How to hire product manager (updated 2022)

Who is this for?
For my part, I loved the technical challenges of engineering but despised the coding. I liked solving problems, but I hated having other people tell me what to do.
I’ll usually hire product managers who’ve actually shipped a product. I mean from start to finish, concept to launch. Nothing is a better indication of someone’s ability to ship great products than having done it before

1. Hire all the smart people

Product management is fundamentally about thinking on your feet, staying one step ahead of your competitors, and being able to project yourself into the minds of your colleagues and your customers.
Ask an interview candidate a series of analytical questions to gauge intelligence and problem-solving ability.
Generally I’ll ask questions until I’m sure the candidate is smarter than me. The first test — how do they react when I say “I’d like to pose some theoretical problems, is that okay?” The best bouncing out of their chairs with excitement. The super smart sometimes counter with questions of their own.
Update in 2022: please don’t ask “brainteaser” or logic puzzle questions. My perspective on analytical interviews, like much of the industry’s, has evolved since I originally wrote this piece. At best, these questions are worthless. At worst, they’re discriminatory. Most strong product companies have moved toward that emphasize work samples and situational problems that don’t have a “right answer.” Please see for more on this.

2. Strong technical background

Hire PM who come from engineering and still try to take charge of technical decisions and implementation details - is a bad idea. I like hiring technical people who’ve already made the move to product management at a previous job.
One thing I always do is check to see if the candidate has accomplished the following tasks during a one-hour interview:
independently echoed some of my own concerns about my product
Taught me something new about my product
Turned me on to something new and interesting - people with great product instincts tend to notice great products before everyone else. If I’m interviewing a top-notch candidate, I usually walk away having discovered something new and innovative.

3. “Spidey-sense” product instincts and creativity

Here are some good interview questions for judging product instincts:

Tell me about a great product you’ve encountered recently. Why do you like it?
What’s made [insert product here] successful? [I usually pick a popular product, like the iPod or eBay, that’s won over consumers handily in a crowded market.]
What do you dislike about my product? How would you improve it?
What problems are we going to encounter in a year? Two years? Ten years?
How do you know a product is well designed?
What’s one of the best ideas you’ve ever had?
What is one of the worst?
How do you know when to cut corners to get a product out the door?
What lessons have you learned about user interface design?
How do you decide what not to build?
What was your biggest product mistake?
What aspects of product management do you find the least interesting and why?
Do you consider yourself creative?
Update in 2022: See for more on what product “spidey-sense” means. Since I originally wrote this piece, product designers have ascended to become the “third leg of the stool” alongside PMs and engineers. One way to evaluate design sensibility and product instincts is to include product designers in the interview loop.

4. Leadership that’s earned

Product managers are usually leaders in their organisations. But they typically don’t have direct line authority over others. That means they earn their authority and lead by influence.

Interview questions I’ve used in the past:

Is consensus always a good thing?
What’s the difference between management and leadership?
What kinds of people do you like to work with?
What types of people have you found it difficult to work with?
Tell me about a time when a team didn’t gel. Why do you think that happened, and what have you learned?
How do you get a team to commit to a schedule?
What would somebody do to lose your confidence?
Do you manage people from different functions differently? If so, how?
What have you learned about saying no?
Who has the ultimate accountability for shipping a product?
Have you ever been in a situation where your team has let you down and you’ve had to take the blame?
How has your tolerance for mistakes changed over the years?
Which do you like first, the good news or the bad news?
What’s your approach to hiring?

5. Ability to channel multiple points-of-view

Great PMs know how to channel different points-of-view. They play devil’s advocate, tend to be unsatisfied with simple answers. In one conversation they might tell you the requirements don’t seem technically feasible and in the next breath ask how any of this will make sense to the salespeople. There’s one obvious way to evaluate a candidate’s ability to think through a problem from multiple angles — gets lots of people in the interview process. Representatives from engineering, design, and marketing meet a potential PM candidate. Depending on the specific role, this list can grow — pre-sales engineering, support, developer relations, business development, legal, or customers themselves. Ultimately anyone who will be working with this person should meet them.

Some questions

How have you learned to work with sales?
What is the best way to interface with customers?
What makes marketing tick?
How do you know when design is on the right track?
How should a product manager support business development?
What have you learned about managing up?
What’s the best way to work with the executives?
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