Thank you for getting in touch, we'll get back to you soon!

Do you have some insights to share with the product community?

GET IN TOUCH.

Product Management Case Study Interview

Written by
Kartik Dabbiru Kartik Dabbiru
Founder @ Stealth
Published
Share
How not to suck at this stage?
Sticky notes Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Late one evening in the autumn of 2018, I was pouring over a large Excel file shared by a Mortgage startup as part of their interview process.

The case study was to develop a strategic approach to “encourage Customers to re-mortgage.”

I was nervous and I had no idea where to start. This was my first ever case study exercise for a Product Manager (PM) role in a PropTech (Property Technology company).

Back then, we didn’t have the likes of ChatGPT or Perplexity. So I scoured through several articles that Google threw up but none seemed to tell me concretely where to start!

I turned to a close friend, a PM at Meta, for initial guidance. It took me three weeks (the stipulated time) to analyse the data sets, prepare the deck and submit it.

Thankfully, I passed the case study interview stage.

Since then, I have had the privilege of successfully and unsuccessfully tackling many case study exercises.

Given the current job market where several product folks are looking for jobs and the case study exercise is an integral part of the interview process, this article will hopefully give you some confidence in tackling them.

But before we dive in…


Why do we need the Case Study Interview?

From a company’s perspective, a case study interview is usually the next best thing after the probationary period to assess you.

The interviewer/ hiring manager gets the chance to practically assess the skills that you promised on your CV or verbally during other interview rounds.

Critically, from your perspective, it is an opportunity to highlight three key areas: —

  • Creativity in problem-solving

  • Rapid learning and distilling them into concise presentable thoughts

  • Bringing structure to an unstructured situation.

However, it is also an important opportunity to get an insight into the problem-solving mindset of the hiring manager. Based on —

  • how the case study interview is set up,

  • how the hiring manager guides you during the interview and

  • the depth of responses that they can offer to the questions asked,

a high-level picture of the skills and experience of the Hiring Manager can be deduced.


Where to start?

When I don’t know where to start, a good place to begin is usually the “Why?” and “What?”.

Most case study briefs contain some description of the problem.

Sometimes, the symptoms of the problem are provided along with an expected presentation structure and guidance on the skills the Interviewer is seeking via the exercise.

Case study Author’s screenshot

Instead of immediately diving into the exercise, you should follow what’s on the brief.

I imagine that I am already part of the organisation and that my team is relying on me to solve this problem.

By imagining yourself already in the position and gaining some understanding of the company's mission, note down as many "Why" and "What" questions you can think of.

The “Why?” is critical to dive deeper into the problem statement and start uncovering the root cause while the “What?” expands the mind to think through all potential impacts solving this problem will have.


How to start?

My favourite method to crack Case Studies is to follow theCIRCLES method as a framework, where applicable.

Circles Method 002 Image source: Lewis C Lin (https://www.impactinterview.com/2016/06/circles-method-product-design-framework/)

This method devised by author Lewis C Lin is more commonly applied when responding to product design questions.

However, I have found this to apply to case study interviews and scenario-based questions as well.

A key expectation from the hiring manager is how deeply you understand the problem, the key actors, and the prioritisation levers, and can recommend a viable & feasible solution.

The CIRCLES method forces you to take a step back and structure your questions and responses in a meaningful manner.

I recently wrote about an approach to Master Problem Solving. Read for an in-depth view of solving problems including Case Studies.


Partnering with the Hiring Manager

Since the hiring manager is part of the organisation, I try to maximise their role in this exercise by seeking as much practical guidance and non-obvious insights.

This allows pragmatically partnering with the hiring manager and starts building the foundation of a future working relationship.

Where some questions appear obvious, try to state them as assumptions and clarify them with the hiring manager before the presentation.


Types of Case Study Interviews

I have come across three types of case study interviews  —

  • A live case study, where a problem is presented during the exercise for the first time.

