How to hire a great product manager

After writing my last two posts about great product managers and career paths to become great product managers, I thought I should write a post for all the employers (like myself) that are looking to hire great product managers. Probably more so than any other role, identifying and hiring a great product manager is very challenging. Since the job requires a breadth of knowledge to be successful, the interview process requires a breadth of questions to be asked to get feel for whether or not the candidate will be successful.

So what specifically do I focus on trying to understand when I interview a product management candidate? There are a few key items, and I’ve outlined them below.

Are They Wicked Smart?

To me this is the most important thing. If they’re not wicked smart, I won’t even consider them.  Since product managers are faced with an endless amount of decisions, a great one needs to be able to think quickly and analytically to provide well thought out answers to questions posed by developers, sales reps, marketers, account managers, etc. Every decision they make could have a butterfly effect down the road, so raw intelligence is a requirement to understand what the consequences of their decisions could be.

So how do you test to see if someone is wicked smart? Often times you can get a feel for it in the interview process or by looking at the candidate’s credentials (i.e. advanced degree, top school, high-profile jobs, etc.)  However, I also like to pose brain-teasers too to see how a candidate breaks down a problem and tries to solve it. If you need some brain teasers to use in your interviews, do a quick search on Google and you’ll find numerous questions and answers for great brain teasers that are used by Google and Microsoft during their interviews for product managers and developers.

Have They Successfully Shipped Something Before?

I’m sure you’d never hire a developer unless they’ve written code before, so why would you hire a product manager if they haven’t shipped something before? Only those that have successfully shipped a product before truly understand how complex a process this is, it requires the coordination of many activities and the cooperation of all parts of the business, lead by the product manager.

By simply asking a candidate to walk you through the process they followed when shipping a product they led from concept to launch and beyond, you can get a solid feel for their selflessness, attitude, curiosity, persuasiveness, communication skills, product instincts and desire to completely own a product.

Do They Have a Strong Technical Background?

A great product manager needs to be able to talk shop with the developers they are leading. If they can’t do this, they won’t be respected and won’t be successful. It’s that simple.

Since the amount of technical experience required varies from product to product, it’s hard to recommend specific questions that should be asked. However, you should be asking your product management candidates some of the same technical questions you’d ask your developers to see if they’ll be able to talk shop.

Do They Have Great Product Instincts?

I touched on it earlier, but having great product instincts is another essential attribute of a great product manager.  That said, assessing whether or not somebody has great product instincts is very subjective and many interviewers have a difficult time trying to evaluate this attribute.

So what questions should you ask to poke at a candidates product instincts? I recommend general, open-ended questions like the following:

  • How do you know a product is designed well?
  • What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in the design of a product?
  • What’s a great product that you’ve recently tried? Why do you like it? What is the biggest issue with it?

By posing questions like these, and other similar ones, you’ll get a feel for the candidates products instincts pretty quickly. 

Are They a Leader?

In order for a product manager to highly successful, they have to be leader. They need to be convincing and have the ability to lead a diverse group of people as they ship a product.

Identifying a great leader is relatively easy during an interview process as the great ones naturally convey their great leadership abilities through their confidence, effective communication and persuasiveness. That said, there are many questions you can ask to poke at a persons leadership ability.  One of the best lists of questions I’ve seen is in this post on the blog of Michael Hyatt, Chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Conclusion

Hiring a great product manager is hard! That said, if you use the guidelines above, identifying and hiring a great one for your organization will be easier than ever before.

Robin Dindayal is the VP of Product management at Intelex Technologies. This post was originally published on his blog, Notes from the Product Management Trenches.

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