A Product Manager's job description

Recently I've been looking through openings for Product Manager jobs on LinkedIn today. One became obvious very quickly:

There are more than 250.000 US-based and more than 50.000 EU based Product Management job listings currently available on LinkedIn

Wow, right? The demand for PdMs is increasing every year and it is mind-blowing for me to see the exploding understanding of the importance of Product roles in every company during the last couple of years. It has been amazing to see companies appreciate this complex role more and more and understand they need an excellent PdM if they want to excite their customers with every interaction.

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Seems really good in theory, but hiring a person who can translate your customer's expectations into money, technology, marketing and sales is more complex than the idea of listening to your customer.

Understanding why you are hiring a Product Manager and what your expectations are for that specific role is vital. Lay it out clearly very early on in the process and make sure you ask the right questions in the first HR interview or questionnaire. By doing that, you help a potential hire understand expectations and you can validate comparable experiences and points of view that are important for you. Not all PdM experiences will be relevant for you and not all of them will be your "must haves". By knowing the deal breakers for your business, you can validate your candidate early in the recruiting process.

Once you understand your "must haves" you can narrow your search even further, by clarifying the following 5 points to cover between a manager hiring the role and HR.

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Understand the needs of the stakeholder/company

  • Why are you hiring a Product Manager?
  • Does your product need a revamp and re-launch? Does it need a new pricing model? Your new leads are not converting? Your forecast is unpredictable? Resellers are complaining about support? Marketing efforts are not paying off in revenue?
  • Be clear about the why of this job listing as this will help you focus on the main skills you need that person to have.

Example:

Your new leads are not converting?

You need someone who has had experience in working with Product, Sales and Marketing teams in order to understand why the leads are not converting. Your PdM needs to understand:

  • If a product is right for the customer that marketing is trying to market it to
  • If the marketing message is promoting the strongest points of your process
  • If the buyer cycle is aligned with the sales process
  • Are there tools in place to measure the new leads drop-off rate from the sales and marketing funnel
  • How to map out those drop-off rates to your product features and cover that gap with both product and marketing perspectives?
  • and much, much more...

Focusing your job listings on relevant experience and asking the right interview questions will go a long way in detecting a good fit early on.

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Understanding the RACI matrix for the position

Who is the PdM going to report to?

Understanding the reporting line will help you understand the primary area of expertise for that specific PdM role. With that information, you can narrow down relevant job titles which correspond with the expertise and target your recruitment efforts significantly.

Example from the previous point:

  • Reporting to the Head of Product means that the main focus on PdM is going to be feature development and aligning value propositions with Sales and Marketing. Potential good alternative position names for that role are PO and SM.
  • Reporting to the Head of Marketing means that PdM focus will be on product-market fit and identifying ideal customer profile based on which to build a product. A potential good alternative position name for that role is PMM.
  • Reporting to the Head of Sales means that PdM focus will be on product-sales fit and identifying potential customers for their product. Creating value propositions, listening to customers and translating their inputs into features are the main drivers for this role. Potential good alternative position names for that role are SE, ProdOps and SalesOps.

You can see how the scope and responsibility for the same role changes with the dominant reporting line, so knowing what the most important thing is really helps.

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Benchmark deliverables not achievements (power of a strong team)

More often than not, PdM resumes are impressive. We have done a lot and had been given an opportunity to very often impact a part of the company's process which seems quite out there. But a good PdM knows that if it is affecting your product - it is your problem. If you have nobody else to fix it, you figure it out.

But not every experience is an applicable one and not every achievement will bring value to your company, so it is important to understand the ones that do and confirm deliverables.

Why deliverables, you might ask? The achievement of a PdM role is always an achievement of the team. Even the best PdM with a team that doesn't perform will not deliver. Don't get us wrong - we don't think it's an excuse for the PdM to do a bad job! It's just a reality, unfortunately. Just as a great team can shine even with a terrible PdM as the team itself can cover the lack in management and they become a self-regulated team. That's why - focus on deliverables. Ask specifics behind what that PdM did in order to solve a problem that you have.

Example:

  • Question to PdM: Have you ever been in a situation where your product attracted many leads but very few of them converted? What departments were involved in addressing that issue and providing a solution? What was your role in the team and what did you contribute to the final solution?

When the potential candidate answers those questions you will be able to identify if the deliverables and value he/she provided to their previous teams is what you expect from them to deliver now.

If there is a gap in experience - don't ignore it. Validate that there is a good mindset for learning and covering experience gaps. PdMs are fast learners and as long as you are clear about the expectations upfront, you are good to go.

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Hire a product manager experienced for a certain product stage

I talk a lot about different PdM skills in different product lifecycle stages. At Product Pixie we have built the services of our virtual product team around that fact. So I don't need to emphasize how strongly I believe that there's a fundamentally different type of PdM skillsets needed in a Startup product, in a product that is in the Growing stage and the one that is gaining significant traction and is ready to Scale.

  • Startup PdM is a multitasker, thinking on the feet, a thousand things at once kind of a person.
  • Growth PdM is a structured, process-driven, team manager type of person who provides a safe harbor in the midst of chaos.
  • Scale PdM is a data-driven decision maker with exceptional presentation skills and people management. Almost an influencer who makes sure that everyone is happy and know what they need to do while keeping them accountable

This does not mean that other skills are not important, but when you need to prioritize, I would recommend using this approach as a guide.

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Communicate expectations clearly to potential candidates and define the role

  • Put it all on a piece of paper and be honest about who you are hiring and which roles to mention, cross-reference and what skills to include.
  • If you are uncertain and still trying to answer some of the questions in-house, reach out to a solution providing PdM who will help you specify a Product role your company needs

In conclusion, making those decisions in understanding what you are searching for on the market will increase your chances of hiring the correct fit for your company. And hiring a correct fit means you don't need to do it again in 3 months time and spend additional resources on recruitment and onboarding.

That being said, I am not an HR manager and I am not fluent in HR best practices and the recruitment processI am a Product Manager who has been on both sides of the table quite a few times.

I am very interested to hear what you think and what are the most critical points of information you want to know when applying for a new Product position?

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xoxo,

Mirna Smrekar, Founder of Product Pixie