Senior Product Manager position – New York City

One of the ways this blog helps me is when readers reach out to me asking for advice and also for help. Recently, Jonathan Hoefler, CEO of Hoefler & Frere-Jones (www.typography.com) reached out asking for help in recruiting his company’s first software product manager. Jonathan and I went through needs analysis to make sure I understand where the product manager would fit into their org and also what would be expected of the product manager. I helped Jonathan write up the job description for the position which is given below. If any of you are interested, please respond directly to Jonathan at hr-spm@typography.com. (I will not be accepting resumes or making recommendations to Jonathan unless I know you personally).

This position reports directly to Jonathan (CEO) and is a highly visible role with great opportunities to define product management in a company that was named one of the most innovative design companies in America by Fast Company. Good luck!

Senior Product Manager, Software

Hoefler & Frere-Jones (H&FJ) is a leading digital type foundry with a body of work that includes some of the world’s most famous fonts. H&FJ works with brand leaders in every sector, developing original fonts for print, screen, and mobile applications, and licensing them through our New York office and our website www.typography.com. Our body of work includes the signature typeface of the Obama campaign, the fonts used by magazines from Wired to Martha Stewart Living, the institutional typefaces of the Whitney and Guggenheim museums, and the Hoefler Text font family that has shipped with 75,000,000 Macintoshes. A leader in the industry for more than 20 years, H&FJ’s mission is to enable people to speak in a unique voice across all channels, always with an emphasis on new and emerging technologies. It’s an objective that’s lead us to create new products and services that bring fine typography to websites, mobile apps, eBooks, and beyond.

As our first ever Product Manager, you will work closely with our senior management and engineering teams to develop product strategy and lead its execution. You will report directly to the CEO, making this a leadership role with significant visibility, accountability, and career growth potential. You will lead the enhancement of existing products, and help to develop new products and services. You must possess both business- and technical savvy, a big-picture vision, and the drive to make that vision a reality via superior execution. We’re looking for an individual who is passionate, hands-on, and willing to work collaboratively with internal stakeholders to launch successful and profitable products for the company. As an established and well-respected company, H&FJ is free from startup jitters and management fire drills. And as a small company (a team of 17) with a global reach, you’ll have a real opportunity to make a significant impact.

This is a full-time salaried position at our New York office, open to US citizens or those with authorization to work in the US.

Key Responsibilities:

While these responsibilities are what will keep you busy, H&FJ is a place for people ready to roll up their sleeves and do whatever it takes to make our products successful.

  • Manage the full product life cycle for our web product offerings ranging from strategic planning to tactical execution.
  • Define product strategy and product roadmap for existing and new product offerings, working very closely with the senior management team.
  • Define product requirement documents for current and future products based on market research and competitive analysis.
  • Drive the execution of the defined solutions by working with senior management, engineering and marketing teams.
  • Develop and implement a company-wide go-to-market plan, working with all internal stakeholders to ensure successful execution and product launch.
  • Help create marketing materials such as datasheets and white papers that communicate the customer benefits of our product offerings, and reflect our position as an established industry leader.

Required Qualifications:

  • A BS/BA degree, preferably in a technology field.
  • A minimum of 5 years of software product management experience, with at least 2 years of experience managing SaaS, or software products sold online.
  • A successful track record of achieving results with minimal direction and oversight in a very fast paced environment.
  • The demonstrated ability to deal with both big-picture strategic activities and detail-oriented tactical activities.
  • Superior communication skills: written, verbal, and presentational.
  • Ability to articulate and present problems and possible solutions to internal stakeholders.

Since you’re good at articulating and advocating your position, please write directly to Jonathan Hoefler, Founder and CEO, at hr-spm@typography.com, to explain why you’re right for H&FJ. Please include a copy of your résumé, as well as any other material that you feel is relevant.

7 tips on how to survive a layoff

OK, so the economy is showing signs of recovery, companies are starting to hire, everything seems to be looking good, but then you find yourself laid off, what do you do? Having been a victim of two layoffs from my past two jobs, I hope to share with you what helped me find a new job in about 2 weeks time both these times. So how do you survive after a layoff?

