Hiring in Product Management is difficult. Many Product Leaders can attest to that irrespective of the industry or company.
Firstly, Product Management is interpreted differently across companies making it difficult to determine what skills are required. Secondly, the work a Product Manager performs is often intangible, the outcomes we deliver are a result of the team’s efforts rather than individual efforts.
Therefore, attempting to confidently appraise a Product Manager's skills and abilities to deliver products that customers love can be challenging for Product Leaders. However, when we examine the process of hiring in Product Management, we have to consider more than the challenges that we’ve just described.
In this article, we look at several common hiring mistakes that Product Leaders make and how to avoid them.
1) Hire for today, not tomorrow
A common hiring mistake is to hire when you have an immediate role to fill. This makes hiring very reactive instead of a considered, planned activity that is aligned with the Product strategy. If you’re always reactive, the hiring lead times make it challenging to fill the roles when you need talented Product Managers. This means that the Product Team may have a skill and or a resource gap for an unacceptable period of time. This in turn leads to the team’s inability to deliver on the Product’s ambitions within the anticipated timeframe.
Rather, many Product Leaders will benefit from increasing their line of sight and hire for the longer horizon. Consider planning your resource requirements 18 months in advance. Identify the types of skills required in the Product team to deliver the outcomes that the team intends to deliver in 18 months, and hire for those skills today.
2) Hire for capability, not influence
Product Manager ‘mis-hires' are not necessarily the result of the person’s ability to perform the required Product tasks and activities. ‘Mishires’ are more likely the result of the Product Manager’s adaptive abilities. More specifically, his or her ability to ‘read the room’, to communicate appropriately, to engage stakeholders and to influence more broadly across the organization. This type of ‘mis-hire' happens more frequently than anticipated because influence is more difficult to assess in interviews.
To assess influence in an interview, probe to understand how others perceive the candidate in their current organization. Questions that may draw out a person’s influence skills are:
Describe the impact you’ve made in your current or last role.
Who in the organization seeks your advice?
Explain the results you achieved when you offered guidance to a team or person.
How do you contribute as a leader in the organization?
Focusing on the person’s ability to influence will enable you to limit the number of Product Manager ‘mis-hires’.
3) Look for unicorns
We have a tendency to look for ‘Product Manager unicorns' but in reality, few exist. Product leaders know this intuitively but let’s face it, we’re human and continue to search for that ‘one’ Product Manager who excels at all the tasks across the broad domain of Product Management.
To avoid searching for a unicorn, be clear about the skills and capabilities you’re looking for and prioritize them. The average job description is a laundry list of skills – the more specific you can describe the skills required, the better. Be prepared to make trade-offs to find the right candidate that can help you achieve the Product’s ambitions. A clear set of prioritized Product skills affords you a better opportunity to identify and hire appropriate candidates.
4) Hire without considering your whole team
Great products are not developed without great teams. Consider how the position and person you’re hiring will complement your existing team. It’s a little like putting together a sports team – survey your team and consider their strengths and gaps and you’ll have a better idea of the kind of person to hire. And if you can’t find someone who ticks all your boxes, ensure that you provide a working environment that is safe, collaborative and focuses on experimentation and learning. This will enable the people in your team to cross-skill and lift their capability over time.
5) Fall in love with brands, not the person
There is an acronym that labels Product Managers with experience at one of the top 5 US companies. They’re known as FAANG (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Google) Product Managers. Companies tend to seek out FAANG Product Managers, believing that they come with the capabilities, experience, tools and ‘secret Product sauce’ of success. But, be cautious. Do not be lulled into believing a FAANG Product Manager is the one ingredient that helps you build better teams and better products. FAANG Product Managers operate in a specific context, in organizations that have already achieved success. They may come with preconceived ideas of how a company should operate and may be less likely to innovate.
6) Hire clones
A recruiter once told us confidentially, “people hire the image of themselves.”
Unless you implement a sourcing strategy that actively reduces biases, chances are you’ll find and hire people who reflect you. It’s human nature. In dynamic product teams, diversity matters – diversity of thought, experience, background and education. Having a diverse team in Product Management is particularly important when our role is to understand, learn from and empathize with different types of people. If we hire people that are the image of ourselves, the products we make will likely be made for people who are the image of ourselves.
As Peter Thiel noted, “you don’t have real diversity when people look different but think alike.”
Industry alignment helps us make better and faster hiring decisions
The Product Management industry needs greater alignment of job titles, responsibilities and skills required to fulfill those responsibilities.
Greater alignment can also help with several of the above hiring challenges. Greater alignment means more consistent candidates, not Product Managers who have never interviewed a customer before for example. Alignment on the skills and different flavors of Product Managers also means better hiring decisions, greater diversity in product teams and better organizational outcomes.
As a first step to creating this alignment, we have mapped out the Product Manager domain into the following 26 skills, both technical and adaptive.
(Read more about the Product Manager domain and how you can develop your product proficiency here)
There is a tremendous value that can be unlocked through industry alignment – not just in terms of avoiding ‘mis-hires’, but in terms of advancing the profession as a whole – and it’s why the APP will work tirelessly towards this aim.