Product managers are a relatively new position at companies big and small. In order to summarize the very high expectations that come with the role, job descriptions often describe someone with “big vision and the ability to make it a reality.” So how do you determine if someone can see big and work small at the same time?
Just like when companies search for any leadership role, hiring managers must scan for unique accomplishments and personality traits when reviewing the resumes of product managers.
There are thousands of product manager applicants out there and precious little time to make the perfect hiring decision. Unfortunately, amazing candidates are passed over and companies settle for someone who is just good enough.
Not too long ago, I asked product managers to rank the traits that they think are critical for success. After reading the answers, I started to ponder: What are the key traits that give companies the biggest bang for the buck when hiring a product manager?
Here are seven reference points when reviewing resumes and interviewing — used together, these tips will help you to hire an excellent product manager:
Start here. This is a critical trait that you want to see in your prospective product manager because you need your leaders to embrace and clearly communicate product vision. While it may be unlikely to stumble upon the next Steve Jobs by skimming resumes, a product manager without vision is simply not a strategic product manager.
Product managers rarely have a team of direct reports. Instead, they work closely with other teams, customers, and internal or external resources. That means that by definition successful managers must possess the ability to lead by example. Dig into how they inspire others to rally behind a common goal and vision — and how they say “no” to ideas that don’t line up.
Many product managers talk about how data is critical in helping to prioritize what to build next. But there’s a big difference between what people preach and what they actually do. An analytical mind and the use of data is critical to the overall success of a project. Ask questions about how they measure business goals, use data to make decisions, and what data they wish they had to analyze.
Great product managers feel the pain of their customers — and the relief when roadblocks are removed and the product works. There’s a difference between a person who thinks of a product as a source of income (a job) and a product manager that thinks of a product as precious (a calling). Drill into their motivation and find out how they empathize with customers.
There are many elements of a product manager’s job that are simply not that glamorous. Their job is to find compromises, communicate divergent points of view, and often share bad news. Great product managers rarely ever win popularity contests. And because of that, communication skills are critical to the effectiveness of a product manager. A good candidate should be able to articulate examples of how they have communicated in good and difficult times.
Priorities often shift from one sprint to another. With hundreds of feature requests coming in every month, a good product manager establishes, follows, and enforces processes that optimize product development. Yet great product managers learn how to change or tweak those processes based on the team’s needs. Request that candidates share an experience where they had to pivot to accommodate team dynamics.
Expert product managers should know the best practices for other disciplines, and have a point of view on the product experience that is being created. In addition, product managers who have a knack for writing and visual interactions can be an incredible asset to the overall program — because they can understand the big picture and ensure a consistent user experience across the product. Don’t be shy about asking what contributions candidates have made in these areas.
As you’re interviewing candidates, focus on what they accomplished at their previous job, what was their strategy, and specifically how they got work done.
Then dig into these seven areas to see how your applicant stacks up. You will be able to paint a full picture of their work style and capabilities — and hopefully find the expert product managers tucked away in that resume pile.
What skills do you think are essential when hiring a product manager?
This is a guest post by Codrin Arsene. If you are looking to be a great product manager or owner, create brilliant strategy, and build visual product roadmaps — start a free trial of Aha!
About the author
This post was written by Codrin Arsene, a technology writer and a senior product manager. He is a content writer with Y Media Labs, where he writes about mobile app strategy, analytics, marketing, and online business development.