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Failed Your TPM Interview? How to see the glass half full

Job interviews are one of the toughest situations that people face. Interviews are also one of the most feared situations and cause a lot of anxiety and stress - just like public speaking. There is fear of failure, fear of being judged, fear of forgetting everything and so on. The stakes are often high - emotional, financial and professional. No one ever wants to fail interviews but it does happen. With acceptance rates lower than 5%, I am sure each one of us has failed at least one job interview. I want to tell you, it is OK. Failure does not define who you are. Every failure is an opportunity to grow. In my experience, there is always something better around the corner.

Interviewing skills are not just about how good you are at your job; they are also about how good you are at marketing yourself.

I want to encourage you to see every failure in a positive light. It will illuminate new paths and ideas for you. It will give you the energy to push ahead.

Here are 5 lessons you can learn from failed interviews and use it to your advantage.

1. Position is not relevant to your past experience

The role you are applying for should be able to leverage some of your current expertise. The more relevance you can showcase in an interview, the easier it is for the other party to understand your value proposition. When you come across as an expert, people want to bring you in because they don’t have the time to train someone else.

You are already pivoting by changing companies. In addition, if you are changing job functions or industry, it is critical for you to tether onto your domain expertise so you are not starting from scratch. This will allow you to be more successful in interviews.

For example: I went from startup to FAANG in the same domain space of Ads. It was easier to explain the system architecture and showcase challenges specific to the Ads industry. Even after joining my new company, I did not have to worry about learning a new domain and instead focused on culture, stakeholders and how to work at scale.

2. Level expectations are a mismatch

It is understandable that you are aspiring to get at least one level up when going to a new company. That doesn’t always mean you may be ready for that level from the company’s perspectives. Higher levels usually come with higher expectations and performance pressure. The scope and complexity expertise required may not be something you have encountered. If you are making a pivotal industry switch (ex: non-tech to tech, consulting to full time in tech etc), you may want to be conservative in level targeting. This doesn’t necessarily mean you are settling for a lateral move. You will be growing in other ways. Once you get exposure to the culture and expectations of the new company, you will be ready to prepare for the next level.

Keep in mind that levels are not uniform across companies. While you may have been at a higher level at your current company, some of the Big Tech will follow their standard leveling guidelines. Leveling is a function of scope, complexity and impact. It is not about years of experience or educational degrees/certifications.

For example: One of the best TPMs I have worked with and hired at L6/Staff had only 5-6 years of industry experience but they had repeatedly managed highly complex and cross-functional programs successfully. At the same time, I have also worked with TPMs who had 20+ years of experience but could not get past L4/Junior level due to their inability to scale themselves.

f (Level) = { Scope + Complexity + Impact }

3. Team or company culture may not be a fit

Behavioral and culture fit interviews are always part of your full “on-site” loop. In my opinion, behavioral interviews are the most important ones. You can teach people technical or other management skills, but if someone doesn’t fit a certain culture, it is very hard to change. And if the company does hire such individuals, there is bound to be friction at a future time. At that point, it just becomes a difficult and stressful situation for all. Companies understand that you may come from a different culture, so they are looking for your ability to adapt and be flexible. Every company has its mission and values and they want to hire people who can work for that mission with the stated values. I want you to remember though that culture fit is not just about you, it is more about the company and how they want to operate. Sometimes companies make decisions that can be right and sometimes they may get it wrong.

Recalling one of my own interviews about a decade ago at one of the OGs of FAANG. The interviewer was testing my program management skills and asked me something about execution and tracking. I talked about certain processes aka “best practices”. I tried to come across as flexible in my approach as I could knowing that tech companies are not process driven. However, I still came across as rigid in my answer, something that would not work with the engineering team who doesn’t like any processes.

Culture fit is and should be important to you as well. You should also “interview” the company in that aspect and make your decision accordingly.

For example, if work life balance is a priority for you, it will come across in the interview. It is likely that if a company is in a hyper growth phase they may not consider WLB as an important value. In this case, you may get a rejection or you may reject the company. In either case, it is best for both sides.

4. Skills need to be strengthened

What if the position, team and level are all aligned correctly? In that case, it is best to inspect all the different skills required in the role you are applying for and evaluate which ones might need to be strengthened. Sometimes it is the technical skills. At other times it can be communication or leadership skills. There are also many soft skills that are not explicitly questioned but evaluated as part of every interview. Learn to build self awareness and identify these areas of improvements. The worst thing about interviews is the lack of feedback. But you can change that by doing mock interviews with friends, family, trusted colleagues or a professional. They will give you real feedback which will help you improve your skills.

Another way to build your skillset is to do so in your current job. If your communication skills need work, start incorporating steps to improve in your current role. If you need experience with a more complex program, see if you can get that opportunity in your current company. Real experience is worth much more than a practiced hypothetical answer.

If you are worried about how you will find the time to do all this, then you can start reading the point #5 :)

5. Time is the gift you need to give yourself

Imagine you get an email from a FAANG recruiter out of the blue. It is your dream company and dream role. You have not interviewed in a while but you are ecstatic about this opportunity. You are afraid to ask for more time to schedule interviews. And now you are scrambling to prepare. Every week I talk to individuals who reach out and tell me they need help and their interviews are in 2 weeks. This may not be enough time depending on your circumstances. I urge you to take the time to prepare and practice. If you haven’t interviewed in a while, then you need more practice to round out the rough edges. Plan out your schedule to give yourself the best chance at success. Try to work with the recruiter to schedule you out a few weeks. Most recruiters understand and will work out the best possible scenario. I understand that it can be unsettling to think about the position getting filled up, but isn’t it better than failing the interview and having to wait six months to a year in a cool-off period? And remember, there are more companies and positions out there than just the one.

Don’t interview at your dream company first

I hope some of these lessons will help you land your dream job. Let me know in the comments if you have any other suggestions or ideas for our readers.


If you are looking to up-level your interviewing game and land your dream job, We can help you. Contact Us to learn about our personalized interview coaching services.

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