The ultimate guide to product management hiring, Part 2: The hiring process

This post is #2 in the series of “The ultimate guide to hiring PM’s”. Post #1 is here.

Continuing with the theme of approaching the hiring process as a product, the hiring process has two main goals:

  1. Targeting: Find the right person. Create an efficient interview process that provides a full view of the candidate.
  2. Conversion: Reduce the candidate’s friction. Once you have decided you want a person on your team, ensure you have the best method to convert the user (candidate) to a customer (full time hire).

Identify the hiring committee

Try to keep the hiring committee static. This helps to compare candidates as there is a common frame of reference.

Have the right number of people on the hiring committee. At a minimum it should have

  • The hiring manager
  • Stakeholder
  • HR/People Ops
  • Design
  • Engineering
  • Other PM’s on the team

Design a low friction and efficient phone screen process

Realize that the candidate doesn’t have a lot of time to jump through your hoops. Think like a product — what is the best frictionless way to conduct this process? The phone screen is part screening but also part selling the role. The phone screen shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes, keep it short!

Screening Tips

You are trying to get a handle on whether she has the basic PM skills that are valuable for your company. There are two main areas I like to focus on the screening

Product sense: Tell me about a product you like and why?

Product managers are supposed to be curious about products. If she can’t come up with a product that she likes, she has failed the most basic PM skill — curiosity! What you should be looking for here is:

  • Can she articulate in a simple way what her favorite product does?
  • Can she articulate why she likes the product? This demonstrates a deeper level of thinking than “I like feature X”

Commitment: Tell me about my company.

If you can hear the candidate frantically typing and loading your company website on the phone, hang up ?What you are looking for here is an understanding of your company, what you do and some broader homework about your industry. This demonstrates commitment! If you can’t do the homework, you can’t become a product manager.

Selling Tips

Motivation: Why do you want to join us?

The point of this question is to get to the heart of what motivates the candidate. As you are listening to her , you can get a feel for what parts of the role appeal to her specific motivations. As part of the selling process, repeat the aspects of the role which align with her motivation, sell her on the role in her own words!

Mission: Let me tell you about the mission of the company

Take this opportunity to talk about the mission of the company. Talk about why you exist and what customer problems you are trying to solve. This is a great time to have a conversation with the candidate to get a feel for where her missionary zeal lies as well have the opportunity to align her to your mission and vision.

Design the minimum bar tests

Have a clearly defined onsite exercise that tests the nitty gritty PM skills. Make the exercise relevant. The ideal scenario is something that closely resembles the day to day at your company. This is the minimum bar that the candidate must pass.

A few good examples:

  • Launch a simple web based todo list application. This is the PM 101 exercise. Start from scratch, perform some basic user validation/discovery, write stories, prioritize and talk about post launch KPI’s. A todo list application is simple enough that every PM candidate should have the context for what a good todo list app does. This exercise provides a good window into how she organizes herself and her thought process through the entire product lifecycle.
  • What should your company do next? This is a strategic exercise. It provides a view into her understanding of the broader market that you operate in. Can she articulate clearly, with supporting data, the strategic direction of the product ? It doesn’t necessarily have to be in the direction that you are on today, as you always have more context than her. What you are looking for here is pure strategic chops and also get a sense if she has done her homework.

Design and assign the focus areas

Product managers interact with every part of the company and a core part of the interview process is to assess how they would work with the various stakeholders. Design what you want to test in each stakeholder area upfront. It is a huge waste of time if every person asks the candidate the same question, it also pisses her off! A few sample core areas to test:

  • Engineering: Can she work with engineering? Can she get to the right level of technical detail with the engineering team? Is she directive or collaborative — depending on your engineering culture one may be preferable over the other.
  • Design: Does she let designers do what they are good at? Can she collaborate with design effectively? Does she consider design an important part of the product process?
  • Stakeholder (sales, marketing): Does she empathize with the stakeholders problems? Can she ask deeper questions and get to the root of what the user is asking for?
  • HR : What benefits motivate her? What does she want to do with her career? What is the mission compass that guides her?
  • Hiring manager : What kind of management style is the best suited for her? What type of team structure is she most comfortable with? What truly motivates her to be a PM?

Final step : Document everything

Write everything down. From the test areas to what you are looking for to who is on the interview committee, write it down. This serves as a great way to clearly articulate and get the entire interview committee on the same page. It also sets you up to iterate on the process as you move forward — this is your baseline.

In the next post, I’ll talk about executing to the process. Stay tuned.

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