Apple Product Management Interview Guide
Apple, the largest company by market cap in the world, sells smartphones, tablets, personal computers and portable and wearable devices. This suite of products seems like it’s been with us forever. Let’s look back in time to understand how this company has become the successful colossal that we see today.
Apple was co-founded by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak in 1976. They launched with the first ever Apple computer, the Apple I. This computer consisted of just a motherboard for computer hobbyists and it did not have a monitor or a keyboard. Apple I helped the company get enough capital to build the next generation called the Apple II, which is when Apple really took off. Apple II was targeted at consumers who wanted a personal computer and as such, it is credited in launching the personal computer industry. It included a keyboard and had high resolution graphics with colour through the built in monitor. In the years that followed the Apple II launch, Apple’s revenues grew exponentially. Although the Apple II was a huge success, Apple’s revenues started slowing down through the late 80’s and 90’s due to new competitors entering the market and many management changes.
In 1998, Jobs knew he had to make a change and this was when the iMac computer and the first iPod, a multi-purpose mobile device, were introduced. Sales started to pick up again for Apple. They continued to make the right decisions such as creating the Apple iTunes music store and the MacBook Pro laptop. In 2007, Apple entered the smartphone industry and launched yet another successful product, the first iPhone. The iPhone then sparked the creation of the iPad tablet and the App Store which is a marketplace for third-party applications. Since the early 2000’s, Apple has repeatedly launched and continues to create ground-breaking technology.
Product Management at Apple
The PM role at Apple is less well known than PM roles at other tech companies of similar size. The job listings fall under the Engineering Project Management role on Apple’s job board and is not mentioned on the Apple career website. This is likely due to Apple primarily producing physical products rather than digital products and the PM role being generally used in the software industry. That being said, there are many software products that are created and managed by Apple with dedicated PMs that lead teams and products to success.
Do note however, some teams in Apple only have Program Managers. The role of a Program Manager often overlaps with the general responsibilities of a Product Manager, but this guide focuses specifically on the Product Management roles offered at Apple.
Firstly, Apple PMs on software teams work closely with engineering to understand the requirements of the product. As such, a PM at Apple must have a decent technical ability so that they can effectively collaborate with the engineering team. In fact, all PM roles at Apple are classified as a technical position.
On top of working with engineering, the PM must work with other cross-functional teams to help design a product or new product features. They are expected to be creative problem solvers who can analyze major issues and seek a solution worth working towards. From that solution the PM owns the entire product cycle from discovery, design, prioritizing implementations to supporting the rollout of the product or new feature. Apple has a well-laid out and unique product development process and PMs are expected to be familiar with this. We will discuss this in more detail later on.
Another important part of the PM role that has more of a focus than PM roles at other companies of similar size is their collaboration with executive teams. The PM is expected to communicate progress updates with executives in the company regularly either verbally or through detailed documentation. This includes communicating the roadmap, each step of the development process, and the deliverables with timelines. There are also many review sessions for PMs where executives evaluate products that are being worked on and assess if adequate progress is being made. If not, then the executive will motivate the PM to help the product and team get back on track.
As mentioned previously, PMs at Apple do not have a well developed culture like other technology companies of similar size. As such, the career ladder as a PM at Apple is often limited. For all Apple PM positions, you’ll need at least 5 to 8 years of past experience in a PM role. After entering the company, the PM career ladder is fairly compact with not much levelling. The path follows after the Apple Engineering Project/Program Manager’s career path.
The starting role as an Apple PM is labelled as Individual Contributor Technical 3, or ICT3 for short. You will then move up to more senior positions as ICT4 and ICT5. From there you can be promoted to a VP, however, this is not very common at Apple.
Why be a Product Manager at Apple?
One of the nice things about working as a PM at Apple is their well-structured product cycle that all products follow. The cycle brings consistency and ensures that PMs are on the right track while still providing them the ability to make decisions on their own. The PM will guide designers in the design process and assist engineers with the implementation of these designs. There is consistent feedback given from executives in the design and development stages and the PM is responsible to ensure that the feedback is accounted for.
There are also many test stages in the product cycle where prototypes are evaluated to ensure quality designs and builds. Once a prototype has passed the tests, the PM must follow specific steps for the product rollout. From there, metrics will be tracked and any needed iterations will be made following this same cycle.
The entire product cycle is very detailed. There is a lot of information provided to PMs at Apple. In time you will get accustomed to this cycle and know your tasks and responsibilities in each stage.
