Is that Job too Good to be True? How to Check you’re Applying for a Product Management Role

BY Jonathan Forman ON JANUARY 31, 2019

You don’t have to look very far to find a ton of companies and organisations who are hiring for Product Management roles.

If you’re lucky, you might be applying for a new job through a forward-thinking recruitment process where you see the demands of the role first-hand and can make a collective decision with your potential future colleagues on whether you’re a good fit for each other.

For the rest of us, the nature of the recruitment process means that there is often a large information asymmetry – or a gap – between what’s advertised in the job description and discussed in the interview, and the reality of the role and working practices.

I have collated some thoughts and questions which I think will help you to close the gap.

They are intended to help you check that you will be working for a product-led organisation; one that works in the right way, and will give you the necessary ownership and accountability to be successful in your new Product Management role.

I hope they’re useful, whether you’re researching the company bio, writing your covering letter, or have got to “…and do you have any questions for us…” in the interview.

Vision and Strategy (Business and Product)

When assessing if an organisation is product-led, I want to know that there is a clearly articulated vision for the business, and that Product Management is accountable for defining the product vision and strategy to deliver the strategic business goals. You should seek answers to the following:-

  • Is the business strategy clearly defined?
  • How does the business strategy relate to the product strategy?
  • How are the strategic goals agreed and planned?
  • How much ownership does product management have over creating the product strategy?
  • How are new user insights incorporated into updates to the business strategy?

User-Centric

I want to know that the company organises around the needs of the user, and the next most important problem to solve. Product Management and product teams should have close contact with users, and be incentivised and applauded for generating new insights, which in turn are used to make product delivery decisions. So ask:-

  • Is the user need clearly defined?
  • When did the product teams last speak to a user?
  • Does Product Management (and product teams) make decisions based on a range of generative and evaluative user research?
  • How is the creation of value for users being measured?

Outcomes and Measuring Success

I want to know that Product Management sets the target outcomes for the product and the measures of success (key results). Key results should be measurable, and a true reflection of an outcome being achieved for users, rather than vanity metrics. You should ask:-

  • How is the success of the product, and the product teams being measured?
  • How are the objectives and key results being defined, and who is responsible for this?
  • Are the key results actually measurable?
  • If the key results were met, would a positive outcome have been achieved for users?
  • How will my success – as a Product Manager – be measured and at what intervals?

Process and Ways of Working

I want to know that product teams have ownership over what they’re developing and know why it’s important. I also want to know that the product teams are effective in getting stuff done. If there isn’t any output, you can’t deliver an outcome for users! These would be my questions:

  • Describe the product development process?
  • When did the product team last ship new product?
  • How do product, UX, engineering, delivery, sales, and marketing people typically work together on a day-to-day basis?
  • How are new ideas prioritised?
  • What are the weaknesses of the product teams?

Culture and the Organisation

I want to know that the company focuses on delivering outcomes over output, that teams are empowered to push back on management when appropriate, that I’m going to continue to grow and learn in my new role, and that product management is seen as a competitive advantage at the heart of growing the business.

  • How much discretion and autonomy do product managers and product teams have?
  • What is the relationship between Product Management and the exec team and the CEO?
  • How do they celebrate successes?
  • When did they last ‘kill’ a product, and how did they respond to their last big product failure?
  • How do people develop new skills and capabilities?

I haven’t covered how these questions might differ, or how they could be tailored for the different stages of a business lifecycle (e.g. start-up, growth, enterprise) which I’ll save for another post if people find this interesting.

Happy job hunting!

Jonathan Forman

About

Jonathan Forman

Jon is an experienced product leader who has worked with a range of companies and organisations to create, launch and operate market-leading products and services. Having worked in retail, retail banking, and telecomms industries, he has moved to a role as the Head of the Product Management Community at the Government Digital Service, working to support and develop the community, and to help make government services simpler and better. He is passionate about communities of practice and supporting and developing individuals and teams to reach their full potential. Jon plays drums and percussion in a big-band and chamber orchestra and takes part in the occasional triathlon.