How to Hire the Right Product Manager

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If you've got a product management team and need to hire its first full-time member, you're in luck: This role is popular in many organizations. There is intense competition for jobs, so employers must find ways to hire the right people.  Fortunately, we've put together a checklist of 13 steps that will help make sure your new hire is as good as they seem on paper—and will help ensure they'll be successful in their new role!

Step 1: Create a job description, and share it internally.
  • Define the job in terms of the skills and experience required.
  • Include a list of required and desired skills: For example, “Proficiency with Excel is required; proficiency with Visio is desirable” (or vice versa). The word “desirable” indicates that you would like this person to have this skill, but won't reject them if they don't have it right out of the gate because it's an easy skill to learn on the job or during onboarding—and it's not something that will make or break their performance as a product manager at your company. You should also include any specific technologies or platforms that are essential for doing the job well (e.g., Salesforce), as well as those technologies or platforms where having some knowledge will help them excel in their role (e.g., JavaScript).
Step 2: Discuss with your team what makes a "good" product manager.

The biggest challenge for hiring a new product manager is that there's no single, agreed-upon definition of what a "good" one looks like. Different companies have different needs and goals, which means that the job description will look different from place to place.

To make sure you're on the same page as your team, start by discussing with them what makes a "good" product manager. Your team members might see it differently than you do or they may have their own ideas about what makes up a good PM hire (or not). By having this conversation early on in the process, you'll be able to narrow down your search by only considering candidates who fit into this specific set of criteria.

Step 3: Come up with a list of must-have and nice-to-have skills.

The first step in hiring a product manager is to come up with a list of must-have and nice-to-have skills.

Must have skills: The ultimate goal is to build the best possible team that can deliver the most value to your organization, so it's important to have a solid grasp on what makes for an exceptional PM. Here are some must-have traits:

  • Ten years' experience in software development and product management (ideally). A track record of building successful products is essential because it shows that you know how to work as part of an agile team and make decisions based on user feedback rather than internal politics or personal preferences.
  • Ability to communicate effectively in writing, verbally, and visually (especially if the role involves UX). Clear communication ensures there won't be any miscommunication between stakeholders about project scope or deadlines—which can lead to delays in delivery dates or even failure altogether!
Step 4: Designate a company and product initiative you can use to test candidates' skills.

To test a candidate's skills, you'll need to assign them a project. It's important that this project is relevant to the role and the company's goals, but it can't be overly large or difficult to complete. For example, if you're hiring someone for an analytics team, it may not make sense for them to come up with their own product strategy (because they don't have enough context), so instead they could analyze existing data and report on how effective certain campaigns were. Or if you're looking for someone who will help manage customer service issues, they could conduct customer interviews over email or phone calls and then write up their findings in an email report sent out regularly at the end of each week.

Step 5: Review resumes and applications and narrow down the candidate pool.

If you are hiring for a product manager position, it is important that your candidates have experience in product management. However, this does not mean that only former product managers should apply for the job. Marketing professionals with relevant skills can be successful at this role if they possess excellent communication skills, are comfortable working in cross-functional teams, are able to manage multiple projects simultaneously, and have an aptitude for learning new technologies quickly.

It’s also important to look for education that matches up with the requirements listed on your job description. For example, if you require applicants to hold an MBA from a top university — such as Harvard or Stanford — then ensure that all of your candidates meet those qualifications before making any hiring decisions.

Step 6: Give the top candidates an (unpaid) homework assignment or assessment that tests their basic qualifications.

You’ll want to make sure the assignment is relevant to the role and that it tests basic skills listed in your job description.

One easy way of doing this is by having candidates complete a set of tasks within a specific timeframe, such as an hour or two. That way, you can evaluate their process and how they work under pressure — important skills for any PM candidate.

Step 7: Schedule phone interviews with your top choices to confirm they are a good fit for the role's responsibilities and compensation.

Phone interviews are a great way to screen candidates for basic qualifications. Ask them about their current role and responsibilities, as well as what they like or don't like about it. You should also touch on the candidate's biggest project successes, as well as areas they would like to improve upon in the future. This will give you a sense of whether they have potential for growth with your company.

Ask questions that determine how someone thinks through problems and make decisions, such as "Tell me about a time when you had to make an important decision quickly." In addition, ask open-ended questions that require more than a yes/no answer, such as "What is your ideal job?"

