Deepdive - What Google interviewers look for in Technical Program Manager interviews

A candidate has to undergo up to eight gruelling interview sessions to finally land a job as a TPM at Google. We put together this guide after interviewing a bunch of Google TPMs to add a bit of transparency to what Google expects in these interviews.

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A good Technical Program Manager adds significant value to any organisation. Supervising an influential program from its conception to execution, and eventual launch is a responsibility delegated to some very carefully hand-picked individuals. And Google takes this very seriously. 

So if you’re looking to pursue a career in Technical program management at Google, you have a challenging road ahead of you. A candidate has to undergo up to eight gruelling interview sessions to finally land a job as a TPM at Google. We put together this guide after interviewing a bunch of Google TPMs to add a bit of transparency to what Google expects in these interviews.

Interview Rounds

It all begins with an assessment of your educational and professional background based on your resume and referrals.

After this, a potential TPM has to go through three stages of interviews; comprising one phone interview with a recruiter, up to two interviews with a current TPM at Google, and a maximum of five onsite interviews with Google's software engineers and TPMs. 

Let's discuss each stage in brief:

Round I: Phone Interview with a Recruiter 

This stage is to determine whether you are eligible to Interview for a TPM position at Google. A recruiter will reach out to you over a phone, Zoom or Skype call to gather information on your educational and professional background. This round is a general evaluation of you to ascertain if you have the required communication and management skills, and are a good fit for Google. Based on this, a recruiter will decide if you can be invited over for further stages of the TPM interview. 

The session lasts for about 45 minutes, and all your answers are followed by diligent note-taking by the recruiter, so, make sure you are prepared with the answers. 

Round II: Phone Interview with Google TPMs

The recruiter will inform you of your success in round I within a week or two, and schedule your interview with one or more Google TPMs respectively. 

Each session will go on for about 45 minutes, where you will be evaluated on your overall technical knowledge and program management skills. Thus, you must demonstrate strong decision-making skills and prioritize and effectively plan programs from start to finish. You can also expect several behavioural questions, and some based on your past experiences as a Technical Program Manager. 

Here is a list of questions you can expect:

1. Leadership and management-based:

a. What methodologies do you plan on using in your management?

b. How capable are you of prioritising and delegating tasks?

c. How would you estimate the expected work for a new project without knowing its history?

d. Tell me about your experience working with third-party resources.

2. Behavioral question:

a. Tell me about a time when you ran into unexpected trouble with one of your programs and how you dealt with it?

b. Describe a project where you worked with difficult clients and how did you overcome the challenges?

c. How would you make sure that you are delivering quality in your product or service?

d. Tell me about a time when you had to mitigate disagreements in the team?

3. Resume related:

a. Tell me more about the XYZ technology you have included in your resume.

b. Discuss your experiences as listed out in your resume.

c. I see X on your resume. How would you describe that to someone just starting out?

4. Basic technical concepts

a. What is TCP protocol?

b. Explain multithreading

c. What happens in Linux Shell when you try to run 'ls' command?

d. What is struct, enum and union in C?

Evidently, the questions are rather basic that touch a variety of subjects to determine there isn't a specific area that you lack in. This is also the stage that determines whether you are suitable for an entry-level or senior position. Based on this, interviewers deem you eligible for an onsite interview and make further recommendations.

Like Leadership, Technical skills, Role related knowledge, Googliness, General cognitive ability etc. 

Typically, since its’ just 45-min, the interview will ask just 1 question from each category - and questions are often shorter/simpler, since there’s less time for a back-and-forth. It’s important for candidates to be able to explain concepts verbally though - since there’s usually no whiteboard/jamboard.

PS - Prepfully has a lot of Google TPMs who help simulate this as a proper mock interview experience. Once you’re done with your basic prep, we’d recommend scheduling a session so you can assess your readiness with someone who’s “been there / done that” here.

It takes about two weeks before you hear about the result of your phone interview. If found to be suitable, you will advance to the next round. 

Round III: Onsite Interview with Google TPMs

This is where things get challenging, so, make sure you bring your 'A' Game. You will be face-to-face with up to 5 senior-level Google TPMs for a minimum of 30 to 45 minutes, where you will undergo a rigorous evaluation of your technical skills and program management sense. Generally, there are two sessions dedicated to the former and three to the latter. 

