How Do You Hire A Product Manager?

You probably have seen enough job descriptions for product managers. You may have also contributed to many of them. I did too. Most of these descriptions say

The ideal candidate must be able to lead a cross-functional team through idea generation and discovery, product definition, development and product launch, sweat the details, passionate about products, etc. …

Some startups use whimsical language,

We seek only the very best
Seeking product ninja

Well job description is one thing but do we have a system to methodically evaluate candidates and make an informed hire no-hire decision?

Can we explain, with data, how we arrived at the decision?

Do we focus more on irrelevant factors or trivial factors and make wrong decisions?

Do we let observable attributes like social media presence, clever quips and any one of those metrics like Klout cloud our decision making?

Are the results repeatable? If your team evaluates similar candidates will the outcomes be similar?

What is lacking is a rigorous quantitative framework that starts with your needs and translates into repeatable decision making system. Yes you do need to start with your needs and not the attributes of someone who adore.

First your needs. Let us cut through the language plays and jargons and quantify what qualities we look for in a product manager and how important these are for the current role.

You should realize you are hiring for a basket of attributes. What is important for you is to decide upfront, before even you talk to any candidate,  how important each attribute is. Some of the attributes are (not comprehensive)

  1. Business skills
  2. Domain expertise
  3. Communication skills
  4. Technical upbringing
  5. Hustle

You may decide all of these are equally important  or one or two carry more weight than the rest. You may already have a team with deep technical knowledge and decide you are willing to de-emphasize technical knowhow of next product manager you hire. You may look at current gaps in your team and decide to bring a candidate whose attributes will address those gaps.

Whatever the needs are, you decide before you start the search process.

List out all the key attributes and decide how important each attribute is by assigning it a weight. For your convenience I have created a list of attributes and a way to assign weights.   Most important step is to stick to your weight allocation and not let yourself be distracted by any single attribute while evaluating candidates.

Next step is to define a consistent rating scale for each attribute to evaluate all candidates. Be it a scale of 1 to 6 or 1 to 100.   This is the rating scale you will use to evaluate all candidates.  The weighted sum (sum of product of attribute weight and attribute rating) is the overall score for the candidate.

Want to hire only the best? You set a realistic (and affordable) threshold to hire only those candidates that exceed that threshold, regardless of how they scored in any one attribute (Hint: it does not matter a candidate has 10000 twitter followers or remarkable presence if the overall score does not cross the threshold.)

When more than one cross the threshold you have two options. If it is just handful that make it to that level then you can apply qualitative factors among these. Or you can commit to hiring only those that scored the most. Either way you now have a rating and decision making system.

To summarize

  1. Scope your needs
  2. Assign weights to needs
  3. Define consistent rating scale
  4. Set realistic threshold for hiring criteria
  5. Set final decision making criteria

What is left is coming up with the right process and questions to evaluate candidates on each attribute.  That part has to wait, until you answer my request to take the survey.