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As a hiring manager, what do the best product management candidates have in common?

12 Answers
Mamuna Oyofo, MBA
Mamuna Oyofo, MBA
Shopify VP of ProductFebruary 9

My personal take is that when I am speaking with strong product candidates, I can see a few qualities shine through in their story. For me, those are: 

1. They are constant Learners/curious

They are constantly asking questions and actively listening. They are readers and constant consumers of information. To me, this shows that when they come on the team, they will bring fresh ideas forward. Ask the team questions that others may not consider and bring new information to the table. 

2. They are persistent and don't stop at 'no'

In this, they are contantly trying to understand constraints and find alternatives. They want to address a problem and flexibly driving towards a solution that will do it. They do not get discouraged when someone says no. Maybe they will flex their soft skills and coax a 'maybe' out of the person saying 'no'.

3. Understand how to balance the art and science

Often times when we talk about product management, we talk about the science. Your frameworks, how you manage backlogs, understanding data and tracking metrics and all of those fun items. You'll find a lot of books on these topics because they are measurable and easier to write about. On the other hand, we often forget about the art. The way things get done. How you communicate, show empathy, tell a compelling story and inspire others. How you connect with your customers and their problems, lead individuals without authority. Normally when a PM fails, it's because not enough attention is paid to the art. 

4. Focus on problems not solutions

Often times when someone is describing a problem, you want to jump to a solution. Technically product management is helping to solve a customer problem... but to truly solve a problem, you must really fall in love with the problem. 

5. Able to represent multiple POV

They are able to advocate wearing different hats. So they can speak to engineer, executives, marketing, the customer, you name it. They can comfortably devils' advocate ideas and not settle for the first answer suggested. Often in the interview process, you are meeting with different stakeholders and really they are each approaching you with a different lens (or hat) to evaluate your ability to breakdown a problem.

1100 Views
Rodrigo Davies
Rodrigo Davies
Asana Product Management Lead, AIMay 18

For me the biggest differentiator is having a growth mindset. This doesn't just mean they want to make an impact and improve as a PM. For me it comes down to three things:

  1. They have a sense of what they know and don't know, and are always eager to learn more. They question their own assumptions.
  2. They're humble and curious in trying to figure out what they don't know and leverage the expertise of others.
  3. They frequently seek feedback from others and try to challenge themselves, not just to achieve more but to be a better colleague and partner to others.
2583 Views
Lizzy Masotta
Lizzy Masotta
Shopify Senior Product LeadJuly 27
  1. They teach you something in the interview

I once interviewed a woman who had extensive experience working for a telecommunications company. I have zero experience in telco – aside from being a customer of Verizon Wireless. I walked out of that interview having learned so much about telco companies, their business model, what they optimize for, how they segment their customers, etc. In the stories the candidate told about her work experiences she concisely weaved in the basics of the telco in a digestible way and was very aware of the learnings and insights she had from her product launch successes and failures. 

As a product manager you’re responsible for the “what” and the “why.” What should we build and why should we build it? If you’re able to succinctly describe the what and the why of your current or previous roles -- no mater the industry -- that’s a great indication of a strong PM.

2. They make it a two-way conversation. (See answer to “What are the most common mistakes you see candidates make” question above)

827 Views
Vasudha Mithal
Vasudha Mithal
Care Solace Chief Product OfficerAugust 24

A few things:

  • A very deep understanding of the problems they are looking to solve. This gets reflected in how they speak about past experiences (why did you choose to work on a specific problem, what exactly was the need?) as well as any case study (are they asking intelligent questions to understand the need).
  • User-first approach: While solving the problem they identified, are they putting the user at the forefront? Are they clear about who the users are for the problem?
  • Clear communication
  • For more experienced positions and specific for B2B products, are they mature to understand roll-out considerations for a large group of stakeholders? What are the people and processes needed to make a roll-out successful?
1194 Views
Bhaskar Krishnan
Bhaskar Krishnan
Meta Product Leadership - Ads, Commerce & AIJanuary 18

The best Product managers combine curiosity with structured problem solving skills. Being curious helps them look at problems as opportunities to learn & grow. Ability to frame & structure a problem helps them take others along in the process. Both these skills can be learnt & cultivated over time.

Curiosity - Being curious is an under-rated skill. PMs who are curious keep learning, adding new tools (ideas, PM techniques, s/w tools) to their expanding toolkit and more importantly keep expanding their perspective.

Structured Problem Solving - Being able to frame a problem in a simple manner, helps all cross-functional stakeholders & partners align on the problem definition (yes, this is key), the solution and then the execution

I try to imbue these two values on a daily basis and this has helped me seamlessly transition across AdTech, Consumer Tech, E-Commerce & Fintech. And, it's a lot of fun!

