How to Find and Hire Your Next Product Manager
Let’s get the bad news out of the way: it’s an uphill climb to hire a product manager who fits with your team.
These majestic unicorns create unforgettable customer experiences. They drive products from idea to launch, working with teams across engineering, marketing, sales, and key stakeholders.
With strengths and weaknesses across so many disciplines, a strong product manager isn’t just hard to find; it’s hard to define. And that’s why many teams struggle to find the perfect fit.
So in this guide, we’ll share everything you need to hire a product manager with less stress, including:
- 5 must-have skills to look for (and red flags to watch out for)
- How to write a job ad that attracts your ideal fit
- What to ask during interviews
- How to woo the top candidates to your mission
To begin our journey, let’s jump in with a brainstorming session to focus your candidate search in the right direction.
First, Define Exactly What Your Company’s Looking For In a Product Manager
One of the best hiring practices remote companies use is determining exactly what they want in a new hire before posting a job ad.
Generally, a product manager has a keen product instinct, high respect and understanding of technology, and sharply-honed business acumen.
They fall in the gray area between the nuts-and-bolts of product building and the marketing and selling, making candidates with computer science, psychology, or business degrees equally qualified for this role.
In fact, 88% of product managers began their careers in a different field, a higher number than employees in any other discipline, according to one survey[*].
So your first step is to answer this question:
Does Your Candidate Need a Computer Science Degree or an MBA?
A candidate’s specific education and career experience may give you a clue about their strengths and weaknesses. You’ll need to weigh these against what your team lacks to find the best fit for your team.
Look for a computer science background, and you’ll find product managers who relate well with your engineering team. They’ll quickly grasp the tech details, understand how to write product specs, and advocate for realistic builds and deadlines. They’ll also simplify complicated tech jargon for non-techy coworkers and customers.
Look for a business background, and you’ll find candidates who excel in market research, user needs, customer empathy, growth strategies, and more. Their high-level forecasting and attention to the numbers will keep budgets on track and your product competitive.
So think about what your company needs help with.
If you have a stellar marketing team, you probably won’t need someone new to chip in here. You can hire a product manager with tech experience to create a more well-rounded product team.
But if 95% of your small startup has computer science degrees, you might welcome someone with proven business experience and fresh marketing ideas.
Do They Need Shipping Experience?
It’s best to recruit a product manager with experience shipping a product. This person will have an overall understanding of what it takes to bring an idea from concept to market.
Since past performance may be one of the best indicators of future success in this situation, you may want to ask candidates to submit a link to their digital remote job portfolio.
Here you’ll get a glimpse at the tangibles each candidate brings to the table, while also weeding out candidates who lack this experience. Consider awarding bonus points to candidates who were involved in shipping a product or service you actually like.
Next, Look for these 5 Must-Have Skills
After you nail down the education and work experience you’re looking for, try to zero in on the skills and personality traits your new product manager should possess.
Hold these five must-have skills as non-negotiable:
1. Intelligence: Curiosity, Creativity, and Complex Problem Solving. Ken Norton, a former product manager at Google and Yahoo, says you should hire the smartest person who interviews [*].
To Ken, an intelligent yet inexperienced PM is better than an average but experienced one because the role demands quick thinking on your feet and wise decision-making. With so many moving parts, unexpected challenges frequently pop up, demanding a steady stream of creative solutions and workarounds.
Further, product managers tend to be unsatisfied with simple answers. They rarely “settle” on the first idea and keep looking for the right solution that pleases everyone involved, requiring top-level intelligence skills.
2. Innate Product Instincts. Some candidates will have an inherent sense of what separates a good product from a poor one. This isn’t easy to teach and takes an expert-level understanding of user experiences, product design, market conditions, and more.
3. Compelling, Clear Communication. Product managers need to explain how a product solves the needs of its users to those inside and outside of your company. They need to advocate on behalf of the product and convey ideas between multiple departments, stakeholders, and customers. The right one may even help improve communication on your team.
