Question. Why have case study interviews become essential in Product Management?

This is a question which I have found myself asking more and more of late. I thought I was the only one, until recently when a business I am partnered with asked me the same question! One hiring manager actually said to me, if they were asked to complete a case study, they would have withdrawn from the process immediately.

Case studies don’t exist in Product design for example. The majority of people I speak to within Product Design, flat out refuse to do a case study or create extra work for an interview process. The stall is firmly set out, portfolios and examples of previous work lead the way here. However, within Product Management I am surprised if a case study is not part of the hiring process. Currently I am only partnered with one business which does not have a case study as part of the interview process.

So, why are case studies now the norm within the Product Management assessment process? I decided to take to the internet to see if anyone else was thinking the same as me, all the answers are on Google right?! You know where this is going don’t you?! All I found was how to ‘ace’ a case study interview in Product Management; pages and pages of interviewing tips, the most common case studies, how to approach them, video examples and so much more. So not only am I questioning why they exist, but now I am seeing others showing people how to cheat. My trepidation was growing.

So, and I am aware at this point I am just asking questions rather than answering them, but I am down a question hole here, so stay with me. So, why do I have an issue or even concern with a case study being part of the interview process? For me, it is because I am seeing more and more decisions being made about someone based on the case study stage only. I am hearing more and more; ‘I am not quite sure, but I think the case study stage will give us a clearer insight.’  My question (I know, another,) is this, is the case study an up to date and true reflection of the work a person would be doing in role? Skills testing is not real world, I am sorry, but it’s not. Also, if collaboration is a key part of Product Management, which I believe we can all agree it is, then how does a case study test that? What about influence? Another key area of the PM role, is the case study setup to test this? If the case study does not test key aspects of the role, then what is the point?

I know I have raised lots of questions here, and to potentially complicate things further, I am not saying there is not a place for case studies, however I wonder whether they are robust enough to stand the test of time. Or be a fair barometer for hiring? Great case study tasks can, and do exist out there, but they are the exception, not the rule in my experience. For me the best hiring processes have consistent questioning, a clear definition of what good looks like, and an interview stage which doesn’t allow for prior preparation. This allows for a range of prior skills to be questioned and probed during the process, whilst also showing how people respond to unforeseen questions and challenges. That is real world.

What do you think? Is the case study stage a good thing within Product Management hiring?

Would you take part in an interview process which has a case-study stage?

Do you think there needs to be a shift in Product Management interviewing?

So many questions, now I am looking for your answers, what do you think? Yes, I had to finish on a question!

This article was written by Adrienne Howlett, Product Partner and Co-Founder of Digital 51. What do you think of Adrienne’s insight to the Product Management hiring process? Why not drop her a line of to tell her your thoughts?