It’s one of the questions we get the most : which aspects of a job should I consider before joining a company as a product manager? Maïa Metz (ex VP at Aircall) and our guest Chloé Martinot (ex CPO at ManoMano) present elements that should be looked into when starting a recruitment process.
Let’s start with a quick reminder: when you want to become a product manager (or to switch firm), be aware of the conditions of the new job. Never forget that the recruiting process goes both ways, you are also evaluating the firm! Also, people tend to focus on their good impressions during the recruitment process.
The risk is to forget some negative signals you might get. Don’t. Listen to those signals and ask your questions!
Four dimensions to focus on when you’re considering a product manager job in a new company:
· The business and product: what is the market, the positioning, the product?
· The structure: what is the current structure of the company? The future one?
· The people: who is your manager, who is on your team, who are the founders ...
· Your role: what does it mean to be a product manager in this company?
Let’s tackle those four dimensions one by one. For each one, there are a few key points to look upon, with a few elements that could raise interrogations.
Regarding the business and product, what to consider ?
Here again, four major points:
· What is the product vision (where are we going)? Generally, the company makes it clear.
· What is the product strategy (how do we get there), what are the different steps? It may be less clear than for the product vision, so do not hesitate to ask! If there’s no clear strategy, this might reveal an issue on the ability to prioritize. Also, when you don’t get the added value of the product, there’s a chance customers won’t either.
· What are the current products? The future ones? Which ones are priors? If there’s a huge part of “dev-custom”, the company might be more of an agency, developing custom tools than a tech company.
· What does the market look like (size, competitors, positioning on the market)? To evaluate the positioning, you might want to look if top VCs have invested in the company in series A, then B, C... You might find a hint of whether this company proposes value and might take a good share of the market. Beware of the absence of competitors! Unless the company is the first on a brand-new market, which is rare, it could mean there is no market.
Second aspect: organization and culture
Here again, regarding the organization and the culture of a company when considering joining it as a product manager, there may be a few elements you should consider closely.
· Is the organization “top-down” or “bottom-up”?
· How many devs are there? How many designers? How many will be in your squad?
· Is the Product team on its own or under the “tech” team for example?
· Is the Product team represented in the executive committee?
· Who oversees the product strategy?
Be aware of the flags, they might be:
· A disorganized recruiting process. If the person interviewing you does not know what the next steps are, it reflects something of the company (lack of organization, doubt about who’s in charge).
· No diversity in your team. Diversity in a product team is a key dimension to conceive a successful product.
· If the recruiter does not give you time to ask your questions.
Third aspect: people
It is of course a key dimension. The main questions you should consider:
· Who’s your manager? Does it fit between you two? As the saying goes: “Don’t pick a job, pick a boss”.
· Who are the founders, what is their background? (Especially important if you’re considering joining an early-stage company)
· Who’s the CPO?
· Who are the Lead Dev and Lead Designer? You’ll work closely with those two, try to meet them during the process. Does it fit? How do they picture a successful collaboration between them and the product manager?
Here again, the flags might be:
· You don’t get who your manager will be.
· The “Almighty Founder” syndrome. Before they hire their first product manager, the founder or the CEO is often the first product manager himself/herself. It is pretty common to see a CEO or founder interfere with the current prioritization to push forward a specific feature. This is often a bad sign about the product culture of a company.
· The designers are very focused on UI more than UX.
· Devs are only interested in tech and not in what the user problems/experience might be. To build a great product, they need to be user-focused.
Fourth aspect: your role
· What is the role of a product manager in this company? Is it really a Product Manager role, or more of a Product Owner role? Beware: many companies mix them up.
· Who builds the roadmap? You? If not, who does?
We’ve identified a few possible downsides again:
· You’re getting different answers about your role in the company. As it’s a recent position, there might be companies where everyone does not have the same expectations for the product manager.
· You are told that you’ll be responsible for the deadlines. This role is closer to a project manager than a product manager.
Finally, our guest, Chloé Martinot, ex. CPO at ManoMano, added a few key elements.
You might (we hope so!) encounter good signs during a product manager interview:
· You feel that the recruiter is curious about you, that he/she cares about what you say. For example, you do not get the feeling that there’s a good and a bad answer to the questions.
· When you’re given the opportunity to ask questions at the end of an interview. It shows that your opinion means something and that you’re listened to. As explained before, when the rest of the process is clear, it’s another plus.
Last, Chloé gave us an unusual tip: arrive early at the interview. If possible, while you’re waiting, try to “feel the room”. How are people behaving in the company? What’s the overall impression you are getting?
Again and as a conclusion, keep in mind that the perfect job does not exist! You must find the aspects that are the most important to you. Before entering the process, ask yourself what you are looking for in a product manager position and in which environment you want to evolve professionally. Be sure to find a company where those key aspects for you are anchored in its DNA.