Hiring a Product Manager: A Little Clarity Goes a Long way

BY TAJ MOORE ON JULY 4, 2017

I was invited to appear before an audience of tech recruiters for a panel called: “Everything you’ve ever wanted to know from a technologist, but were too shy to ask.” I realized I needed a good way to explain what it had taken me a while to see in the world of product management.

 

As a product manager, I have a bias: I identify as a “UX-focused product manager”. But I thought this was just a “me” thing. One day my boss mentioned my “design orientation” during a meeting to clarify why we were talking about a problem in two different ways. Hearing this I realized we all have our own orientation, background, and abilities. And most importantly, these attributes add color to how we approach product management. We come in all stripes!

I also mentor a product manager. She told me that our discussion about orientation helped her to navigate a team reorganization: by recognizing her own orientation, she was able to see what she was good at, what she wanted to be good at, and what she wasn’t trying to get good at. Through a product lens, this means knowing where you (the product) begin and end.

Hire for the Person…

It can be hard enough to explain what a product manager does to non-tech friends; it’s actually harder to explain the role to people that have experience with product managers because there’s a good chance they got precisely the wrong idea about you as a product manager. How “technical” is the role? Should PMs know how to code? Do we all have to understand design, and user experience? Could a product manager just understand the customers or the business better than anyone else? Some of you are nodding your heads, others are shaking your fists. I can feel it!

Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth. Mike Tyson

When organizations have product role to fill, many tend to look for that combination of experience and expertise to go perfectly with the rest of the team. It sounds like a good plan, until you hire someone and find out that even though they check all the boxes, something doesn’t work. Or maybe you never find that perfect combination but later realize you somehow managed to hire just the right person anyway. It doesn’t have to be luck. We can do better… with a little knowledge and clarity.

Leaders of companies that go from good to great start […] with ‘who’. They start by getting the right people on the bus […] and the right people in the right seats. Jim Collins

Hire for the person, hire for the (product) mindset … someone who routinely thinks one or two levels above where they operate. When you have candidates with the right mindset, consider their orientation — background and current abilities are helpful in seeing where a person has been, or their current trajectory, but their orientation will tell you where lies their center of gravity, and that will tell you their future.

About TAJ MOORE

Taj Moore is a design-oriented product manager with over 14 years experience leading teams in SaaS, enterprise, education, and non-profit, with consumer experiences in mobile and desktop. He grew up in Baltimore, came of age in San Francisco, and today calls Denver home.

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  • Raff

    Good job Taj!!! I missed the orientation attached to the “data”, does not it make sense to you?

    • Taj Moore

      Raff, you’re wondering where “data” fits in to orientations? Data is an aspect of any orientation or role, be it UX research data, sales and marketing metrics, analytics, etc.

      • Raff

        Hummm! So good Taj, tks.

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