4. Intuitive Leadership and Charisma. Product managers must inspire teammates to follow their lead but often lack direct authority. Like the VP of engineering or VP of Sales, many will be above a product manager on the organization’s hierarchy.
So the best product managers lead by charisma, having a natural ability to generate enthusiasm, loyalty, and influence across departments. People just instinctively want to help them succeed.
5. Empathy and the ability to consider several points of view simultaneously. Product managers have their hands in almost every aspect of a product's journey to market. So they need to build products that achieve everyone’s goals and needs.
Understanding what your engineering team needs from your marketing team, for example, and vice versa, will help everyone collaborate more productively.
Finally, Determine What You Don’t Want
It can be difficult to spot red flags in candidates who seem perfect on paper. So make sure to write down warnings signs during interviews like:
Being too comfortable with “close enough” or “good enough.” While you want updates and shipping to happen ASAP, you don’t want them at the expense of quality. Any product manager who ships less than what your team is capable of accomplishing isn’t worth hiring.
A lack of enthusiasm for the less-than-fun aspects of the role, such as stakeholder meetings, dealing with customer feedback, sprint demos, etc. They should be able to frame these situations in a productive light rather than groan about them.
Being unwilling to try new processes. Situations change quickly, and your product manager needs to find and employ new tactics, tools, or techniques to overcome them. How willing are they to trade in their tried-and-true methods and adopt unfamiliar ones?
When you outline these aspects of the role beforehand, you’ll have a much easier time searching for and attracting the best product manager for your team.
How To Find and Hire Your Perfect Product Manager
You shouldn’t leave the process of filling a product manager role solely up to your hiring team or favorite tech recruiter.
Instead, gather a handful of employees who will be interacting with your new product manager on a daily basis. See how they define must-have skills and abilities. Then, use their input to help you:
1. Write a Product Manager Job Ad that Sells
In our guide on How to Write a Remote Job Listing that Sells, we shared our favorite tips for writing job ads that entice top candidates, lure in stacks of applications, and lead to fantastic hires.
We explained why a job posting is NOT a job description, how to share your company story without boring readers, and why alienating language that contains gender and racial bias has no place in your inclusive hiring practices.
PS: Our job ad writing guide also contains a link to download the FREE WWR Job Posting Template (which makes life super easy!).
In addition to the tips you’ll learn in that guide, you’ll want to add a product overview to your product manager job ad. Candidates should know what stage of the product’s development/life cycle they’ll be working on, and how success will be measured at critical milestones/time frames.
2. Post Your Product Manager Job Ad Where Top Talent Will Actually See It
In our post-pandemic society, many in-demand professionals are choosing positions solely based on whether they can clock in remotely. And tons of top companies are now allowing employees to work from home permanently.
If candidates see working remotely as an incentive, and your company understands all the perks of being remote-friendly, why not open your search to remote candidates around the world?
We Work Remotely is the largest remote work community on the planet. With over 3M visitors, our job board is the number one destination to find and list incredible remote roles. Post your product manager job ad here, and you’ll have the best remote candidates applying and interviewing.
3. Hold Your First Round of Virtual Meetings and Phone Calls
To help weed out unqualified candidates or those who don’t meet your needs, you should utilize one of the best applicant tracking systems for remote companies. These will route applicants who check all your boxes to a separate folder for your consideration.
After you select a few candidates with impressive resumes, have someone from HR handle the initial meet-and-greets.
Here’s where you’ll want to gauge personality, company culture fit, and find out whether they’re serious about the position/industry. Run through expectations, daily responsibilities, and your work from home policies.
You’ll also want to ask candidates to rank these product manager-specific interests in order of importance:
- Having a sense of purpose/mission
- Making an industry impact
- Having autonomy
- Connecting with and delighting users
- Gaining recognition
- Successfully collaborating with teams
- Financial outcomes
- Learning/growing in their career
You’ll use this ranked list later.