1) Try anticipating it and try to get ahead of it: As software product managers, we are supposed to keep a tab on how well the business is doing. Are we acquiring new customers? Are we cash flow positive or getting close? How is the cash burn situation? We are supposed to know this well. So when you see numbers that are not showing any positive signs of improvement over a long time, you see others getting laid off, don’t wait for the axe to fall. Start looking! It is one thing to be optimistic that the business will improve, but on the other hand there is something called the point of no return – the tipping point where it is all downhill from here. Try to get ahead of the impending layoff for three good reasons:

  1. it is easier to look for a job when you have one
  2. it is better to get laid off when you know that your job hunt is off to a good start and you are well on your way to landing a new job and
  3. you will be able to take your time to find the job with the right fit for you and not be desperate to take the first job that comes along once you have been laid off.

For example, once I saw the writing on the wall at my previous company about five months before I got laid off, I started the job search in right earnest, turned down 4 potential offers because it was not the right fit, had 2 offers within 2 weeks of getting laid off and I ended up taking one of them. None of this could have happened if I had waited for the axe to fall and get started. And if the layoff happens suddenly out of the blue and you are blindsided, so be it. Read point 5) below on what to do.

2) Work your network long before you need it: I am a strong believer in the saying “Dig your well long before you are thirsty”. Don’t wait to start building your network (I do it via LinkedIn) or to work your network only after you have been laid off. Too late! You have to keep working the network all the time by helping others whenever you can – either when someone in your network is looking for a job, needs an introduction to someone you know or when they are looking for information you have access to. Your network will not forget your good deeds and will reach out to you in your time of need to see how they can help you in return. If nothing else, drop a friendly note, a birthday greeting, christmas or new year greetings to make sure your network knows you are alive and breathing. Networks are two way streets – you ought to be ready to give a lot more before you can expect to get something in return.

3) Build your reputation: I cannot tell you know how many times I have met readers of this blog. In interviews, I have been told that they have read my blog. Because of this, my interviews have never been on whether I know product management, but more on whether I will fit culturally into the organization. None of this was built in a day – I have been blogging for the last 2-3 years and I am now seeing the payoff. I have spoken at local events, conferences and all of these show up if someone does a Google search on my name. None of this can be taken away from me even when I get laid off for no fault of mine. My reputation as a product manager lives on. You got to build your reputation online, it is the best marketing material you can ever produce on YOU!

4) Make new connections: Assume you get an interview with a company. You make a good impression on the folks you interviewed. One of two things happen – you do not get the job or you turn it down because you don’t see it as a good fit. Is that the end? No – when you drop a thank you note to the folks who interviewed you, ask them if they would be willing to make a LinkedIn connection with you. Out of 50+ people that I have asked over the last couple of years, only 1 has turned me down. Read again, I have made 49+ new connections as part of my interview process.Why does this matter? Consider this real world example of how I landed up at Gazelle:

  1. I go through a phone screen for a position at Company A in November. I am deemed to be not a right fit.
  2. I send a thank you note to the recruiter thanking her for the opportunity. I make a request for two things – a) LinkedIn connection and b) do you know of any one who may be looking for a person with my skills
  3. Within a week, she recommends me to her friend at Company B.
  4. I go through two rounds of interviews at Company B in December – the position gets put on hold.
  5. Opening at Gazelle opens up in January – the recruiting manager at Company B recommends me highly to Gazelle.
  6. Gazelle reaches out to me over the weekend, my former boss who knows the CEO writes to him as well.
  7. I get the job, not just based on their recommendations – I still had to show up and go through two rounds of interviews – but because my connections opened the door for me.

Steps 1-4 happen while I am still employed. 5-6 happens within 2 weeks of getting laid off.

5) Never treat it as a knock out blow: Layoffs sting – it hurts, you feel worthless, you may spend sleepless nights worrying. But you need to recover. You cannot treat it as knock out blow. Usually good things happen – I have found a job better than what I had. You need to take it on the chin and get immediately back on the feet. Now is not the time to go into your cocoon, instead now it is demo time for the most important product – YOU!. Let everyone in your network know that you are actively looking. Get your LinkedIn profile updated, get recommendations from your former colleagues for the position you just got laid off, start showing up at local events, speak at these events if you can.  Look for short term assignments among your network, apply for unemployment benefits, explore ways to keep some income coming in – every dollar helps. Don’t be ashamed to tell others that you have been laid off – not to get their sympathy, but more to get the word out that you are actively looking. You never know who knows who.

6) Take the time to relax, build a new skill or enjoy life: Easier said than done, right? But if you do all of what I have stated above, believe me, you can. During the 4 weeks I took off, I went grocery shopping with my wife (something I had not done in years), I dropped off my kids at school and other after school activities, took long afternoon naps and read books. It was a great way to put a brake on my otherwise hectic work life. I got to relax and enjoy my life after a long time. All because I was close to getting offers from the companies I had interviewed with.

