Top 10 questions to ask when hiring a product manager

Sampath Mallidi By Sampath Mallidi on April 1, 2014
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A product manager, by the most simplistic definition, delivers strategic solutions that are based on customer needs and the external marketplace. A product manager’s role involves understanding problems, identifying opportunities and then finding a way to solve these problems through a logical and creative process. A product manager also has the responsibility of maintaining these products to ensure that the ones still kept in the market are relevant to customer needs. Hiring the right product manager for your ISV requires groundwork and a good understanding of the software product life cycle. We’ve brainstormed 10 key questions to ask a potential prospect when looking to hire a product manager. These questions should evoke responses that give you a pretty good idea of their thought process. In order to hire a good product manager, don’t just focus on the experience, but more importantly, gauge their logical and critical thinking skills.

1.    Ask them about the top 3 software products they’ve encountered in the recent times. Why do they think that they are the best products? And what do they think has contributed to its success?

This helps you understand how much the prospect understands software products. It isn’t just knowing what a product does but how it’s done, the design, the mechanism, the architecture—the product manager should be able to talk in detail about these aspects because that’s when you can truly gauge his expertise in making a successful product.

2.    What is it that they dislike about your product and if they are hired, how do they intend to improve it?

This is a pretty straight forward question that hits the nail on the head in a two-fold way. You get to know how serious this person is about your company and product and whether he shares the same passion as you. Secondly, it allows you to gauge his critical thinking skills in determining what can make a good product better. In today’s competitive market, this is what is going to really matter—an innovative product manager that can help your team move forward by leaps.

3.    According to them, what are the problems you are likely to encounter in the next two years?

This is yet another question directed at understands the prospective employee’s analytical and future thinking skills. This is important because if you want a product that lasts and able to resist constant changes in the market, you have to think ahead. For this you need a product manager who isn’t just working out whether your product works for today, but for the next couple of years. A good product manager will foresee problems for your product, understand market dynamics, competition and identify opportunities that will help you meet market needs and take down products that are no longer relevant to your target market.

4.    How much time have they spent in the design of the software product? What lessons have they learned about user interface design?

Design is the bread and butter of technology. There is really no point in having a stellar product when it isn’t married to a beautiful UX design. The candidate should have a good eye for usability and design. It is really important for you to figure out how much time he/she has spent on analysis, concept and synthesis. The design of a product is directly influenced by the product manager’s problem solving abilities and therefore, it is an aspect that you have to evaluate thoroughly.

5.    Ask them for one of their best product ideas. Find out why they consider it their best.

Not only does it help you understand how much homework the candidate has done on the market and customer needs, but it also helps you gauge his innovative skills in crafting brand new ideas. This quality will prove critical when you are looking to move your product to the next level.

6.    How good are they at creating relevant and usable documentation?

Does your candidate have relevant experience with creating Business requirements document, Market requirements document, Product requirements document, Functional specifications document etc.? Through these, you can evaluate their skill in paying attention to details.

7.    How would they bring together every department that touches the product?

When developing a product, various departments like sales, marketing, software engineering, design, customer service, QA and operations would be involved. It isn’t just enough for the product manager to have amazing critical thinking and analytical skills, but he also needs to have excellent communication and interpersonal skills to collaborate between all the different departments to ensure the making of a successful product.

8.    How much do they understand the market and the domain of the software product is in?

It’s highly crucial for a product manager to keep himself abreast with the latest events in the market and the domain industry. Does he study surveys and talk with existing customers and potential customers of a product on an ongoing basis? It’s important to evaluate how much they understand the use of a product and that they’re aware of all the problems in that particular domain. This is knowledge you can use to your advantage when you are attempting to improve your product.

9.    Do they consider themselves creative?

A good product manager thinks outside the box. Evaluate whether your candidate accepts cookie cutter type solutions or thinks innovatively to initiate ideas that can surpass your current strategies. After all, you want someone that will bring a fresh perspective to the company, a person that will compel you to be a visionary as well.

10. What was their biggest product mistake? And what have they learnt from it?

It’s obvious that there will be some mistakes in product development. There will be times that your candidate has gone wrong, but what it really shows is that they’ve tried their hand at something new. What you really need to evaluate is whether they’ve drawn any lessons from their mistake and more importantly, how they’ve applied this lesson in making their product better.  

Hiring a good product manager may seem complicated and time-consuming as you take multiple interviews without fruit, but patience is crucial here. Ensure that you thoroughly understand the prospective employee’s background and their creative potential. There is no better way to take your product forward.

What questions would you ask or have you asked when hiring a product manager? Let us know in comments below!

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