How to Hire the Right Product Manager for Your Company

Locating the right Product Manager for your business can be a tough task. Check out this ultimate guide to know how to write your job posting, design the perfect interview and more.

Product Managers are responsible for some of the most exciting innovations in tech. Rather than working in silos, they can see across the whole operation, quickly identifying pain points and growth opportunities.

Top companies like Google are betting on their future leaders to be former product managers. Some PMs have already joined C-suite teams, either through CPO positions or straight to CEO. It might not be true for commodity-based businesses, but many digital services companies need executives who understand both the selling and marketing components plus the technologies and frameworks involved in making the product you want to sell.

Without harnessing the added value of PM teams, you could be losing out. This guide is meant for you to attract and hire the best product managers in the arena. But first, answer the following question. Can your organization benefit from having a PM on board?

Do you need a Product Manager?

For some, this question is as absurd as wondering whether you need a brain. But let’s briefly discuss how a tech team today can benefit from a product manager:

Tech is not a sector anymore, it’s the whole economy. Sure, the dreams of building a multi-million dollar company in your garage are still there. However, this is getting harder and harder as the digital becomes the usual. In the next decade, countless commonplace objects from toasters to turbines will be connected to the Internet of Things.

Thus, products will increasingly embrace several sectors at once, adapting and evolving as users need change and opportunities emerge. PMs’ keen eye for identifying these transformations, along with their special connection to users, will make them vital components of any long-term product strategy.

You want to grow, right? Sure, at the beginning you could do with a couple of teams working in development and marketing. However, as problems keep piling up, any mid-sized startup suffers dying of its own success. This is because you need more specialization: salespeople can no longer moonlight as marketers; by the same token, the user experience team cannot engage with engineers as often. You need a Product Manager well-versed in all disciplines to take your startup to the next level and avoid the hiccups of quick, sudden growth.

Avoid burnout. This is something more common to small companies, but it also happens in larger ones. Agile methodologies demand that your teams become more adaptable to change. Retraining is fairly common, as well as horizontal staff moves: from department to department, rather than vertically within the same structure.

However, in connection with the former point, after you reach a certain size the accumulation of responsibilities can generate problems for some professionals. Certain departments will lie at strategic project choke points and will be forced to work above and beyond their capabilities. Simply having a product manager in your team can anticipate these pitfalls by a smooth coordination of functions and deadlines.

Anticipate the future. Is there a figure better suited for long-term growth than a Product Manager? Awareness of technical capabilities, user knowledge, and market expertise makes it a unique position. An ideal product manager will be out there, feeling and shaping the conversation, making connections, advancing alliances and learning from top products. Your designers will be too busy with demands, your engineers will be catching up with the latest tools… Let PMs shine at what they do best: envisioning roadmaps for the next digital futures.

Know your users… and what makes them tick! User Experience and User Interface teams are focused on making your app as simple and functional as a toothbrush. But ways of thinking can become institutionalized. It takes a brave product manager to break preconceptions and explore whether a seemingly improbable solution might be just what your users LOVE.

It’s not just about serving customers what they like: it’s about suggesting them something they never even conceived. Like Growth Hackers breaking the Marketing rulebook, Product Managers will come up with unexpected features never before seen in the market. Their awareness of the top products and stakeholders in tech makes them unique visionaries.

Attract Product Managers to your organization

Product Managers can bring a lot to any organization, and boost your development to your next level. It used to be difficult to find experienced product managers. Now, with the emergence of specialized courses, more and more professionals are becoming qualified.

The question is: What specific profile of PM do you need? How do you get them knocking on the door? Check out this key advice and make sure that your new hires are an asset to your team.

How to create the right job posting for Product Managers

Let’s forget for a second that there are no differences between companies.

In general, Product Managers cannot be said to share a common profile. They can have any background, from software engineering to design or project management. However, they are all signing up to a singular vision: becoming a professional capable of filling the gaps at any organization. This puts them in a position of authority, sure; but they know they are not CEOs. So any vacancy you design with a PM in mind needs to take this contradiction into account.

Let’s read an example:

Company X is looking for a Product Manager to lead its digital services division. The Product Manager will be in charge of developing a new line of products in a growing market, and will ideally have technical expertise as well as market experience in sector Y.

This position is meant for a person who has a track record of working across teams, possibly with management experience. They should be aware of agile methodologies and the Z set of technical tools. Design and user experience chops are a plus, particularly if accompanied with a portfolio of successful projects in sector Y.

The person in the job will liaise with the executive team and with external stakeholders, so evidence of strong communication skills as well as knowledge of the industry are fundamental.

This could be a standard offer for a position within any sector. It hits all requirements while leaving space for specific details connected with the industry and seniority (academic background, experience, etc.).

