4 Trends in Product Management Recruiting

I recently wrote a post about the three things companies should do before they start recruiting a product manager. It was great to reflect on the past 13 years—a time in which I’ve completed a lot of product searches for our clients.

In the last 14 months or so, I’ve started to notice some shifts in the way technology companies recruit product managers. Overall, it seems that companies are gaining a deeper understanding of the importance of product within their organization, the state of the talent market, and the best ways to attract top performers to their teams.

Here are the 4 trends I see most often in my work recruiting product managers, and the impact they have on both companies and candidates.

Trend #1: Scope of Experience vs. Years of Experience

More and more, our clients are asking us to search for candidates who have a great product story, regardless of the number of years they’ve been in the role. They are often interested in real and transparent stories of the struggles and successes of shipping a product.

What would you rather have? A product manager with five years experience who hasn’t released a successful product in the past two years, or a candidate with three years experience and a story about how their contributions drove product adoption and revenue?

Organizations that are hiring product managers should have a clear picture of the scope of the business problem: how complex is the software (is it a platform or an app, for example)? How do integrations effect the product and business? Who is the user and/or buyer, and how much does the product sell for? How many users are there? Where is the greatest need? Is it revenue, adoption/stickiness, user retention, etc.? The answers to these questions will reveal the profile of candidate required.

How this applies to candidates: don’t rely on the number of years you’ve been a product manager to get you an interview. Be ready to outline the product story you have been responsible for. It should begin with what was unfolding in the business and with the product when you joined (the reason you were hired), and then take the listener though what you did to bring it to where it is today. Be ready to provide examples of the strategic side of your accomplishments and story, and be ready to get detailed when asked to do so.

Trend #2: Release Experience vs. STEM Degree

At one time, most search requirements for a product manager included the requirement for a STEM degree. While that degree can be an advantage—and a candidate with a STEM degree and a MBA is a prized combination—the fact remains that an increasing number of employers no longer value that degree over actual release experience of a comparable product.

Do you want someone who will excel as a product manager and solve problems for you? Or do you want someone who checks a box on your list of ideas about what kind of education they should have? Of course, there are some roles where a STEM education is truly required—but make sure you understand why that type of educational background is necessary.

How this applies to candidates: focus on crafting your product story and articulating how you made data driven decisions to deliver a successful product. Be ready to explain your process of working with Engineers, and how you have learned to leverage those technical resources to hit release schedules.

Trend #3: “Head of” vs. VP or Chief

The next trend is an ongoing shift in titles: organizations will often use the title “Head of Product” as a stand in for VP Product or CPO. In some cases the Head of Product can also be responsible for one specific product in a portfolio of applications—really operating as a Senior Product Manager. Across organizations, there are wide variations in how roles are defined and titled. A product owner could be working their way toward becoming a product manager, or they could be the senior product manager who owns one part of a product. Unfortunately, this trend is cropping up in all kinds of industries and roles—not just in product.

Organizations with product teams should have clear guidelines around who owns what internally, and the reporting structures of their teams. And candidates: look carefully at job ads to see what the real requirements are for the role. Don’t get too hung up on the title—it’s the work that really matters.

Trend #4: In Office vs. Work From Home

Within the past 18 months or so, we’ve seen many companies reverse their position about product managers working from home. For a few years there, the prevailing attitude was that it didn’t matter where people were working, as long as the work was getting done. The tech industry loves challenging norms and disrupting the way that work gets done—they were early adopters of flexible and work from home arrangements. But it’s become clear that the product manager function is 1. Mission critical to the success of an organization, and 2. Requires a great deal of hands on collaboration. Many product managers who once enjoyed the flexibility of working from home are now finding themselves back in the office.

For both companies and candidates: get very clear early on in the process what is and isn’t acceptable. If you start a search thinking that your new product manager will work from home half the time, but then decide they really need to be in office 5 days a week, all those candidates you’ve started interviewing will have to reassess if the role can work for them. If you’re a candidate who currently works flexibly/from home, do some real thinking about how a role in an office—with the associated commute—will affect your quality of life before you get to the final stages of an interview process. In both cases, it’s important to go in with clear expectations, and a strong sense of what works for you.

From my position—speaking with many product managers on behalf of our clients—I can see that these trends are affecting the way that companies recruit and retain their product talent.


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