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What do you look for while hiring a junior PM candidate, especially someone who might not have had a prior PM experience? What assignments would you typically ask as part of recruitment?

2 Answers
D Matthew Landry
D Matthew Landry
Cisco VP Product Management, Cisco WirelessFebruary 23

 Entry-level product managers for an enterprise product line tend to come in from two paths: technical background, and business background.

Those with a stronger technical background might come from another part of the business, such as technical marketing or solution/sales engineering. They make up for a relative lack of experience in product strategy with deeper knowledge of product specifics (or demonstrated ability to learn), understanding of the industry & market (or demonstrated ability ...), and hours on the clock sitting with customers to listen and problem solve.

Entry level PMs coming in with a business background might have just finished an undergrad with a blend of technical and economics coursework, or may have completed an MBA program undertaken to support a career change. This candidate potentially has more analytical tools and structured approaches to understanding product strategy, while they have less practical experience with the product, industry, and customers.

The recruiting assignments (if any) and interviewing discussions are tailored to these different backgrounds. 

For the technical candidate, I would look for traits that indicate an affinity to picking up the product strategy. What strengths/weaknesses/opportunities have you observed in the offering? Which customers would you go to for research purposes and why? Which competitor do you most admire and what would you do about them? I'd also screen out one very common motivator: becoming a PM to control the engineers. 

For the business-oriented background, I'm looking for someone who is hypothesis and data driven: If they don't understand the product and market, will they ask thoughtful questions and validate assumptions to become an expert? Do they have a sense of sales channels and cost structures, and what tradeoffs might matter when bringing the product to market?

 Regardless of background, I'm looking for enthusiasm and intrinsic motivation so the new PM can dive in to learn about everything and everyone. Then they're ready to help form a product vision and catalyze development & adoption.

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Pavan Kumar
Pavan Kumar
Gainsight Director, Product ManagementMarch 2

Some key traits that would really help in a fresh PM interview situation:

  • Passion for product, its inner workings, ability to interpret some of the best features and bad ones - Typically I ask the candidate to choose any popular tech product of their choice (say Netflix and compare it to Hotstar/ amazon prime). This simple exercise can reveal the candidate's thought process as they walk me through it.
  • Strong communication skills are a big bonus, but the ability to articulate and convey an idea in any format (written / verbal) effectively is a must
  • Good analytical ability, and cognitive/ reasoning skills 
  • Overall a positive attitude with a willingness to learn 
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