Finding Your Next Product Manager

An insider’s perspective

So you’re looking for a new Product Manager, lucky you. You probably already know that unlike other positions, PM is a very sensitive role. It interacts with many stakeholders such as marketing, r&d, management, support and more. It mobilizes entire teams and has strategic impact which can make or break your business. Scared? You should be!

Hiring the right PM is one of the biggest challenges a company faces, and one that at times is very hard to measure, until it is too late. So here are a few tips on how to make a better decision.

Tip #1: Question Yourself

Why are you looking for a PM? Is it to share the load? or maybe looking for someone to take lead on a new initiative? This question should hover over your head all the time to keep you in focus and hire the right person for that job. You might come across an amazing PM who can take ownership and deliver big time, but if you hire that person just to share the load, that PM will start looking for new opportunities faster than you can say Road Map.

Tip #2: It’s A Team Effort

Starting with your wanted ad, don’t go solo. Put it on a shared doc and have your team review it. Everyone should feel part of the search and contribute what’s important for them. You have the final say but you should listen to others that PM will have an effect on. From developers to sales, they should not only feel part of the process but also have some say over what you’re looking for. It can also lead to referrals as word will travel and candidates will start knocking.

Tip #3: Sell It

That PM job you’re offering is a proposition. If you want the best person for the job, make it appealing. Don’t oversell it or be untruthful, just make sure it sounds challenging yet specific as to what you are looking for (see tip #1). Have a look at these factors people look for in a job and make sure some are part of your offering.

Tip #4: Time Is Of The Essence

Be respectful to candidate’s time and yours. Don’t invite someone who is clearly not relevant, or even slightly, no matter how desperate you are. Hiring the wrong person will cost you more than not having one. That being said, allocate enough time for the pursue, it’s an initiative on its own — one that deserves your full attention. Don’t have the time? Allocate, delegate or outsource.

Tip #5: Validate

Found someone good? it’s not over yet. Talk to their colleagues, managers and/or employees. Make sure you validate your assumptions reagarding that person. Specifically ask how the candidate may fit into your organization given the goals you’ve set (see tip #1). You should also have others from your organization interview that candidate, ask for their impression without sharing your own (remove any bias).

Tip #6: Interview, Don’t Sell

Too many interviewers spend too much time talking about themselves and the company. While it is important to provide information about the position, it is more important for you to understand who is in front of you. Give them the brief and reserve some time at the end for them to question you about the position and the company. If they don’t have questions, it’s a problem.

Tip #7: Ask Well

Not every question is relevant and can lead you to the right decision, but off-topic questions may give you some insights. It’s not just about the skills and experience of the candidate, but also how likely they are to be accepted and integrate with the rest of the team. Your team has a thing going on (even if you’re not part of it), make sure the candidate has what it takes to fit in or they will churn soon enough.

Tip #8: Put It To The Test

I know home assignments are a conversational subject but since the PM is such a sensitive role, reducing the risk is critical. The “Home” part of the assignment can lead to a skewed view of the candidate. One candidate got help from a friend and the other could not allocate the time needed. While you may feel the first candidate is far better, in reality the case may just be the opposite. Still, assignments are a great way to reduce the risk, as long as you keep things in perspective. Since these assignments require a lot of resources from the candidate, I suggest you use it as a photo finish and not as a raw filter.

Tip #9: It’s Never Over

You may think once you signed the contract with your preferred candidate that the hunt is over but unless you do retention, you may find that candidate churns, leave or under-deliver. There is a need for some “customer success” program. Assign this task to someone from your team (or yourself), even offer them a bonus or something (to motivate them to do well). That someone should help your new PM assimilate and become an integral part of the team. If possible (and relevant) find someone to mentor your new PM (outsource if needed) because any support you give them will increase your chances for success.

As long as you keep in mind the major impact (good or bad) your decision will have, you should be OK, but you can also do great.

A Product Manager, Biz Dev Director and Mentor, working with early stage startups, helping them to focus and scale.

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