  • A hypothetical Case Study based on a problem statement shared in advance.

  • A case study based on a previous problem you might have solved in the past.

Types of Case Study Interview Author’s screenshot

There are some minimum outcomes that you should focus on across all types of case study interviews —

  • Connect with the hiring manager at a practical level by guiding them through your understanding and structuring of the problem.

  • Demonstrate “First Principles” thinking along with the ability to offer clarity succinctly.

  • Show data-driven decision-making and present relevant metrics to measure the impact on the problem.

However, there are also subtle but important differences between the types of case study interviews —

Live Case Study

Present a hypothetical problem provided

Present based on a previous problem solved

Where is the majority of the time spent?

Ask as many clarifying questions as possible but also highlight assumptions made.

Identify and state several assumptions based on the link between the mission and the problem.

Being concise and clear on why the chosen problem is relevant and highlighting as many of the skills as possible.

Skills to highlight

Think on one's feet and display rapid learning.

Structure & priority to an unknown problem.

The impact generated but more importantly how.


What are the blind spots to be aware of?

While the case study exercise provides you with an opportunity to demonstrate practical skills, it can also give the hiring manager a chance to spot any chinks in your armour!

Here are a few things to be mindful of during this exercise -


Diving immediately into the solution without spending time discovering the problem

This is one of the biggest turnoffs for a hiring manager when a candidate hasn’t spent a major chunk of their apportioned time reviewing and discussing the problem.

While it is tempting to offer solutions, that is not the most important outcome the hiring manager is after. They are keen to see if you have the bandwidth to analyse the problem from multiple angles, ask non-obvious questions and take them on a journey of discovery with you.


Providing solutions that are not feasible and viable

While it is impossible to think through every opportunity and constraint that a company has, it is critical to utilise the broader context to carve/ evaluate the solution(s) accordingly.

The hiring manager will be keen to see how well you apply the constraints (Compliance, Legal, and Regulatory) under which the company operates.

It is also imperative to connect the solution(s) to exploit the possible opportunities ahead and consider the commercial outcomes that potentially you may have deduced.


Not offering measures of success

Not including high-level metrics to measure the impact that the solution(s) you proposed is a huge ‘no’ for a hiring manager.

While the metrics don’t have to be spot on, you need to display some specificity in evaluating the solution(s) and therefore any recommendations you propose.

It’s important to note that the metrics need to be connected to the problem and prioritisation levers you identified while analysing the case study.


Wrapping up

To recap, the case study Interview is an excellent opportunity for you to demonstrate your strengths as a PM in a practical context and assess the hiring manager as to the sort of relationship you can potentially build with them.

While there are no right or wrong answers, it is important to analyse the problem from as many angles as possible and offer viable & feasible high-level solutions with 2-3 relevant metrics

Share

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kartik Dabbiru

Kartik Dabbiru
Founder @ Stealth

Kartik is a subject matter expert on B2B Payments, Business Onboarding and Financial crime products with nearly 20 years spent in Financial Services and Fintech including JPMorgan and scaleups like Tide and BVNK. He is known for his innovative thinking and a culture of customer-focused leadership.

Kartik has deep experience in end-to-end product management, discovering product opportunities, defining product strategies, collaborating with Go-to-Market teams, and shipping products as per regulatory and compliance requirements.

In early 2024, Kartik took up a new challenge and founded a Regulatory Tech startup, after experiencing firsthand the issues in handling Financial Crime Operations. Along with key partners and a growing team, Kartik is dedicated to creating a new platform to provide Financial Crime Analysts with a seamless experience to tackle fraud and financial crime more efficiently and effectively.

When he gets some time away from building his startup, he can be found teaching his 4-year-old to cycle, playing tennis, or writing on his blog https://medium.com/@kartikdabbiru

Related articles

Insights and thoughts from leading product people.

Looking to build your product team or find the perfect role? Let’s chat