There are no Ivy League courses you can hire from without a second thought. Also, who is a PM really? There are many small and major errors you can make in hiring PMs. First the basics:
2. So, a PM’s a generalist?
3. How senior should my first hire be?
Product management is fast becoming a coveted route for fresh MBAs, according to WSJ (paywall). This means once you go out into the market looking for a senior PM, you could easily be drowned in a deluge of interested candidates.
Unfortunately, this is a role where the CV is not very helpful as an elimination — PM CVs are likely to be very impressive across the board. They are likely to be great at presentation, concision, and contain a showcase of impressive products. So how do you choose the right PM for your organisation?
The PM community is small and, especially among startups, most PMs network very well. Remember, experienced PMs are probably the smartest group of people you will ever meet. Smart people like to be in touch with smart people. If you are hiring, spread the word among your peers and on LinkedIn, Angel List, and other forums.
Smart PMs are judging you when you’re judging them. Senior PMs across the world are valued highly and they want to be motivated by the product or service you are trying to build. Talk about your product and the product vision. Talk less about perks of working with you. If the product you are building is not worth their interest, the perks (or the money) won’t matter. Sell the role to them: don’t assume that just because they applied to a role they are dying to work with you.
Chances are very high that their portfolio of work will show the final products they’ve built. While that is a great way to start, your time is better spent understanding how they arrived at the final product instead.
The final product of a great PM and an average PM might look similar. The rigour they applied in arriving at that final product won’t be.
If you have a product up and running, then get them to critique the existing product. Ask them what they would change. Serious PM candidates should already have reviewed your product (unless it is behind a paywall) and come prepared with their observations.
See how deep they are able to go in critiquing your product and which areas did they critique the most: some might focus on design, while others may focus on deviations from standards, and still others might question certain decisions to determine why they were made. Assess how they phrase their criticism. Don’t get defensive about your product — keep in mind, they are interviewing you too. If they feel that feedback from them will be handled defensively, they may not be excited about coming to work for you.
Hey, isn’t testing on IQ supposed to make this easy? You are not going to like the answer, but — in the context of hiring PMs — this is a resounding no. If the candidate knows what his IQ scores are and believes the score somehow makes him/her better, stop the interview right away and go grab a beer. Your time will be better spent.
Don’t believe it? Take a look at the average IQ scores around the world here. Have you booked a flight to Hong Kong yet? But PMs are not average, you say? Maybe. But it is reasonable to believe that the PMs are similarly above the average.
The above extends to personality tests too. Sometimes, personality tests structured for one part of the world simply does not work in another. For instance, one (global) personality test we tried in the past gave the exact same assessment for 124 individuals tested. A fat lot of good that did us.
The best way to figure out how a PM candidate thinks is to ask them to solve a problem you are facing. Even if you don’t hire the candidate, you at least have a good sense of how to solve your problem. Meet in person to discuss a problem you are facing. Do not use vague, irrelevant, or abstract problems: it is insulting to a senior PM candidate if you ask him to solve a problem involving circles, squares, and triangles. Better questions include:
This seems another counterintuitive tip, but guess what people on the hyper-analytical side of the quadrant don’t do too well:
Of course, a certain level of analytical chops is essential, but don’t overvalue that too much. A PM has to be immensely comfortable with ambiguity — she is unlikely to have all the information to make a decision in majority of the problems she is facing.
Keep in mind: if your PM can’t make decisions in an ambiguous environment, then you are going to have to make them for her.
I have found that PMs that have been in a couple of different functions before moving to a PM role are generally more adept at building products that work for the business. They have a more holistic approach to the product and tend to find it easier to put themselves in the shoes of the user. They also find it easier to get buy-in from cross-functional leaders. So, take the “10–15 years of Product Management experience” bullet off your job description. You best PM candidate probably only has five years of PM experience.
The above points may or may not provide you with the best PM for the role, but will help you avoid rookie mistakes when hiring your first PMs. The fact that you have earned yourself into a situation where you can afford a PM is a great achievement, so pat yourself in the back first.
Originally published at sapsonic.com on April 16, 2018.
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