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How to Hire a Product Manager

NOTE: The following is a guest post by Andy Jagoe. If you want to submit your own guest post, click here for more information

Ever come across a really bad product manager?

Jim Collins said, “The moment you feel the need to tightly manage someone, you’ve made a hiring mistake. The best people don’t need to be managed. Guided, taught, lead, yes. But not tightly managed.”

Correcting a hiring mistake is hard and wastes a lot of time. The last thing you have time for is a new hire who doesn’t produce.

Avoid these 5 interview mistakes, and you’ll be well on your way to consistently hiring great talent.

1. Not fully thinking through the real job needs
As a product manager, you’re extremely busy. There’s rarely a time when your plate isn’t overflowing. And sometimes it seems like there just aren’t hours enough in the day to hire another product manager to lighten your load.

In the interest of saving time, make sure you don’t just run out the generic product manager job description you’ve always used or copy and paste from product manager job descriptions of hot company X and hot company Y. This creates a high risk of not hiring the person you really need.

Instead, write down the specific results you want the new product manager to achieve in the first 90, 180 and 365 days on the job. This is called a success profile, and you can learn more about how exactly to create one here.

What’s the benefit of doing this?

A unique and differentiated job that will attract the right people; people who want to do your job. There is no confusion on your interviewing team about exactly what the role is. This makes your interviews more useful and creates a much better impression with the candidate.

Onboarding is easy. You’ve already done the work you have to do anyway to get the new hire up to speed, adding value, and working to agreed on goals and deadlines.

2. Not asking case-based interview questions
With product management, it’s possible for a candidate to know the right “sound-bite” answers to high-level product management questions but not actually be that good at managing a product.

As you know, the devil is in the details and there simply is no substitute for putting a candidate into actual case-based scenarios to find out what he or she would do.

At minimum, you should do case-based questions in these areas:

This process is essentially “doing the job” and is invaluable to assessing talent.

3. Not digging deep enough into answers

Your primary job as an interviewer is to collect enough facts to determine a candidate’s job competency. This is your responsibility; it is not the candidate’s responsibility to provide it to you.

Why is this the case?

If you leave this up to the candidate, you will collect only the information he or she wants you to collect. In other words, you will be measuring the candidate’s interviewing and presentation skills, not job performance.

A great way to get to the bottom of something is called root cause analysis. One of the best methods of root cause analysis was developed at Toyota and is called the “5 Whys”. Here is an example of the 5 Whys adapted to interviewing.

Don’t accept a generality as an answer from a candidate. Dig deep and get the specifics.

4. Not staying objective
A lot has been written about the impact of first impressions. Unfortunately, the interview is a situation when first impressions don’t always work in your favor.

A group of researchers at Carleton University were very surprised to learn that showing users an image of a website for only 50 milliseconds was enough for the users to form an opinion about how appealing the site was.

And because of what’s called confirmation bias, once a human mind has made an opinion we tend to readily accept new information that agrees with that opinion and reject or discount information that disagrees with it.

The researchers found that the 50 millisecond rating correlated highly with ratings given to the site after much longer exposures and the visual appeal rating also correlated highly with other ratings about the site, like whether it was interesting, clear, boring, confusing, etc.

These findings mean that the researchers were seeing confirmation bias in their study, and if you’re not careful you probably have confirmation bias in your interviews as well.

The solution? Focus the interview solely on collecting information. Postpone any assessment or decision on the candidate until after the interview.

5. Selling the job instead of buying the talent

Because hiring is something we do less frequently than other parts of the job, we don’t always have a well-refined process for “recruiting” the good candidates.

When we encounter a top candidate there is a risk that we slip into “selling the candidate on the job” mode.

Don’t do this.

You should always be in “buying the talent” mode. If you’re not, you risk not actually assessing the candidate’s product skills, not building the candidate’s respect in your product skills and your company’s rigor, and giving control of the interview to the candidate.

There are many other things you can do to consistently hire great product managers—but these are the basics. Avoid these interview mistakes and you’ll be well on your way to consistently hiring with confidence and speed.

Have a product manager hiring mistake we didn’t mention? We’d love to hear about it in the comments.

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Andy Jagoe is the author of The Ultimate Guide to Product Manager Interview Questions and has 15 years of experience founding, funding, and leading venture funded startups. You can also find Andy on LinkedIn, Google+ and @andyjagoe on Twitter.