Before you appear for these sessions, ensure you've spent enough time brushing up your knowledge of data structures, system design, architecture, and software algorithms. It is also a good idea to familiarize yourself with Agile methodologies and Scrum management principles

Usually, interviewers start with a question and proceed with several follow-ups in the direction of your answers. For instance, you may be asked a technical question, and then the interviewer would ask you to describe how you'd handle a hypothetical Google program based on that specific technology. You can expect plenty of questions based on hypothetical scenarios designed to test your behavioral skills and how capable you are of motivating cross-functional teams in the direction of a business's goals. 

Now, the question is — What are Google interviewers looking for, and how do they grade you?

As we mentioned before, each of your sessions is recorded and shared with your evaluators. Additionally, Google has a feedback form that has attributes based on which the interviewer grades your performance. 

Let's look at these closely:

1. GCA or General Cognitive Ability

Google is looking for people with high cognitive capacities; those who can maneuver a difficult situation towards a program's objectives. This indicates that the candidate is capable of handling and adapting to challenging work situations. This type of interview is how Google evaluates your problem-solving skills, and will delve into both your experiences as well as hypothetical situation.

For instance, let’s take a sample question - “What is your favorite Google Cloud product? ​What are some things you could do to minimize the cost of support? How would you assess the success of your support operations?”

In this interview, you’d be expected to demonstrate:

Clarification and scoping skills: Ask clarifying questions to understand what the interviewer is looking for, and explain the scope, timescale, budget, situation, location, and other factors
Technical strategy: how you’d gather data and information, structure that into a plan with goals, and create a strategy around it
Problem solving and solutions: Identify/diagnose problems, brainstorm solutions. Ideally identify at least 2, maybe 3 solutions - and then prioritize between them (with clear reasoning) before moving into how you’d execute on it

Here is a video talking more about the GCA interviews, put together by Google, and which we strongly recommend watching.
Here’s also a list of some commonly asked Google TPM General Cognitive Ability interview questions that candidates have reported to Prepfully in the last few months:
a. If you were the chief traffic officer of XYZ City and you were tasked to reduce traffic gridlock, what would be your steps to solving this.

b. Estimate the market size for self-driving cars in 2025?

c. Imagine you are expected to organize an offsite for your team, how would you go about planning it?

d. Out of eight balls, seven balls weigh equal while one ball weighs slightly heavier than the others. How will you figure out which ball is heavier?

2. Role Related Competence/Knowledge

Interviewers are interested to know how knowledgeable you are, and whether you can effectively contribute to a technical organisation with your background, expertise and management acumen: Does the candidate have sufficient knowledge of the domain he will be employed in? Is the interviewee technically competent? Can he solicit meaningful discussions with his team members on a specific domain?

For this interview, we’d recommend preparing “case studies” based on your past experience. You’ll never formally present them of course - but they’ll help structure your thoughts, since you’re expected to be able to talk about a wide array of topics related to these projects and demonstrate end-to-end thinking/ownership. At the end of the day, Google’s evaluating you across the entire project lifecycle, so be ready to talk about:

- Project initiation: Ideation, scoping, objectives, teams, budgets

- Project planning: Strategy, roadmap, tasks and milestones, risks and mitigations

- Project execution: Tracking, reporting, coordination, clearing blockers

- Project completion: closing, delivery, review, learnings, documentation, maintenance etc

3. Leadership track record and traits

Google has a term for the type of leadership they are after: emergent leadership. This implies how well-suited an interviewee is in leading cross-functional teams when facing ambiguous circumstances; whether they can persuade teams and lead without authority primarily through influence, and to achieve program goals. This is particularly crucial for TPM roles, so we’d recommend thinking of specific examples in advance where for instance you lead without authority, or managed upwards, or worked cross-functionally across teams, or shared your vision/strategy to inspire a larger group, or where you might have failed in achieving any of these - and what you did about it.

4. Googley-ness

Google prioritizes hiring employees who share the company's values and are well-suited for its environment. Throughout the interview sessions, Google TPMs make sure they give you insight into the company's culture and encourage you to ask any questions you may have. There’s a strong bias towards exploring at least some “10x” ideas i.e. when you have an idea, how do you make it 10 times bigger. There is also a casual lunch scheduled with one of their TPMs or company representatives to familiarize you with the company better. 

Here is a video talking a bit more about Google’s Leadership and Googleyness interview - another must-watch given that this too has been put together by folks within Google.

Amidst all this, the “Why Google?” the question will likely sneak in. We are sure you already know the answer to that!

All your answers are rated against each of the above-listed attributes. Finally, your performance is summarized and final recommendations are made. 

If all goes well, Google will assign you to a team you would fit in with best, determine the salary band for you, and give you a congratulatory call to offer you the job you interviewed for!

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