every behavioral question that comes your way.
The STAR framework is a well-structured approach to answer behavioral questions. Its components are:
- Situation: Start with the title of your story, followed by an explanation of all the details. For instance, tell them about the project you were working on, the teams and stakeholders involved, and what was at stake.
- Task: Describe your role in the story.
- Actions: Present the problems you discovered, followed by the actions and initiatives you took to solve those problems.
- Result: End the answer with the result of your actions. For example, the project crossed a milestone, or you got an award, the project was launched on time, etc.
Bonus Tip: Since the interviewer is interested in the actions you took and not your team's efforts, make sure to use "I" instead of "we" in your answer to behavioral questions.
6. Develop Excellent Soft Skills
The importance of soft skills for a technical program manager position cannot be stressed enough. Only by showcasing outstanding communication, leadership, and collaborative skills in the interview will you be able to ensure your success at a technical program manager job interview. Excellent communication skills ensure that your interview goes smoothly and conveys your talent and skills to the interviewers.
Develop the habit of public speaking to instill outstanding communication skills in yourself. Develop collaborating ability and leadership skills by collaborating with people for side projects, leading cross-functional teams, holding positions of responsibilities, etc.
7. Actively Participate in your Local Program Management Community
It would be best if you did this as soon as you decide to make a career transition to a technical program manager position. Apart from providing you various opportunities for networking and referrals, participating in your local program management community will benefit you in your interview as well. By attending program meetups, program breakfasts, and program conferences, you'll learn more about the tools, processes, and technology TPMs use.
To sum up, to succeed at a technical program manager job interview, you need to prepare for various areas you'll evaluate. These areas are project management, domain knowledge, technical depth, analytical ability, leadership, and collaboration ability. These tips will help you give more robust answers to the questions asked from each of these areas and ensure your success at your interview for a technical program manager position.