How to hire Product Managers: A deceptively simple framework

I am often asked about the framework I use to hire Product Managers (PM).
My past hires have had a great run. Hires from my first venture are running India’s leading viral channel, a hire from my second venture is now national head of India’s leading OTA, hires from my previous jobs are now leading product for hugely successful consumer and enterprise product companies and so on.
Without taking any credit for the future success of my past hires, I did craft a framework that enabled me to spot good talent and make really good hires. In this post, I am sharing my deceptively simple 6 point foundational framework which should help you hire suitable Product Managers.
Evaluating Product Managers is tricky because a Product Manager is expected to know a lot about a lot of things, right from business strategy to implementation of analytics. While subject matter expertise is important, to me, decision framework, structured thinking, and clear presentation skills are absolutely necessary. My 6 point foundational framework S.P.A.C.E.D. evaluates Product Managers on this key foundational skill sets and I keep a very high threshold to allow Product Managers to proceed deeper in the interview process.

S.P.A.C.E.D. – 6 point foundational framework

1. S – Story:

How well they describe their story. Is it structured? Has a good beginning, has a clear end, highlighting the strengths, doesn’t sound like a parroted spiel, reveals personality and highlights their strengths well.
The art of storytelling is a must-have skill in any job profile and much more so needed for Product Managers. If you can’t share your story in 2 minutes then that reflects poorly on your product skills as well.

2. P – Prioritisation framework:

Use answer 1 and 6 to ask for prioritisation approach, if it is not shared already. Decision-making framework and prioritisation framework are essential for any person to make sound, reliable decisions. Ultimately, I want to know whether I can rely on this person or not.
Should be based on business impact seen through the lens of a single true north metric. Various features will impact business metrics differently, hence it’s important to figure out a way to present the impact in the same impact units.

3. A – Aspiration:

Why do they want to become a PM and if they already are, then why are they continuing? Should have a genuine passion for multi disciplinary problem solving and laser focus on user delight. A deep love for the field will motivate the candidate to keep learning and unlearning.

4. C – Conflict:

How they handled conflicts in their past jobs – how did they handle a painful boss or colleague or disagreement. Conflicts reveal the best side of you and how you react to them essentially highlight who you really are. Hence, I stress a lot on knowing the scenarios where the candidate felt conflicted and how he reacted to it.

5. E – Eat the frog:

How much do they hate documentation – trick question. They have to absolutely respect documentation. Find out, how have they managed to maintain documentation in past projects while respecting time and resource constraints. Essentially, figure out how they deal with their frogs. We all procrastinate, we are humans, after all, hence I wish to know how candidates deal with procrastination. Learn about “eat the frog” here.

6. D – Decision-making framework:

Use the answer to 2 and 4, to probe their toughest problems and how did they approach the solution – understand whether they have a framework for decision making. The complexity of the work they have done as perceived by them – may not be as complex for instance, signaling a lack of exposure. Irrespective of actual complexity, how they solved the toughest problem, should highlight the decision-making framework. Inevitably, this decision-making should be based on a true north metric of the business that they are driving
I don’t strictly enforce the sequence in which questions should be asked to allow for a free-flowing interview. After all, an interview is a means to have a conversation in order to identify a fit.
Obviously, these are pretty broad questions and exact set of questions and their weightage, depend on the nature of business, profile of the candidate and the answer to point 1. But using this framework you should be able to frame questions in order to identify job-worthy traits or lack thereof.
I used to have specific set of questions but over a decade of recruiting product managers and training them, I realised that broad framework works far better to hire Product Managers, since their stories are usually very unique.
What do you look for while hiring Product Managers?
Share with your friends who have suffered from bad hires.

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