7) Always save for the rainy day: There is nothing faster that you can burn after a layoff than Cash. Everything comes out of your pocket – health insurance, mortgage, car payments and all other expenses. There is no income other than any severance payments you may have received. So always have enough cash saved away for the rainy day.

Thoughts? Do you have any experiences to share?

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Image: Courtesy of washingtonpost.com

Eight traits of good hiring managers

Good managers mostly hire good people and sometimes hire the wrong people whereas bad managers always hire the wrong people. This is the conclusion I have come to in my 15 year career. What do I define as a bad hiring manager? – one who does not have good managerial skills, feels insecure and hence tends to hire someone worse than him/her because they feel threatened if their hires are better/smarter than them. I have seen at least four such managers in my career based on the quality and hence the resulting performance of their hires.

So what are the traits of good managers:

1) They hire people smarter than them: The whole purpose of hiring people is to get work done. Good managers don’t want to lose sleep over the performance of their reports. They want people who can work with minimal direction, whose work will reflect their pride, who will go the extra mile to get the job done.They do not micro manage, they allow you to put your artistic touch to your work as long as you meet the business goals. They realize that ownership brings the best out of good people.

2) Their success is defined by the team’s success: They are fully aware that their success is determined by their team’s success. They work to remove the hurdles limiting their team and to ensure that the team is marching forward.

3) They identify and credit their team members in public for job well done: They don’t take any credit for the work done – they identify in public the people who toiled to get the job done. They relish their team’s success. They make sure that their team members get the visibility in front of their superiors or executive management. You will see them use “we” more than they would use “I”.

4) They praise in public and advise in private: People need constant encouragement and direction when things go wrong. Managers work with team members privately to reflect on mistakes and work out an action plan to fix it going forward. They use the feather to slap one’s hand and never the hammer unless they are forced to. They give immediate feedback good or bad so that successes get repeated and mistakes get corrected.

5) They train their replacements: Good managers want to move their career forward. They realize that they cannot do this until they groom someone to eventually replace them in the current job. They realize that they owe it to their current employer if they choose to leave the company.

6) They never treat all of their direct reports the same but fairly: They realize that people are different and hence one cannot treat everyone the same. Some need more assistance than others. It is more important that they are fair and transparent in the decisions they make. They set goals for their team members and reward good performance and more importantly penalize bad performance. The process is transparent and the team members don’t hold any ill will on decisions made.

7) They treat their direct reports as human beings: After all, it is not just all work. They encourage their reports to take time off to recharge themselves. They remind them to get a life outside work. In essence, they care about their team member’s well being because it directly impacts your productivity at work.

8. They cut their losses when they make hiring mistakes: When they make those bad hiring decisions, they cut their losses when it is clear that things will not work out in spite of their best efforts. They are not afraid to admit their hiring mistakes. This sends message to the rest of the team that good performance is valued and everyone is expected to equally share the workload.

So how do you find out during the hiring process if you will be working for a good manager or a total jerk? It is tough because it is easy to hide but you may be able to get some early warning signals. Here are eight ways you could possibly find out:

1) Ask the hiring manager directly about their management style.

2) Ask them about some of the successes of their team – see if it is all “I did this, I did this” and not “we did this” – do they name people on their team while they talk about the successes?

3) Ask others who you would be interviewing with (in an indirect way) including those who would be your peers about the manager’s management style. If someone takes issue with this, it may not be a good place to work after all.

4) They let you ask questions during the interview that let you get a better understanding about the job and about their management style.

5) How much do they grill you to make sure you are the right person for the job? Good managers want to make sure you indeed have the “smarts” or “skills” that you claim in your resume.

6) How well do they talk about the company’s success and work that needs to be done?

7) How long is the interview process? In good companies, interviews are likely to be multiple rounds because the company cares a whole lot about their hiring process.

8. Are they excited when they talk about what the company is doing and what the team is accomplishing?

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Software product manager’s elevator pitch?

When I interview software product manager candidates, the first question I ask them is to give me their elevator pitch in one minute. Many candidates resemble a deer caught in the headlights and I am very surprised. If you cannot explain who you are, what you can do for the company, your strengths in one minute or less – are you a good software product manager candidate?