Step 8: Invite in-person interviews with your two strongest candidates.

In-person interviews are a fantastic way to assess candidates’ communication skills, body language and nonverbal cues, and ability to work in a team. They give you an opportunity to see how they respond when faced with different types of questions and scenarios.

You should invite your two strongest candidates for in-person interviews at the same time so that you can compare them against each other in real time. In addition to testing their technical knowledge of the role (including specific product management tasks), ask them about why they want this job, how they think they’d be successful at it, what challenges might arise along the way, etc.. Also ask them about their previous experiences working with cross-functional teams on complex projects—this will help determine if their preferred methods for working with others would mesh well with yours or not.

Step 9: Assess how well each person would fit into your culture during each in-person interview.

When you're interviewing someone, it's important to assess not just their technical skills, but how well they would fit into your company culture (and vice versa). We've found that there are four main ways to do this:

  • First, ask them questions about their interests and hobbies. This will help you get a sense of what they're passionate about outside of work, which can be an indicator of how they'll act in the office. For example, we once had a candidate who was obsessed with golfing—which wasn't something any other employee at our company did at all! We ended up not hiring him because his passion for golf didn't align with ours as a team or our values as a company.
  • Second, ask each person about why they decided to join your startup from another job opportunity—or even if it was their first time applying for work anywhere at all! It turns out that many people are looking for very different things when applying for jobs than traditional job postings suggest; some people might only want part-time work while others might want full-time career advancement opportunities right away (and vice versa); still others might be looking simply for experience on top of school credit hours or personal development opportunities before graduating college next get the point! Asking these kinds questions will help give us insight into what drives each individual applicant so we can better determine whether he/she is truly interested in working here—or just using us as stepping stones toward bigger dreams elsewhere down road."
Step 10: Ask the candidates to meet another stakeholder to get their input on the interviewee's knowledge, experience, personality, etc.

In addition to taking an in-depth look at resumes, it’s important to ask candidates for feedback from people who have worked with them before. This can be from another stakeholder, someone who has worked with them on a project in the past, or even just asking for thoughts on their personality or how they work from someone who knows the candidate well (e.g., a friend).

Doing this will help you get an idea of what kind of time and effort are needed to work with each person, as well as what that person is like in general. You’ll also know if there are any red flags before hiring them!

Step 11: Have the candidates complete one or two more assessments, such as case studies or scenarios related to their work responsibilities.

Another way to get a deeper understanding of a candidate's capabilities is to have them complete one or two more assessments, such as case studies or scenarios related to their work responsibilities. Case studies and scenarios are useful for testing candidates' knowledge, skills and experience in areas such as technical knowledge, problem solving, analytical thinking and communication skills. They can also be used to test for cultural fit by asking questions about how the candidate would handle situations that may arise on the job.

Step 12: Select a finalist, then revisit their references and request salary information from them.

When you've refined your list of finalist candidates, it's time to make a decision.

  • Get at least three references from each candidate.
  • Ask questions about their communication style, how they work in teams, and other soft skills that could be important for the role.
  • If a reference has worked with the candidate recently (within two years), ask them how they would rate the product manager on a scale of 1–10 for specific criteria such as business acumen and ability to lead projects through all stages of development. You can also ask if they think this person will succeed in your organization and whether they'd hire them again if given another opportunity.
  • Request salary information from all potential hires who haven't already disclosed it (never rely on voluntary disclosures).
Step 13: Extend an offer to the finalist when all of your references have checked out, you've finalized compensation details with them, and you know you're ready to hire them for the role described in your job description.

Once you are satisfied that the interviewee is the right candidate for your open product manager role, you should extend an offer to them. This will be based on whether or not they meet all of the requirements listed on your job description, as well as any other factors that may be important to their success in this role.

  • Make sure they have adequate experience (and references) related to product management and/or UX design
  • Confirm that they are willing and able to work remotely or in-office full time
  • Ensure that all paperwork required by law has been completed

The hiring process can be daunting, but with the right strategy, it doesn't have to be. Following these steps will help you find a product manager who fits your company and culture.  Also, LinkedIn maybe a helpful tool in regards to looking job candidates and also for content with relation to PMs. And, if you are interested in any other topics related to Hiring, ATS, Recruitment opportunities, make sure to scan what Flatwork has in store!

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