How to choose and hire product people

The optimal questions and selection criteria for hiring a head of product.

Someone asked me about this today, and I have helped mentees with the interview process, and thus I feel committed to writing about selecting and assessing product hires, with an eye to developing crowd-sourced criteria and making it easier to discuss.

Some table-setting, first.

What product people do

The product process

What to look for in product people who are at another job

  • Their view of the problems their company is trying to solve
  • Their view of the size of the market (with that problem) they are trying to capture
  • Their ability to capture the percentage of that market they desired
  • Their approaches/experiments/solutions to the problem. This is the actual product development process, and it will provide the greatest insights into their actual ability.
  • What analytics + heuristics + customer validation techniques they used to get to product-market fit. This is the product management process, and it will provide the greatest insights into their ability to manage and optimize products, post launch.
  • Why they didn’t obtain product-market fit, if they ran out of time/didn’t succeed
  • Do they have success in your market area (both consumer-facing and B2B segments)?

Consumer-facing market segments

  • Subscription
  • Free
  • Freemium
  • Ad-supported
  • User-as-product/social networks

B2B market segments

  • Plain B2B (e.g. Xerox)
  • SaaS B2B (e.g. Salesforce, Pivotal Tracker)
  • Two-sided markets B2B/B2C (It is the rare bird/unicorn product people with experience in this place)

Selection criteria for product people

  • Technical communication (can they communicate with front-end, back-end and full-stack engineers that respects and includes the engineers’ viewpoint and goals and manages to deliver on the product goals?)*
  • UX/UxD/UI acumen*
  • Business acumen*
  • Communications ability: how do they communicate, how do they marshall consensus?*
  • Strategic and tactical ability (can they work high and low?)*
  • What do they read for work and not for work?
  • Managerial expertise*
  • Operational excellence*
  • Do they listen?
*Must be validated through references with direct working experience with the candidate.

Extra credit, or non-essential criteria

  1. Liberal-arts or humanities educational background
  2. Technical proficiency (can they code themselves?)
  3. Strength in a particular vector (there are Product people who excel in UX, or engineering, or business considerations)

And on job titles and descriptions for product people at startups and big companies


Product development | What happens before launch.

Product management | Optimization on the road to product-market fit, post launch. For larger positions, this should include Growth/Growth Hacking.

CPO (Chief product officer)

Can incorporate product development and management, and usually encompasses product marketing, to boot. No one higher.

Vice President of Product

In smaller firms, you want to save the CPO title in case you bring in someone over the current head of product. But given seniority, you would give the top person this title, and give them the opportunity to grow into the CPO role.

At a small or big firm, this role has to either own growth or handle growth.

Head of Product

Title used in the flat-hierarchy companies (Google, Facebook, Netflix) to denote someone one or two steps removed from the CPO.

Product Developer

Responsible for the pre-launch process (but some firms include product management in this person’s responsibilities.) Usually not responsible for growth.

Product Manager

Post-launch development and optimization, as managed above, with a bias towards optimization through metrics.

Head/Manager/VP/”x” of Growth

Responsible for month-over-month increases in key metrics, usually users in B2C firms, but also things like DAUs, MAUs, time spent, sessions per month.

Feel free to let me know if I missed anything.

Ty @tyahma Twitter | Instagram | LinkedIn

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