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Product Teams & Hiring

Hiring Product Managers

What makes a great product manager in part depends on your business and the role you want product management to play in it. For example, a PM at a B2C productivity app might do more quantitative work running A/B tests, whereas a PM at a enterprise B2B productivity tools might spend more time interviewing individual users. Nevertheless, for a large part of the PM role there are also common skills required to excel.

The following is a mix of the Todd Jackson (former product leader at Google, Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox and now Partner at First Round VC) great article find, vet and close the best PMs with some additional input from us.

What to look for in great PMs

The best product managers do three things:

Articulate what a winning product looks like.
Rally the team to build it.
Iterate on it until they get it right

The skills required for this

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The Must Haves are important for a PM to excel at the above activities. The Good to Haves will help the PM gain the credibility and loyalty that they will need to motivate engineers and designers. Most well-known tech companies like Dropbox will only hire PMs who have both columns A and B covered.

The bonus skills are particularly useful in early stage companies and early product hires, as the organisation and roles specialise these skills become less relevant.

Product Manager Archetypes: Where do PMs come from?

  • The classic PM profile in the US would be a CS graduate that wants more exposure outside of coding, and has gathered some experience via an product management internship or even a product management role already.
  • Another common type are former management consultants or bankers that want to enter tech. Due to their analytical and strategic mindset they can make great PMs, make sure though that they are truly passionate about technology and products.
  • Engineers or designers that are looking to branch out of their specific task can also make great PMs if they show a passion for interacting with customers and thinking higher level. These candidates are very likely to be effective at working with engineers and designers on the team in their new role.
  • Marketers/Business Developers might turn to PM as well. They can be very good at communicating the product vision throughout the organisation and speaking to customers, but you should check whether they have the technical understanding or experience with building products (e.g. by founding a company before) to excel as PMs.

Example interview questions for Product Manager interviews:
  • (Product Sense): Name a product that you think is exceptionally well-designed – ideally a non-electronic product. Tell me what makes it well-designed. (Testing intellectual ability, communication, and whether they know what customers want.)
    • Weak Answer: Something superficial or cliché
    • Good Answer: The candidate is excited about the product, has considered how it works, the implications of using it, how it affects the different stakeholders
  • (Technical Skill): In as much detail as possible, tell me what happens when I type yahoo.com into my browser and hit enter. (Testing intellectual ability, communication skills and technical background.)
    • Weak Answer: Lack of technical understanding (e.g. "I see the Yahoo homepage, right?")
    • Good Answer: Something like, “Your browser generates an HTTP request. A DNS lookup gets the IP address of the host. The server receives the request, checks for cookies to see if you’re logged in, and eventually generates an HTTP response containing the content you should see. Your browser receives the response, parses the DOM and starts to render the page. CSS, images and Javascript are loaded to modify the page.”
  • (Leadership): Tell me about a time when you disagreed with engineers and designers on your team. What did you do? (Tests communication, leadership and effectiveness within the company culture)
    • Weak Answer: There will be allusion to finger-pointing, or mention of blame. The tone of their response will be generally negative, and you might see a dip in self awareness, complemented by a spike in defensiveness.
    • Good Answer: They’ll demonstrate leadership by diagnosing root causes of the conflict. They’ll show humility. They'll have proposed or negotiated a solution that works for the team and the objectives
  • (Strategic thinking): What are all the implications of self-driving cars? (Tests strategic and analytical thinking and entrepreneurial spirit.)
    • Weak Answer: A response that is boring, cursory, disorganised and superficial
    • Good Answer: Showing vision, imagination and second-order thinking
  • (General): What aspect of product management do you find the least interesting?
    • Weak Answer: A PM who complains about doing nitty gritty work (e.g. taking notes, scheduling meetings) and implies that these things are beneath them.
    • Good Answer: A great PM understands that they need to lead from the back, and they relish their role as an unsung hero.
  • (General): Why do you want to work at this company or on this product?
    • Weak Answer: Superficial reasons, driven by whatever is hot right now
    • Good Answer: Shows clear passion for the industry, company or project