A great product manager is not just someone who can wear many hats—they know specifically when to wear which. It's a hybrid role that requires a unique blend of strategic thinking, technical capability, and impeccable communication skills. Hiring a product manager who will drive your business forward can be a daunting task.
Consider these 7 aspects of great Product Managers before you get ready to hire a product manager.
Product Managers are hybrid by nature
“Product management is a weird discipline full of oddballs and rejects that never quite fit in anywhere else.” – Ken Norton, Partner Google Ventures.
Product management is a role that combines the special elements of lots of other realms—engineering, design, marketing, sales and business development. They own the product, so they must be able to understand the technical challenges of engineering, and be exceptional creative problem solvers.
The ability to channel many different perspectives
Top members from every key function in your organization need to meet the product manager you are planning to hire—and consider their consensus feedback regarding the candidate. Great product managers can master the balancing act between their instincts regarding strategic function and the creative elements that the role entails.
They can play devil’s advocate to get a comprehensive view from their team while constantly monitoring the big thinking and strategy—and executing the daily decisions that drive a product forward.
Ken Norton recommends asking these 7 questions to a candidate to get a better sense of how they would support you in the field.
- How have you learned to work with sales?
- What is the best way to interface with customers?
- What makes marketing tick?
- How do you know when design is on the right track?
- How should a product manager support business development?
- What have you learned about managing up?
- What’s the best way to work with the executives?
They truly own the product
Simply put: the product—everything from the roadmap to revenue to the release schedule to the bug backlog—is owned by the product manager. While they have to carry the full weight of the product on their shoulders, great product managers are also deep in the trenches, working on the front lines with all other teams.
They are incredibly persuasive
Product Managers find themselves in a very interesting position, because as they strive to get tasks done, none of the teams report directly to them. That’s why the convincing approach is so important as opposed to the commanding one in order to push the project forward. It’s a very delicate balancing act, but one that is necessary to navigate.
They emit positivity
They can keep a positive mindset no matter what. The complexion of their team members is typically comprised of engineers and they sometimes have a tendency to view aspects rather cynically – so it’s important to keep a positive mentality throughout so that other members can feed off that style. Remember, Product Managers are the gateway messenger to all other divisions of the organization – so a negative output will reverberate through the entire company.
They are absolutely fearless
The best Product Managers will speak to the founders the same way they speak to engineers or designers on their team. They are able to efficiently defend any inquiries into their team’s ideas and can justify all product decisions.
They’ve earned their leadership position
As Ken Norton says, “Product Managers are usually leaders in their organizations. But they typically don’t have direct line authority over others. That means they earn their authority and lead by influence."
Approaching the hiring process with the “they might not be the perfect candidate, but they’ll be suited for this specific role” type mindset can be absolutely deadly at a startup. This is a dynamic role where you’re essentially bringing on a mini-CEO. Understanding these 7 different aspects of the role will make hiring a product manager a smoother process.