Once you’re blessed with the opportunity to expand your product management team with a new hire, you have options to consider. You can hire a senior product manager who will bring their years of real-world experience and savviness to the table, or you can bring on new talent you can mold and mentor yourself.
Of course, there’s a little more to this decision. When hiring a senior product manager, their compensation is greater. They are more difficult to find, recruit, and win over. Also, they may have firmly-entrenched ideas about how things should work.
Meanwhile, a junior product manager will be a more affordable investment. You might even be able to get two for the same price as one senior PM. But they’ll likely require handholding and closer supervision. They won’t start off with much credibility and could turn out to be the wrong fit for the job.
In our 2020 Product Management Report, we found that 23.5% of respondents planned to hire a junior product manager this year. Compared with 48.2% expecting to add a “regular” product manager. Directors of Product and Chief Product Officers were less likely to be hired (at 9.8% and 4.8%, respectively).
In our 2021 State of Product Management report, hiring was one of the primary focuses of product leader’s budgets.
So why should product team leaders favor experience versus potential?
3 Reasons to Hire a Senior Product Manager
1. You get what you pay for.
When you hire a senior product manager, the cost is greater, and there’s no getting around that truth. Someone with years of experience knows their worth and commands a higher salary.
A senior product manager can hit the ground running. They won’t be new at being a product manager. They’ll still need to make the rounds getting to know key stakeholders, sit in on some customer interactions, and bone up on the product and its market. They’ve already learned the basics of the job and gone through all the invaluable steps required to take on this role at a new company before.
Besides possessing a fundamental grasp of what the role entails, a senior addition to the team brings their specific experiences and expertise. They can begin making keen observations and suggestions predicated on what they’ve dealt with elsewhere.
Most importantly, product leaders should start handing off real responsibilities to a new senior hire quickly and with confidence. Their learned experience will shorten the time between their first day on the job and their first days of actually adding value. Getting things off your plate is one of the main perks of expanding your team, so the sooner you can confidently make that happen, the better.
2. Great time investment.
Mentoring, coaching, and showing newbies the ropes can be incredibly rewarding. For some managers, it’s their favorite part of the job.
But it’s also incredibly time-consuming. Instead of delegating and focusing on something else, you’ve got to keep a close eye on junior staff as they get their sea legs. It’s important to avoid any costly missteps or indirect damage to your own reputation.
While building up a bullpen of talent may be a strategic goal for your organization, it’s not expected to come at the expense of delivering fantastic user experiences and increasing revenue and profitability. If you’re spending too much time grooming and nurturing, that means your product’s evolution and growth could suffer.
3. Strong performers elevate teams.
Some product leaders worry that bringing on a talented, experienced product professional could come back to haunt them, primarily by outshining their own performance.
Bringing on strong performers and positioning them for success is part of being a leader. The benefits these senior staff members bring should raise the profile of the entire product team. There is evidence that the best leaders hire people who are smarter or better than them. Why wouldn’t you want the best players possible on your team?
Exceptions To The Rule
Are there fresh-faced product professionals that can run circles around established PMs despite their lack of experience? Sure! It’s possible you could luck into an overachieving product savant. One that outperforms their salary and brings incredible value to the organization.
But there’s no way to know that before they’re on board until they are in the thick of things. Even then, they’ll need some basic training and additional coaching as they come up to speed.
Betting on a promising undiscovered talent can pay massive dividends if they pan out. However, when you only have a small number of hires to make during your tenure, do you want to risk it? This isn’t to say that you should never hire an associate product manager with minimal experience. It’s a longshot; you’ll see the same returns as you would from someone with a proven track record.
Addressing Specific Needs
Additional headcount is usually intended to serve a specific purpose as few companies add personnel for the heck of it. That’s why it’s important to remember you’re not building an abstractly ideal organization. Instead, you’re actively filling a role that’s desperately needed. The specifics of that need should be the primary driver for the job description and whom you select to bring aboard.
Before you stock up on junior product managers to build your mini-empire and celebrate your new staffing budget, take a step back, and consider what will actually be helpful for you and the product organization:
- Need help with reporting and sorting through reams of data to make informed product decisions? A business analyst could fit the bill, or you could build out a separate analytics team.
- Does the development team need so much attention that there’s no time to think about strategy? Maybe a product owner would be the right fit. They would free staff members to focus on their roles while the product manager deals with the day-to-day issues during implementation.
Group Product Manager
- Are there too many products with their own separate schedules, priorities, and customers to supervise? A group product manager can take some of that load and provide the mentoring and attention to detail required. This would help create a consistent approach to product management processes and a single point-person for senior leadership.
Senior Product Manager
- Launching a new product and want to give it the attention it deserves and requires? Hire a senior product manager. Put them on the project and remain confident they won’t have to learn on the job for this important new initiative.
Product Onboarding Manager
- Are you struggling with your product’s successful adoption (s) and need to shrink the time to value? A product onboarding manager can take on a holistic approach to improving this critical stage in the customer journey. They do this by improving the KPIs the executive team is counting on.
Product Operations Manager
- Maybe the day-to-day processes and operations are becoming overwhelming in their own right. Do you want someone to own those and take the reigns for those issues? Bringing on a product operations manager can manage the tools and processes required to make the product team hum.
Invest Wisely in Strategic Staffing
You will only have so many opportunities to add headcount to your team, so be sure you’re making the most of each chance you get. Closing gaps in your organization’s collective skill set and bringing on trusted lieutenants will allow you to hit the accelerator and bring better products to the market with fewer missteps and minimal delays.
Ask for what you really need, hire the best, and position your team to successfully seize the available opportunities while those windows are still there. In today’s competitive marketplace, you can’t often afford to incubate potential future superstars when you need a solid player today.
Watch our webinar, Hiring and Growing a Successful Product Team, to see what product leaders look for when hiring new team members: