Hello Aniket! This is Somyajeet from Communiqué. Congratulations on being placed at Sprinklr. I will be asking you a few questions about the selection process, so shall we start?
Hi. First of all, I would like to briefly introduce myself, as it will be better for all of the viewers to get clarity of who I am. My name is Aniket Kumar Jha and I'm a final year undergraduate student of the department of Mining Engineering, enrolled in its B.Tech course at IIT Kharagpur. I am a boarder of Lala Lajpat Rai Hall of Residence and I am a native of Bokaro, Jharkhand. I recently got a full-time placement offer from Sprinklr for the role of Associate Product Manager.
Wonderful. So let's start with the questions, Aniket. First of all, what was the general interview process for the companies you interviewed, please mention the number of rounds and the nature of the interview process.
I got shortlisted by multiple companies, I will brief you about my interview process at Sprinklr and others will have their rounds similar to these. The general interview process at Sprinklr consists of four rounds, and before that, there was an aptitude test followed by resume-based filtering. Sprinklr also conducted a case study competition for the APM role on the topic of CCaas, Customer Care as a Service and the national winners for the same would be given cash rewards and pre-placement interview offers. I became the campus winner but was not fortunate enough to be the nationwide winner.
So, my process actually began through the aptitude test consisting of logical reasoning, and quantitative and data visualization questions. The questions are having a time constraint, so a 2-month practice before appearing would be good. After this test followed by a resume-based shortlist, I got a call for an interview. Now, coming to the interview, there were 4 rounds in total.
The first three of them were product rounds, and the final one was a cultural/HR round. The first three rounds were taken by people with increasing seniority and consisted of product case studies, product-related questions, and guesstimates in general.
Okay, that’s awesome. So moving on, could you please list down some questions that you were asked in the different rounds, like puzzles and other discussions in general that you think will be helpful for the students?
Sure, the first shortlisting round was an aptitude test and this round was the same for both the PA and APM roles. Going specifically to the interview rounds, the first round was an extensive interview and started with my introduction. I was then asked about improvements to the existing Twitter product, how I can optimize the Google Drive storage, how will I make WhatsApp a super-app where people can do all end-to-end digital actions without switching to another app, improvements to the Google Sheets android application, and finally a guestimate to evaluate the number of WhatsApp messages sent in my city.
The second round was similar to the first round and I was grilled about my favorite app. I was then asked about a product design problem, to design a feature for children for cash withdrawal and deposit. It finally ended with a guestimate to evaluate the total number of traffic lights in any metropolitan city of my choice.
In the third round, I was asked to give a non-resume-specific introduction. I was then asked to think about three product portfolios that Zomato can adopt in a year to increase its annual revenue by 70%. It ended with a question about why only Product when I have better experience in other domains too.
The final round was a Cultural cum HR round where I was asked resume-specific behavioral questions, mostly PORs and campus involvements, and a bit of psychometric and client-manager-stakeholders situation problems.
That gives us a great idea of everything, I guess. So moving on, what are some of the frequently asked questions in most companies that you face and think students must definitely prepare for? More specifically in the context of HR rounds?
In general, what happens is that most of us, like the candidates appearing for placements or even internships, usually skip the interview preparation, especially the HR round, and keep it as a last-month resort. Usually, the last month will be the most hectic, as one will have a lot of elements to look at, and keeping something as important as preparing an interview round, is a total blunder. The second thing is that most candidates believe that they are better at aptitude solving, which in most cases they are, but they may lack the speed required to get shortlisted for further rounds. Both of these rounds are very common, hold a lot of significance in the selection process, and are in general highly underrated among the masses.
So apart from your specific domain or core preparation, one should start investing a part of their daily time in preparation for these two rounds. As for aptitude problems, practicing the relevant sections of the previous year’s CAT papers would be more than enough, and even if you start by the end of July, you will have a good hand over it. Also, start practicing guesstimates, quant, prob & stats, and puzzles. Preparation resources for the same are abundant, so don’t spend a lot of time choosing them. Also, don’t jump to and fro from one resource to another, approaching seniors or even your peers would be the best way to select one.
