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When joining a new team as a product manager, is it better to have the right soft skills and have to learn the hard skills of the job? Or vice versa?

2 Answers
Milena Krasteva
Milena Krasteva
Walmart Sr Director II, Product Management - Marketing TechnologyJune 9

This reminds me of an interview question I got a very long time ago: "Is it better to have a bad team or a bad manager". In both cases, you'd rather not find yourself in either extreme. In both cases, there is no right or wrong answer and a lot depends on additional circumstances and assumptions. The answer will also depend on your value system and the experiences which have shaped your core beliefs about human aptitude and potential. 

For the sake of argument, if I had to pick, I would first apply the same framework: which suboptimal option is more mitigatable. 

I believe that most people have the capacity to learn the facts of the domain, the technical aspects, I.e. the hard skills, with sufficient effort and time. On some level, I see acquiring the hard skills in this contrived case akin to suceeding in a college course you know nothing about but are highly motivated to ace.

The soft skills can also be learned, but these are much more entangled with personality, self-awareness, communication style, etc., all of which develop and become ingrained over the years. They are harder to inculcate artificially or to undo as bad habits.

Poor soft skills can burn bridges and set the course of nascent relationships on the wrong trajectory, impacting your ability drive results far into the future. No amount of hard skills may be able to offset that. Good soft skills can even buy you time to get up to speed on the hard skills, and can get you critical early support from the team to actively help you get there. 

This is why if I had to, I would pick the soft skills option.

2523 Views
Tara Wellington
Tara Wellington
BILL Senior Director of Product ManagementDecember 19

If you had to only have one, I think it is easier to have soft skills and then learn the hard skills. I have done a lot of hiring for product managers both out of college and out of customer service who did not have any hard product skills. What they did have was:

  • Empathy

  • Customer focus

  • Communication

  • Passion

  • Focus

  • Curiosity

If a potential hire has all of these things, I can teach them the practice of product management. However, if a candidate has none of these things, but is a very technical product manager, I think it is extremely difficult to coach someone to care about the customer or to communicate better. Product managers need to AT LEAST have customer focus, basic communication skills, and a passion to learn and solve problems to be able to succeed in product management.

411 Views
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