Maybe you’re thinking about a change – moving industries, moving from a startup to an enterprise or vice versa, or just looking for somewhere where you can add more value? In this second part of our career special we talk to some product leaders about what they look for when hiring. We also address some of the practical steps you can take to overcome any lack of industry knowledge and sell yourself at interviews.
- Analyse where you have impact in your current role
- Hiring managers want to see that you can show customer understanding and that you know how to drive business impact
- They’re also looking for curiosity and storytelling skills
- Be upfront about the gaps in your knowledge, but do some prep before interviews
As we mentioned in part 1, you should start by bringing some clarity to your ambitions, while bearing in mind that Product is done differently everywhere. We know that in theory Product is industry-agnostic – but there may well be (and frequently is) bias towards industry experience. A smaller, product-led company is likely to give you exposure to more aspects of a product manager’s role than somewhere larger and well known that will attract attention to your resume.
So what do product leaders want candidates to show them?
Influence and impact
Product coach Anthony Murphy says that any hiring manager will question candidates on their product craft, as they want to make sure the candidate can do the job. He adds: “More importantly, they want to make sure that the way that you do the job drives meaningful impact. Someone who can be influential and drive meaningful impact can always learn the domain… As a coach and consultant. I spend a lot of time in all kinds of industries and Product really looks the same.”
Becky Yelland is VP of Product at Infogrid, a smart building management platform that recently completed Series A funding. Industry knowledge isn’t even on her wish list. “I would be missing out on a huge number of good candidates if I limited myself to people who’ve only worked in sustainability or commercial real estate,” she says. She’s more interested in their experience – whether they’ve experienced and run either a product squad or team or a number of product people, depending on their level, at a number of organisations.
“I will always try to hire a team for diversity of thought,” she says. Becky is hiring at the moment – directors of product, senior product managers, heads of product. She wants some of those people to have deep domain expertise in enterprise SaaS B2B because she needs them to hit the ground running. She adds: “They’re going to be responsible for a number of tribes, a number of squads, and if they don’t understand how to deliver and drive change in that team, then they’re not going to be set up for success. I’ll want to bring other people into our sustainable building systems team, and therefore a level of understanding around our particular customer verticals will be very helpful.”
More than one way to do it
For Becky, what she calls “a full stack” product manager is someone who understands both the commercial impact of the thing that they’re building and the customer need for the thing they’re building.” Even better, they’ve done it in several different organisations so they know what it means to be flexible. She adds: “They know and have seen first-hand that there isn’t one way to do it.”
Co-op’s Head of Product Adam Warburton adds: “If you can show me that you can abstract up to a principle, then that would give me the confidence that you could work in the way we work because no two product orgs are the same. You want people to demonstrate a willingness to be flexible on the specifics while holding dear to the principles.”
Can you do discovery?
Anthony Murphy recommends that any product manager looking to round out their product skills should look to acquire discovery skills – customer marketing, analysis, customer research and so on. There are many more product roles focused on delivery and shipping features, he says, and that’s not the most important part of a product manager’s role. By doing discovery – understanding customers, testing solutions – you get to understand what drives business impact, he says.
Openly address the gaps in your knowledge
Industry knowledge and experience can be overplayed by hiring managers, says Adam Warburton, and he recommends that you’re upfront about any gaps in your knowledge. This means stating that you may not have direct industry experience but you can manage stakeholders, complex problems, whatever experience it is that might apply. He says: “When I started working for Travelex, was I passionate about foreign currency? No. But was I passionate about building new products and services and working with smart people? Yes. You can talk about what excites you about the job and not talk about the industry. Equally I don’t expect anybody to walk through our doors and get really excited about a funeral car.”
Curiosity and storytelling
At interviews, Adam says he looks for candidates who can demonstrate curiosity and storytelling ability, above most other skills. He gives an example of the kind of curiosity he looks for: He recently went down a rabbit hole to work out how the crane on top of the building being built nearby got there. “If you can demonstrate that you’ve got that kind of curiosity, that’s a huge bonus coming into a new industry,” he says.
Have you done your prep?
We’re at a time when product people are very employable and unfortunately this means some of them will fail to prepare properly for an interview. Says Adam: “You’ve got to do your prep. If you’re going into a new industry don’t walk into the interview without having read up about it. What’s the industry press? What are the current trends? What are the current challenges? Who are the main competitors? We’ve had people talk to us about funeral care, for example, they might broadly know how to organise a funeral but have no idea who our competitors are.”
So there you have it. Our product leaders feel that attitudes among hiring managers are changing and there’s no need to feel that any lack of industry knowledge is a disadvantage when you go after your next position. Just make sure you’re prepared, and that you can demonstrate you have a sound grasp of the principles of product management, and who knows, that dream job could be yours for the taking.