What to look for in a product manager

Are you looking for a product manager? These roles are more in demand than ever, but unfortunately many HR professionals don't know what these people do and why they're important. Product managers can make or break your company, so I've come up with some general guidelines to look for the great ones.

  1. Technical ability is important to some degree because the manager needs to understand the framework for their product in order to understand the limitations and issues that come up. Unfortunately this is a tough area depending on how specialized your product is. You may need someone with a technical background close to your product, but not exact. If you need a really technical person you should consider looking outside of just those people with 'product manager' titles on their resume. Find someone who can transition to the product manager role from a technical role.
  2. Communication skills are obviously important because this person will be in charge of a team and will have to communicate upstream and down. The interview may be a good time to figure out whether this person can talk to people in a productive way. Sometimes even great communicators are nervous during interviews, so look for experience that they can succeed in this area. Maybe they have experience with training employees or have a successful podcast. People who can clearly tell you their success stories and why they should get the position will usually be easy to pick out. Unfortunately these people are not always drawn to the technical side of the job and may not have come from the background you need. If that's the case, see if they have shown the ability to learn new skills and whether they can pick up on the software. 
  3. Management skills are not the same as management experience. If you want someone who has already done the job you are looking to fill, expect to pay for that experience. If you don't have that in the budget then look for a person who can do the job but hasn't yet. If they haven't been a manager then look to see if they've done other leadership activities like being a team lead, or even lead groups outside of work like through a church or a hobby or sport. Sometimes new managers can be even better than experienced ones because they have a fresher technical skill set and they may not be set in their ways or jaded from terrible management experience yet. Most importantly you want someone who people like. They shouldn't be a pushover but you don't want someone who is that nightmare coworker who will make everyone's life hell. I've had clients that specifically say they have a "no jerks policy" and I definitely see why.
  4. Ability to adapt. This is something you'll have to read between the lines to find out. Do they seem able to handle change? There's almost nothing worse than that person that cries every time there's a change at the company. This person is toxic and convinces everyone they're being laid off every time there's a small change. Change is constant, especially in technology companies, and you need people that can handle it. Ask questions during the interview to gauge how your candidate handles change. 
  5. Finding the balance between the above skills. You can only go so far with your budget and you probably won't find a super human who is at the top of the scale on technical abilities, communication, has tons of experience, etc. because those people are executives or running their own business. You have to give a little and figure out what's most important unless you can pay more than every other company looking for these same people. If it's important the position is filled then figure out where you can compromise, otherwise you will spend months or years looking for the perfect candidate.