When you’re looking to land your first job in Product Management, or when you’re looking to hire a PM for the first time, there’s plenty of guidance out there on what companies value most.
Whether you get hired as a Product Manager, and whether you actually survive in that role are two different things. The first is dependent on what the company is looking for based on their job description. And the latter depends on what the team is looking for.
The Product Manager skill set is pretty well known by now, but sometimes the hiring manager just has a list of buzzwords to go by. There’s sometimes a bit of a disconnect between what the people up top are looking for, and what the people who are doing the ground work want in the person they’ll be working with every day.
So here, we’re going to take a closer look at what hiring managers say they want, and the subtle difference in what the rest of the team wants.
You might also be interested in: The Skills Product Managers Need in 2021
What Companies Are Looking For from Product Managers
When hiring Product Managers, companies are specifically looking for a few things:
- Technical background…but it’s not what you think! It’s a common misconception that to be a Product Manager you need to have been an engineer, or have a CS degree. Not so. But it’s true that some companies, depending on the products they’re building, may be looking for more technical PMs. (Check out What Teams Are Looking For to find out why it’s not what you think! 👇)
- Strong interpersonal skills. It’s a cool buzzword, but what does it mean to companies? It means knowing how to write a polite email, how to not be rude, and how to generally not be awful to be around.
- “Full stack.” A full stack Product Manager is very different to a full stack engineer, and the two should not be confused. PMs sit at the intersection of business, tech, and design. A full stack Product Manager is someone who has a good handle on all of these, and can manage a product from conception to launch and beyond.
- Data literate. Companies need their product teams to own the data they use. Hiring managers will be looking for someone who is adept at using data management platforms, and who can turn information into insights.
What Teams Are Looking For
Now we know what companies are looking for, let’s take a closer look at each point and see what the teams you’d be working with actually care about:
- Willingness to learn. When we ask product leaders what they’re looking for in their new hires, only a very small portion of them state a technical background/understanding as a priority, and those are usually the ones working in the AI/ML spaces. What’s more important is the willingness to learn. Each product uses tech that is specific to that product, and you’ll pick it up on the job. In terms of tech knowledge, your average coworker will just need you to be able to turn on your laptop!
- No jerks! When you’re spending at least 8 hours a day working with someone, maybe even sitting next to them, you’d hope that they’re at least a nice person. So while it’s great if they can do things like answer emails quickly and ask the right questions in meetings, if you can’t get along with them…it’s going to be a bad time. Ideally, they want someone they can respect and have fun with.
- Flexibility. It’s great to have someone who knows a little bit about everything, and it’s certainly useful in lean teams. But what’s the point of having someone who knows how to do something that falls outside of their role, if their attitude is “that’s not my job, I’m not doing that.” It’s more important to have someone with a can-do attitude than someone who can do…but won’t.
- Data-driven. It’s all very well being able to understand and manage data, but teams want someone who is driven by it. Product Managers need to be able to influence without authority, and having the data to back up their ideas is a huge part of that. Telling teams that you think Feature A is better than Feature B ‘just because you think so’ isn’t a popular move. Teams like someone who bases their choices on fact.
Culture Fit – How Important Is It?
We could go around and around talking about the specifics of what each product team at each company is looking for, but really it all boils down to one thing: culture fit.
Does culture fit absolutely make or break your success as a Product Manager? Well, like most things in the product world…it depends.
It matters slightly less in larger companies. Imagine if everyone at Google, that’s 140,000 people, were all exactly the same. So naturally the scope of what makes a Googler is quite broad. Smaller companies and startups may be a little bit more niche.
Basically, you’re more likely to find people just like you when there’s 500 of you in the office compared to when you join a team of 20.
Luckily, if you’ve found yourself drawn to a company and their mission, you’ve got at least one source of common ground with your prospective teammates.
At the end of the day, culture fit is important. But it’s not something that’s there to work against you, it’s as much for you as it is the company. There’s no joy in working somewhere you feel you don’t belong. You don’t have to be everyone’s best friend, but you need to feel like a team in order to operate as one.
You might also be interested in: How to Upgrade Your Emotional Intelligence by LinkedIn Product Manager
How To Show You’re a Culture Fit in an Interview
Culture fit is subjective, which means it can be hard to demonstrate in product management interviews.
At some point in the interview process, you’ll probably be asked to meet the team, with the express purpose of seeing how well you’d fit in. If you find it hard to make conversation with your potential future teammates, then having to make conversation with them every single day isn’t going to be easy either.
You might be thinking, “where does this leave introverts?” Being a good culture fit isn’t about being extroverted and the life of the party, if that’s not your style. Introverts can also thrive in the product world, and introverted traits can often result in great leadership.
Culture fit is so much more about what’s in your head that what comes out of your mouth. You don’t have to fit a specific mold, or have a degree from only the “best” university, or be up for beers every Friday after work. When it comes to fitting in with the team, it’s more important to have the same vision and the same drive than it is to have the same personality.
Getting ready for a Product Manager interview? Check out these great resources:
- The Ultimate List of Product Manager Interview Questions
- 20 Key Questions to Ask in A Product Management Interview
- Getting a Product Manager Interview: The Checklist
Product Managers Answer: What Do You Really Like In Teammates?
We asked our community on Facebook, ‘forget the buzzwords, what do you really look for in teammates?’
“Being receptive to feedback is a must!”
“Communication for different audiences/situations (and ability to communicate roadblocks)”
“Any hiring manager too strict on their rubrik will miss out on amazing talent.”
Join in the fun by joining our community. For more insights and to connect with the coolest product people around, sign yourself up for Product School Pro.