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What Kind of Product Managers Start-ups Look For | Noé

A lot candidates to our program ask us if their profile would be fit to become a Product Manager. We did a webinar with Getaround’s Head of Product Nicolas Mondollot, and Maïa Metz, ex VP Product at Aircall, to answer this question. Here are the main outputs!

A lot of candidates for our programme Noé asked us if their profile would be fit to become a Product Manager. We did a webinar with Getaround’s Head of Product Nicolas Mondollot, and Maïa Metz, ex VP Product at Aircall, to answer this question. Here are the main outputs!

The 4 dimensions of the role

Being a Product Manager entails 4 main dimensions: building a product strategy, understanding problems, building a solution, and having an impact in your communication.

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These main dimensions are reflected in the qualities that are required for the job; a number of them are non-negotiable if you wish to become a PM.

Non-negotiable qualities for a Product Manager

User-centric: Probably the most important of all. As a PM you are expected to carry the voice of the user at all times. A rather simple plus to bring to your application is to be yourself a user of the product.

“I remember one candidate who made an impression on me: he told me that he had called our customer service to get a global view of the user experience.” (Nicolas Mondollot)

Engineering-mindset: Let’s be clear, that doesn’t mean you have to be an engineer. A Product Manager must take into account a large number of inputs (data, user feedback, sales team feedback, etc.), synthesize them into a simple problem and come up with actionable solutions. That’s the engineering mindset. To assess this, a typical question from a recruiter would be “how would you prioritize between feature X and feature Y?”.

Vardan Avagov, VP Product at Jellysmack, told us this sentence that sums up the qualities of a PM in a clear way: “The best Product Managers have the mind of an engineer, the voice of an ambassador and the heart of a designer.”

Team Player: A Product Manager never works alone. He works hand-in-hand with developers, designers and data analysts.

Design/UX sense: Being able to take a critical look at an interface from a user standpoint, and notice inconsistencies in the user experience is a must. During an interview, a recruiter could ask, for example, to criticize a screen from their product.

Humility: As a PM you need to take a step back to be able to listen to and digest mindfully all the inputs from colleagues and customers.

Leadership: In their daily work, Product Managers face a lot of challenges. Being able to carry out projects involving separate teams which have different objectives and various constraints is essential. During a PM interview, you’ll be expected to talk about previous projects that you led, and explain how.

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What if you don’t have experience as a Product Manager?

Today Product Managers recruitment in France is a chicken and egg situation. You have to be experienced to get a job as a Product Manager. But how do you get the experience? This is why we created Noé, to provide an accelerated learning experience by working on real product issues brought by start-ups like Getaround.

If you don’t have that experience, there isn’t one “typical profile” that companies will look for. However, some profiles will get recruiters’ attention more than others.

Business and Engineer Graduates : For a company that already has a product team in place, going for a business or engineering graduate is the most common. Yet, candidates often need a little extra something like knowledge in design or an entrepreneurial side project.

“ Candidates should just try on their own to build things that solve people’s simple issues. It doesn’t have to be an app or a website. It’s a great plus and a great way to get a foot in the door. I want to see what the candidate has built.”

Former entrepreneurs: Entrepreneurs have already launched a product, build an MVP, executed a Go-To-Market strategy. This is a good profile for early-stage start-ups looking for their first Product Manager.

Former (tech) Project Manager: Having worked previously with developers is an asset. Candidates in this category are comfortable with the operational part of the job, but less with the strategic part. They’ll be more likely to fit in a startup where there’s already a Head of Product, who will be able to lead the product strategy and vision and help them ramp up on that topic.

Experience in a startup, close to Product: If you have had an experience as a customer success manager/software engineer/designer, or if you have held any position that was either user-centric or close to the product, you will raise interest in the recruiters’ eyes.

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50 Shades of PM

The Product Manager role is not a one size fits all. A company will look for specific PMs according to their size, their product specificities and their culture. Let’s look at examples:

Depending on product specificities

Sqreen is a company that has developed an awesome yet complex cyber-security product. Its Head of Product Arnaud BRETON therefore looks for technical profiles (former software engineers, DevOPS or security engineers) to fill product positions.

On the other hand, there are products which put user experience at the core of their value proposition (like Stonly, which enables companies to create really cool interactive step-by-step guides). The companies are more likely to value design skills.

Depending on the company size

Companies don’t look at the same profile if they are looking for their first PM or if they have a well established product team. For example juniors will hardly have their chance to be named the first PM of a company.

“Getaround has known a steep growth rate since 2011. For our first PM position back then we were looking for a resourceful, generalist, jack of all trades profile. Now that we are 20 in the Product Team we look for specialists.”

Depending on the company’s culture

Alan has taken the stand not to hold meetings anymore and to use written communication instead. They are therefore looking for PM with a high degree of autonomy and organization.

Livi, on the other hand, has a strong Nordic culture. They favor consensus, collaboration and meetings. For them team spirit and soft skills are essential and highly sought after for any PM role.

In a few words, when looking for a PM job, be sure to:

  • Make sure you have the relevant qualities, and find examples to illustrate them;
  • Think about your previous experiences that could be relevant;
  • Adapt your search based on the product, stage and culture of the company.

Good luck for your PM job search!

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