How to interview a product manager
I’ve had the pleasure of eavesdropping on many live streams run by Jeremy Horn and his team at the Product Mentor for 3 years. The group has a great series of talks with product executives from mid-size to large corporations. The video below outlines some things to look for when hiring product managers.
The team at First Round Capital has been producing a tremendous amount of content related to the tactics, strategies and patterns found in many of their successful investments. The video below is an overview of a suggested set of steps to follow to identify quality product managers regardless of your industry.
First, really identify why you need to hire a product manager. Do you have too many developers? Are there too many simultaneous projects? Are you attempting to separate concerns due to increased business or product complexity?
Product Management roles vary greatly per industry, and many times even between companies within the same sector. However there are some skills that are universal. The first video mentions great organizational skills and planning, someone that has proven they can deliver (read: Ship) products and interestingly someone you believe can play "politics". As a PM you will be forced to interact with various different teams and stakeholders, the ability to manage disparate goals is key.
The second video argues the universal responsibility of a product manager is to perform the following:
Articulate what a winning product looks like
Rallying the team to build it
Iterating until they get it right
…..I largely agree.
Gantcharts, Agile, Waterfall .. nonsense and all can be taught. The major skill you want to test for is empathy and stellar communications skills.
As a PM you should probably be saying "no" more often than "yes". Great products tend to be very focused, targeted solutions to specific consumer and business problems. Identify questions or ask the candidate to directly recall a time when she was forced to say no to a feature request from internal or external stakeholders.
The places you look will largely reflect the quality of talent you source. He recommends angel.co (I agree), LinkedIn, Hired.com and your local product meetup.
Evaluating resumes is painful, use the following as filters
Has the candidate shipped a product before
A technical background in a hard science is usually a plus
but not required
The candidate should be proud of his/her previous work (has an ability to inspire)
Blogs/ Writes / involved in the community. Every great PM I’ve hired or worked with made sure that key decisions, problems and processes were documented.
There is a recommendation to eliminate anyone who includes designations, awards or a laundry list of tools in their resumes. I find this common in junior candidates but don’t see it as negative.
The product manager should not be a relay, they should support the engineering team and the other skilled individuals on the team. Dig into customer and stakeholder issues deeply to better communicate new initiatives to your team. You can test for this by asking for writing samples, specs, or asking the candidate to break down one of their favorite products.
Look for individuals that can explain stories in detail that prove for the following:
Lie Detection (you need to be able to call bullshit on certain requests)
Trust (how can you convey that your team entrusts you to lead & protect them)
Empathy (In my opinion the biggest skill to develop to be successful)
To learn more about the product mentor go here: http://www.theproductmentor.com/