When prioritizing items for our product roadmaps, we sort and select them based on their ability to influence key metrics, achieve strategic goals, delight customers, and generate revenue. In evaluating possibilities, we choose the initiatives that maximize ROI and make the most of the available time and resources. In short, we’re trying to create a positive impact, and one lens to deploy for these exercises is the IMPACT mindset I’ve written about in our new free ebook. But the decisions we make as product leaders extend far beyond which themes and enhancements cut the next release. In this blog, I want to talk about hiring with an IMPACT mindset. Deciding which roles our team needs and who should fill them exercises muscles product leaders don’t use that often. It’s not like we’re hiring new product managers every few weeks like some of our engineering counterparts might fill out their vastly larger ranks.
Product management hires at all, but the largest companies are relatively few and far between. And because we don’t get many opportunities, that makes these decisions that much more critical. We can’t just hire another if the first turns out to be a dud without navigating painful human resources processes. Plus, we have to find someone else to do the work while restarting another lengthy recruitment and hiring process. There’s usually a decent appetite for experimentation, ongoing learning, and trial and error in product development. But not so much when it comes to staffing. This makes our hiring decisions in many ways even more impactful than some of the choices we make around our products themselves.
Why hiring product managers is so hard
I don’t need to tell anyone in product management that finding good talent is tricky; anyone who’s ever had the opportunity knows that resumes and cover letters don’t give you a full sense of the candidate. Plus, you tend to get a flood of highly unqualified applicants you still need to sift through.
But why is a product hire so much harder than finding another engineer or salesperson, or customer service rep? It’s because we ask so darn much from product management at every level. No other job requires you to do many different things with a high level of competence and mastery.
In addition to being asked, forced, and blessed to wear so many hats, there’s also no preferred path to a career in product management. Our ranks include former developers, marketers, analysts, and customer success reps. They all bring unique experiences and skills to the table. But comparing candidates with such diverse professional backgrounds can be challenging. Especially since they may all have their own ideas about what product management actually is and what the day-to-day job looks like.
Product management also requires a broad slate of soft skills to succeed. These aren’t binary, checklist items that a hiring manager can surmise from a glance at their C.V., and your HR department typically can’t offer much assistance in this department either. It requires probing interview questions and reference checks that try and uncover the real person you’ll be working with and relying on if they join the organization.
Using IMPACT to Choose the Right Product Hire
We know product management hires are important and that it’s hard. Luckily we can apply IMPACT to this process to help ensure we make quality hires that increase productivity and cut down on turnover.
IMPACT comes in handy from the very first step—writing a killer job description—to making the final decision. Each pillar gives us something to think about and consider as we seek out additional team members.
How to Hire with IMPACT
You want to work with interesting people—you’re going to spend a lot of time with them, after all—so you can look for candidates with backgrounds you find intriguing. A clone army is not the goal for product teams, as every new person brings a new perspective and lived experience to the table.
More importantly, you want to hire people who are interested in things. You want people that always have another question and are lifetime learners. They should be intrigued by customers and their stories, always inquisitive but not seeking to impose their viewpoints on others until they’ve done their homework. If they’re not curious, they’re not likely to be an excellent product manager.
Even the most junior product manager has a lot of leeway in how they spend their time. Since you don’t want to spend all your time babysitting your staff, finding candidates that are instinctually focused on important things is key.
Their resume and how they talk about their past achievements can be indicatory in this department. Using language about “improving” or “enabling” things and “delighting customers” resonates with me far more than simply “increasing revenue” or “delivering” lots of projects.
I’m looking for a strong moral compass and recognition that they have the ability to make a difference in people’s lives through their work… even if it’s on something relatively mundane.
Product management is a team sport, even if you’re the only one with “product manager” on their business card. No one in this role can succeed if they don’t work well with others. So, naturally, I’m seeking evidence of past success in this area and an awareness of its importance.
“Collaboration” and “partnering” carry much more weight than simply “leading” or “running” things. Candidates must truly value the importance of working with others and creating alignment and consensus.
Coming up with ideas is easy. Coming up with good ideas that are actually doable is a lot harder. I’m looking for team members that don’t let “perfect” be the enemy of “good.” This means actually getting things done. I also want individuals who identify doable opportunities and not just pie-in-the-sky ideas.
By ensuring candidates are grounded in reality, I know they’re going to gravitate toward opportunities that are practical and possible. It necessitates a 360-degree-view of the situation, collaboration with technical stakeholders to assess how actionable things are, and a focus on incremental progress toward goals.
I also want product managers who don’t just present information and problems. I want them to have a clear ask or solution to go along with it. This is happening, this is what it means, and this is what we need to do now.
Communication skills are one of the top requirements for successful product management, and I’m looking for clear, concise communication from candidates from the get-go. This starts with their own “elevator pitch,” as I expect them to entice me and sell me on them quickly.
This isn’t to be mean or overly judgmental. Rather, it’s an indicator of their ability to command the room and convey the essential information—and do so in a convincing way. Product management is always competing for the time and attention of stakeholders. So I want to know they’ve got what it takes to thrive in those environments.
The job application and interview process is really one big series of tests and questions. Have they checked enough boxes to warrant a phone screen? Do they still seem interested after learning more about the job? Did they conduct themselves well during interviews with myself and colleagues and distinguish themselves positively versus the other candidates?
I’m also testing for my comfort with the hire. What do they bring to the table, and how will it positively (or negatively) impact the combined skills, experiences, and talents of the overall team. Is it filling a need or duplicating an existing strength?
But for a product management role, I will also literally put applicants to the test. These should be reserved for finalists out of respect for their time (and mine!). But for such a key hire, it’s important to see their work output and the tactics and strategies they utilize to do it. I have several examples of these test exercises in my book.
Hire with IMPACT at Every Opportunity
More than anything, incorporating an IMPACT approach into your hiring philosophy is all about making the most of the limited chances managers get to augment and improve their staff. Who we hire will have a massive impact on both the products in our portfolio and the teams we manage.
We want assets instead of liabilities, high performers, and not needy neophytes. This requires scrutiny, inquiry, judgment, and a healthy dose of gut feel (which we normally try to tamp down in this line of work).
At the end of the day, we want employees that share our values and work ethic. They should be worthy of our trust and not clash too much with our style. Using IMPACT is one way to ensure our choices match that intent.