In 2024 Sustainable Product Hiring Means Recruiting From Within

By JANA PAULECH

If you’ve tried hiring in the product professional market in the last few years, you may have found it hard. We’re seeing businesses spend significant amounts of time, energy and money to recruit a product professional who isn’t the exact fit they need for the role they’re trying to fill – and we have thoughts.

The Challenges

The global pandemic in 2020 sparked a sudden high demand for rapid digitisation, and this meant product professionals came at a premium. Many of our clients ended up paying big bucks for a product professional that didn’t really live up to the hype. Partly because we were also seeing people get into the product professional market who had no business being there, simply because companies were struggling to fill positions in a tight market.

This was a start for many aspiring and talented people joining the product space, but also a time when people got paid a premium when they didn’t have the skills needed to do the job.

Today, we’re seeing a looser market, with some redundancies here and overseas. Many of our clients are looking at the overall quality of the market and finding it falls short. While others are trying to poach talented product professionals from competitors but still finding that the premium on these skill sets is high.

The issue is compounded by a lack of trained product professionals, partly due to a lack of formal education or product leadership training programs, as educational institutions catch up with this booming industry. There’s a gap when it comes to experienced leaders too, meaning that candidates would need to learn on the job instead of presenting with the proven expertise so many employers require. 

And then there’s the evolving nature of product professional roles, meaning candidates require a unique blend of strategic and tactical skills along with high levels of adaptability.

Our Solution: Grow Your Own

Throughout the race to hire, and subsequent restructures, what many organisations haven’t considered is the potential to develop a more sustainable pipeline of product professionals, and lift the overall understanding of product thinking in the organisation. This could be through re-skilling people already within the business (from outside the product team and/or moving people around within it), and developing greater support for lateral mobility.

The people already within your business have shown commitment, understanding, and cultural alignment. They’ve got vital knowledge and training and an understanding of your product and customer that can’t be fast-tracked.

There are a few different flavours of growing your own product talent we are seeing in the market:

Re-Skilling Programs

These programs re-skill high potential talent within the organisation and can be an effective way to manage career paths across the organisation. They can provide new opportunities for talent that may have maxed out their current career path, or for talent with career paths facing future decline. 

These programs aim to take the business knowledge and skills acquired in adjacent areas and re-skill the necessary additional product capabilities – leading to a more diverse product workforce that better understands the organisation.

Entry / Associate Programs

These programs grow new talent within the market by finding and attracting the best early entrants into the organisation. These can be formal entry programs to attract new interns or associates, or smaller mentoring programs. The added benefit here is that this dynamic can provide development opportunities for both the junior product professional and the senior mentor, especially if the latter aspires to move into people management.

Mobility Support

Sometimes ‘growing your own’ is less about training and more about increasing the visibility and openness to internal movement (mobility) across product roles. We’re currently seeing organisations that make a conscious effort to support and advocate for product professionals’ mobility are able to create more engaging and long-term careers for product professionals that don’t necessarily follow hierarchical movement. Combine that with the fact that most organisations are forecasting less opportunity for hierarchical movement, as middle management roles are thinned, and this is a powerful means of looking to retain talent that loves new experiences.

Getting It Right

Recruiting product professionals internally is an investment that requires identifying and nurturing talent. Long-term and robust processes for assessment, training and ongoing support need to be put in place if you’re serious about establishing a steady pipeline of product team members.

These recruits know the business, but in their new role they’ll need to know product-thinking inside out, and they’ll need training and support to confidently walk into a new area of the business with new stakeholders & challenges.

For this to be a smooth transition you will need to provide the right day to day support as well as ensuring there is structured, ongoing learning and development that’s fit for purpose for each individual. This will need to be accessible, engaging, and aligned with their specific circumstances. For instance, are they entering their career or transitioning into product as a business professional? Or, are they a current product professional being mobilised? These require different learning & support journeys.

It’s also important that these learning opportunities are multi-modal and ongoing – one online course (while better than nothing) will not fit how everyone wants to learn, and cannot replace learning on the job. This is also why it’s important to go beyond learning and development programs and pair new product professionals with more experienced product talent. It is also essential that product leaders can also consistently allocate enough time for coaching. If coaching support is limited because the team is under the pump or the leader is busy, consider prioritising external coaching support to make sure the team member is getting the support they need as they enter product or transition between roles.

The Benefits We’ve Seen

We’ve seen a number of benefits in the organisations we’ve supported in creating their own internal product talent pipelines. These include:

  • Adaptability: Strengthened resilience and the ability to adapt in the face of a rapidly changing and disrupted markets.

  • Engagement & Recognition: Reduced turnover rates & increased tenure as people can see opportunities for advancement and personal growth within their own company, increasing their sense of belonging and sending a powerful message that hard work & innovation is recognised.

  • Future-Proofing Skills: Increasing exposure to differing experiences enables product professionals to stay relevant as technology and consumer preferences evolve, ensuring that teams remain ahead of the pack and capable of meeting future challenges head-on.

  • Attractive Culture: Internal growth opportunities solidify a reputation as an employer of choice. This is critical for attracting and retaining external talent, especially product professionals who we’ve seen explicitly seeking out businesses with a track record of offering opportunities for growth.

  • Faster Time to Impact: Avoiding the steep learning curve that follows external recruitment as new hires learn the ropes and establish new relationships. Ultimately we’ve seen organisations that get the transition right see faster time-to-impact when internal staff are recruited.

  • Increased Diversity: Diversifying talent sources increases diversity of capability, perspective, background & experience across product teams.

When your team succeeds, your business succeeds, and we believe that
investing in your team is the smartest investment you can make.

Reskilling is like giving your team a superpower. It’s about helping them learn new skills or improve existing ones so they can take on different roles or responsibilities. 

Think of it as building a strong foundation for your business. Instead of constantly relying on external hires, you’re setting your product team up for the long term. This creates a culture of loyalty and trust, where employees feel valued and supported. When your team feels valued, they’re more likely to stick around. That means less turnover and more stability for your business as your team pours knowledge and creativity into fuelling innovation and driving your business forward. And we’re here to help you do it.

At Brainmates, we’ve helped hundreds of organisations upskill their teams and build strong product practices with coaching, training and program design for entry, re-skilling and mobility programs. We take a strategic approach and can help across the full spectrum of product professional talent experience. We know that professional development is more than just an ad hoc activity or passing phase. It’s an ongoing process that empowers people to improve, innovate, and thrive.

Talk to us about nurturing your product talent pipeline

About The Author

Jana Paulech

Principal Consultant & Strategy Lead - Brainmates

Jana is an intellectually curious problem solver who’s super power is seeing the connections across diverse problems and industries. With a background in academic research and education, Jana received her Ph.D. at the University of Sydney, before moving into corporate advisory and product management across consulting and technology.

Talk to a partner who can help solve
your product problems.

Related Readings

The Subtle Art of Recruiting in Product

There’s a science to recruiting product professionals, and an art to effective onboarding. We’ve been hiring product teams for decades so the following strategies are backed by our team’s hands-on, cross-industry experience – and we believe they’re the key to finding and hiring the best product talent.

Read more »

Drive Higher Business Value

Get cutting-edge insights on how to leverage product management in your organisation.

Free Consultation

We’ll get in touch the next business day to organise a time that suits.

Get a Quote

We’ll get in touch with you to discuss how we can help your team.