Practical Advice for Hiring Product Managers

“The role of Product Managers is to be responsible for maximizing the return on product investment. Maximizing ROI is the key mission goal—everything is seen through that lens.”

Jon Newman, Senior Manager, Product Line Management (Video Software Services) at Cisco Systems, has over 15 years of experience building and leading practical Product Management teams.

We sat down with Jon to discuss what he has learned about hiring for this complex role. He shared some practical advice for hiring product managers that we’re passing along to you.

1. It’s extremely hard to find someone completely well-rounded and fully-formed with the necessary domain expertise.

Project Managers require strong communication skills and strong technical abilities. “The trick is to determine which fundamental building blocks you can stand to sacrifice initially, and grow over time,” advises Newman.

For example, if your domain is very technically complex and time consuming to learn, it can often be difficult to find someone with both relevant domain expertise and product management experience. In these cases, it’s more practical to hire someone with deep domain expertise and strong communication and leadership skills that you can grow into a product manager (as opposed to hiring someone with a product management background but no domain expertise).

This strategy ensures that you have someone who will be able to hit the ground running with day-to-day tasks like requirements creation leveraging their domain experience and you can mentor in to the full product management role over time.

2. You need someone who is emotionally strong.

Product Management can be a real rollercoaster ride and not everyone is mentally equipped to stay the course. Newman recommends looking for talent with the following qualities:

  • Motivated with a high desire to win
  • Calm under pressure
  • Competitive and ambitious
  • Strong sense of humility

3. Invest in the right people for the long haul.  

You want to develop your new hires into fully functional Product Managers and that won’t happen overnight. It will take at least a year of mentoring and training to nurture every aspect of the role.

“This is a long-term investment, so be prepared for the long haul - not weeks or months… full development will take years.” Newman suggests pairing new Product Managers with veterans on your team that can provide mentorship.

4. Uncover how well candidates cope with change.

Managing change is a constant struggle for a Product Manager. This is especially true in smaller companies where there’s more autonomy and uncertainty.

“Look for someone who is excited by change and can figure out how to adapt quickly. Ask them to provide examples of how they have dealt with change in the past. You need to know that they can take a project and run with it through the ups and downs.”

5. External recruiters know the role and the market very well.

Newman has had positive experiences working with external recruiters to hire Product Managers who have saved him countless hours sifting through unqualified applicants.

“There is usually one degree of separation between them and top talent, whereas internal recruiters may not have the same expertise or connections.”

“Winging it” is something you cannot afford do with your product or when hiring Product Managers.  

Are you getting ready to hire a Product Manager? We've created a free checklist to help you refine your requirements, plan the interview process, and get aligned on competitive compensation. 

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