Nobody gets product managers
I regularly meet CEOs and CTOs of tech companies who wonder why they can’t seem to recruit quality product managers – and for a lot of them, it’s because they’ve written up a job description for a “project manager.” As a result, they’re automatically disqualifying themselves from getting access to the strongest product managers on the market.
How can two jobs that sound so similar be so different?
And yet they are.
Project managers draw up an execution plan for a project, coordinate the necessary people and resources and keep everyone on deadline. Their largely operational role is an important job, but not the product manager’s.
Instead, product managers are like mini CEOs – and to get them to onboard with you, you need to communicate a role that they can get excited about.
But what gets them ticking?
Product managers are like mini-CEOs
Product management is essentially a creative function that sits at the intersection of growth, development and UX. The best product managers have been out in the field in lots of different roles before they take on the responsibility of really “owning” a product.
The product manager defines the product vision, decides what should be built and communicates the business strategy to the rest of the company and its customers.
A product manager must be able to quickly evaluate opportunities to find the most promising ones (which means saying “NO” a lot), which means that being highly intuitive is part of the job.
It also means they’re busy negotiating with customers and stakeholders, thinking about the future of the product and working out the evidence they need to get everyone else on board.
In other words, product managers aren’t in it for the operations.
They’re in it for the creative challenge of bringing products that are valuable, usable and feasible to the market.
Filter for ‘thinkers’ versus ‘doers’
So now you’re probably wondering where you need to look to find one of these. The answer is: almost anywhere. Product managers tend to start out as UX designers, engineers and even customer support reps.
But here’s the curveball: You don’t want to hire a product manager because they’re a good UX designer, engineer or customer support rep.
You don’t want to hire a product manager because they’re a good UX designer, engineer or…
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What matters is that they can approach the problem you’re facing from every angle, truly understand it and pull in colleagues from across the company to craft an effective solution.
In other words, you need to be on the lookout for someone who is a natural problem solver, regardless of background.
Kenneth Norton, a former product manager at Google says this about picking a good product manager out of the haystack:
“I’ll take a wickedly smart, inexperienced PM over one of average intellect and years of experience any day. Product management is fundamentally about thinking on your feet, staying one step ahead of your competitors, and being able to project yourself into the minds of your colleagues and your customers.”
Curiosity, multidisciplinary thinking and the confidence to counter ideas and requests with critical questions are all signs of a great product manager. This is an incredibly valuable combination of skills, traits and experiences that isn’t easy to find.
To find a candidate who thinks outside the box, you might have to do some out of the box thinking too.
To find a PM candidate who thinks outside the box, you might have to do some out of the box…
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One of the things I do when hiring new people for my team is ask them to come to an interview with a pre-written spec for a feature defined by me. (Spoiler alert: That feature is actually something that the business should not be building.)
That way I filter between people who actually think before they do the work and can challenge me on this idea (‘thinkers’) versus people who come to an interview with a lovely written spec for a useless feature (‘doers’).
But that’s what makes finding a good product manager (or any leader, for that matter) such a difficult task.
Just as there’s no formula for building a profitable business around a product, there’s no formula for hiring the right product manager.
So if you want to bring a new PM into your fold, consider this your call-to-action to step up your game.