A 360 look at Product Management: A Recruitment Perspective

I don’t need to tell you it is an uncertain world at the moment and people are finding themselves calling upon the employment market for a new job or new staff more often than ever before. With this in mind, we asked Saxon Francis, Director at Time Recruitment, who has recruited and placed Product Managers in some of the country’s largest companies to give us a perspective on the key factors that Product Managers and Hiring Managers should keep top of mind during this interaction.

First, let’s look at the job seeking Product Manager.

1. Relevance to the Role and the Company

Saxon believes that many people miss the critical first step of the process which is to read the Job Advertisement from start to finish. “Job hunting really is, first and foremost, the ultimate exercise in self-promotion and the key to successful self-promotion is taking the time to understand the advertisement and understand the organisation. Take the job posting apart and define the key aspects that the organisation is looking for, circle key words and demonstrate your practical experience doing the things that they have called out as critical.”

You need to map yourself to the role specifics and make yourself relevant – “What questions are the company asking and what answers do your skills provide. If you cannot show relevance within the first few seconds then your beautifully laid out, well written CV will be overlooked.”

2. The Catch-all Product Manager Title

“This is a really hard aspect of Product Management for a candidate. Employers apply the title to so many different subsets of responsibilities and disciplines that a job requirement could almost be absolutely anything from ad to ad!” This means that a Product Manager needs to clarify in their CV whether they classify themselves as a Technical Product Manager, Product Operations Manager, Product Marketer or an All-Rounder. Saxon stresses that this is the key information that you would want to communicate up front. “Make it clear what disciplines support your Product Management work. If you are a Technical Product Manager, make that clear and then map your technical experience back to the meeting the business requirements in a real, quantifiable sense. If you are a Product Operations Manager, give examples of how you managed a product through to execution including any interaction with the other discipline skews that you may be competing against for the role.”

Just remember that the title may be generic but it’s your job to show that you aren’t! A good way to do this is to sell your industry experience as a way to underpin your Product Management experience. An employer is buying your unique experience, tell them what it is and how your experience can be utilised to solve their market problems.

3. Identify Your Focus and Always Keep in Mind – “Why Does the Employer Need to Know This”?

“Tell them who you are, where you come from, what defines you and what you have achieved – as it relates to them.” A common mistake that people make is not spending the time to tailor your cover letter and CV to every application they make. “Apply for less, take the time to LOOK, LISTEN and CUSTOMISE so you are genuinely creating a written conversation about this role. At the senior end of the job market, there is no place for a generic cover letter and just one version of your CV. Tell the potential employer what they need to hear from your background as it relates to them, not what you want to tell them about. It may not be the same information.”

When it comes to the actual interview, Saxon says that the key things are pretty universal:

  1. Don’t be late – it is almost impossible to recover from that.
  2. Don’t assume the interview starts once you sit down, it starts from the second you are sighted by anyone in the organisation. Every interaction counts and you are being judged immediately.
  3. An interview is a two way communication, not a Q&A session where you answer their questions and then ask a few pre-formulated questions at the end. It is a conversation and you are trying to judge if they are a good fit for you too.
  4. Don’t assume that everyone in the room has read your CV. Go through your experience and achievements as if they are hearing it for the first time, bringing them to life with your enthusiasm for your field. Always keeping in mind that you need to speak to exactly what the employer wants to know, not what you want to tell them.
  5. Dress for the company. I baulked at this one because I am so entrenched in “Interview suit” but Saxon assures me that you need to mimic the company identity. “By dressing smart casual, no jeans of course, if that is the way they dress, you are allowing them to visualise you as a fit with the culture.”

As the Hiring Manager,

1. Create a Realistic Role Description with Appropriate Salary Attached to it

Many times, a Hiring Manager has no clear definition of what a Product Manager does or where the role starts and stops within their organisation or within the wider market. Saxon recommends a practical approach to determining the requirements for the role by starting with what the end picture looks like, what the output of the Product Manager will be and what critical skills will they need to have. Using this information, backward engineer to get an idea of what a typical day would look like for them. This will start to reveal some patterns which will help skew the requirements. Important questions to ask when defining your requirements are things like ‘which team do they sit with?’ and ‘who do they have to talk to most often?’

“Who they have to deal with is an important one. Whether you have a Technical Product Manager who needs to communicate to the wider business or a Product Marketing Manager communicating with a technical team, they need to be able to build credibility with their audience quickly.”

Saxon goes on to say, “If you don’t look at a potential hire through the lens of the stakeholders and resources they need to engage with specific to your environment, then you are doing everyone a disservice. If you don’t highlight the expectations around key relationships and situations an applicant needs to be comfortable with as early as the job posting, then you will waste a lot of time. You also need to be realistic about the scope of the role and the level of seniority you are seeking and compensate them accordingly. “

2. But Beware! Don’t rely on Central Casting as a Character Guide.

“Don’t look at the person you are interviewing through a lens that assesses their ability to do the job based on their perceived ability to deal with one difficult personality within your organisation. You should be mindful of potential personality conflicts between your new Product Manager and someone you have within the organisation but only hiring people who can deal with a particular personality perpetuates that negative behaviour within the organisation and gives it more power. That difficult person will eventually leave the company and rather than the drama going with them, you’ll be still be stuck with the people you hired because they could cope with them!”

“Ask questions about how they deal with difficult stakeholders or team members and let that guide your decision but don’t dismiss people who may otherwise be ideal candidates because of one roadblock personality.”

3. Finally, Look For The Prize.

“Be clear about what they have to accomplish in their Key Performance Indicators to meet your expectations in the role but most importantly, what does success look like in the role and why it is exciting to the candidate. If they don’t get excited about the company and the role and if you can’t see their mind ticking over, coming up with ideas on how they would achieve success right before your eyes, then you probably need to keep looking for the right candidate”.

Saxon Francis is Director at Time Recruitment: http://www.timerecruitment.com.au and has 13 years’ experience in recruitment.