4. Ask the Right Questions During Your Team Interviews
After the screening round, grab your top candidates and schedule another virtual interview with the employees they’ll be working with regularly. Share these tips for how to conduct successful remote interviews to get everyone on the same page.
Most importantly, encourage your interview team to prepare and ask questions! You want to see how a candidate deals with pushback and competing, sometimes contrasting ideas. They should provide your team with impressive, intelligent answers.
If you need a bit of inspiration, use these 20 questions to ask product managers during interviews:
- Why did you decide to move from [previous field] to product management?
- What was the biggest lesson you learned when moving from [previous field] to product management?
- What is the biggest advantage of having a [blank] background? What’s the biggest disadvantage?
- What aspects of product management do you find least enjoyable? How do you handle them?
- Are you more interested in working on our product/service, for our company, or in this industry specifically?
- What makes a well-designed product?
- How do you improve a bestseller?
- What’s one of the best/worst ideas you’ve ever had?
- How do you decide what not to build?
- How do you know what to cut when you’re behind?
- How do you know when a product is on the right track?
- Is consensus always necessary?
- Describe the difference between management and leadership.
- How do you earn respect from engineering/marketing/sales/etc.?
- Describe your ideal coworkers as people who like/do X but not Y.
- Describe what you consider a “difficult” coworker.
- Tell us about a time when your teams disagreed; what was the result?
- What’s your secret for sticking to deadlines?
- Do you manage department teams differently, and if yes, how so?
- How do you handle mistakes made by yourself and your team?
Only the cream of the crop should move to your last and final interview round.
5. Prepare the Top 3 Candidates for a Panel Presentation
While some companies give out take-home assignments, you may lose a potentially promising candidate if they don’t feel like performing “free” work for your company.
A better route is to ask candidates to create a presentation for a panel of eight to ten employees they’ll be working with.
Be sure to outline the specifics of the presentation, such as how long it should be (roughly 15 to 20 slides, less than one hour, etc.).
As far as the topic goes, if your company has a product/service, ask your candidate to:
- Identify its strengths and weaknesses
- Talk about what they’d improve
- Discuss their ideas for testing/measuring success
If you don’t have one on the market, ask your candidate to choose a recent game-changing product or service and use their presentation to describe:
- Why they think it’s well designed
- How it impacts the market and lives of its customers
- What problems they anticipate in the next 2/5 years
- How they’d solve those problems
Doing this will allow your team to see how each candidate thinks and communicates in a group dynamic. Do they present their ideas clearly and get people excited? Did they accurately identify problem areas your team is currently working on?
6. Don’t Let Your Best Candidate Slip Away
If there’s one candidate who’s heads and shoulders above the rest, assume another company will be vying to snatch them up. Do not let them get away!
After your interview and presentation rounds, keep in constant communication with your candidate so they’re never unsure of where they stand or what’s in the pipeline. Let them know if they’re your top choice or within your top three. Explain how the hiring process works and when they can expect updates and answers.
For some candidates, the job and benefits of working for your company will keep them on the line. But others may be lured away by your competitors if they receive a better offer.
So remember that list of interests you asked candidates to rank during your initial meet-and-greet? Here’s where you’re going to use it.
If your best candidate says having autonomy and growing in their career takes priority over things like gaining recognition, use this time to explain how they’ll be doing these things specifically if they come to work with your team.
A company that promises to grant their wishes may be enough to hook an in-demand catch as they wait for your offer letter and an invite to your virtual onboarding process.
Now You’re Totally Ready To Hire a Product Manager
We warned you that finding and hiring a product manager would be a challenge. But following our list of tips will be well worth the effort when you discover your perfect fit.
Product managers understand every aspect of your product or service’s journey inside and out. Some even call them “The CEO of your product.” With so much at stake, now’s not the time for shortcuts or spinning your wheels.
Post your product manager job ad on We Work Remotely, and you’ll score 5x the exposure and double the tweets -- giving you access to the top remote talent and speeding up your hiring process and time to market simultaneously.
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