How we (try to) recruit great Product Managers at ManoMano
Recruiting in fast growing companies is probably one of the most difficult part of the job. At first, your company is not well known, attracting great profiles is hard. In the same time, you desperately need resources and you can easily lower the bar on the quality of new hires… Once the company gets bigger and better known, you still need to fight hard against well established tech companies, you are looking towards senior profiles with big compensation plans and high expectations.
But in both cases, as a manager, it should be your number one priority. I sometimes considered myself more as a recruiter than a CPO during the time I was there at ManoMano (and same before at Artefact). If you want to scale your team and your company, this is what it takes. Here are a few tips with concrete examples from our experience to ease this task! As a bonus, you will find a link towards a real case study at the end of the article.
Key takeaways from this article:
1/ Make your company attractive for Product Managers, in the short-term by leveraging your network, your company’s visions, values, offering stocks, hiring recruitments cabinets while working on a longer-term strategy through your employer branding
2/ Hunt intensively while remaining personal: spend time qualifying and understanding candidates professional journeys. You better spend twice as much time qualifying profiles and send twice less messages
3/ Provide candidates with the least painful experience: competition is fierce about talents, you have to take risks and make up your decision even with only 80% of confidence
4/ Use a shared decision grid to pass the informations from one round to the next: it allows to reassess an item where candidate failed and to have a shorter interview cycle
5/ Make intensive use of real Product Case study: case study enables to showcase your product companies, have modular interviews and give concrete material for brainstorming
6/ Interview as if you were doing User Research: listen a lot, leave blanks, be intentionally vague and check for self-awareness
7/ Main mistakes we made were on fit (test Emotional Intelligence) or set-up (diversity mix, senior employees ratio…) rather on candidates hard skills (except when going under too much recruiting pressure…)
1/ Make ManoMano attractive for Product Managers
To recruit candidates you need applications. And at the beginning it is hard! Because you have no employer branding, you can’t pay well, and your vertical might not be as sexy -at first sight- as other tech companies.
Still, you have levers you can use to attract talents at the beginning:
1/ Leverage your network: most of the people think that leveraging one’s network consists in posting a LinkedIn post saying “Hi there, we are recruiting, send me a DM if you have good candidates!”. And guess what? Nothing happens. Leveraging your network means calling each person individually, presenting your project, describing your needs, asking for contacts to meet….
2/ Hire recruiting cabinets: they were really a great help at the beginning (special thanks to Aymard de Germiny at Ineva Partners). They have access to a wide pool of talents and can perform a great human pre-filter, knowing generally well the candidates they push to you. Of course, it comes with a price (in general around 20% of the raw package).
3/ Trust your company & product vision: don’t underestimate the power of having a great vision, both for the company but also for how you want to do product. So many candidates are unhappy with the way they do product in their company, the values they experience day to day, it might be very inspiring for them to be able to work in a totally different set-up
4/ Be generous with stocks: the younger the company, the easier it is to distribute shares. For candidates, the younger the company, the lower the strike price of BSPCEs. I think that companies are bad at marketing this huge benefit, explaining the candidate the value he could leverage from stocks (but also the risks it goes by with…). Not all candidates will be interested in BSPCEs, but this is what you want especially at the beginning: attracting entrepreneurial profiles.
In parallel, start working on employer branding to nurture a long-term inbound applications flow: blog posts, conferences, meet-ups… Highlight your difference to stand out the mass of articles published every day on the internet (philosophy, way of working, values, growth…). I remember Captain Train at the beginning (now acquired by Trainline), they had a very different approach from many startups. Alan puts the emphasis on the way they work, with a very strong written culture. It takes time to pay off but it definitely works.
Never stop fueling the recruiting pipe, even if you have less forecasted recruitments. First, you will experience churn and second, your recruitments might rise up again sooner than you think and it takes time to refuel your pipe.
2/ Hunt intensively while remaining personal
Copy pasting the same catchy template to attract candidates won’t work. In the tech, they receive several proposals per week. You have to stand out, you have to be appealing. You better spend twice as much time qualifying profiles and send twice less messages. Look at themes that interest the candidate: privacy by design, agility, productivity, purpose. How? See what he reacts to on LinkedIn, Twitter… See if there is a match with your company values and DNA, don’t spend time on great profiles too far from your values, it won’t work. Then finally link candidates’ interests to your company specificities by sharing a related blog post from the company, a concrete example, a value…
I remember contacting a great senior PM working in a famous US tech company in Paris office. I thought he might be interested in working in a smaller company to have a bigger impact and a broader scope. Another candidate had worked in startups but had joined a big company where I knew every development took years. She probably looked for stability as well as a large audience to ship products for. She could have been approached with something like “we are still agile because we are scale-up, but we are no more a start-up so you can have a very decent compensation and millions of users to play with. Does it ring a bell?”