Another great part about working as a PM at Apple is that you will be filling the shoes of arguably one of the best PMs to exist, Steve Jobs. Although Steve Jobs never had the job title “Product Manager”, his job functions consisted much of what a PM does. Jobs ensured that his vision was shared clearly with his team, worked with designers to design according to this vision, worked with the development team to push boundaries of technology, listened and prioritized customer requests, and along with this, he motivated his teams everyday to give their best effort to fulfill the vision.
All of Jobs' duties in Apple’s infancy helped the company become as successful as they are today. As a PM here, you will develop your own skills by learning the many processes that Jobs put into place and understanding why they were put into place. Ultimately, you will grow as a PM by gaining invaluable experience on how the world’s largest company ships products that are used by over 1 billion people.
Apple offices are located across 25 countries and Apple PMs must help serve and work in these various locations across the world. With this, the salary of a PM varies based on location. It also varies based on the level.
To give an estimate, in the US an ICT3 PM at Apple has a base salary of around $145k. On the higher end, an ICT5 PM at Apple has a base salary of around $225k. Do note that this does not include the equity you get as a PM which will considerably increase your total compensation.
The Interview Process
You may know Apple to be a very secretive company. Their interview process is no different. Apple constantly changes the order of the interview rounds and surprises candidates with questions never asked before. The process will also vary based on the team that is interviewing you. This makes PM interviews at Apple challenging to examine and prepare for. As a result, the information given in this section is not definite. It can however be used to get a good sense of the process and understand what Apple is looking for in a PM.
The Apple PM interview process can have up to 5 rounds:
- Initial recruiter phone screen
- Phone or video interviews
- A take-home exercise
- Onsite interviews
- A final interview
The end-to-end timeline for the interview process is roughly 4-6 weeks. Let’s walk through the stages of the interview process and discuss what you can expect in each.
Recruiter Phone Screen
This stage of the interview process is consistent across all Apple teams. During this round the recruiter will ask a few behavioural questions and ask about your experience. The discussion will centre around you, your experience, and understanding the role and team that you have applied for.
The recruiter will evaluate if you fit Apple’s culture and determine if you can succeed in future rounds. Make sure to ask the recruiter what your exact interview process at Apple will look like so that you can plan ahead.
Some typical questions asked in this stage are:
- Walk me through your past 5 years of work experience.
- What has been the proudest moment of your career?
- Where do you want to be in 5 years?
- Why do you want to work at Apple?
- What’s your favourite Apple product? Why?
- How do you align with Apple’s culture and values?
Phone or Video Interviews
After the initial phone screen comes the first batch of PM-focused interviews. These interviews will last anywhere from 30-60 minutes each. It has been brought up by previous candidates that they were asked to perform the interviews over Facetime. Be prepared to use this application if you have an Apple device.
The questions in these interviews will focus on the product and position that you applied for. Expect to be asked to explain your understanding of the role and elaborate on specific aspects of the job description. For example, if you applied for a position on the App Store team, the interviewer may ask you to explain your understanding of the App Store’s key features. Make sure to read the job description thoroughly.
The next part of these interviews will revolve around typical PM questions. Review the Potential Apple PM Questions section below for more information on the questions asked here.
In some interview processes there will be a take-home exercise. The goal of this exercise is for the hiring manager to understand how you would tackle the problems you will encounter on the job.
The take-home exercises will consist of you writing an essay based on a typical PM question or prompt. It’s also possible that this exercise will consist of you creating a presentation based on a product concept they want you to explore. You will present this at the onsite round.
There are no standard questions or prompts for the exercise. Use the sample questions given in the Potential Apple PM Questions section below to get an idea of what to expect for this take-home exercise.
The next round typically occurs in person at an Apple office. There will be 7 to 10 interviews in one day and one lunch interview. The interviewers range from people on your potential future team and may consist of directors, engineers, designers, or engineering project/program managers.
There are 5 types of questions that are asked in these interviews. They are:
Review the Potential Apple PM Questions section below for more insight on the questions to expect.
The interview process may end at the onsite round. However, in some cases, you may be asked for a final interview with a senior member on the team that you applied for. This interview consists of an in-depth discussion regarding any area the team wants you to dig deeper into. They will determine this area of discussion based on your onsite interviews.
Treat this as another onsite interview. Any question from the 5 types of questions mentioned above is fair game here.
Potential Apple PM Questions
The potential questions you will be asked in the Apple PM interview process can be broken down into 5 groups: behavioural, design, strategy, technical, and analysis questions. The amount of questions asked for each type of question will depend on the person interviewing you as well as the role that you applied for. Expect to come across a few questions from each group.
