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I'm a Software Engineer who interviewed for a position as a Software Product lead. The first interview went well and I was given a practical - case study to submit back within a week. I'm a person who enjoys a challenge and I did not mind a role that crosses over from Software development into Product Management.

The technical task was quite detailed in what was required, and all of the items were outside of my comfort zone or anything that I do on a day to day basis as a software engineer. It was full on Product Management stuff with things such as creating a product concept, consumer journeys, operation metrics, implementation plans and rollout approach.

Due to a busy schedule at work I was not able to get much done in the first week, so I asked for another week. 2nd week comes by and I've spent hours basically sifting the internet and reading on product management documents, I'm exhausted, burned down and the due date is tomorrow. I've practically given up and ashamed of the document I've come up with. I'm no longer motivated to pursue this opportunity and I frankly feel that I'll embarass myself if I submit what I have.

Since this is a company I'd love to work in at some point in future how do I write an apology letter cancelling the submission of the task while still keeping a good enough relationship to be taken seriously if I apply for another position in the same company in future?

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    Such complexity is unusual. Are you sure you are not being taking advantage of, and you are being setup into doing consulting for free? – Rui F Ribeiro Jul 3 '18 at 14:28
245

Just be honest.

Hi.

Many thanks for the opportunity to interview with you. Unfortunately, it's obvious from the task you've set me that I don't currently have the product management knowledge necessary for this role; I would therefore like to withdraw my application.

If you do have any roles open which would allow me to transition from a software development role to a product management one, I would be interested in those but if not, best wishes for the future and I hope we can stay in touch.

Again, thank you for your time and for extending the deadline for me,

Kev

Then go and work out if you want to be a software engineer or a product manager, and if you want to be a product manager how you're going to get the skills necessary!

16

You screwed up by agreeing to do a take home. Don't do that. Your time is valuable. You have a limited amount of it. Why should you spend a ton of time, unpaid, to perform a task to do their job (determining what applicants to speak to) for them? If they're that interested in seeing you code, they can either pay you, or do an in person interview so both of you are investing int he relationship. Anything less than that is unacceptable and is more or less them wasting your time. Don't work for companies that disrespect you like that.

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    "do an in person interview so both of you are investing int he relationship" The poster had already had an in-person interview. – Philip Kendall Jul 4 '18 at 12:22
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    This answer is extremely correct. Never do "take homes". (It makes no difference if you "want to work there".) – Fattie Jul 4 '18 at 12:30
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    You're proselytizing against take home quizzes, not answering the question. – chucksmash Jul 4 '18 at 21:53
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    This answer is regional. Where I live, take-homes are standard for jobs in IT. I doubt you would be able to get a job in IT here if you had policy of never doing them. – Liz at work Jul 5 '18 at 13:13
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    @Lizatwork I've lived in Silicon Valley, New York, Seattle, and Baltimore over my career. Have friends in all of those places. In none of them is a takehome standard. In none of them have I ever had a problem refusing and still getting the job. – Gabe Sechan Jul 5 '18 at 13:21
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I've done this! It's so easy to go down the rabbit hole.

And I think that is the lesson to learn. You have to occasionally step back, take stock, and communicate. An email ten days ago saying "Here are my early thoughts, I'm not sure I can get the rest done given my other obligations" could have gone over well, or at least saved you time.

These sorts of things often aren't set in stone, and communication is more important that how fast you can write a customer journey. I think that's the lesson to learn here.

As far as what to do in the present, Philip Kendall has a great suggestion (although I might avoid the self-deprecating language). One thing I would add though is to send a piece of what you've done and ask for some feedback. It's the least they can do after you spent all your valuable time on their assignment, also they might really like it. Don't spend more than 30 more minutes getting it ready, just explain you had to do a lot of research (maybe summarize what you learned?), were busy with other stuff, but are interesting in growing your product skills since you've been more involved in development.

5

Submit it anyway.

Part of any role is trying and presenting what you can, and for all you know, your other skills might be sufficient that they're willing to take you on and train you.

If you don't try, you can't succeed; and you can always try again later; and no recruiter worth their salt would mind someone applying a year later if you've taken steps to improve your skills.

-1

Well, I believe if you have the dedication to learn and accept challenges in life then this one is a golden opportunity to learn, explore the internet and experiment it to get a solution as per your post you have limited time. Dedication is the only thing that can make you self-motivated. Then bring the solution to the interviewer and tell how you are a problem-solving person who never gives up on things. It is completely okay after the deadline too. As you end up with a solution which is always better than a no solution.

And you can write them an honest reason

Hi XYZ,

I am here to say I am not able to complete the task as I am not able to spend enough time on the task due to workload. I will try to complete the solution as soon as possible with my best. I hope in the future I will join you happily.

  • The poster has already tried that and still made no headway. Some things just can't be learnt to a professional standard in two weeks of spare time. – Philip Kendall Jul 5 '18 at 11:14
-3
  1. Their "product challenge" sounds remarkably silly.

  2. You made a huge mistake in waiting so long to answer. When one makes a mistake, the only thing you can learn is "don't make the mistake again".

  3. Ideal response (there and then) would have been "This is a list of faux-product buzzwords. Is there anything real you want me to do?"

"how do I write a letter ..."

Dear Steve,

Sorry for the delay in reply as I was caught on a project. I've reviewed the "challenge" document you gave me. It's a list of "faux buzzwords" in the product field, so there's nothing to contribute. Cheers, Jeff

Regarding the "work" you did on chasing down the "list of product BS keywords" which someone there (who simply knew: nothing, whatsoever, about anything) typed out in a vague hope of showing that they were contributing on their side: you've utterly wasted your time on nothingness.

Count accurately the hours you spent, and write off that many hours as a learning experience.


Actual "challenges" which are set for wannabe product managers, are more specific, things like -

  • "Consider our product X (details). How would you create a spinoff to generate more income?"

  • "What would you expect lifecycle costs to be on (product scenario)?"

  • "Talk about the major competition to (some product) in (some specific field we deal in)."

And so on.

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    The OP indicated that they would like to work for this company in the future in some capacity. I think if they reply as you suggest "This is a list of faux-product buzzwords. Is there anything real you want me to do?" then the OP will guarantee that they will never get an opportunity with that company. – Itsme2003 Jul 4 '18 at 8:40
  • hi @Itsme2003 . You could be right that the way I typed it sounds a bit "smart ass". Sure, you could be more polite. But what else can you say? Anything else could be a lie. the challenge as stated is "bullshit" - there's no other way to put it. – Fattie Jul 4 '18 at 12:29
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    @Itsme2003 Product management is partly about feeding buzz words to people, as it's partially a sales role (you're selling ideas to people). Customers are also likely to be throwing buzz words at you, since purchasing teams don't always/often/occasionally know what they're doing. Knowing they're BS buzz words, and telling people they're BS buzz words are 2 different things - and telling people they're wrong will not sell ideas. – UKMonkey Jul 4 '18 at 15:44

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