CQ_Product_Series | Abhijeet Mahato | Groww
Interviewer: Hello everyone, today we have Mr. Abhijeet Mahato who has been placed at Groww as an Associate Product Manager. So we are here to interview him regarding his preparations and strategies to crack the interview of this company.
Could you explain to us about the field of ‘Product Management’? What has led to the emergence of this profile at the UG level?
Abhijeet: So product management is the profile that lies at the intersection between customer experience, business aspects, and technology. It is the product manager who thinks of the pain points of the customer, thinks of the solution, and makes it happen using better coordination between the technology or the safety and the business aspect of that solution and how impactful it is in solving a problem of the users. For example, if there is a movie director he knows the audience which they are targeting. What kind of movie day they are wanting to see and what quality of movie they want to see. So he coordinates between all the actors, the spotlight people, the cameraman and he manages everything to bring out the final product in front of the customers which gives them delight. So, I think that would be a better way to explain for people who are new to the role.
Coming to the emergence at UG level. So basically PM roles were available after MBA but for companies, it’s like they have to invest more in acquiring MBAs from these schools. So what they are doing right now as far as I’m aware is that they are hiring UG students only from Tier 1 colleges (IITs and Bits). This is because they get the graduates at an early stage and also they could mold them as per their companies requirement. So that’s why it’s a new opportunity and UG students in IITs are bagging the opportunity well. And most of the UG students have good experience in strategy and planning as they have been interning in startups, that’s why this shift has happened in recent times.
Interviewer: What was the general interview process for the company you interviewed, and tell us how to prepare for that? Please mention the number of rounds and the nature of the interview process.
Abhijeet: When Groww came, they had their pre-placement talk. In that, they gave us the problem statement. We have to prepare a case study on that. The problem statement was, “as we are graduating we are on the verge of attaining financial independence so we have to make a digital product that would help solve the pain points of the new generation who are just graduating”. They gave 1–1.5 weeks for the submission. After the case study was submitted, they released their shortlist which was based on CV as well as case round. And then we were allotted our buddies (current APMs working at Groww) with whom we can interact, solve cases, clarify all our queries and prepare for interviews. So the buddies were allotted 3 to 4 days before the interview, after that we had interaction with the co-founder, where all the shortlisted students like APM, business analysts, etc. had an interaction with the founder. So the students from Bits Pilani, IIT Delhi, IIT Roorkee, and other colleges were there. And the interview happened on Day 2 so there were 4 rounds. The 1st round was a simple case round in which I was asked a general question like “Introduce yourself, how many profiles I am applying for and why product management?” Then the interviewer asked “How many shortlists do you have?” Then we had a root-cause analysis case for 20 minutes. Similarly, the 2nd round happened with some basic questions about myself and they also gave me a product development case. The 3rd round was a more professional root-cause-analysis round. And the 4th and final round was an interaction with one of the co-founders of Groww.
To sum up my preparation, I had gone through the book “Decode and Conquer” twice. Followed by solving product cases from various sources available on the internet and critically going through the videos of PMSchool and Exponent channels on YouTube. Also, I did studies on popular product-based companies regarding their business models, revenue streams, value propositions, and future plans.
Interviewer: How much time was given for these rounds?
Abhijeet: The first round was around 20 mins. The case given to me was “You are an APM at Uber and I’m hearing from my friend that the customer experience from Uber is reducing and it’s not as par with its competitor” and I have to do a root cause analysis for this.
In the 2nd round, the interviewer gave me a product development case that “Suppose you are working at Groww, you are given the assignment of creating a subscription model for the users of Groww” so I had to do a proper end-to-end discussion and make a framework that how will I make an action-plan, what all data points and parameters I will consider for creating the subscription model and why? What will be my basis of pricing of this subscription model? What will be my main objective behind the introduction of this subscription model? How will I launch the subscription model in the market? What will be my key matrix to see the success of this subscription model? and What will be my roll-out plan? This round went a bit longer around 40- 50 minutes since it was a proper discussion round and we had a good discussion like he was enacting a proper company scenario.
The third round was also a root cause analysis round. It was a bit detailed compared to the 1st round. It went around 30 minutes and here also they brought the problem statement from uber itself. The problem statement was “The number of drivers canceling the orders from Uber’s end has increased”. So I had to do a root cause analysis on this. I felt that the interviewer had made up his mind that he wanted to test how much I can bear him in the interview as he grilled me a lot in exploring the actual root cause of the problem. So it became a little nerve-wracking in the end but I kept my patience and kept exploring different possibilities with a structured approach. He was trying to check whether I’m aware of the news and what was happening in the external market. After that, he gave me one more problem statement which was mainly based on checking my thought process. The problem statement was “It has been observed that users are downloading the Swiggy app but later switching to the Zomato app.” So I had to figure out why they were switching. He gave me around 5 minutes and he asked me to just lay down my procedure and thoughts.
