Top 5 qualities to look for in hiring a Product Manager

I recently conducted a survey, asking product managers, hiring managers, recruiters and other startup founders to state the key qualities they look for in a product manager hire. It was posed as a resource allocation question – I gave them a limited number points to allocate among 13 different attributes.

Here is the list of Top 5 qualities that most look for based on their points allocation

  1. Influence Skills – The most valued skill is the ability to influence others without any authority. This is a clear attestation that product manager touches many different groups – customers, sales, marketing, engineering, finance, operations, etc. While the product manager is the CEO of the product she does not run rest of the organization needed to make the product a success. So the key quality required in a product manager to meet all the sales and profit goals they have set for the product depends on their influence skills – getting others to adopt the product manager’s priorities and do things necessary to help the product succeed.
  2.  Strategic Thinking – Despite what we hear about technical knowledge, domain expertise and obsession about product, in reality most recognize that the product managers bring in a set of skills that others do not bring to the table and these skills complement skills brought by engineers, marketing and project managers. Strategic thinking starts with asking the right questions. It is about understanding current market, where it going, competition, go to market, etc to define the right product and the roadmap. Netting it out, it is about making informed choices.

  3. Hustle – Get things done – It is the other side of influence coin. While there is the sexy part of strategic analysis and market sizing there is the day to day part of constantly moving forward to get from plan to profit. Getting things done does not mean playing all positions nor does it mean activities – it is about getting results by doing whatever it takes. Sometimes you get others to do it, other times you roll up your sleeves and get it done – be it writing the data-sheet or the pitch deck.
  4. Analytical Skills – This is about making informed decisions based on data instead of instincts and gut feel. If strategic thinking starts with asking the right questions, analytical skills is about seeking the right data and analyzing it to make profitable product decisions. Sometimes there is no data other times there is Big Data – a product manager with great analytical skills should know the right methods to triangulate the answers to business strategy, product roadmap and pricing questions.
    I want to point out here a case often made for using instincts when there is no data. Andrew Mason said in his final letter to employees,

    “My biggest regrets are the moments that I let a lack of data override my intuition on what’s best for our customers.”

    My strong advice is to not pay any attention to this statement. Lack of dat does not say anything about how correct or wrong are your intuitions. Lack of data means you did not make testable hypothesis or you are not looking for proxies.

  5. Attention to Details – It is lot more than ensuring rounded corners on your App icon or having drop shadows in you charts. It is about starting with customer experience from first contact to renewals, like  ensuring the sales team has the right sales plays and price lists and ensuring the support team knows how to resolve an error code the customer is calling about.

So what are missing from the top 5 skills? MBA,  Domain Expertise and engineering pedigree.

A final note about domain expertise, most insist on exact domain experience before even they talk to a product manager candidate. One entrepreneur from Austin told me how difficult it had been for them to find the right candidate and then they realized that by insisting on domain expertise they were hiring for skills that product managers can learn quickly on the job versus skills that cannot be taught or have no runway to learn once on the job. Once they removed domain expertise they found a pool of people with Strategic thinking, Influence Skills, Hustle, Analytical Skills and Attention to Details.

Next up, bottom 5 and how do you measure the top 5 skills while interviewing a product manager.

11 thoughts on “Top 5 qualities to look for in hiring a Product Manager

  1. Great post!

    I particularly like your final para about domain expertise – all too often, excellent product managers are rejected for lack of specific domain expertise which they can quickly learn on the job. This is often because hiring agencies find it so easy to search for exact matches.

    I’d like to add a quality which I believe is critically important in product managers – the ability to share information. I wrote more about this at http://creatinggreatproducts.wordpress.com/2013/07/03/251/

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  2. ofcourse i do agree with listening skills if a person have everything will be taken care, but apart from all this qualities a product manager should have make others to follow about strategy or convince them to follow the same..

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  3. I have been a Product Manager for over 5 years, while I completely agree with the 5 qualities above, I believe one of the very BASIC quality of being a Product Manager is to be a Good Listener. Everyone can hear but only some listen. If you are a good Listener the above 5 qualities will make you really good at what you do.

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  4. Great article….all the top 5 qualities are very important. But I’d like to add a couple of other, even though subtle but I feel are important. Attitude and energy. If they lack the right attitude…no matter what…they cannot excel. Energy brings in the enthusiasm in the team and helps with influence.

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