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Why is it so hard to hire a Head of Product?

Hiring a Head of Product is an integral part of business growth and the future direction of a company. It can also be a very challenging search as there are so many different components that can make up a Head of Product’s duties and responsibilities.

If you’re still struggling to find the right Head of Product hire, it is most likely caused by one of these six reasons. Learn what they are and how to better position your company to attract top Product talent:

Indecision on the type of expert you need

The eternal struggle of needing a subject matter expert vs. an experienced product manager. A very valid struggle that many of the leaders we speak with face; especially those founders whose product management function is new to their business. 

While there is no doubt that a candidate who understands and can communicate the complex nuances of an industry or product is hard to resist, also remember, most senior-level product leaders have demonstrated, through experience, that they can successfully tackle a new product or industry. 

In fact, Product Managers are generally attracted to opportunities where they have the opportunity to solve new problems and understand the needs or requirements of a new set of users. These hires will come in with a fresh perspective, no baggage or prior assumptions, and will be ready to do the hard work to understand the market and product fully. 

There is plenty of proof this hiring strategy works as some of the top product leaders in Canadian tech joined companies with little previous experience: 

  • The first product leader to join Freshbooks didn’t have previous experience launching an SMB accounting application
  • The first product leader to join Thalmic Labs/North didn’t have previous experience launching smart glasses that integrate into Alexa 
  • The first product leader to join Ecobee didn’t have previous experience launching smart thermostats
  • The first Product Manager to join Shopify didn’t have previous experience launching e-commerce platforms

If this is your struggle, stay tuned for part II on how to redefine your search to find the perfect Head of Product match. 

Allowing location to trump skills and experience 

You and your HR team have worked really hard to create the right culture and “vibe” based around your mission and vision. Now you need a Head of Product, but none in the area match the skills, experience, and/or culture fit needed to succeed... if the pandemic has taught us anything it’s good leaders can lead from anywhere. 

If you’ve made every effort to source, meet, and extend offers to hire qualified people in your area and it’s not working out, don’t settle, pivot. You have a product to release and a business to build so skills should never trump location as those with the right experience and cultural fit will always find ways to get the job done better than someone who lacks those but sits at a workstation beside you.

If hiring a remote person in a different country and time zone is what must be done, then do it. If hiring someone who is too far for a daily commute is what must be done, then do it. If hiring a person in your city who could come in every day but cannot because they are also a primary caregiver to an aging parent during this pandemic, just do it. Skills and experience will always trump someone’s ability to be physically present in an office space. 

Genuinely believing everyone will want to work for you

While it is possible that everyone may be clamoring to work for your brand, organization, industry, or for the money you are offering, most of the time that isn’t the case - especially with top talent. For most companies, it’s time to remind ourselves that interviewing is a two-way street. Just as you’re trying to evaluate the candidate, the candidate is trying to evaluate you. 

We’ve successfully recruited hundreds of highly talented people to join lesser-known brands and we do this by having a candidate’s first interview with someone who can sell the vision, purpose, leadership, and culture of the organization. Whether that’s the Founder or CEO, or line of business leader, it needs to be someone who can kick off the process and create excitement for the organization and role. If a candidate can envision an exciting future in a new role, they will continue making time for interviews.

Forgetting to sell

As mentioned above, to land top talent you most often need to sell. What is the story your Head of Product will become part of? How does your product add value? What are your customers saying? What about the role will get someone to turn down a competing opportunity or job offer and come to work for you? Get excited about communicating this to candidates.

People are a big part of what makes candidates excited to go to work, so don’t forget to highlight the team this person will be inheriting and/or any big-name investors. Showcase how the senior leadership lives the company values and how product updates have delighted customers. These stories help your candidates get excited and bought into the organization and the experience of working to build your product.

Focusing on interviewing not hiring 

Making that final hiring decision is stressful and scary. As a recruiter, I have been privy to the angst Founders have shared about their fears and hopes. After all, the Head of Product hire will, for better or worse, change your product and business, maybe even your culture and employees. 

This anxiety can cause analysis paralysis and it’s not pretty. An entire function can become stuck from a leader’s inability to make a decision and move forward. Despite the risks of this hire needing to be right, as with all things in business, you need to work towards an outcome and the outcome a business leader is seeking from an interview process is a hire.

How easy is it to see one diamond when it’s in a jar of 300 crystals? Sometimes the value of something (or in this case someone) can become diluted when it’s been tossed into the same bucket as everything else. Maybe it’s time to examine your process? Focus on the must-haves for this hire and finding a match, not the number of interviewees you can meet. 

Allowing the wrong person to lead the search

Some of our best working relationships are with HR and there are so many talented People Leaders in tech, but their role is different from that of a recruiter. Most who pursue a career in HR did it for the parts where they would be “managing the resources” aka onboarding, conflict resolution, building a culture, ensuring equitable salaries, exit interviews, ensuring performance evaluations and salary reviews/adjustments are done on a timely basis, growth/scaling planning, succession planning, etc.

This persona (mentioned above) is completely different from that of a headhunting recruiter who does project-based work to identify and pursue people on behalf of a company. And then do it again for another role or another company. And then again. For money. Paid upon completion of a successful search. Even with a recruiter mindset, most human resources professionals are taxed for time so even if they wanted to actively headhunt they generally just don't have the time. 

We are often engaged by leaders after their own efforts to “recruit” for the role have not yielded the results they needed. By the time we get involved the timeline is tight and the situation has become urgent. At this point, it's common for a leader to feel now it is a bit of a “mission impossible” because they genuinely believe their wonderful HR talent or internal teams could have gotten the job done but the talent simply cannot be found. Or they must be looking for a unicorn when in reality they were just not looking in the right places. 

Most of the time with senior-level searches, such as a Head of Product, outbound targeted recruitment needs to be done. This is a full-time job! The reason HR cannot “find” these candidates is because they are sifting through inbound applications or referrals instead of making a targeted list of skills and experiences and reaching out to these candidates directly to sell them on the vision and interviewing. 

Finding a Head of Product can be challenging, frustrating, and time-consuming when often the cause for this lack of momentum is one of the six reasons mentioned above. Hiring for such a strategic role requires a strategic path to land the right candidate. If you’re looking for industry knowledge, hiring trends or access to top Product talent contact us today!