Hiring the Right Product Person for Your Team
18 August, 2020
Hiring the right product person is never easy. Hiring the wrong product person and dealing with all the ramifications is even harder. Putting the process in place that will help you identify your needs as a company and enable you to hire a product person who will take your product to the next level is one of the most difficult challenges faced by product leaders.
First and foremost I would clearly identify what are the company’s needs and how many product people and with what specific competencies would be able to address those needs. However, it wouldn’t be sufficient if I would just state that I need two more PMs; there are many types of PMs -- business- or design-driven PMs or those with an engineering- or marketing-background. For example, right now I’m hiring for a PM role and we are currently struggling with scaling up of discovery activities as an international company operating across much of Europe. At the moment we don’t have any German-speaking PM on the team and whenever we need some help with the German market we rely on people from other teams which effectively slows us down. This is something particular for the European market that is defined not only by its linguistic diversity but the diversity of cultures that shapes customer experience.
Also, I would try to avoid duplicating people with similar competencies early on. If I would already have a PM with an engineering background, I would rather add someone with a marketing background who could introduce a new perspective and ideas.
Personally, I find hard and soft skills equally important. Hard skills should be in correlation to what I would be trying to achieve in terms of product development and mission/vision of the company. One of the most common mistakes would be to copy/paste the key qualities of an accomplished product manager from a Medium article to a job description. Companies have different needs -- that furthermore differ from project to project -- and generalizations and easy solutions won’t do you any good. When I decide on the right soft skills for a new PM, I refer to the core company values and try to detect if those values -- and not those of my personal liking -- are shared by a candidate.
I would prepare a checklist for every single role and have it in place before the interview. I would avoid jumping into the interview, following gut feeling, and seeing how it would go. My list usually contains five to six hard skills and as many soft skills, along with explanations why they are important, and how to measure them. Being prepared is not a synonym to approach an interview as on an assembly line, but to have a solid foundation that you can adjust to every particular individual. I try to be variable and add a grain of unpredictability to every conversation, but still, be always guided by the goals I am trying to achieve.
The best approach to test a candidate would be by using a case study another PM is working on or some other project in progress. Some hiring managers would use a model case studies, usually used by large companies that could differ greatly from what your company needs. For example, I saw an Airbnb case study being used at interviews as a test by companies that have nothing in common with Airbnb.
In the end, I would have a potential hire understand how we are operating as a team. I would introduce them to five people with whom they would work the most and have them meet and chat at formal and/or informal events. Our company hosts BBQ events where new hires could show up, meet other people, and talk to them. Though you may know that the candidate is the right fit for you, and the candidate feels the same about the company, allowing them to interact with people they would interact on a daily basis, would help you assess how a new hire would fit in a broader company context.
- Hard skills can be learned and/or improved at a much faster rate than soft skills. Therefore, assessing a candidate's soft skills during an interview is far more important than learning about their hard skills.
- Come prepared for the interview. Going with the flow or following gut feeling will most likely result in an unstructured chat or in the best-case scenario you’ll end up with five generic questions that won’t help you figure out if the person is the right fit.
- While an interview checklist is the most useful guide, it is after all just a checklist and the decision whether the person would make the right fit once you check all the items on your list is on you.
- Take into consideration other people’s perspectives, especially if other people in your company had an opportunity to work with a potential hire in the past.
- Explaining company culture is crucial. We sometimes assume that a candidate would like to work with the company since they applied for a job, but they often lack a more thorough understanding of company culture. I always have a frank conversation about company mission and vision which is often a critical argument to attract great talent who are not motivated by financial compensation. For most people finding a purpose has little to do with money, but with the impact and contribution, they as individuals can make.
Sameer Kalwani, Director of Product Management at Amazon Lab126, explains how to grow a team in the early startup phase by adding a few more product managers.
Director Product Management at Amazon Lab126
Prabha Matta, Senior Product Manager at SquareTrade, talks about her personal experience of looking for a PM job during the Covid-19 pandemics and how the changed circumstances affected her job search and interviewing process.
Senior Product Manager at Square Trade
Caroline Parnell, previously managed product teams at O2 and Vodafone, taps into her own experience of setting the first product innovation team and managing the process through a well-structured pipeline while collecting ideas coming from across the company.
Most recently Head of New Product Innovation at Previously O2 and Vodafone
Himanshu Gahlot, Director of Engineering at Lambda School, explains how he improved the hiring process at his new company by applying the knowledge he acquired working on different teams with different hiring processes in place.
Director of Engineering at Lambda School
Mason Mclead, CTO at Software.com, highlights all the advantages of hiring at once a group of people who have already worked together.
CTO at Software.com
You're a great engineer.
Become a great engineering leader.
Plato (platohq.com) is the world's biggest mentorship platform for engineering managers & product managers. We've curated a community of mentors who are the tech industry's best engineering & product leaders from companies like Facebook, Lyft, Slack, Airbnb, Gusto, and more.