Below is a description with sample questions for each type of question.
Around half the questions in Apple’s interview process are behavioural. These questions focus on your ability to build relationships, your past experience, and whether you can accomplish PM related tasks. Some questions might overlap with the ones asked in the initial phone screen.
Potential behavioural questions may be:
- Why Apple?
- Why this role specifically?
- Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
- What is your proudest accomplishment as a PM?
- What is your worst experience as a PM? What did you learn from it?
- Tell me a time when you convinced your manager on a decision they didn’t believe in?
- How do you keep organized and hit deadlines?
- How do you prioritize competing priorities?
A PM at Apple must help design new product features and improve existing ones. These questions will focus on your creativity and how you approach designing a product.
Potential design questions may be:
- What’s your favourite Apple product? Why? How would you improve it?
- How would you improve [insert Apple product] (Apple Pay, the App Store, Siri, etc.)?
- What features would you like to see added to [insert Apple product] (iPhones, MacBook settings, etc.)?
- Tell me about your favourite product? Why is it your favourite product?
These questions are geared towards thinking about the wide range of topics PMs need to consider when making decisions for a product and business. You will share a lot of your PM knowledge with your interviewer in these questions.
Potential strategy questions may be:
- How do you manage a product roadmap?
- Our engineers use [insert methodology] (Waterfall, Scrum, Agile, etc.). Are you familiar with this methodology? What is your opinion on it?
- What should Apple do next?
- How would you sell plants at Apple?
Apple PMs need to understand technical concepts to explain product features to stakeholders and think like a developer, and communicate effectively with them. These questions will examine the technical skills required for the specific role you applied for.
Potential technical questions may be:
- Walk me through the components needed to build a data processing system.
- Walk me through how to develop an algorithm that can detect if a string is a palindrome.
- Come up with an algorithm for a recommended apps list on the App Store. Describe the inputs and outputs.
- How do you face a technical challenge you have never encountered before?
- How are payment credentials saved on a device?
- How is cryptographic information stored?
PMs use metrics to assess success and guide the decisions that they make, especially around enhancements. Apple PMs are no different. These questions will focus on what metrics to track and how to make decisions given a certain metric.
Potential analysis questions may be:
- What metrics would you use to determine the success of [insert Apple product] (Apple Music, iCloud, homescreen widgets)?
- App Store traffic went down 10% in a month. What are the next steps you would take?
- There’s a 20% drop in the usage of Siri, how would you fix this?
Preparing for the Interview
Looking at the possible questions you may encounter in an Apple PM interview, it is clear that successful interviews must include diving deep and discussing various products offered by Apple. As such, performing research on their products is an important step that cannot be skipped. This can be accomplished by visiting Apple’s website and analyzing the products they offer and the range of features within these products. It is also recommended to be comfortable using Apple’s products before going into the interviews. Play around with the products using an Apple device, or if you don’t have an Apple device, ask a trusted friend to borrow theirs. By doing this, you will know what the interviewer is referring to when you are asked an Apple specific product question.
Another aspect of the interview process is discussing Apple as a company. To be successful here you must understand Apple’s values and goals. What is Apple working towards? A large amount of this information can be found on Apple’s career site. Appearing knowledgeable about the company and what they stand for will make a great impression with your interviewers.
Lastly, the Apple PM interview process is very broad and the interviewers will test you on a range of PM-related topics. You must be comfortable with product fundamentals and answering PM style interview questions. Using a consistent method for answering questions will ensure that you hit all of the key areas an interviewer is looking for. Learn a framework to answer PM questions and practice answering the potential questions mentioned in this guide so that you are comfortable with it.
Compared to other large tech companies, the PM role at Apple is not well known. PMs are not on all the teams, hence the available positions are limited. That being said, with the limited number of PM roles at Apple, they have lots of responsibility, are respected in the company, and are paid well. This is also why to get this position you will need 5 to 8 years of PM experience and will likely have to go through 5 interview stages. On top of the many behavioural questions you will receive, you will be asked to share your past experience, as well as a broad set of product related questions ranging anywhere from asking you how to improve an Apple product to the metrics that you would track. We recommend building a strong understanding of Apple products and their business goals to compliment your product knowledge.
Apple’s interview process is very vigorous. After all, PMs at Apple help deliver valuable products to over 1 billion people across the world. It is a very important and rewarding role.
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