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Choosing a Great Product Manager

Choosing a Great Product Manager

Last week I noticed that a hot wireless device company had over 800 applicants apply for a Director of Product Management position they posted on LinkedIn.

As someone who spends a lot of time mining the best Product Management talent, I was not only shocked at how many people applied (I mean really, what were the last 600 people thinking), but really curious how this company would select the top 5 candidates from that large pool of talent.

Most companies, including the 280 Group’s recruiting clients, are making a selection from 6-10 qualified candidates. Interview panels for these positions often include not only the hiring manager, but also the VP of Product, a Director or VP of Engineering, someone from Marketing and Sales, and depending on the size of the company, even the CEO. A Product Manager can make or break a company’s success, so hiring the right person is critical.

When I ask our clients what the top three requirements are for a candidate’s profile, the answers vary from needing to come from a top graduate school, to industry experience and product knowledge. Often clients prefer a candidate working for their competitor, to minimize the ramp up to learn their technology and customer needs.

I asked the leadership team at the 280 Group and AIPMM (Association of International Product Marketing & Management) what advice they give when asked about hiring Product Managers.

Phil Burton, Senior Product Management and Marketing Consultant at the 280 Group

Phil puts a lot of weight on domain and market knowledge, which he points out is different than technical knowledge. This is especially true in fields that have significant disruption, because technology keeps changing. Strong technical knowledge is an indicator of just that. It doesn’t mean the candidate has market or customer knowledge. He also likes to hear examples of teamwork and leadership – “war stories” during an interview to illustrate how the candidate worked around the inevitable people issues in any organization.

Pamela Schure, Director for Products and Services at the 280 Group

Pam listens for how a Product Manager approaches challenges. True Product Managers will talk about their drive in overcoming obstacles to achieve the right solution for their product. They will also talk in terms of “We.” They know that they cannot achieve their goals without an entire team working with them.

Therese Padilla, President of AIPMM

Therese sees the biggest hire failures happen when a hiring manager focuses on the candidate’s domain experience. Just because a candidate is coming from a competitor doesn’t necessarily mean that they are competent in Product Management. Therese suggests that someone savvy about Product Management and different implementations is much more valuable to the organization. Look at how the candidate will fit into the role. What will this person be doing and how do you want them to grow? See the vision of where you want to take them.

Therese recalled advice a manager gave her years ago: It’s nice to have a Product Manager who likes and relates to their products, but I like a Product Manager who likes Product Management better. Don’t be a single-product Product Manager. You get too much into the woods about the product and you become biased. Product Managers who love Product Management and like the process can take any product, even if they don’t like it, and make it successful.

Brian Lawley, CEO and Founder of the 280 Group

Not surprisingly, Brian Lawley has core Product Management skills in his top three requirements along with passion and people skills. In terms of passion, if a candidate isn’t incredibly passionate and willing to live and breathe the product and segment they’ll be responsible for, then managers should pass on them. Product Management is a difficult job – if you aren’t working on something you really care about then you just don’t give it 100%.

People skills, such as negotiating, influencing, reading people, adjusting, and communicating are key. Without them, a Product Manager will simply not be successful. These skills are so important that they inspired the “How to be a Phenomenal Product Manager” course at the 280 Group.

The core Product Management skills, such as writing business cases, understanding customer and market needs, working with engineering teams, competitive analysis, launching products, maximizing revenue after launch and retiring products are important. These are skills that can be learned on the job or can be picked up quickly in a course like the 280 Group’s “Optimal Product Management and Product Marketing” training. With a strong combination of these three, the Product Manager you hire has a great chance of success.

About the Author

Mira Wooten is the Director of Recruiting at the 280 Group, a Product Management and Product Marketing company that provides consulting, contractors, training, certification, books and templates, and contingent recruiting services. Mira has over 10 years working with clients to identify the perfect team fit for their needs. She is also the owner of Clarity Coaching Works, a professional coaching company. Follow Mira at @mirawooten.


2 Responses to Choosing a Great Product Manager

  1. Barry Keown Aug 6, 2015 at 2:40 pm #

    Thanks Mira for the article.

    Big fan of the 280 group and the AIPMM here. I find it somewhat amusing that these leading lights Phil, Pamela, Terese and Brian don’t agree on what to look for, having a different or in some cases opposite emphasis on what they look for when hiring.

    Phil and Pamela favours domain knowledge, war stories and team working
    Terese say *not* domain knowledge, and favours ProdMgmt discipline over passion for the product
    Brian says pass on anyone who is *not* passionate about the product

    Kind regards,

  2. Troy Coleman Aug 6, 2015 at 8:19 pm #

    Great post. I agree the PM needs to pull in sales, marketing, presales, and engineering along with customers of course to really make sure the product is moving in the right direction as a team and everyone on the team agrees.

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