The Subtle Art of Recruiting in Product

By JANA PAULECH

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. 

The key challenge hiring in product is that product management intersects with every facet of a business. As we’ve seen firsthand, this means it requires capabilities in strategic thinking, tactical execution, and active engagement with customers, stakeholders and teams. 

Hiring the right product professionals for your business can require seeking out a unique blend of technical, business, and leadership skills, which can be rare and difficult to find, and sometimes expensive to hire (especially if you get it wrong).

As organisations continue to prioritise innovation and customer satisfaction the demand for talented product professionals will continue to grow. So if you’re looking to stay competitive with a strategic product professional recruitment plan, this is what you need to know. 

Strategy First

We’ve seen time and again that recruiting the right product professional for your team begins with a thorough assessment of product strategy and business needs.

If the recruitment is for a first hire there might not be a complete product strategy in place and it could be a priority for new product hires to develop one. 

Timeline is impactful too. The product strategy is what will support the product management team in meeting the most critical customer needs. A well-planned product strategy focuses on product market positioning and business goals. If you’re planning a product launch versus growing a mature product, the person you’re looking for will need different experience and capabilities that correlate with the product strategy and imminent activities. 

With a review completed before diving into the recruitment process, you’ll be better positioned to map out current skills and capabilities and identify relevant skills gaps to strategy before you begin recruiting.  

Talk to us about a product strategy review

 

Outline the Missing Puzzle Piece

By this we mean clearly define the role of the specific product professional your team needs. This is not just about finding someone with an impressive resume. It’s about assessing their skills, strengths and capabilities in relation to what’s needed.

One answer is to recruit internally to cut down on effort and make better use of the talent you have. If you’re considering this path, make sure the person fulfils at least some of what you need in the future strategy and has demonstrated capability to extend beyond their current role.

On the flip side, bringing in capabilities externally that are essential to the future of the product, but that your company has no capabilities in currently, may be essential – especially if you are scaling or launching a brand new product.

If this is the case, product management success hinges on how well the role is defined within the product team. This may sound obvious in theory but in reality very few businesses take the time to design a role that’s a snug and efficient fit with the existing team. 

Instead they rely on the generic understanding of product management responsibilities – rather than what is specifically needed in each team member – leading to gaps or overlaps in capabilities and responsibilities.

Understanding this and mapping current talent and capabilities against business goals will help you recruit product professionals who fill these gaps, allowing you to strategically build complementary teams with a more diverse set of skills. 

Get it right and you’ll have the opportunity to minimise ambiguity for the new hire, and the team, by defining the role based on a thorough capability assessment. This ensures alignment between company-wide expectations of the role and the actual responsibilities new product professionals will actually be tasked with from day one.

With a clear understanding of the specifics of the role you’ll be best-placed to empower new product professionals to take ownership of their responsibilities, make informed decisions, and lead with confidence. Ultimately serving as a foundation for immediate impact.

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Look Inside and Out

A viable and increasingly popular strategy is to recruit internally for product professionals. This offers numerous benefits, including the opportunity to leverage knowledge and experience from within the business while retaining team members who have already shown dedication and understanding of company culture and processes.

Reskilling current staff allows companies to tap into the potential of employees who may have relevant, adjacent skills or domain expertise but lack formal product management experience. Through targeted training and mentorship programs, these individuals can acquire the necessary skills and knowledge to excel in their new roles.

In some cases it may be necessary to retrain existing staff members to fill product team positions. In others it may mean greater support for the mobility of current product talent to the most important areas of the business. Both require an investment in training & internal mobility programs but offer the advantage of building a pipeline of skilled product professionals from within your own ranks, increasing resilience & succession planning.

Investing in professional development and training by promoting from within and retraining current staff can be a powerful tool for building sustainable product management teams.

Talk to us about our range of capability solutions

 

Pen the Perfect Job Ad

Fun fact: there is no perfect one size fits all product job ad. But there is a perfect job ad for the specific product role you’ve now identified as essential to your team.

We see so many job ads looking for what we refer to as ‘unicorn’ product professionals – someone that ‘has it all’. My advice is simple: know exactly what you need and ask for it, specifically.

With that in mind, a job ad for product management professionals needs to be clear:

  • Don’t fall into the trap of making a long-winded laundry list of must-haves as this notably discourages applicants with diverse backgrounds (think culture, gender, and personal circumstances) who typically won’t respond to ads where they cannot tick 90-100% of the boxes. Instead, be clear on what you NEED someone to bring to the team.

  • Don’t list any generic responsibilities that won’t actually apply – for example if they won’t have a role in product strategy realistically, don’t promise that they will.