3/ Provide candidates with the least painful experience
As told above, candidates are being hunted frequently. So they have the bargaining power and we have to adapt. Most candidates I meet are fed up with endless recruitment processes where they are being asked to come a full day in the company after having worked a full week-end on a remote case. Being bold and agile, we try to have a much shorter cycle at ManoMano. Yes it is more risky, you end up taking the decision with 80% confidence rather than 95%. I remember for instance that we hired a Product Director in Barcelona fully remote in less than one week!
So here is our process at ManoMano once we get an application (we use Lever as an ATS):
1/ Candidate qualification (2x30 mins, asynchronously then synchronously)
Short remote survey (30 mins) is sent to qualify the candidate and especially validate his motivation. He gets 7 short questions to answer about product (eg. “When did you have the most impact in your product career?”) and about MM’s values (eg. “give us a short story where you demonstrated care”). The answers are precious to feed the following interview rounds. If answers show passion and perspective about the job, a first interview (remote) is scheduled with the HR recruiter (30 mins) to assess the match between the candidate and the company. The recruiter checks the values, the compensation (it shouldn’t be the main criteria but if the gap between candidate’s will and our package is too big, it just won’t make it), discusses about past experiences, ideal job, MM’s organization… The recruiter starts filling in the decision grid show below. This decision grid is key to pass informations from round to round and not asking or assessing the candidate twice about the same topic (we will talk about this topic because it is very controversial)
2/ Candidate interviews (3x45 mins synchronously, possibly remote)
The candidate interviews always follow the same agenda. The first interview is done with a Senior Product Manager (freshly promoted Senior Product Managers enjoy being given the opportunity to interview), the second one with a Product Director and the third-one with the CPO (to me, recruiting is the most critical job of the CPO. See this article !coming soon!).
An interviews always follows the same pattern:
- 10 first minutes are spent understanding the candidate’s interest for ManoMano, for Product, consistency in his resume, self-awareness…
- 30 next minutes are spent on a practical case study (we give you an example and more details in the fourth paragraph).
- 5 last minutes are left at the end for Q&A.
3/ Decision making
On MM’s side, a meeting is held between the interviewers: it can last from a few minutes if everyone gave an A to up to 20 minutes if the candidate got one B (more than two Bs should put him or her out of the process)
Then, on the candidate’s side, an informal coffee can be held with the engineers and the Business Owners of the team: sometimes the candidate wants to meet the product team (if the team exists already) or the Business Owners (key business stakeholders interacting with the Product team, see this article for more details their role)
A few comments about this process:
a/ We prefer not to follow on the different interviews one after the other during for instance the same afternoon (even if we sometimes have to). First because it is exhausting for the candidate. Secondly, because it allows candidates between two rounds to think over the company, the mission, the kind of work he will be doing. Especially when you hunt someone who had no intention of working at your company, it is great to leave him time to get to know and understand the company.
b/ We try to avoid to the maximum remote interviews. Our biggest mistakes in term of recruitments were made on remote interviews. You miss too much weak signals remotely. But I have to admit that having a remote process makes it way easier. Perhaps try at least to get the last interview in real life.
c/ Finally, we pass the information from one interview to the other, this is the topic of the next paragraph, through our decision grid.
4/ Use a shared decision grid to pass the informations from one round to the next
Several companies tries to minimize the biases when interviewing candidates. One way they found is to silo every interview not to be influenced by former interviewers. Even if I can understand the motivation behind this process, I prefer passing the information from one interviewer to the next.
1/ It saves time to the candidate who does not have to repeat the same speech over and over (“Why did you apply in our company?”). On the contrary, every new interviewer has the context and will investigate new area. Much more interesting for the candidate
2/ It allows to focus on areas of doubt and gives the candidate a second chance: the grid (see below) is very visual. At first sight you can see which criteria has not been assessed yet, which criteria is totally ok and does not need to be checked again and on the contrary which criteria should be tested again.
This process is very collaborative and iterative, you can ask the next interviewer to focus on a given criterion or to deep dive over another item.
We do not talk about the qualities we assess in this article. It could be a full article, but in a nutshell:
- Discovery (user research, problem framing…)
- Strategy (pricing, go-to-market, product marketing…)
- Delivery (no code solution, lean methodologies, project management…)
- Data (analytics, calculations, basics statistics…)
- Tech (basic engineering notions to drive tech team)
- Influence (inside the company: leadership, drive… outside: blogging, talks…)
- Management (both stakeholders and potentially employees under supervision)
Next paragraph is about case studies, which allow us to assess practically each criterion.
