What to look for in a product manager?

I have been asked quite a few times over the past couple of years in what skills are needed to do well as a product manager. While there is no guaranteed recipe for success as a product manager (a very versatile, wear-multiple-hat role), I look for some specific generic skills in product managers. While I was at SolidWorks, we did not talk to candidates unless they met our baseline for technical skills. So when we did interview candidates, I personally looked for the following skills:

1) Listening skills: As a product manager, you need to know how to listen to your customers. You should have the ability to listen to them so that you can discover unmet needs in the marketplace that if solved can contribute to the growth of your company. To do this effectively, you should be willing to let go of your preconceived notions of customer needs and be willing to discover the real painpoints.

2) Team building and Leadership skills: Are you a person who has exhibited leadership skills? This is because as a product manager you are typically required to lead cross functional teams where none of the members report to you – you have to lead by influence. Do you have the skills to earn the trust of others and lead them along a path that may have ups and downs? A lot of times you are embarking on a journey to uncharted territories. Do you have the skills not only to keep your chin up, but also to carry your team along with you? It is all about relationships folks, not products.

3) Communication skills: Do you have the ability to communicate in very simple terms with a strong passion? How have you sold your business case(s) to internal/external stakeholders? Are you persuasive in your message to make people trust you? Do you have the ability to break down complex topics into simple messages? (none of the “this is the most reliable, scalable, easy to use, next generation product” crap. Can you talk like how real people do?)

4) Your passion: Why do you want to be here? Do you have the sparkle in your eyes? Does your strong passion to build something new show on you? Will you walk through a wall if you have to? Not in an aggressive way, but will you persevere enough to succeed when the going gets tough?

5) Your personality: Are you someone your team would welcome into the existing culture? Again, folks it is all about building relationships and “trust” with your team. Have you shown this at your previous jobs?

For me, I would rather hire someone who has the positive attitude than someone who may be technically the most brilliant. Positive attitude allows one to cross what appears to be insurmountable hurdles and carry your team with you. Lack of positive attitude is cancerous and is sure recipe for failure and brilliance cannot make up for it.

Now do you need an MBA or have studied through online MBA programs to become a good product manager? It depends. I don’t have anything against MBA’s, as long as you still continue to use your common sense to solve problems (I have met some MBA’s that have really made me wonder if they lost their common sense while at business school). The above skills are what I think product managers need to invest in and if they do the rest of the technical/business/financial skills needed to become a product manager can be easily learned.

5 thoughts on “What to look for in a product manager?”

  1. Your description rings my name 🙂 That’s it!, my new career. After 9 years working as Java open source developer, I finally have realized where to go in my career. Thank you so much. I am looking forward to wearing multiple hats, influancing (my personality type is ‘I’), and I am certainly optimistic, passionate when I believe in something pesron that can be very persistant. I might have some problems with communication as I am originally foreigner, and don’t know all busness talk at times.This is something I ll have to improve 🙂

  2. i just want to say thanks for the great tips. i graduated about a year ago and i want to move into product management. these are definitely things that i should be paying attention to. although these skills might seem familiar to what other jobs require, they are especially important for product managers.

  3. all these skills are generally required at any job level i dont see how it relates to product managers. going by this anyone can be a product manager simply by being a team player.

    there is something seriously wrong in your hiring methodology or shall i say screening

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