There’s a joke in the world of product management: “What’s the hardest part of being a product manager?”
Answer: “Explaining what you do to your parents and friends.”
Product managers wear many hats, and often what they do doesn’t neatly fit into one digestible sound bite. Professionals in this role combine technical skills with emotional intelligence; analytical skills with strong communication; and the ability to manage stakeholders with product-specific hard skills.
The recruitment process for finding the right person to take on product management at your company can be a challenge. How can you quickly find the person with the right combination of capabilities to take on this multi-dimensional role?
Resumes provide a two-dimensional record of someone’s past experience, but they can’t reveal how someone works under pressure or communicates with other teams. More than 57% of product managers have not received any formal training to learn how to do their job — so relying on a product management certification can also be misleading. Interviews can give you a good sense of a candidate’s organizational fit, but can also be a poor predictor of performance.
To get a solid understanding of a candidate’s product management skills, recruiters can use a combination of skill assessments, case studies, and interviews. Here are some strategies for finding the best candidates for your product management team during your next hiring process.
What skills does a product manager need?
Before you assess product management skills, you need a list of the capabilities that would make someone successful in this role. This list will help guide your job description as well as determine the methods you use to test candidates for skills during the hiring process.
Product management skill sets are often described as “T-shaped” – both broad and deep. Product managers need a combination of technical knowledge, business skills, and interpersonal skills.
Hard skills for product managers
Depending on your industry, it can be helpful for product managers to have a technical background in the design or development of the product your company offers. For instance, some companies look for Technical Product Marketing Managers who will be responsible for overseeing the creation and distribution of promotional campaigns for key technical products. This role would require technical skills such as some coding ability or strong knowledge of development language and baseline knowledge of sales enablement. A senior product manager in particular can benefit from technical skills that help them understand what the engineering team or development team is really thinking.
If your product manager sits with the technical team (e.g., the UX designers, developers, or salespeople), consider testing the following hard skills:
- Industry knowledge
- Technical fluency
- Design sense and user experience
- A/B testing
Even product management generalists should have some familiarity with the hard skills required to oversee the product lifecycle. Google, for instance, requires its product managers to pass a technical skills test regardless of what product they’ll work on.
Soft skills for product managers
Product managers are responsible for overseeing the product as it travels from initial design to development, to the marketing team, and eventually, the customer. As a result, these professionals will interface with different stakeholders to bring the product from concept to market. Strong soft skills can help the product lifecycle run smoothly.
Here are some key soft skills the best product managers will bring to the table.
- Communication skills
- The ability to prioritize tasks
- Strategic thinking
Product management can sometimes feel like herding cats. Look for candidates who have experience working with different teams to coordinate a project coming to fruition successfully.
Non-technical business skills for product managers
There are also some key business skills that a product manager needs in their toolkit. When the role for which you are hiring is a Product Owner, for instance, you’ll need someone who can scope projects to implementation, manage a budget, set timelines, and communicate both internally and externally to collaborate with multiple teams in the business. Analytical skills are crucial for this type of role.
Here are some key business skills to look for when hiring a product candidate:
- Strong research skills
- Ability to create a product strategy
- Experience managing resources (e.g., employees, budgets, and materials)
- Strong organization
- Experience with data analysis and customer insights
- Set and meet KPIs
Of course, these lists of skills are extensive; finding someone who excels in all of these areas is like finding a unicorn. You should customize your job description for the specific type of product manager role you need, and prioritize the skills that will bring success in your particular industry.
How do you assess candidates for soft skills?
Hiring managers often struggle to evaluate a candidate’s soft skills — especially without unconscious bias clouding their judgment. There are tactics you can use during the hiring process to fairly assess job candidates to see if they have the leadership, communication, and emotional intelligence your company needs.
Use a pre-employment skills assessment
A skills assessment is a great way to screen candidates early in the hiring process. Invite each candidate to participate in a test that simulates different job-like situations and scenarios. Platforms like Vervoe can elicit candidate responses to on-the-job tasks, challenges, and scenarios that empower job candidates to demonstrate their ability in using different soft skills.
And, Vervoe gives hiring managers a fair way to evaluate all candidates, since each person responds to the same set of questions.
Ask behavioral interview questions
Questions in a behavioral interview are designed to learn whether a candidate has the knowledge, skills, and abilities required for the position.
In a behavioral interview, ask about challenges the candidate has encountered and how they worked through them. Try not to limit your questions to those purely based on work experience, as this tends to move someone’s answers away from skills toward industry experience. Previous experience or things like education don’t always indicate performance.
Here are some behavioral interview questions to consider asking:
- Why are you excited about joining our company?
- How would help your grandmother understand how our product works?
- How would you describe your leadership style?
- How would you motivate a design team to finish a challenging task on a tough timeline?
- Do you have any feedback on our product?
Focus on questions that help you get to know the candidate behind the resume.
Assign a task to see their skills in action
Don’t be afraid to get creative with your hiring process. Some companies host tests that are designed to identify a candidate’s hidden abilities — those that aren’t neatly captured in a resume.
For example, consider hosting a mock presentation. Invite a candidate to explain something they’re passionate about or to present on a critical issue in the industry.
Of course, your assessment can be directly related to the business. Ultimately, the goal is to develop a test that sets the candidate in a low-pressure environment where they truly showcase their relevant skills.
How do you test analytical skills?
It’s often more straightforward to test candidates for technical and analytical skills. Here are some strategies that you can use to dig deeper into a job candidate’s ability to oversee the technical side of product management.
Use a skills assessment
There are dozens of skills assessments in the Vervoe library that can evaluate product managers on a range of capabilities. These tests also make it easy to compare candidates without bias and use fewer resources. AI scores each candidate’s answers to create a shortlist of top performers, predicting success without the need to manually score each person’s results.
Vervoe’s assessment library includes tests for countless roles from Junior Product Owner to an Analytics Product Manager to a Technical Writer, someone who might not be directly working on the product management team but will play a role in curating documentation that addresses a particular technical field within a company.
Vervoe’s assessments use a range of formats to test product managers. Some questions require a video answer; others use multiple choice, text, or on-screen video to record the tools the candidate is using to work with data.
These tests show whether the candidate can be relied upon to manage a product for your business by showcasing how they communicate both internally and externally, align stakeholders for the product vision while getting buy-in, and how they prioritize features and functions on a product roadmap. You’ll also get a sense of their personality and charisma in the video questions and see how they can articulate their thoughts and the logic behind their answers.
Offer a case study
Many companies use a case study to see how well a product manager understands the market, can identify opportunities for growth, and how well they gain insight from customers.
An A/B test is one easy assessment that enables job applicants to show their skills. An A/B test is useful for virtually every product strategy, as your team discovers what features, functions, and designs resonate best with customers. In your simulation, you could present the results of an A/B test and ask the candidate to analyze data, come up with follow-up questions for future testing, and use tools to deliver deeper insights to the rest of the product stakeholders.
Host a technical interview
Invite a member from your existing product management team — or even a panel of designers, developers, and sales representatives — to put together a technical interview. This interview would cover some of the key tasks that your new hire needs to complete in the course of day-to-day business operations.
If you choose to involve members from your existing team, make sure they frame questions that are specific to their role; this can help make sure the person you hire is familiar with all parts of your business operations.
Finding the right product managers can be a challenge. But, with the right tools and approach to hiring, recruiters can better predict who will find success at their company. Look for hiring solutions that enable applicants to show their skills over a range of different questions, challenges, and simulations. Not only does this provide a great candidate experience, but it also helps you find the multifaceted person you need for great product management.
Explore some of these other Vervoe product management tests to learn more: