[Личный опыт] From Applicant to Employer: Product Advice on How to Get Interviewed in the USA

Hello! My name is Anna Naumova, now I work as a Senior Product Manager in the company Zello in Austin, Texas. At first, I myself went through 110 interviews in America, and now I sit on the other side of the table and help select engineers for the team. I want to tell you about the difficulties I faced and what to be prepared for during interviews with products in the USA.



It’s me!

I started my career in 2006 in Classmates as a marketer. Six years later, she got the role of product manager and developed the Gifts project, and a few years later she launched two mobile applications from scratch: a gift designer and an application for memes.

In general, I have never suffered from a lack of job offers. But in Russia I worked and grew for 10 years in the same company, I liked it. And although headhunters called me regularly, there was no motivation to change jobs, so I only went to interviews “to maintain my tone.” There was only one really interesting offer: a position on Booking.com with a relocation to Amsterdam. But at that moment (2014), everything was bad with my English – so I successfully flunked the interview.

Some time later, my ex-husband won the green card lottery (Diversity Visa Lottery), and we moved to the states. And since I’m a tech guy, it would be strange not to try the American IT market.

Then I joined Fasten – to a ridesharing service in Boston, and a year later, on the cryptocurrency hype, she left for the Valley and with the company Bitclave conducted a successful ICO. Now I live in Texas and develop Zello, an application that turns a mobile phone into a walkie-talkie.

How to get an offer in America? You can search for vacancies yourself on aggregators, or you can connect in the Cart @g_jobbot… After you set up the parameters – which area are you interested in, which location (“relocation”) and salary – offers will be sent to the chatbot.

Joining American companies was relatively easy at first. The first years I worked in projects with Russian founders, so there were no problems in order to “sell myself”. Many knew me, and it was easy for them to check my Russian background – experience and education.

But I decided that this was not enough: it is a pity to lose the opportunities for which I flew overseas. You can work in Russian startups in Russia as well, but get American experience only in American companies. Therefore, I wanted to try myself in purely American projects. This is where difficulties arose.

An Applicant’s Perspective: What Difficulties Happen When You Get a Job in America

Important: These difficulties will arise if you take a non-technical position: sales manager, designer, marketer. Engineers do not have such serious requirements for English or communication skills, but they need to match with the company in cultural aspects (cultural fit) and, of course, successfully pass a technical interview.

  • Tongue. No matter how good English you have, there is still a lot to learn in the states. You need to understand a lot of accents, understand phraseological units and steady turnovers, talk lively, and not like a robot from a book, take into account cultural characteristics: for example, support small talk.
  • Previous experience. Local experience is important for Americans – even if you worked in very cool projects in Russia. Because, firstly, the Russian background is difficult to verify: you can lie to anything. And secondly, this most likely means that you have not yet adapted to the cultural specifics of working in the United States – especially soft skills.

    Other principles of hiring – I will speak like a product.

  • Communication skills are essential. They will not look at how you silently performed the test task at home and brought a ready answer. Interviewers are interested in how you solve a problem “on the fly” right at the interview, how you present your thought process. They give a problem, and you have 30 minutes to solve it – out loud.
  • There are many stages of interviews. 5-6 stages are the norm and typical selection path. This is done in order to look at the candidate from different angles. Often, almost the entire team interviews, all those who will potentially work with the candidate. Therefore, everyone should like it, not just the leader.
  • The hiring process is long-term. It takes a long time – for both the employer and the job seeker – due to the tough competition and the large number of stages. So you need to be patient and expect that the device in the company will take 3-6 months. Plus – the higher the position, the longer this process takes. In addition, you need to be prepared that there will be more refusals of offers.
  • A resume is very important for employers. The bad just won’t look! The basic principles of writing a good resume: fits on one sheet, only achievements are described – not processes, and no personal data such as age, hobbies and photography.
  • All interview questions are known – unlike Russia. I have a mixed opinion on this. It’s good that you know what to expect: you can prepare. It’s bad that everyone knows these questions. Therefore, when choosing a candidate, the decisive factor is not how smart, experienced or talented he is, but how well he presented his knowledge.
  • Pitch. Pitch is a short story about yourself for 1 minute, it should bounce off the teeth.
  • Employers don’t give feedback. It is very difficult to understand what exactly they didn’t like about you, because of this, the process of getting an offer slows down.


This is what Zello looks like: register and tune to the channel frequency

How did I prepare?

I decided to apply my skills as a product manager, built a funnel: resume → pitch to recruiter → interview 1 → interview 2, and so on, and improved the conversion experimentally. At the initial stage, when I first arrived in America, it was something like this. Out of 100 resumes sent, one recruiter called me back. That is, the conversion was very low, conventionally – 1%.

It’s easier to understand what’s wrong with your resume: you edit, update and watch how many responses come.

The interview is more difficult. First, there were fewer of them in general, which means there was less initial data for analysis. And secondly, as I mentioned, almost no one gives feedback. Therefore, it is not clear what exactly should be improved. It was necessary to catch patterns: what questions are asked, in what situations, and with what, it seems to me, I do not cope very successfully.