The fourth round was a pretty quick round. It was with one of the co-founders. It was a 15 minute round where he was more interested in knowing about myself. He asked “Why are you switching from agricultural engineering to product management? What gave you the motivation?” I had my website mentioned in my CV which I was working on since my 2nd year, so he asked me “how did you get the idea to build a product of this sort and why?” During the placement times, I was posting articles on product management and he happened to have come across a few of the viral posts of mine. Based on that he asked, “What is your motivation and drive behind these postings?” Then he asked me whether I had any questions for me. To which I asked him, “I have seen all of your interviews where you talk about your success but what did you gain from the failures you got.” On hearing this question he was smiling and cross-questioned “Why do you want to know this answer?”. Followed by this we had a good conversation, we were discussing how the internet has disrupted the whole ecosystem in India. Like if you are good at something today it’s not likely you will be at the prime tomorrow as well anyone can surpass you just because resources are freely available on the internet.
And after that, I got a call from HR that we are extending our offer to you, so don’t sit for any other interviews today.
Interviewer: One general doubt, is there any technical round involved in the process? And does one need to know how to code for product management roles?
Abhijeet: Even I had this doubt when I was preparing. I asked many of my seniors and it’s a very confusing question. So the point is if you are preparing solely for the product management roles then you don’t need to know code knowledge but if you’re applying for a product analyst role then you might require a little bit of coding. Since I’m from the agricultural and food engineering background, I have all my projects from core only. So I myself don’t have any exposure to coding. About the technical round, there is no round as technical round. What I would say is case rounds are one of the major things that happen and there is a case study submission. You have to either prepare a case study or case ppt and submit it. That’s the general procedure. I applied for 5 APM profiles and out of which only MX Player took an aptitude test while all others asked for a case study deck (i.e. a PPT) only. Groww asked for a proper case study document while others asked only for a case deck. You have to submit a deck but you are not allowed to present. So you have to make it clear in the deck itself about your ideas related to product and solution.
Interviewer: Could you list down the Puzzles, technical problems, any other discussion in general that you think will prove helpful for students.
Abhijeet: Regarding puzzles and problems it’s just that you need to have a default problem-solving mindset and you have to be aware of the business aspect as well. It really helps, like the subscription model question in my Round 2, if I wasn’t prepared it would have been a complete bouncer because wherever you prepare for any APM question or anything through youtube or any other public domain these types of questions are not available. This is majorly because the interviewer wants to see how well informed and how well structured you are in planning things. In my 2nd round at first, I was a bit blank, so stick to your basic understanding and everything will be good.
Interviewer: What are some of the FAQs you face and think students must prepare for in most companies? More specifically, in the context of HR rounds.
Abhijeet: Other companies did have an HR round while in Groww we had the round with the co-founder. FAQs in my opinion are like how to prepare for this. So the best thing I would suggest is to read as much as you can. Mostly as engineers, we have a habit of reading from a particular source and we begin to feel that we know everything. But since product management is something which is from a management perspective so reading as much as you can is really necessary to have a clearer understanding. Many product managers write blogs so read them, practice questions, and practice cases. One more thing, for every company that comes for campus placement make sure that you know their product in and out and everything about the company, because if they ask you something and you are not aware then it creates a negative perception. And also it’s really important to analyze and read all the product-based startups in India. What I did was I just made a list of products like Swiggy, Zomato, Uber, Urban Company, Groww, Ola, etc. and I just spent a day analyzing their business model, what are their revenue sources, what are their competitors, what are their core features, what value propositions they are providing to their customers. So doing this gave me the idea of subscription models because Swiggy and Zomato have their revenue through their subscription plans. So based on that I had an idea of how subscription works. Based on that I was able to clear the rounds pretty confidently.
Interviewer: Many times we hear this question “why do you want to go with product management In the context of the HR round?”
Abhijeet: Even in my case, it was asked. it’s always better to relate it to a story. I was interning with one of the alumni of my department. I was working on the strategy part. It was there I got exposure with him on how the business works and I started understanding how important it is to take customer feedback and it’s always better to relate all your projects in a way where you created an impact for the general public. So you can say something like “….. based on my so and so prior experience in solving problems of the masses I feel my interest inclines well with product management…”.
Interviewer: What are things students sitting for placements next year can do from now until December to maximize their chances of getting through a company in this sector?
