The most important parts of a manager’s role are recruiting, developing, and retaining high-performance product team members. Like all specialized roles, successfully hiring Product Managers requires that the recruitment and interview process be optimized for the unique aspects of the role. Here are some key best practices for interviewing Product Managers.
1. Have the interview be a simulation of the actual role
The best measure of a candidate is to evaluate the person operating as close as possible to the actual role. Hiring the candidate as a contractor for a period to work in the role would be an ideal way to assess fit. However, that’s often impractical for both the candidate and the hiring manager. Focus the interview on the key responsibilities of the specific product role and how the candidate fits these criteria. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways:
- Presentation – Given the importance of communication and influence in most product roles, have the candidate create and present on a topic related to the role. Have the full interview panel attend the presentation and allow time for the panel to ask questions. This is a great way to start the overall interview.
- Homework – Get the candidate to do an assignment based on a project they will encounter in the role. For example, get the candidate to do a market and competitive analysis for a specific product and to recommend features for the next version.
- Case study – Leverage a case study that outlines an actual situation the candidate is likely to encounter in the role as part of the evaluation.
- Behavioral questions – Use behavioral questions to see how the candidate would respond to common product management situations. Behavioral questions examine specific situations the candidate has experienced where they had to use certain skills. For example, “Describe a time where you had to drop a potential new feature from a product project,” or “Tell me about a time where you had to interact with a difficult client.”
2. As the hiring manager, take an active role in organizing the interview
It’s critical that the hiring manager takes an active role in working with the hiring panel in preparation for the interview. It’s not enough to gain commitment from the four to five members of the hiring panel and hope that they will know what to do. Meet with the interviewers before the interview to make sure the role and the ideal candidate criteria are clear and understood. Assign specific areas for each interviewer to evaluate that are critical to the role (see the list below). These assignments will help ensure that all important areas are evaluated and that there is no significant overlap across interviews. Discuss how each area will be evaluated and how notes from the interviews are to be captured and distributed. Common areas to evaluate for product roles include:
- Influence and leadership
- Strategic thinking
- Analytical skills
- Communication skills, both verbal and written
- Product design
- Market knowledge
- Technical knowledge
- Company fit and team fit
3. Build the interview panel with roles the Product Manager will work with daily
Have the people the Product Manager will interact with most participate in the interview panel. If that’s not possible, at the very least, ask representatives from each functional group to participate in the interview. Common groups a Product Manager interacts with may include Engineering, Design, Program or Project Management, Sales, Marketing, Finance, and Legal.
4. Conduct the interview in person
It’s common to do an initial screening of potential candidates on the telephone or on a video call. However, given that product management roles have a high degree of interpersonal interaction, it is best to conduct the subsequent interview in person where possible.
Read more about interviews and other key product management topics in my book, Mastering Product Management: A Step-By-Step Guide, available now in paperback and eBook.