Tips for recruiting product managers

Needle in a haystack

It can be tough to find a good product manager. And, while recruiting for any role is risky, a poor product manager will undermine the product’s performance and directly hit the bottom line. So the recruitment stakes are much higher than for most people at the same pay grade.

Over the last 2 years, we’ve run a research program looking at product management recruitment and it appears to be far from straight forward.

“110 CVs and 66 interviews to fill 2 out of 4 positions!”

“I’ve been recruiting for 4 months, reviewed 30 CVs and done 8 first interviews. We’ve done 5-second interviews and made 1 offer which was turned down as the candidate got a better offer from their existing company!”

If you’re involved in recruitment and finding the process frustrating and painful then it’s good to know you’re not alone. The problems appear to be a consequence of how long it takes, internal challenges and how the recruitment industry works.

This seven-point checklist summarises some of the key things we’ve learned from talking to those of you directly involved in recruiting product managers.

  1. Do your research.

    Make sure you’ve thought about the type of person you want to take on. What skills are needed to compliment your existing team? Do you have a set of competencies for product management? Are standard job descriptions, skills and experience profiles available? (we have these if you don’t). Another important question is how much to pay? (check out our latest annual survey). And remember your team is your brand – they represent you across the business, so you want to recruit good people that will be well respected.

  1. Get sign off.

    It sounds obvious but some companies take several months to decide whether to hire. If that’s how it is in your company then don’t make any offers to candidates until the headcount is approved. You never know when the next recruitment freeze might come along. Imagine the frustration of finding a great candidate only for them to accept another offer while you’re still waiting for sign-off.

  1. Involve HR.

    You might think they know nothing about product management but they do have the knowledge and processes to manage the recruitment process and will understand your company’s HR policies. Make use of them to reduce your workload. HR often negotiate deals with specific recruitment agencies on the condition that everyone uses them so you need to understand the rules as they might veto any candidates you find independently. If your HR department is unfamiliar with product management you will need to factor in the time to get them up to speed.

  1. Use your personal contacts.

    The number one approach to finding good people is through personal contacts. Candidates you already know or those who are recommended by people you trust. There is a saying in the recruitment business … “the best candidates are never looking”. This is a way to tap into this hidden talent pool, reduce the risk of taking on someone who’s no good and speed up the whole process. Candidates should still go through the same assessment but if you’re dealing with a known quantity the process can be considerably smoother. So ‘put out the word’.

“I got 70-80 CVs from agencies leading to 5 interviews however, the person who finally got the job came through a personal contact of someone in the business.”

  1. Keep a balance between internal and external candidates.

    You might need fresh perspectives from outside the business or be looking for skills or knowledge not available internally. However, in most other cases, internal candidates are a great source of new recruits. Poaching staff might not make you popular with other departments but you get a known quantity and someone who already has some knowledge of your products, the company and people i.e. someone who can quickly make an impact.

  1. Use social networks.

    LinkedIn has excellent tools for recruiters that can help you identify and contact people who have the right profile for you. You can also place well-targeted ads. A second use for LinkedIn and other social networks, particularly Twitter and Facebook is to check out promising candidates. Does their CV on LinkedIn look consistent with what you’re being told elsewhere? Are there any postings that undermine their credibility? Another avenue to explore is the various groups and networks of product managers. Many provide the opportunity to advertise jobs. Try your local ProductCamp or the Cambridge Product Management Network.

  1. Use a recruitment agency

    If you can’t find someone through another route then recruitment agencies have a role to play but it’s going to cost you in time and money. Unless you’re going for very senior roles it’s unlikely you’ll use a “head-hunter”. Unfortunately, there are few specialist product management recruitment agencies and you may have to invest some time explaining the role and candidate requirements in detail. This will be worthwhile to avoid being inundated with the CVs of hundreds of irrelevant candidates.

Our research showed that what worked well was offering exclusivity and payment in the range of 15% -20% of first-year salary (else your business isn’t important enough for them). The more senior the role, the higher the fee paid. This should be coupled with a tapered clawback if the person doesn’t stay in the role for a defined period.

“Started at 10% but found that recruiters weren’t working very hard and candidates weren’t good. We went up to 15% and things improved.”

“We pay around 20% of the first-year salary”

“We’ve got a roster of 4 agencies managed by HR and they typically charge 15% of the first-year salary.”

So good luck with your recruitment! And if you need some interim resource to help you while you’re looking we can help.

Finally, if you’ve got any other recruitment tips please let us know.

Andrew Dickenson
Director, Product Focus

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