Before the preparation of the HR round, spend enough time on making your resume and then get it reviewed by seniors or maybe anyone in your network who has the same domain expertise which you’re targeting. As soon you’re done with the resume part, start preparing it. You should prepare every line of your resume. You should have at least three minutes of speech ready for each line. You can shorten that speech if needed, but you should have that much content to say if they grill you on that particular line. You should know about every number and every detail, from where it is coming, to how it will be relevant for the respective role for which you are applying. I love 5STAR. This is a technique to show the company’s HR, how our past experiences and PORs are relevant and fit their role requirements. It is similar to the star approach to describe an experience which is first with the situation or objective, then the task given, the action taken, and the final result, plus you give yourself a score on a scale of five, on the interviewer’s feedback or on how they reacted, so that you can improve the same with time.
One should structure their answers in a way that highlights their skills and achievements specific to the role. For example, if someone asked me why I am suitable for a product role, I would say that I have worked in roles that involved products before, and I am finding myself more inclined to it. Even if I only have prior software development internship experience, I would show that I have an understanding of how product development works, how the product life cycle goes on, what is the culture of start-ups and corporate, and why I enjoy working in that. I would demonstrate my openness to learn how a product role goes on. I would also show that I know the major jargons that I would encounter in my daily work life and that I can easily ace the specific role requirements.
The HR round is just a mere check of whether you will fit in the company in the respective role or not. So go through the company pages, the values, and the vision that the company or the firm has, and try to structure your statements in such a way that your value and vision align with or complement the company’s values and vision. I think if you start doing that two or three months before by doing mock interviews, you will have a good handle on the HR or the cultural interview round.
Wonderful, that covers everything I guess. So, moving on, 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?
First, candidates need to be specific about which profile or domain they’re targeting. Many candidates on our campus are flexible and are trying to land in multiple domains and profiles. For them, I would suggest practicing general problems like guesstimates, puzzles, quantitative problems, aptitude questions, and problems that can be framed around statements you mention or gonna mention on your resume.
One should use each and every second wisely. Your resume is your key, you should invest more than an ample amount of time in shaping or structuring it. Start practicing and honing each of the skills you’re mentioning there. Make sure your resume would look filled, complete, and make sense for the specific domain. If it doesn’t, you have time to make it look so. A product management or similar role internship in your resume will increase your chances of getting shortlisted, so you can start seeking them so that your resume showcases the relevant keywords. You can search those through Wellfound (AngelList), Internshala, Linkedin Jobs, The Product Folks slack channel, or reach out to alumni in various startups or firms preferably using linkedin for the availability of an internship opportunity.
Coming to the product domain in saas, try to get updated with the major trends and happenings in the market/industry. You can read newsletters or hear to podcasts. I personally follow the Economic Times, especially their Morning Brief, Lenny’s Newsletter, Finshots, Strategy Simplified, and This Week in Startups. The product domain involves the intersection of multiple fields, so if you’re a jack of all trades you will have an advantage, but you still have to be a master of few. Due to the same, it also involves lots of jargon especially technical or related to the business and financial side. I suggest candidates should start reading books along with the newsletters and podcasts I mentioned. Especially if someone is recruiting from a technical university for a product role, they expect us to be better in the technical stack, and the development cycle and hope us to understand the basic technical jargon. So even for a product role, a little bit of technical understanding is a must. Technical understanding doesn’t necessarily mean you have to code. There are plenty of options available to read, “Swipe to Unlock” is a good book to gain clarity about these buzzwords.
Also, start to understand the product buzzwords in-depth, and what sub-elements they have. You can try the Unacademy’s Relevel exam for APM to just access which area you’re unaware of and then can learn and practice the same from plenty of resources available online. Candidates should also start reading product books like “Decode and Conquer” and “Cracking PM Interviews.” These are some basic books that candidates must cover because going through these books gives clarity on how to speak in product interviews, and how case studies and RCAs are handled.
