3 keys to hiring the right Product Manager

This is for hiring managers

I was lucky enough to be have been part of the great product management teams at both Microsoft and Google. But you don’t need to have worked there to know how to hire a great PM. There are 3 tips for hiring the right product manager for your company today.

1. Start with a list of must-have personality traits

This is not a list of credentials or skills. This is a list of personality traits, fit for the customers that your product is building for. For example, if you’re hiring PMs for a patient care product, must-have traits would be empathy and passion for healthcare. If you’re hiring PMs for a developer tool, the candidate must have a personality that can talk for hours with developers. For enterprise software, a must-have trait is salesmanship so they can guide and connect with your sales team. If you’re hiring a PM for a consumer mobile app, they must have be comfortable operating with environments with a high level of uncertainty and ambiguity.

Case in point, I am currently hiring an associate product manager (APM) to join my team and own the creation of healthcare claims software. Must-have traits for this APM role include:

  1. intellectual horsepower
  2. open-minded —the more open minded, the more open to ideas they are, and the more creative their solutions tend to be
  3. persuasive —At times, you’ll need to persuade your partners to do things they won’t normally want to do
  4. black and white — PMs lead engineers to build stuff. In engineering, there is no gray. There’s only black and white — either you build this floor, or you don’t. If PMs speak in gray, they leave room for interpretation, and your engineers will likely build the wrong things. PMs must understand the gray, but communicate in a black and white manner that engineers understands.
  5. cool with ambiguity and tension — This is a must-have for PMs in complex industries, such as healthcare, where teams are large and partnership structures are complex. Other teams’ priorities are rarely fully transparent and aligned with those of your team. All this leads to constant ambiguity and tension, and PMs must have the personality to be cool with it.
  6. knack for pattern-recognition and future-thinking —This trait is about having a proclivity toward recognizing patterns and imagining the future, as opposed to responding to the present. I’ve spoken to hundreds of aspiring PMs, and found the majority of candidates to think in the present and not in the future, which means an automatic no-hire.
  7. patience — the next two are traits specific to claims product. Granted, patience is a rare virtue for PMs. This trait, however, is a must-have for the claims PM because claims work entails digging through dozens of software systems to find out what went wrong. The PM needs to keep digging until all the issues are understood.
  8. enjoys looking through claims data — this is like smelling gasoline. Some people like the smell of gasoline and others hate it. If you don’t naturally like looking at claims, then you’re not a fit for a claims job.

2. If it’s not a hell yeah, it’s a hell no

If you even have the faintest gut instinct that this candidate won’t work, then that’s a no-hire. Your gut knows why you shouldn’t hire someone, even if you can’t articulate it. And if you can exclaim: “I am the biggest fool in the world if I didn’t make them an offer.” then that’s your sign you found the hire. If you can’t say this out loud, then it’s a no-hire.

3. Keep swinging, until the game is over

Suppose you just interviewed an awesome candidate and they tell you that they’d take the job if you were to give them the offer. What do you do then? Just keep interviewing.

But why keep interviewing when you’ve already found a great candidate? Because anything can happen between now and the time they start their job. They may not accept your offer, they might find a better dream job at the 11th hour and reneg on your offer, a family emergency might come up and make them decide to take the year off.

You can imagine your company as a baseball batting cage — you’re in the cage and swinging at balls. Even if you got their verbal yes, that doesn’t mean you should stop swinging. Until the person shows up to their first day of work, please keep swinging. Do not leave the cage until the new hire enters the batting cage and they’re ready to start swinging as soon as you hand them the bat.