How to Hire Great Product Managers
Some general rules I use to convince great people to join my team
If you are building a tech company, hiring great product managers is critical. A great product management team can often be the difference between delivering a lot of value for users and having great ideas without proper execution. However, any good PM is going to have a lot of potential options for where to go. How do you attract them to join your team or company?
I've found that a key way that I try to attract great talent to my teams at Showmax, Booking and now at Zenly usually comes from a position of leading with key values that will be attractive for top product management talent.
A strong PM wants to identify with the values of the organization they are joining. They also want to have a clear sense that the product leader for the company will be consistent and adhere to a philosophy that will enable them to succeed and do their best work. Being transparent about these values up front enables a PM candidate to have a sense for the team and the values you and your company adhere to.
When I've had failed PM hires, it usually happens as a mismatch of skill sets, expectations and job profiles. Generally, I did not do a great job of going deep on the background of the person to make sure it would align with the business and cultural values of the team. Or, I set the wrong expectations for the product manager and didn't put them in a position to succeed. In terms of attracting both the right and the best talent, I've decided to focus on the following areas when discussing potential roles with new product managers:
Have a culture of accountability and meritocracy.
The best product people want to have measurable impact. If they can join and immediately start impacting conversion, onboarding, or retention, they will be more excited about your product team. Showing this makes potential recruits excited to join an organization because it means they have a clear opportunity to grow themselves and their career.
Even if you can't give them a clear metric right away, at least make it clear how they will impact your customers. At Showmax and Booking, new PMs knew that they would own a critical part of the user experience and that improvements they made would directly translate into more delight for our users. Anyone joining the team would immediately know what metrics or elements of the user experience they could influence, giving them a clear vision for the business and customer impact they would be capable of creating. Zenly is very similar - when new PMs join, they have direct accountability with their squad for a critical area of the company, meaning they have the ability to make a huge impact.
When recruiting, be clear about the metrics to deliver against and the resources available to move those metrics. If you don't know the metrics a PM will be responsible for or if you can't clearly articulate the goals you have for the PM, you should definitely consider re-thinking the role until you have clarity. Or, be honest about that. Be honest with the PM that a part of the role will be working closely with them to define what their success metrics, team makeup, and roadmap will be. Don't hide those facts.
One of the worst onboarding experiences I had personally was at One Kings Lane. I was hired to join as a director of product and sold on a vision of coming into a team where I would have resources to improve the marketing funnel, impact our email performance, and have a direct influence on growth. When I arrived, the reality was that none of the engineers had started, only one had been hired, and most of the other critical members of the team reported into another organization. I had to spend the first 2-3 months building and establishing my organization before I was able to make a real impact on the business.
I didn't mind doing that work. But what was unfortunate was that it was completely different than the role that had been communicated to me during the interview process. As a hiring manager, don't make this mistake. Be honest about the role and the challenges.
Communicate a compelling vision and clear business objectives.
During the interview process, you need to articulate a clear, convincing vision of what the next few years at the company will look like. You need to sell the vision, the business objectives and the metrics that prove success. Product Managers should understand what company success looks like and their role in contributing to that success.
You also should want strong candidates to be asking about the success metrics for the business. If you are running an e-commerce business, you should be able to clearly articulate to a strong product manager the specifics of your product funnel, how users are brought to the product, and how they can directly impact the success of the site.
When talking to potential candidates for teams I manage, I always try to be transparent about the vision for the business and our objectives over the next 2-3 years. A great PM wants to know that the vision for the company aligns with an interesting strategic vision when they are signing up for a new company. Zenly is a great example - we are trying to build a social networking and mapping platform for the next generation. For people who find this space compelling, it's a unique and compelling challenge that attracts product managers interested in that unique challenge.
Importantly, though, that vision also helps to screen out people. For some people, they either aren't interested in the vision or they don't agree with it. That's ok! Not everyone needs to agree with the pitch. That's the point - it should serve to screen out people who really want to work on the challenges you have ahead of you and help others to realize it's not the right role for them.