5/ Make intensive use of real Product Case study
We use exclusively Case Study to run our product interviews. It provides several benefits
1/ Showcase ManoMano product areas: each case is an opportunity to dig into one aspect of our product. It reveals to the candidates the incredible field-game a marketplace can be, the extensive use of the data, the complexity of the problem space…
2/ Allow modular approach of the interview: each question refers to a quality we are trying to assess. Depending on the previous interviews, you can choose to skip questions where the candidate already demonstrated his skills (by just giving the answer as part of the case statement)
3/ Give concrete material for brainstorming: relying on concrete examples allows to have real product discussions and see how the candidate would react in real world situation. We don’t expect from the candidate to find the right answer but rather to ask the right questions, to build coherent hypotheses, to divide the problem space into sub problem spaces…
Please find at the end of the article one of our first case study (we don’t do it anymore) based on the story of the company I set up beginning of the 2010’s about a food ordering solution. Of course the market has changed quite a lot (no UberEat or Deliveroo at that time) but it remains relevant! We separated the answer from the questions so that you can go through the case like in real conditions. This case includes a lot of discovery questions, it might be harder to complete it without the help of the interviewer, so don’t be upset if you find it hard! All questions are not asked during an interview, in general only 3 to 4 questions are asked.
6/ Interview as if you were doing User Research
Goal of your interview is to learn the most about the candidate, not selling your company. Selling is made indirectly, for instance through the quality of your case studies. Time is precious, you have two main missions: find out the qualities of candidates who undersell themselves and discard candidates who oversell themselves! I consider interviewing candidates as a User Research experience. Listen, listen and listen. Here are a few tips from our experience:
- Leave blanks. See how the candidate reacts. Does he feel like talking. Or is he comfortable with blanks (it should be the case if you want “true listeners”)
- Be intentionally vague in your case study questions before refining. In real life, users are vague, PM’s role is to clarify their expectations, their needs. Assess how candidate reacts. Does he ask clear and unbiased questions or does he wait for you to give him the answer? For instance I have a question where I ask the candidate “Which USPs are perennial?”. I use the word perennial on purpose, a good candidate should try to clarify what I mean by perennial instead of jumping into the answer
- Ask for a short summary in the middle of the case: one of the key quality of a PM is communication. Especially non prepared communication since a PM will have several informal discussions around the coffee machine. He should be able to express shortly and clearly his points.
- Ask for favorite product books or blog articles: I don’t really care about which books will come out, the point is more to see to what extend the person is passionate about his discipline. Reading books (blog articles is also ok) shows the candidate is curious and tries to get some perspective about his job. It should be the same with his product
- Check self-awareness through commonplace like questions: What makes you leave your current company? What makes you think you will find that at ManoMano? You can also ask about a fail and see if candidate is self-aware to list the root cause of his fail (or if he rejects the fault over persons or time to market or whatever…)
7/ Main mistakes we made
Even after hundreds of interviews between 2015 and 2020 I still make mistakes. It is important to keep track of your observations at the time when you hired the employee to understand where you missed a point. Here are the main lessons from our “failed” recruitments. I precise that it does not mean the candidate was not good, I would rather say than the match between the candidate and the company did not happen.
Mistake 1: too junior hire, while not enough coaching available in the company: when hiring junior candidates while you don’t have enough senior resources to coach them, at some point it won’t make it. Junior candidate will do mistakes because of the lack of coaching and will feel more and more under pressure ending into demotivation or even worse a burn-out. So hire experienced employees first and then junior.
Mistake 2: hiring despite doubts because of growth pressure: In French we have this phrase “Quand il y a un doute il n’y a pas de doutes”. Still, you are so desperate for resources sometimes that you lower the bar. The solution is to resort to an external resource the time you find the perfect fit.
Mistake 3: remote hire, preventing to spot misfits: I noticed that most of the mistakes I made hiring were remote hires. I can’t really explain but remote conversation hides several weak signals that you can spot in real life conversation (tone of voice, level of stress, confidence…). Try to get the person come to your office at least once.
Mistake 4: lack of emotional intelligence, insufficiently assessed through our case study: most of the mistakes we made were not about hard skills but more about Emotional Intelligence (EI) skills. The more it goes, and the more I find it is a key quality for a PM. We added EI questions in our case assessing self-awareness, conflict resolution…
Mistake 5: not enough diversity at some point: a common bias is to hire mainly people who resembles you. It can also be explained by a sourcing made among people you are close to, who comes from similar backgrounds. So we try to hunt different profiles that the one we have. It can be gender, academics, professional experience…
Bonus: a real case study from ManoMano
If you want to practice for PM interview, you have great books (Cracking the PM interview for instance), but we wanted to share a case we used to do at ManoMano’s first times. Our new cases are similar in their structure but are about ManoMano’s product! Enjoy! And if you want to apply at ManoMano, we always have open positions so take a look at our offers.