1161 Views
Brandon Green
Brandon Green
Buffer Staff Product ManagerNovember 8

I'll speak to commonalities in IC PMs since I have less experience hiring other product leaders. It's really just 4 things in my view:

  • A clear ability to break down complex, multi-faceted problems into digestible, actionable chunks, as usually shown via some kind of case interview.
  • Excellent ability to ask good, tough questions
  • A clear track record of having an impact and/or continuous learning/improvement. This may not necessarily be demonstrated through previous work as a PM, but the candidate is able to speak clearly to the impact they distinctly had or the specificity of the learnings they captured.
  • Genuine interest and energy around the problems discussed in the interview cycle. This may show up in a case interview (ie. clear enthusiasm about the challenge presented) or when asking questions about the role/company. I always like to see how a candidate reacts when I answer questions about the business/product, challenges we face, etc.
899 Views
Natalia Baryshnikova
Natalia Baryshnikova
Atlassian Head of Product, Enterprise AgilityNovember 10

Best product management candidates craft compelling, concise and inspirational narratives when they interview. They demonstrate clarity of thinking, knowing both the facts and the "why" behind their answers, and genuine curiosity. I always walk out of an interview with a great product manager feeling like I have learned something valuable, and inspired. I spoke to the skills I've seen among successful product managers in another answer to the AMA, but if you are looking to impress hiring managers specifically, I recommend practicing storytelling and becoming a great conversationalist in addition to the core skills you need to the job. The good news is that your conversational and story telling skills get better the more you practice - and you are not limited to interviews only. Any sort of verbal presentation mastery - Toastmasters, Improv and comedy, acting classes etc. will help you become a master storyteller. 

1627 Views
Paresh Vakhariya
Paresh Vakhariya
Atlassian Director of Product Management (Confluence)March 29

The best PM's have:

- Strong leadership and communication skills. To be able to talk to customers, stakeholders, and leadership with the right context. They are good at leading teams with ambiguous problems and helping them arrive at a decision quickly

- Strategy and Vision: the ability to define a problem, size and prioritize them, come up with a solution (along with a set of steps needed to achieve their goal)

- Comfort with data, metrics, and OKR setting: set clear goals and a plan to achieve them over time. Rally a team around these goals.

- Constant learner: learn about new tech and user challenges to help define solutions with a passion for the products they work on.

- Dealing with ambiguity: be able to deal with changing direction, organizational constraints, timeline risks and resource constraints to constantly make progress

999 Views
Casey Flinn
Casey Flinn
Realtor.com Sr. Director, Product OperationsJuly 27

Creating new opportunities.

This is really what will differentiate yourself as a Product Manager and really expand your own career opportunities. Its also the hardest thing to achieve because it requires high levels of proficiency, a strong "product sense," and being in a company that creates the conditions for you to do this.

Imagine two PMs both focusing on driving a KR of improving NPS by 30pts...

PM 1 achieves that goal by revising pricing and packaging, addressing feature gaps with the nearest competitor, and rolling out a some features that are truly customer inspired. PM 1 clearly had impact, and they and the teams around them have something they can point to as a real accomplishment that made the business better.

PM 2 however has been spending a lot of time with their Trio practicing continuous discovery habits, and they discovered an opportunity that nobody in the business even considered around a problem that their competitions are not solving either. PM 2 works to bring early iterations of this product to life and customers buy and adopt this new product which increases NPS because they are getting value they never expected.

Both of these types of PMs are needed in a Product org as they are clearly able to deliver impact. The distinction here is that eventually optimization work starts to run dry and companies need to produce new things in order to grow and retain competitive differentiation, this is where the PM 2 is going to have outsized impact on a company.

Lastly, I do observe this is a learnable skill that we can all develop. As I observe "opportunity creators" today, the most salient things they have in common is that 1) they talk to a lot of different people (customers, prospects, stakeholders), 2) with high frequency, and 3) not to validate their own ideas / prioritize problems but to just understand what their experiences are. This allows them to "paint with more colors" when they are thinking about how to drive outcomes and what opportunities they should pursue.

443 Views
Boris Logvinsky
Boris Logvinsky
Vanta VP ProductDecember 13

The answer depends on the stage of company and product you're working on. At Vanta, where we're growing very quickly and are still formulating many of our process, I've found that the most successful PMs / candidates:

  • Customer focus. I look for past examples where they have deeply understood their customers and users.

  • Agency and comfort with ambiguity. In high growth environments, there often isn't a beaten path. PMs need to be able to make progress and drive when there's not one.

  • Commercial mindset. The best PMs don't just think about what to ship, but think about how to position what they're shipping in the context of the market.

652 Views
Sheila Hara
Sheila Hara
Barracuda Networks Sr. Director, Product ManagementFebruary 1

As a hiring manager, I've found that the best product management candidates share a common trait: intellectual curiosity. They possess a relentless desire to learn, explore new ideas, and understand the 'why' behind user needs and market trends. This curiosity drives them to continuously seek improvement, both for the product and in their personal skill set, making them invaluable assets in the dynamic field of product management.

368 Views
Subu Baskaran
Subu Baskaran
Splunk Director of Product ManagementFebruary 14

There is no one silver bullet for a product management candidate. If I were to look for specific traits, definitely high up on the list would be how long a PM candidate explores the “problem space.” Honestly, ideas are a dime a dozen, but understanding a customer problem and isolating the right pain point, in my opinion, differentiates an average PM from a great PM. Finally, remember that a PM's main job is to ensure we are building products for the right customer problem. So, having an exploratory mindset and curiosity about the problem space can provide an edge over other PM candidates. Note - other skills such as identifying solutions, prioritization, and collaboration with engineering, UX, and marketing are equally important and may be required to qualify as a well-rounded PM.

411 Views
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