Define the role and focus areas clearly
Top employees and top talent want to know they can make a difference. To do this, they need ownership. Don’t make the mistake of hiring top product management talent, then limiting their role to writing product requirements. Give top talent the chance to own an area of your business. Some good examples: own the mobile experience, own the conversion funnel, own customer experience and retention. But make sure the role has a clear goal and ownership area.
Similar to my example above at One Kings Lane, the biggest mistake I've made in this space before is either overpromising impact to a PM or not fully communicating the scope and challenges of the role before a prospective PM joined the team.
At Showmax, for example, one of the biggest challenges we had was a multi-office setup, where the majority of the engineers were located in Prague while many of the PMs were still hired in Amsterdam. While this was mentioned during the interview process, what I didn't realize at the time was the impact it had on our product managers to have their team largely remote from them. It wasn't something I would realize until later, but having a real and frank discussion about what it meant to have a remote team would have helped me screen product managers more effectively had I made it a major focus during interviews.
Give Product Managers freedom to operate and manage their teams.
The challenge today is to present product teams with a roadmap of exciting new things to take on and directions to explore. This fosters a long-term outlook and keeps them interested. Roles need to be dynamic, flexible and changing to attract the right talent.
It’s important not to micro-manage. Product Mangers need the freedom to drive change and progress the business—within the strategy. This demonstrates trust and enables the product and engineering teams to innovate and solve key business problems.
When I think of managing my teams, I think of each person on my team as having a road that they drive on. It's my job as the leader to help them define two critical things - the endpoint of the road and the width of the road. Some people on the team are on single or two lane roads, others are on highways, and there's a bit of everything else in between. As long as the PM stays on the road towards their destination, I give them as much freedom as possible. However, when they veer off, that's when I need to step in to provide support. The width is based on a combination of the skill of the PM, the timeframe or length of the project, and the strategic importance.
Be customer driven and proud of it externally.
Product Managers want to know that time is spent listening and talking to customers, and that the business cares about feedback. They will review feedback and ratings, and will carefully evaluate how the company manages their reputation and customer feedback. The candidate experience should be no different than the best customer experience.
Show customer empathy in your interview process and expect it from your product management candidates. You should be able to talk about who your users are, how you conduct research, and how you validate features with them. Customers should be at the heart of any product management interview. And it should be on both sides - a great product company cares deeply about users and a great candidate should show similar empathy.
Have an efficient interview process
Last but not least, what's the easiest way to annoy a great product manager? Put them through a miserable, long, inefficient recruiting process. Whether or not your company is good at all the topics above, their perception will be "if this is how they handle recruiting, how must they handle getting the actual work done at the company?"
A great PM is talking to many companies. Your recruitment process needs to stand out for all the points above, but in addition, it cannot be drawn out. You can't go weeks without communicating to a candidate. And the hiring manager must be involved in talking to candidates. Great people want to know who they are going to work for in addition to what they are going to work on. If you can't spend the time to do this work as a leader or manager, then it's time to re-evaluate your recruiting process because it bound to fail in bringing in the best talent.
Talk to candidates. Don't trust your recruiters to do all the followup. Make yourself available for more than one interview. Offer more time to answer their questions and then spend the time on the phone or writing out thoughtful answers to their questions. These are the things that will impress a truly great product management candidate and convince them to join your team.
Attracting the right Product Management talent is about demonstrating a culture where trust is at the heart of everything you do. Create a thriving culture; a place where people want to be. Build a magnetic tribe; people are attracted by people. Your interview process is an opportunity to show that you trust your employees, you want them to succeed and you will give them every opportunity to do so along the way.
Thanks for sharing, really liked the insights!
What is your take on case studies as a part of PM recruitment? Any tips to share?
I went through a bunch of those used by top tier startups in Paris and found anything from "what's your take on our industry" to "please outline a 2-year roadmap". Most of what I came across wasn't best fit (IMHO) to evaluate the PM specific skillsets and rather predictable.