July 13

Hiring Product Managers — Finding Them, What to Ask & How to Answer

How to hire a product manager. It would be remiss of me if I didn’t kick off this conversation with a reference to Ken Norton’s classic essay. He first reminds us that Product Managers not only have to sell themselves but also the importance of the role itself. Marketers, engineers or business developers could each chip in to take your place (albeit with lesser results). He then lists several rules to follow, including hiring the smartest people with a strong technical background and those who actively ship products.

Find, vet and close the best Product Managers. Before outlining the questions you’ll ask as an interviewer you must decide on the type of candidate you are looking to hire. Todd Jackson believes the best Product Managers ‘articulate what a winning product looks like’, ‘rally the team to build it’, and ‘iterate on it until they get it right’. However, candidates will likely not have formal Product Management experience and instead, come from other functions. But there are experiences that are ideal for different types of candidates, such as internships for rookies or design experience for an engineer. Lastly, Todd describes a process for the interview itself — it should discern if the candidate has intellectual ability, leadership propensities, and entrepreneurial spirit.

Interviewing Product Managers. INDUSTRY ’17 speaker Brent Tworetzky places interview questions for the candidates into three buckets. One, assessing their will to do the job; two, assessing their skill to do the job; and three, seeing how they have handled conflicts in the past. The first two will show if the person has the motivation and ambition for the job and the requisite abilities to do it well. The last is especially important for a Product Manager who will be required to manage by influence rather than authority.

Acing your Product Manager interview. So how does the candidate herself deal with a well-prepared interviewer? David E. Weekly gives you a few tips including giving a crude answer first and then delving deeper, pausing occasionally on longer answers to look for feedback from the interviewer and being bold.

Five stellar questions for an interviewee to ask in a product management interview. And don’t forget to ask questions of your own. As Jessica Barnett argues, this is a great opportunity to learn about the inner workings of the company. You should ask questions that help you learn about the culture, how ideas are found and nurtured, and if the organization is empowered by quantitative and qualitative research.

Paul McAvinchey

About the author

For over 20 years, Paul has been building and collaborating on digital products with fast-growing startups and global brands, including AOL and WMS Gaming. Currently, he's a co-founder of Product Collective, a worldwide community of product people. Members collaborate on in the exclusive Member Hub, meet at INDUSTRY: The Product Conference, listen to Rocketship.fm, learn at Product Interviews and get a weekly newsletters that includes best practices in product management. In recent years he led business development at DXY, a leading product design firm in the Midwest, and product innovation at MedCity Media, a publishing startup acquired by Breaking Media in 2015.


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