  • Do get a realistic understanding of what you can ask for in terms of industry and domain knowledge. For example, requiring more than five years of payments product experience from a mid- or entry-level candidate is unrealistic. Requiring more than 10 years of payments product management experience will restrict you to a handful of people in the ANZ market who have worked in the payments product space for that amount of time. Do you really need it, or can it be taught?

  • Demonstrate a realistic understanding of the cost of the skills and experience you need. The longer your list and the more in-demand your requirements are, the more you’ll need to consider a senior-level salary.

In an increasingly competitive job market it’s critical to showcase company culture, values and benefits.

The perfect job ad will give prospective team members a detailed insight into the vibrancy of company life. Highlighting health and wellness benefits is great but nearly every business on the block offers wellness programs, so focus on what’s unique about your offering.

The specifics of the product management role on offer could also be a real selling point. For example there are only a few companies in the market that can offer the opportunity to gain experience in crafting data strategy. If this is realistically going to be an element of the role it should be highlighted, along with the impact this will have for the individual as well as for the business. 

This can help attract candidates who align with your company’s mission and values, contributing to an increased likelihood of finding the right fit for your product team. 

Talk to us about our advisory services

Post in the Right Places

Strategically placing a job ad is going to be key to attracting the top-tier product professionals you’re searching for. 

Standard Seek, Indeed, and LinkedIn posts might not get you the exposure needed to find the best person for the job, so we recommend, in addition, you strategically access specialist communities based on the role:

  • Industry events: Attend product management industry events to network with potential candidates face-to-face. Contact event managers to identify the channels they use to get in front of product professionals.

  • Course alumni: Research product management course communities to mine them for current and emerging talent. Again contact the organisers to find out where and how they promote to product professionals.

  • Access Diverse Communities: 
    • Post to communities that specifically cater to underrepresented groups in the tech industry. Start with Women in Product, LGBTI Jobs, and the National Indigenous Australians Agency to expand the candidate pool and demonstrate your commitment to building diverse teams.

    • Explore freelancer marketplaces and connect with tech and startup communities such as Techboard to find entrepreneurial-minded hires.

    • Businesses with a remote-first working model can sift through the remote working forums such as We Work Remotely (WWR), Remotive, and Angel.co to access a broader talent pool.

Prepare for the Interview

Be prepared for the product management recruitment process to take 200% more time than you think it will. If you don’t have recruitment support you’ll need a strategic focus on being efficient throughout.

One way to achieve this is to effectively screen applications, particularly at a time when businesses are receiving more than 100 applications for each advertised role. 

If you anticipate a significant number of applications, implementing an online screening test with a mix of open-ended and multiple-choice questions will save time and money by allowing you to assess candidates’ capabilities and how they fit, before inviting them to a formal interview. If this is your first time recruiting a product professional you may also want to get some support with screening applications. 

You may have previously screened with an informal call between application and interview, but platforms like HackerRank and Typeform can now make this a more data-driven and efficient process. 

Once you’ve assessed these initial screening results, it’s time to prepare for the interview. Bring people into the interview process who can assess the product capabilities of the individual, as well as their fit for the role and the organisation. This may require having people on the panel other than the manager or founder.

Questions should be designed to investigate key skills you’re looking for to fill capability gaps specifically as per your role description, rather than relying on general interview questions. The interview panel should be briefed to listen for answers that show a clear understanding & fulfilment of these.

Talk to us about our advisory services

Nail the Onboarding

If the goal is for new product professionals to settle in seamlessly so they can hit the ground running and begin to make an impact, the onboarding process needs to be seamless too. 

From the well-timed welcome pack to infrastructure access without issue, everything should be in place a set number of business days before the start date, to mitigate any potential delays.

Make it a priority to plan out the first 90 days, setting achievable and motivational goals to give the new recruit a sense of purpose and a better idea of how they fit within the wider team. Pre-schedule 1:1 welcome meetings with key stakeholders and members of the product team too, as this gives a 360-degree understanding of the role and responsibilities, as well as the team’s working style as they begin to establish their relationship.

Can You Afford to Get It Wrong?

When it comes to recruiting the right product management professionals for your team, if the approach isn’t tailored it could end up being a costly exercise, running into hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost time and effort. Failing to hire due to unrealistic requirements is an opportunity cost (just think about where you could be if you’d just asked for what you needed), and this cost can rise significantly if you recruit a candidate who ultimately is not the right fit, and opt to keep them on. 

Brainmates has been hiring product professionals for over 20 years, so we’ve seen it all. With a combined 100 years of expertise across our team and an immense network of product professionals that generates hundreds of interactions each week we can accurately track shifts and trends in the product talent market.

We understand the importance of strategic talent acquisition in product management, and by leveraging this significant exposure and experience we continue to develop proven methodologies that evolve with the times. The result: businesses we work with can ensure their product management teams are equipped to take on the challenges of today’s dynamic global marketplace.

Get our advice on your product talent needs

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.

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