Here mock-interviews helped me a lot – these are practice interviews with friends or other product managers like you. You interview each other and give honest feedback on how it went. This is a useful experience both when you answer questions, and when, on the contrary, you ask: you notice the mistakes of others, you try to correct them in yourself. I have had about 50 such interviews. Someone takes coaches – I did not take it, I had no money.

I still go to training interviews. I use it myself Stellarpeersbut there is still Pramp and Exponent

Now I have raised the conversion rate from the resumes sent to the recruiter’s call by about 30%. My last interviewing experience was 1.5 years ago: for 50 companies with which I moved to the interview stage with a recruiter – 1 offer. There is something to strive for, but everything is not as bad as when I just moved.

I plan to continue practicing interviewing. I heard that it is a common practice to constantly interview or go through a mock-interview. It will be useful both to “be in good shape” and to understand the market requirements.

Plus, as I said, the hiring process in the states takes several months. And it’s better to have offers on hand and reject them than to suddenly lose your job, be mentally unprepared for an interview and run out of money. Therefore, if you want to change jobs, at least I advise you to prepare in advance and look closely so as not to miss your chance when the time comes.


Our Zello team

An employer’s perspective: what questions are asked in interviews and what they want to know

Now I already have the experience of interviewing both people from Russia and the United States. I noticed that Russian guys speak badly about their achievements. They tend to be shy, even if there are a lot of good completed projects behind them. I think this is due to cultural characteristics: from childhood we were taught not to show off. In America, the problem is the opposite: everyone knows how to present themselves and praise. But if you dig deeper, then often they cannot answer anything sensible.

In my opinion, both extremes are bad. But the American market works like this: it’s much easier to test inexperience simply by asking specific questions. But if a person does not know how to confidently speak about his achievements, it is not my task as an employer to “dig out” his potential. Because a product, for example, must be able to sell his product, and his main product is himself as a professional.

The standard American image of an interviewer is as follows: you need to be as friendly and polite as possible, not show your point of view, but at the same time ask the right questions to test the candidate’s competence.

I interviewed engineers only for compatibility with the team – cultural fit. I don’t have the skills to conduct technical interviews, so I never did. If the engineer passed it, I already believe that the candidate is technically good. But to achieve results, you also need a comfortable work environment.

What Product Managers Typically Ask Engineers:

  • Why do you want to work for our company? A very popular question everywhere and always. Here you need to show your knowledge about the company: its mission, technology stack, innovations, users for whom the product is made, the proximity of the company’s culture, etc. If a developer goes to work on this project not only for the sake of money, most likely he will not run away at the first difficulty or when a counter-offer comes.
  • Tell us about the process of working with a product. The answer to this question will show how much the developer’s vision of the process coincides with us, and whether he takes the initiative.
  • Describe your ideal product manager. This is about the expectations of the candidate and about how I meet these expectations.
  • Tell us about a project you are proud of. Thus, we find out what is important for the developer to get in the end.
  • What would you like to know about me or the company? The classic of all interviews.

5 tips for engineers: what to ask in a job interview

Of course, candidates are not passive characters. All parameters must match both on the part of the applicant and on the part of the project. Therefore, it is at this stage of selection that you can assess the atmosphere in the team: how comfortable it will be for you to work together. I suggest asking the product manager a few questions.

Find out:

  1. How a product sets tasks. There are those who like to give freedom to developers, and the tasks are set at a fairly high level. This suits tight-knit teams with strong developers who have deep product knowledge and need a certain level of freedom. On the contrary, there are those who like to go into details a lot. This works well where developers are not tied to a specific feature, and where there are a lot of junes.
  2. In what form the tasks come. User / job stories, PRD (product requirements), sketches, prototypes, and so on.
  3. How he resolves conflicts within the team.
  4. How the product prioritizes tasks. Because no one wants to be overwhelmed by a product that wants to do everything at once tomorrow.
  5. What he sees as the ideal team in which he wants to work. Compare with what you have now.

In general, choose the place that you like!

What will happen after the interview

Ideally, the candidate should leave the interview in a good mood. In America, large companies like Facebook or Google send a reverse form where you can rate the interviewer. There are services like Glassdoor, Indeed, Comparably: This is where candidates share their opinion about the employer. You cannot allow the offended applicant to go, write nasty things and downgrade the rating of the company. Not only do companies choose people, but people also choose companies to work for.

Long and painstaking – and this is only the first stage when hiring in America. There are still many subtleties in communication between a company and a potential employee. I can tell you about the process of getting offers and how to bargain. Or about refusals: how to work with them and how to refuse yourself. I can tell you more about resumes, what questions are asked to products and how they are hired on Facebook or Google. Would you be interested? Write in the comments.

In the Cart, you can configure the g-mate bot (@g_jobbot) – you will receive vacancies on your profile directly in the chat. And companies can publish the first 3 vacancies for free – here here

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