How to Conduct Better Product Management Interviews


Product leadership is difficult.

This difficulty stems from the fact that it is often very different from product management. As a Product Manager (PdM), your goal is to ensure that your team consistently makes the best decisions possible.

When it comes to product management, you can easily access help to improve your skills. There are many resources that describe how you can do this more effectively. I wrote a few myself. Some great voices in the space, such as Matt LeMay, Teresa Torres and John Cutler, among others, present frameworks that help CEOs understand how to increase the decision quality of their teams.

But what about product leadership? Well, the job of product managers is to put together product teams, which means less executive and more coaching. You are no longer the star. Instead, you take teams and make sure they’re ready for prime time.

Achieving this requires a completely different skill set than strict product management. You start to take on responsibilities that take you out of a tracker or prototype and spend a lot more time focusing on the people themselves.

This job consists of integrating people into the team that you are developing. One skill product managers need to cultivate is learning how to hire effectively. If you don’t add the right skills to the team, no amount of work you do individually can fix things when they go wrong.

The simple truth is, when you become a leader, you have too much to do, from team management to resource management, to keep doing your old job. As an executive told me in a previous product manager role, “You can’t do both.”

And you can’t. So, you are now hiring new PoMs to do the job you were doing long before. But how do you do it?

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The pitfalls of hiring

Have you ever heard the saying “Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you can teach it”? Well, the same applies to hiring.

The skills needed to hire someone who will be suitable for the job are not as straightforward as you might think. You risk falling victim to expertise bias, where you end up looking for someone who looks exactly like you. You should also consider cultural biases, where the hiring manager prioritizes candidates who look, speak, and think exactly like other team members. These two prejudices lead to forming a team that thinks and looks alike. In a discipline like product management, this can be a fatal mistake.

No strain on teams means no growth. Unless you are lucky your team will remain stagnant because no one is challenging each other. After all, we’re here to increase the decision-making quality of the teams around us, and that can’t be done without the team coming together with different backgrounds and points of view.

The bad news, as a product manager, is that you probably won’t be trained on how to do this. The teams around you probably don’t know much about the product manager, let alone hiring him. Even though they did, they hired or promoted you as a product manager to handle these things.

The good news is, I’m going to give you a little tutorial on how to avoid some of these pitfalls and push yourself in the right direction. First, we’ll talk about the importance of being clear about the problem you’re trying to solve with your hire. Then we’ll use this information to formulate good interview questions. And finally, we’ll talk about being honest about the time you have. Doing these three things well greatly increases your chances of making the right hire.

3 steps to better hire

  1. Focus on the problem you are solving.
  2. Make up good questions.
  3. Allow the good time.

Focus on the problem you are solving

Each team needs a certain number of people. Likewise, each team has a million issues to deal with. Product managers certainly understand this since they engage with other teams at a strategic level. Sales can always use another SDR and design another back-end developer, just like you can always use another product manager.

The point is, everyone will say yes to another rental if it is offered. But do you know why you need it?

The most important part of the hiring process is having the right mind at the job. The second most important thing is to properly integrate this person. Third, make sure the new person knows what they need to do to be successful.

All three factors depend on your understanding of why you are hiring. What problem are you trying to solve with this new team member?

The product is a flexible profession. As a product manager, I’m assuming you’ve had a few product management roles before. Have they ever been similar enough to have the same job description? My bet is no.

Despite this, each product task shares one element: flexibility. As they say, the only constant is change, and that’s as true for product management as it is for anything else. Yet many product job descriptions are similar. And before I copy this mistake, take a job offer written by someone else, and make some superficial edits, I’d like to point you to Kate Leto’s book, Hire product managers. In it, she says that one of the discipline’s most impactful tools is the Product Role Canvas.

According to her, “Ensuring that there is a clear and shared understanding of the position for which you are recruiting is an essential first step in thinking more collaboratively and holistically about what a new position might be before the interview even takes place. begin. ”

How you understand the role in the context of your organization is extremely important to the people who wish to fill it. The product means different things to different people. How can you prepare someone for success if you can’t define it for them before they walk through the door?

Use the Product Role canvas to define the issue you want to resolve before continuing. This will give you and the rest of the team (usually your fellow designers and engineers, but it can also include people like customer success and sales) an idea of ​​what you’re looking for.

Then you can think about the interview questions.

What questions should you ask?

So you know the problem you need to solve with your rental. With that in mind, you need to write a clear job description that matches your problem. Don’t just copy and paste whatever you find on the Internet.

Once you’ve posted the job posting, you’ll start receiving applications and invite promising candidates for an interview. What are you asking them?

I’ve seen teams skip this part of the process. Instead of being prepared and organized, the questions are either random or clearly taken from a practice article. The product is more calculus than algebra, so you should know that anything called “the perfect question for product interviews” is only perfect for the context in which the question was created. .

Just like a good product, the right questions help you tell a story. Better yet, you create an environment for the person in front of you, usually stressed and in a hurry, to show you their unique identity. Strive to discover “unique” traits rather than “best” ones, because it is not the best that is a candidate day in and day out. “Best” is a character they’ve prepared to show you; unique is who they really are.

Take advantage of the unique by asking questions like these:

  • Tell me a story about X on your CV.

  • What was the hardest part about making X real?

  • How did you convince the opposing forces about X to make it work?

These types of questions can lead to stories that give you the unique flavor of a candidate. Uniqueness wins here since you are instead looking for someone interesting and adaptable and who answers every item on a checklist.

In product, you are always trying to solve an ambiguous problem. How you assess a candidate’s uniqueness in relation to the set of issues you want to solve is important. Think about the problem and the types of technical and technical skills needed to solve it.

Your questions should also lead the candidate to talk about their experience so that they can form a tapestry of their experience. The follow-ups you request should be aimed at giving you a better understanding of who the candidate really is rather than the “best” person they’re willing to show you.

Because we’re looking for a story, ask open-ended questions. For example, ask “Tell me about a time when you did X” instead of direct questions about a specific item. This will allow candidates to tell you their stories.

How much time do you have?

It is important to quickly understand the uniqueness of the candidate because we are on time. You don’t have a lot of time to devote to this process.

As a hiring manager, you conduct interviews and hire in addition to your actual position. Finding the time to review assets and write things down can be a problem. So why do teams act like they have a million years to do it?

Usually you don’t have time to watch this lengthy presentation, nor do you have time to dig into that case study, or re-listen to that hour-long interview the candidate gives you. Sometimes you might not even have enough time to do more than Mad Libs on a review.

So, create a key to jot down interview responses. This document gives you the option of making abridged revisions. You can answer what others need to know without investing a ton on your part.

Under this key, set the time it will take to review the responses. Share these targets with the interviewee and the interviewer. Being honest about the time can help you and the team get a clear picture of how much work you’re asking them to do. You can even pool the time (for example, a 30-minute stand-up meeting to review interviewees each week) to carry out the review process cleanly.

The other side of the interviewHow to differentiate your experience as a candidate from the pack

Hiring people is difficult

And getting it right is the most important thing you are going to do as a manager. When you’re ready to take your team to the next level, you can’t afford to fail. Be clear on the issue, put the right amount of rigor into the questions, and set reasonable time expectations.

It may seem like a lot of upfront work. Over time, however, you will spend less time thinking about the hiring process and more time thinking about the candidates themselves while being transparent about the needs, which can help your team become much stronger at long term.

Being a product manager is a different job and requires a few different skills that you won’t learn as a PdM. Take the time to learn these new skills and you will get better results.


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