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What do you look for in the backgrounds of aspiring product managers (who have never held the role before) as a signal that they will be a good hire?

3 Answers
Veronica Hudson
Veronica Hudson
ActiveCampaign Senior Director of Product ManagementJune 9

I think of product management skill sets in three major buckets: technical, business, and customer understanding. When I talk to aspiring product managers, I like to gauge the maturity of their skills sets in each of these buckets. Ideally a candidate would be strong in one bucket, have some basic understanding in another, and be actively working to hone a third (although I wouldn't expect any sort of proficiency). A good example of this would be a CSM. They likely have a very strong understanding of customer wants/needs, a good grasp on the business overall, but may be lacking in their technical skill set.

This is also the reason I like to consider internal hires if we are looking to bring someone on that doesn't have previous product experience. An internal team member will likely already have a deep understanding of our market, our customers and our business overall. The initial learning curve of getting up to speed on those items is much less steep and we focus on the nuts and bolts of product management.

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Luca Beltrami
Luca Beltrami
Faire Head of Product, RetailersJune 15

The most important thing for a PM is to bring at least some of the skills of the PM role into their first PM experience so they can lean on some of their strengths to add value immediately while they learn the rest of the craft. As mentioned above, too many new things to learn simultaneously don't set up PM for success.

What this means depends on the type of company and the requirements of the role. The smaller the company, the more specific the skills that will be useful in providing immediate value and therefore companies will be more likely to give you a shot at a PM role.

In smaller startups, there is very little overhead, and the only way to add value is to continue to do your old job (e.g. coding if you're an engineer, selling if you're a sales person) while also leaning into PM work - and then taper out of your old role as you start adding value as a PM. If you have skills that are directly related to the product development process (Design, Coding, Data) that is the most helpful because you can work as a "team captain" within the product team.

In larger companies you can add value through a more generalist skillset such as doind analyses, preparing presentations and helping more senior PMs out with documentation.

Former consultants and bankers will either be in a better position in mid/late stage companies (best if they transition internally from FP&A or Bizops). In smaller companies their sweetspot is probably helping with fundraising.

I generally look for the following as table stakes. 

I look for one spike in:

  • Strong customer empathy and a curiosity for what makes users tick
  • Strong analytical chops and data literacy, ideally paired with business acumen
  • Strong technical acumen and the ability to break down technical problems

In addition, the following are tablestakes:

  • Crisp, concise written and verbal communication
  • A track record of executing cleanly in complex, multi-stakeholder environments
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Alexa Maturana-Lowe
Alexa Maturana-Lowe
Fivetran Senior Director of Product Management, Core ExperienceJuly 15

Product management is a combination of a lot of different knowledge and skillsets but the core of the job in my opinion is three primary things: curiousity with a maniacle focus on the customer and getting sh*t done. Therefore, I'm really looking for folks who have shown by finding problems, understanding them with a lot of empathy, and solving them proactively and showing ugency and results orientation in driving outcomes (blasting through roadblocks and showing measurable outcomes). In my experience, these can be demonstrated in most roles - as a support engineer or CSM helping customers to get to outcomes, as an analyst building analysis to drive decisions or tools to empower teammates, as a program manager coordinating a team to get to an outcome, or as an engineer helping to guide the best solution. Demonstrating these three things both in how you write about your experience in your current role on your resume and how you interview is a sure way to get my attention.

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