When personalizing the job posting, make sure to answer the following questions to a prospective PM:

  1. What is my relationship with the company? Sounds obvious, but it isn’t. Some PMs are brought in as short-term consultants. Others are supposed to build a product from the ground up; while many are simply joining existing operations. Within this mix, hires can be contractors, temporary, permanent, intermittent…
    Make sure that you define clearly whether this PM will join you at the heart of operations, or if they will have a more ‘external’ relationship with your company
    . People at different stages in their careers will value these chances differently: it’s common for Senior PMs to act as consultants, while aspiring product people might prefer a stronger commitment to your organization.
  2. What is your key goal with this vacancy? In relation to the above, it is very useful when you define your expectations from the get-go. Is the PM supposed to contribute with a new direction to failing products, assessing the success of novel strategies, or rather building products from the ground up…It’s up to you to define your needs, which will help to filter through candidates who are applying to just about any job opening. PMs are some of the most mission-oriented professionals in your team, as they safeguard the product vision from distractions and challenges. Unlike other, more ‘siloed’, professionals, the PM has both the privilege and the responsibility of keeping the dream alive.
  3. What is my relationship with other teams and the executive team? OK, this might be a bit tricky. It is often said that Product Managers are ‘CEOs of the Product’. However, they are not CEOs! So while they need to have a proactive attitude when dealing with teams horizontally, they are still vertically answerable to the C-suite.It’s not like you need to write this down (it’s obvious!) but it might be useful to list specifically the teams that are the relevant stakeholders for the new hire. Will it be the UX and UI people? Or perhaps the Marketing team? Let them know! If you follow this guide, you will hopefully not have to remind them of the organizational chart if you ever have a conflict with the PM team!
  4. What sort of technical expertise are you valuing more? Technical Product Management (TPM) is all the rage, and employers are valuing more and more those PMs who can “speak engineer”. However, what is it that you are looking for? It’s not the same to have a PM who can program than to have one who can read complex analytics.You must state in your advert which tools are vital for your organization, which are secondary and what aspects of your current operations are seeking to transform. That will help prospective candidates to understand if you would rather rely more on automation experts or prefer somebody who can confidently work their way through a customer management tool.
  5. What sort of market expertise are you valuing more? Product Managers are evidently business people. But they need a certain guidance. Depending on their background, it’s possible that you could attract a top salesman. Or a top email marketer. It’s also possible that you attract former engineers with neither of these experiences: this won’t help you if you need staff with market acumen!Thus, as with technical tools, you can discard misaligned applicants by simply stating the level of awareness with certain aspects of the industry. Will your PMs need to develop a public profile, take part in conferences and participate in developing your brand? Then state it!

As it happens with day-to-day management, the more transparent and explicit you are with requirements, the better candidates will be attracted to your offer. You should not seek to have thousands of applicants; you just need a handful of good (i.e. suitable) PMs to be successful.

Questions to ask in a Product Manager interview

If you wrote a relevant job posting, you should get relevant candidates. Now, to filter through the participants, you need an adequate set of questions. Usual conventions apply: you should ensure that you are crosschecking the resume and the cover letter, along with the portfolio (if you have requested one).
That said, make sure that you get solid answers to the following questions on product management. They test role awareness and are very useful to find out whether an aspiring PM has successfully adjusted to the new demands of the role:
  1. What aspects of product management do you find the most exciting?
  2. What aspects of product management do you find the least interesting?
  3. How would you explain Product Management to a 5 year old?
  4. How do you think product managers interact with engineers?
  5. Tell me about your role on your team, who else you work with, and how you work with them.
  6. What do you think a day to day would be like for a product manager?
  7. Tell me about a time when you had to build or motivate a team.

The following product questions flesh out whether the candidate is ready for the practicalities of the job:

  1. How do you decide what to build?
  2. How do you decide what not to build?
  3. What is the key to a good user interface?
  4. What is a product you currently use everyday, why and how would you improve it?
  5. How do you know if a product is well designed?
  6. How would you redesign our ______ product?
  7. What is one improvement you would implement to our _______ product in the next 6 months?
  8. Who are our competitors?
  9. What is a major challenge our company could face in the next 12-24 months?
  10. How would you describe our product to someone?
  11. Suggest a new feature for Amazon. What metrics would you use measure it’s success?
  12. What metrics do you think would be important for us to track?
  13. What has made _____ product successful? (might be the company’s product or another popular mainstream product).
  14. What do you dislike about our ______ product?
  15. How do you know when to cut corners to get a product out the door?
  16. How many iPads are sold in the U.S. every year?
  17. How would you prioritize features?
  18. How do you think we came up with the price for _____ product?
  19. Tell me about a company that has great customer service, what they do and why do they do it well?
  20. How many windows are in New York City?
  21. How many people are currently online in Europe?

There are many more questions that are suitable for a PM interview. Check out the full list here!

Learning from the process: the future of Product Management

As described above, the evolution of tech seems to favor professionals with a keen eye for tools, techniques and market knowledge. Possibly, the gradual deployment of the Internet of Things will demand even greater expertise in the art of physical products and their interactions with digital services. Equally, the consolidation of key B2C platforms will certainly make it a crowded arena: B2B experience will become more useful.

All in all, if you can rely on a solid Product Manager from an early stage, your team should be able to anticipate changes like these. It is not the same to have discrete teams working at different moments in the development funnel; a dynamic product leader can completely revolutionize the way you work. You could be able to reach targets in a shorter amount of time; maybe, you will find unexpected avenues for growth.

Make sure to follow this guide so matchmaking with your ideal PM is not a hassle. It is very important to be as descriptive as possible with your needs, the kind of relationship you want to establish and your expectations. The interview question should serve as guidance: design your own!

Best of luck. The perfect Product Manager is waiting to hear from you.

What was your PM hiring experience like? Let us know in the comments!


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