Good vs. great interview answers

It's similar to building new products!

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Let’s say you’re building a product for high schoolers. You’re not sure if you’re on the right track. Do you:

  • Make a list of high schoolers you know (aka your cousins) and call them

  • Launch ads on Instagram and TikTok targeting high schoolers

  • Build a referral program

Option 1 means you get feedback by the end of the day. Option 2 requires ad creative and a functioning product, which will take another 4 weeks. Option 3 is useless without a strong base of customers who already love the product.

Option 1 looks promising, but what if you can go even faster?

Take a shortcut

You’re 5 minutes away from the local mall where high schoolers like to hang out. You decide to set up shop and offer them a burrito in exchange for feedback on your app.

You net 20 real customers in 5 hours! On day 2, you move even closer to the source, right outside a high school. You happen to catch the attention of a teacher who invites you to guest-teach her entrepreneurship class. Jackpot!

This happened in real life to Shaan Puri. It’s a great example of how to make progress faster by compressing 1-month work into 1-day or 1-hour. This skill is priceless when building new products, but it’s also surprisingly useful in interviews. 

Before I go there, let me give you another example.

Turn 1 month into 3 days

I’ve been exploring new business ideas. For early customer interviews, I wanted to end off with a prototype. But a real prototype would need a working Python script — a 3-day project.

To save time, I went with a partial prototype — just a few hours of manual work, instead of an automated system.

Armed with feedback, I was ready to make a real prototype. The old me would’ve dived into a Python course. The new me favors just-in-time learning, so I found scripts to adapt instead of composing from scratch.

This turned a 1-month project into a 3-day project. After all, I didn’t need a scalable prototype yet.

By shortening the time required for each step, you can de-risk your ideas faster. Momentum drives more momentum. This same mindset can level you up in interviews, as a hiring manager or candidate.

Good vs. great interview answer

The point of an interview question is to gauge whether you, the candidate, can solve problems you’re likely to encounter on the job.

The catch? Time is precious, so you only have a few shots. Just like building a new product, you start from zero and need to gain momentum fast.

A bad answer is obvious: spew of words that dance around the question. A good vs. great answer is more nuanced: they both address the heart of the question, but a great answer inspires confidence that you can crush the job

How do you do that? By walking through the sequence you would take to solve a problem.

A sequence shows that you have a proven system vs. throwing random darts. Here’s an example:

  • Q: Substack comments are down 25%! What do you do to investigate?

  • Good answer: When did this happen? Has it happened before? Is there a bug? If not, let’s map out the steps to making a comment, and figure out what changed

  • Great answer: There are 5 factors I would consider. I’ll lay them out, then we can dive into each one. First, importance: does this metric even matter? If it is important, over what time frame did it change? Given the time frame, is the change normal? If it’s abnormal, let’s break down the equation: what are all the levers that go into this metric? Finally, what specific levers changed?

Structuring and ranking steps tend to win you points. Not only are they easier to follow, but they show focus. This is especially important in roles (e.g., PM) where lack of focus sends teams into disarray. You’ll also notice a great answer has no use for buzz words, it cuts straight to the chase.

In short, interviews are about turning abstract questions into concrete answers quickly. The most impressive answers walk through how to tackle a problem step by step… the same muscle that helps you de-risk and learn fast. Bonus points for shortcuts.

This applies even to leadership roles. A common belief is that the job becomes about strategy, not execution. While this is directionally true, the best leaders have full spectrum mentality: they can flex between the big picture and the pixels.

Recap

  • When building something new, turn months of work into mere hours through shortcuts (e.g., meet customers directly where they hang out, make narrowly focused prototype)

  • When interviewing, walk through your sequence for solving a question to show you have a proven system, not just blind guesses

  • As an interviewer, look for hard-to-fake signals: details, focus, eye for shortcuts

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Thanks for reading,

-Linda