What to Look for When Hiring a Product Manager


Co-workers in a meeting --- Image by © Nic Ortega/Corbis

Product managers can make or break organizations, which is why hiring managers must spend time landing the most talented PMs. Great hires help their companies level up.

So, what exactly should you look for in a PM?

When I’m hiring, I look for candidates who are what I call “smart chameleons.”

These people immediately impact a particular product. They adapt quickly and efficiently whenever new ideas or initiatives emerge.

To this end, a candidate’s experience—alongside examples that demonstrate his or her ability to adapt—are the key qualifications that I explore during the interview process.

No One Is Born a PM

A master blacksmith teaches an apprentice how to shape metals. Similarly, PMs need to get their hands dirty while on the job to learn their craft.

At Fuze, we typically hire PMs with at least three years of experience. It’s great when that experience comes from places known for producing great PMs, like big software companies that have established PM disciplines and training programs. Amazing PMs can also come from medium-sized tech firms and often have very cool and interesting backgrounds that led them to product management.

Some of the best product managers I’ve worked with have the most amazingly diverse backgrounds: an art history major, a finance manager, and once even an astrophysicist. You can also often find great PMs inside of sales and sales engineering teams; they often have amazing customer empathy given the amount of interactions they have with them.

I also seek candidates with relevant domain experience to our industry and technology. It simplifies the onboarding process when new hires have a basic understanding of our tech, B2B sales, and enterprise platforms from the beginning.


Anyone who’s worked in the startup world knows how quickly things change. PMs need to be versatile enough to keep pace with these changes.

During the hiring process, I ask candidates to provide examples about how they’ve shipped their products. More specifically, I ask candidates to describe times when they had to get creative to ship something. Maybe they had to deal with missing information. Maybe there was no existing process. Maybe they were competing for resources.

Whatever the case may be, the more creative the candidate’s response, the more likely we are to proceed to the next round of interviews.

Great PMs Empathize With Customers

Those who know me have heard me talk about how important customer empathy is for a PM. Let’s reiterate.

When I’m hiring, I look for candidates who have extensive experience talking to customers. I seek out people who can provide examples of turning those interactions into products and feature improvements.

Empathy is one of the most important skills for anyone in any industry. Candidates who can place themselves in their customers’ shoes and see problems (and solutions) from their perspectives tend to succeed in PM roles.

Communication Skills Are Critical

If candidates can’t communicate effectively, how can you expect them to ship on time?

One part of our Fuze interview process involves doing homework. We give candidates an assignment and ask them to present their response to us. Topics change periodically, but always focus on a real business challenge that we’re facing.

Forcing candidates to prepare presentations in a relatively short period of time is a great way to ascertain how well they think on their feet and whether they can communicate content concisely.

Thanks to this component of our interview process, we can gauge whether candidates have the communication skills that are necessary to thrive.

Although different candidates appeal to different companies, strong PMs will be experienced and quick on their feet. They are empathetic and communicative. Keep this in mind and with luck you’ll make amazing new hires.



Reprinted by permission.

Image Credit: CC by Myfuture.com

About the author: Michael Affronti

Michael is a product guy based in NYC who loves design and code almost as much as he does bacon. He runs product at ThinkingPhones and formerly was at Klink and Microsoft. He advises and mentors several startups in product design and process, and is an avid Crossfit’er and soccer player.

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