Abhijeet: First of all, it’s really helpful to have a product management internship beforehand. Many new startups are providing product management interns. You can find such interns in Angellist or on LinkedIn also. So it’s good to have it on your CV. If you could get one it’s good if you don’t have it there’s nothing to worry about. You can start reading about what is product management and start analyzing various keywords such as what are the different frameworks that are used? like popular frameworks are AARM, HEART, CIRCLE, etc. There is a good book named “Decode and Conquer”. It’s a pretty old book but it has all the interview questions related to product management. It’s a good book and it gives you an idea of what kind of solutions you are expected to give during the interview. So you can read this book. It’s really useful if you have any of your websites or blogs. Like I had my blogging platform so I mentioned that in my CV. So the interviewer was interested in it. Also if you have any kind of side project, highlight them with no hesitation because it shows that you are not just mechanical in your approach but you have explored various fields on your own as well. It shows your risk-taking attitude. Other than that it’s important to form a case study group. It’s good if you have a minimum of three members who prepare a case on their own and you practice one on one. Someone can play the interviewer, someone can play the interviewee and the 3rd can be a viewer. So based on that you can help each other out. For example, if I’m giving a solution and the person in front of me is better prepared so he’s countering my solution so it helps me to grow. It’s helping me to handle the pressure. The viewer will help both of us if we have missed any aspect and the way we are presenting ourselves. So having a case group is very important. Also, students should have the habit of writing their solutions clearly on paper because they may ask you to show your paper during the interview about how you have solved guesstimates or any other question. Also, for guesstimates and root cause analysis cases don’t follow a rigid framework. Always take references from the existing framework and try to make your own framework. if you used any existing framework they would already know that and can get bored and may not be interested in your case. Challenge yourself with random guesstimates from time to time, find your own solution, counter it and keep on improving it.
Interviewer: And how far do the positions of responsibility on the campus help you? How has life in KGP has supported you for this role?
Abhijeet: I personally don’t feel that position of responsibility mattered for this role. But it’s always good to have a position of responsibility because it doesn’t create a direct impact but it creates an impression that you are someone who could manage your work pretty well. For example, if you have a project, you have a POR, you have an internship, and you have a decent CGPA so it shows that you can handle the work pressure at different places and you are good at working in teams. Having a POR majorly shows that you are a team player and have leadership traits. I think that is the only thing that helps for POR. Regarding KGP life, I think it impacted me a lot. I got my internship through one of the alumni of my department. There I started working as a research intern. After that, he proposed that he have some e-commerce platform, so would you like to work on the strategy front. So I agreed and it gave me an idea about business. Also, I was the governor at Spectra. So I could show that I have worked on many things. I have led groups of people and managed budgets for the society. These things in KGP helped me build my personality. The kind of communication skills I learned here helped me sit confidently in any of the interviews. According to me, communication is the thing that drives you in any of the interviews not only for APM roles but communication is the thing you learn majorly from KGP life. And it has a deep impact on building our overall personality.
Interviewer: What are the necessary soft and hard skills necessary for excelling in PM roles?
Abhijeet: In terms of hard skills, you should have the idea of preparing an impactful ppt. Because during the case study, they are going to have 100s of case studies. So it’s always good to have a good visual aspect and if you have a good understanding of how to make it attractive and make it visible to the interviewer. So my seniors told me whenever you make a ppt slides within 3 sec the viewer should be keenly interested to know more about it. It comes through practice only. In soft skills, it’s like how good you are at understanding the core problems and how sympathetic you are for customers. As for the PM role, your customer is your god. You are working to make your customers happy. One thing which should come from within is if you see a problem you understand how it is impacting and how are you going to solve it? So one important feature about this is you are always in a situation of taking feedback, surveys, and interviews from others. So you can highlight these soft skills from your projects and internships. That you interacted with these many people. So I would suggest mentioning somewhere in the CV that you take these many surveys and feedback is a very crucial aspect.
Interviewer: What should a student focus on while preparing a CV for PM roles?
Abhijeet: For preparing a CV one thing I would say, is we usually highlight the work we did and we emphasize the various projects we did. But for product management profiles always show the impact you created through your work and how you created the impact. For eg: you are working on a prediction model and you improved the prediction by 65% so highlight that and try to mention how you improved the prediction model. For example, you improved the model by adding some new features so show that. Also, don’t add unnecessary things like your coursework. You should make a CV keeping a perspective that you are about to hire someone and you are viewing the CV. If you have any kind of entrepreneurial experience or self-project, do mention that.
The hierarchy that I followed in my CV was: Internships, Entrepreneurial Experience, Position of Responsibilities, Awards and Achievements, Projects, and then the Extra-Curricular Activities.
The reason why I put my projects at the end was because my projects were core-based so I didn’t want to distract the interviewer.
Interviewer: What is the general shortlisting process for PM companies?
Abhijeet: So the general process is very simple. They give you a case study to solve or prepare a ppt. Then, you might be allotted a buddy for some companies with whom you could discuss and prepare for the interview. Then there are interviews, usually 3 to 4 rounds. The 1st round is a general round where they give you a case where they try to understand what kind of a person you are. 2nd and 3rd rounds are proper case rounds. The last round is the HR round where they see if you are fit for the company or not.
Interviewer: Anything else that you’d want to share with the students?
Abhijeet: So what helped me bag this kind of role is that I tried to interact with your seniors who are in similar roles through LinkedIn, sent them my CV, and got it reviewed. What students usually do is that they get their CVs reviewed by their immediate seniors but what I suggest is send your CV to at least 5 years senior to you. It gives you an idea if your CV interests them or not. as they have the experience of taking interviews. So it’s good to have a good alumni base on LinkedIn and stay in close touch with them. The readers may feel free to connect with me over LinkedIn for one-on-one discussions. I will be more than happy to be of some help to my juniors.