PM School also has a case study book with four e-volumes where all the winning participants’ submissions are included. I suggest going through that to have a clear understanding of what kind of solution to propose. If asked about a particular problem, candidates can surely structure a go-to solution. They may not have the best solution as that takes time to think, but they will surely have something to speak on if asked about how to improve or what to do in product-related questions. I suggest practicing at least one case study a week from now until October or November till the placements’ filtering tests start. PM School and Product Folks are good channels for practicing case studies. Other platforms like Unstop have many competitions, hackathons, and product case challenges. Candidates should pick at least two case studies a month to practice, get them reviewed by their peers and seniors, ask for their feedback, and then learn and evolve in the product line.
All right. Very well explained, Aniket. Furthermore, how did your preparation for product case rounds evolve, once you were shortlisted?
I started preparing for case rounds around mid of October, with a group of friends who were also having similar interests. I suggest that forming a group of 3–4 peers who are also preparing for product, consulting, or in general case studies would be beneficial and way better than solo preparation.
In general, case studies involve basic pre-defined strategic frameworks, and then at the top of that, you have to recreate your way of working or seeing things. We started with the basic conventional ones like pricing, market growth/entry, and profitability, etc before jumping into product case studies, RCAs, etc. Nowadays, there are plenty of case books and resources available, but one should start in an old-school way only. We started with Victor Cheng Lectures by the mid of October and then shifted to the IITB casebook and then to the SRCC Case Compendium and Bury the Hatchet till mid of November. We solved each case as an actual interview round and assessed each other. This helped us to understand the interviewer’s mindset and to tackle those from the interviewee’s perspective. We asked each other questions and provided honest feedback to improve our way of communicating, strategizing, and presenting. We discussed our strengths and weaknesses to identify areas where we needed to focus more and then worked on the same. By the time our end-semester examinations started, I adopted the product bible book for product case studies. The preparation was similar to the previous case rounds preparation. Product candidates should also look at the PM School E-Casebook consisting of the winner’s participation, distributed in 4 volumes.
However, if someone is a newbie in the product domain, it is better to start at least four to five months before the actual preparation. Since we had prior preparation, we dedicated approximately one and a half months to product case study preparation, and I think that was good enough.
Right. So these were some of the basic questions from our side, before concluding, anything else that you would want to share with the students in general?
If your placements are in the next semester, there are some key things that you should keep in mind to ensure that you start on the right foot. One of the most important things is to start working on your resume early on. I suggest dedicating 10 to 12 days exclusively to the resume. Waiting until the last minute can lead to a lot of problems, so it’s best to start early. Make sure to have every line reviewed by your friends, seniors, or industry experts to ensure that it showcases your strengths for the role you are targeting. When it comes to listing or speaking about your experience, use the STAR approach. Explain the objective of the situation, the actions you took, the tasks you were given, and the results you achieved. Connect the dots in your resume and make sure it’s structured properly. Avoid using jargon or random buzzwords; instead, keep it simple, specific, and understandable.
In addition to working on your resume, you will also have classes and midterms to prepare for. I recommend starting your strict preparation for placements months in advance, even as soon as the next semester starts. Get everything you are submitting whether it’s a resume or a case study deck, reviewed by seniors or industry experts to improve your chance of getting selected. Participate in competitions, network as much as you can, and take some time to understand your strengths and weaknesses.
Don’t wait too long to start preparing, as your tests will start in early October. Be proactive and make the most of opportunities from platforms like Linkedin and the campus chain to network and learn. Remember, networking can provide great benefits in the long run. Dig out some time for yourself, understand yourself, and what you are good at, be patient, and don’t give up and I guess that is all. Good things take time.
Thank you so much, Aniket. It was a great time for me to talk with you. I believe everyone would highly benefit from this and yeah, we wish you a happy journey ahead..
Thank you, that was a very nice initiative by Communique, I hope I will be of some help.