I give them one minute only because I have sat through 4-5 minutes of torture when I used to ask the question “Please tell me about yourself” – believe it or not, I have heard everything from how the CEO in one of their previous employers sucked to how the candidate filed a patent on some esoteric stuff that had nothing to do with what we do. If the open position is for a software product manager, it is a good question to ask because a software product manager has to help create product positioning statements and give an elevator pitch about his/her products to prospects. This also displays the communication skills of the candidate.

Elevator pitches should highlight your strengths so that it piques the interviewer’s interest that he wants to know more about it – now the ball is in your court where you can further substantiate on your strengths and make the connection as to how those strengths can help the company.

So what is your elevator pitch?

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Working with recruiters – set the ground RULE !!

Once I finished my previous two posts on job hunting tips, I was asked by a friend who is now looking for a job on how to work effectively with recruiters during a job hunt. I have recently spoke to some HR Directors/Managers where this issue has come up as well and hence It occurred to me that this is something worthy of a post.

Here is what I have learnt about recruiters (and if I have a wrong perspective, I encourage recruiters out there to send in their comments so that I can get it right :-))

1) Recruiters are hired by companies usually only after their own recruiting efforts have failed – why – because recruiters need to be paid a hefty fee – usually a good percentage of the first year’s salary of the candidate they refer and gets hired.

2) Recruiters are in the business to make money – they work for the client more than they work for a job candidate – they are getting paid to get the best candidate to their client who hired them and not to make a case for you into a role that may not be an absolutely perfect fit (hence my comment in the previous blog post of “you need to be a round peg in a round hole”)

So what could go wrong where you as an innocent job hunter gets caught between a rock and a hard place – here is a typical sequence that could get you into trouble

1) You apply for a job at company X by sending in your resume (through a friend, apply directly etc.)

2) You get in touch with a recruiter who asks you to send him your resume. Unknown to you, he has been hired by company X to look for candidates for the same position as you have already applied for. The recruiter sends in your resume to company X.

3) You get hired

4) Controversy breaks out – who got you to company X first – your friend/yourself or the recruiter.

I have been told by HR managers that this is their worst nightmare when it comes to working with recruiters. I have also heard about companies getting sued by recruiters for just the above scenario. Last thing you want to get involved in as a new employee is this mess with your new employer.

So how do you protect yourself – set one ground rule right upfront before you engage with any recruiter- THEY CANNOT PRESENT YOUR RESUME TO ANY COMPANY WITHOUT TALKING TO YOU FIRST AND WITHOUT GETTING YOUR PERMISSION. Get them to agree to this before you send them your resume.

Good professional recruiters will know very well why you are asking for this and they will be more than happy to comply – the last thing they also want is the nightmare described above – unfortunately like every other profession, there are a few unscrupulous recruiters out there looking to make a fast buck.

If a recruiter does not want to agree on the above ground rule, don’t engage with them – it is not worth it. After all, your resume is your prized marketing material about the greatest product you have – YOU !! So you have the right to demand where it goes

Happy job hunting !!

Job hunting cheat sheet

In my previous post, I referred to a 1-2 page cheat sheet that I used to create for each company (say Company X) to which I had applied. Here are the key things that I used to have in the cheat sheet.

1) Market space – what industry is Company X in? What is the market growth?

2) Product line – what is Company X’s product line? What problems are they solving? Do you believe that these problems exist (remember the dot come era where companies created businesses to sell vitamins on the web?)

3) Competitors – who are the company’s competitors? Is the segment fragmented with many competitors or has the consolidation already happened and the competition is well established? Where does Company X stand?

4) Management team – Who is the management team and what is their track record? Have they done this before or what are their past successes?

5) Company info – how long has the company been in business. What is the current sales? Public or private – who are the investors and how much funding have they put in and how many rounds?

6) Position description – I copy and paste the job description and then highlight the sentences which call out the skills that are my strengths – this highlighting helps me to hit upon each of these strengths during the phone interview – the job calls for this, let me tell you about what I have done in this area ….

etc.

Here is a Cheat sheet sample that I had created for one of the companies that I was looking at – Mall Networks. I did get the phone interview, but did not hear back from them since (even though I did follow up :-))

Ten job hunting tips for a product manager

I had mentioned in my last post that I would post tips from my experience looking for a job as a product manager – in fact I had to do this twice in the last 7 months. So here is what worked for me … Remember one thing – job hunting is nothing but a marketing and sales job of a single product – You !

1) Don’t respond to job postings unless you want your resume to end up in a pile.

2) Get your foot in the door: Instead, if you find a job in a company X that you want to apply for, use social networking sites such as LinkedIn (this is the only one I use) to see if you are connected to someone who works there or if one of your connections knows someone who works there – then get recommended. You are looking to get a foot in the door and get the first phone call. Candidates who have been recommended by internal sources will at least get the first phone call – it is up to you to take it from there. If you know someone at the company, it will also give you an inside scoop – what is the real story, how is it to work there, anything about your future boss you need to know about – his/her management style etc.

3) Call the hiring manager: If you are not connected to anyone, again use LinkedIn to see who the hiring manager could be – I look for titles such as VP of Product Strategy, VP of Marketing, VP of Product Management etc. If LinkedIn does not have it, look at the company’s website under the Team/Management section. Then call the company and ask for that person – if you do get the person on the line (tough because people are travelling or are in meetings), tell them who you are and why you are calling. If you get the standard response of apply for the job and send it to HR, be frank and tell them that you are trying to get your resume visible and ask if you can send the resume to him/her so that he/she can send it to the hiring manager. There is nothing wrong in asking, worst response you can get is a No. A lot of times this will work and it also shows your initiative and strong interest. Then email your resume within a day so that your name is still fresh in the other person’s mind. Followup with the person via email (no phone calls) after a week if you have not heard anything.

4) Email the hiring manager (long shot): If you do not get hold of the hiring manager over the phone, then try the long shot – you need to figure out if you can get his/her email address. How do you know if it is roberts@xyz.com or robert.smith@xyz.com or smithr@xyz.com – look at the bottom of the press releases at the company X’s website. The company’s contact for the press release typically puts his/her email address at the bottom – this will get you the syntax. Again, sending a cold email is a very long shot and may get you a response only if you are a very strong candidate. I will not follow up on such an email because you don’t want to spam the person.

5) Work your network – there is a great book of “Dig the well before you are thirsty” that is worth reading – basically don’t try to create the network just when you need it – keep your network alive, help others when they are in need and they will help you when you have a need.

6) Get involved in local product management associations – present at conferences on product management topics – you want to be seen as a subject matter expert – you need to do things (good things !) that will let you stand out in the crowd.

7) Always keep looking for a job – you never know what opportunities come along your way – but you don’t want to be switching too often either – pick a job that broadens your experience, stay there for a while, succeed and then think about making a career move.

8. Research, research, research – Get to know about company X as much as you can – as if your life depended on it – you need to comb through its website and know everything about them – where have they been (look at company history, look at old press releases), where are they going (job postings may give you an idea about their future direction), read about the company in the news – what else are others saying about the company (don’t just believe what the company says about itself). Last thing you want to be is a candidate who is not prepared.

9) Company cheat sheet – Prepare on companies you have applied to as if the phone could ring at the very next second for an interview. I created a 1-2 page cheat sheet on each company I applied for so that I can have this information at my finger tips (in case the phone rang).

10) Company’s customers – Can you find a way to talk to some of the company’s customers? If the company has a discussion forum, you may be able to find customers there – what do they think about the company? How are the company’s products perceived? What is the future of the company in the eyes of the customer? If you do talk to their customers, mention this during your interview – it shows how well you research something, how comfortable you are talking to customers etc. – good companies value this and if they don’t, it may not be the right place to work after all.

What about recruiters? I did not have good luck with recruiters – not that they are bad – but they are hired by companies when their own recruiting efforts have failed and hence recruiters only look for a round peg in a round hole – their clients give them specific requirements and recruiters cannot flex them too much to accomodate a candidate’s qualifications.

Tools that I used effectively:

1) LinkedIn
2) Indeed.com – it compiles jobs from different job boards and emails you a digest daily.

I did not find ladders.com useful – it costs a whole lot ($30/month) and it was not of much help.

There is nothing called “too much preparation” in job hunting. So prepare, prepare, prepare ….

Joined salary.com

After 6 months of working at RSA, I decided to pursue another career opportunity that came my way. On Friday, I joined salary.com as Director of Product Management. I find it very refreshing to get back into the internet space. So for the second time in 6 months, I am going to be drinking from a firehose, but something tells me that this time it is going to be easier and more fun than last time where I had to come to terms with encryption, cryptography and enterprise software. I am very excited about this new position. Given that I successfully found two jobs in the last 6 months in product management, I intend to write about some job hunting tips that I found useful. So stay tuned. I expect to write about it in the next week or so.