What competencies are companies looking for in Product Managers?

Due to the great success of the last Product Tank talk around the topic of how to obtain work as Product Manager, we decided that the first talk after summer would be focused on going deeper into the question of what do professionals and companies look when looking for a PM role.

Let’s review what we learned on the meetup  “Product Management Fundamentals”

In the last edition of Product Tank Madrid we were talking about the fundamental skills needed by Product Managers.

David McCourt, one of the speakers at the event described how he distinguishes different trends in the Product Management arena.  David also explained how Product Managers need to think in terms of different types of Product Managers they could become when looking for a new (or first) role.

What type of PM do you want to be?

David explained that in his view there are 4 types of PMs:

  • Technical PM
  • Analytical PM
  • User Experience PM
  • Silicon Valley PM

Let’s explore each of the role in more detail

Technical Product Manager

A technical Product Manager usually is more focused on the backend of the product.  This actually means that he needs to really go deep into the understanding of the backend systems.  He has deep knowledge of the language used by programmers, and his brain is focused on creating efficient systems that sustain the logic for the business.

You will be attracted to this type of role if you:

  • Love the complexity of systems
  • You are attracted to code management
  • You are attracted to complex technical challenges

Although this rule is does not always apply, the background of this type of PMs is developer or QA manager.

Analytical Product Manager

An analytical PM is focused on measuring digital productos.  In his vocabulary this kind of PM there are words like Business Intelligence, data mining and even SQL searches.

This type of PM is focused on measuring all the time.  For him what really matters are the metrics and how to move those metrics forward for the product.

A company that is focused in this type of role is Booking.  Almost all decisions made in this company are based on analytics, even if this impacts the “beautifulness” of the delivered product.

This type of profile usually comes from the world of Analytics, Business Development or even Customer Support.

User Experience Product Manager

This type of product manager is focused on user interfaces and the user experience of the customer. This kind of profile is happy as ever when interacting with the design department, and is really focused on making the most of the aesthetic of the products she manages.

This type of product manager is focused too in having conversations with customers, and being able to clearly understand what their needs are, giving more importance to qualitative analysis rather than quantitative analysis.

An example of a company focused on this type of product management is twitter, who is famous for creating the frontend framework Bootstrap, which helped the company create a consistent framework to create a beautiful frontend for twitter, and many other companies that have taken advantage of this framework.

This type of product manager usually comes from the world of design, user experience and front end development.

Silicon Valley Product Manager

Silicon Valley Product Managers are usually pigeon holed as professionals that have a career related with Computer Science that have also made an MBA from a good business school.

This profile has a great business vision and also the ability to manage teams and techincal development projects.

Many Product Managers in big tech companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon have this type of PM profile.

Some extra advice

¿Project o Money?

When you are looking for work as Product Manager, you need to have clarity around your professional goals.

There are product managers in love with a product, and they don´t mind so much about money so long they can do work they love.  Other PMs are purely focused on earning more money, and don’t care so much about the product they manage.  It’s important you are clear on which side of the spectrum you feel more comfortable.

If you are not clear, here are some questions that can help you guide your trend:

  • ¿Would you make a career change to something you like more even if that meant that you would not have an increase in salary?
  • ¿Are you open to the possibility of a salary drop to do a PM role that you really enjoy?

Maybe you think it´s crazy to have a salary drop, but I know a couple of product managers (including me) that have accepted a salary drop in order to get the experience they really want to get.  In my personal experience the short term pain of dropping your salary is compensated in the long term, as you gain experience in the area you really enjoy.  I

n the long term this usually means earning more in a field you enjoy, because you learn and grow faster than on roles you don´t really enjoy.

Say the Truth

By definition, a PM never has all the answers.

So it could happen that you get asked a question you don´t know the answer to.  My recommendation would be: Don’t Bullshit!

If you don´t know the answer, say you don´t know, and also reason how you would get that answer through the team, your contacts, or other channels.  Also highlight the skills you do have that can compensate for the lack of knowledge you may have.

Find out the Tech Stack

When applying for a role, its important you have clarity on the technology stack the company uses.  This is going to give you a lot of understanding around how the company develops products and services.

Some companies have their technology stack shared publicly through webisites like this one: https://stackshare.io/stacks#!

If the company does not have the information publicly shared, you can guess the stack by checking the tech roles offered by the company, and also you can check their LinkedIn page and look at the people working in the company.  A better option is to have a contact that works for that company, and have the opportunity to talk with a real human being about how the company looks like from an insider.

Bonus Opportunity

If you really want to shine in a PM interview, you should try to go one step more than what candidates usually go.

In order to do this, do the pre-work and understand the strategy of the company, and do your best to understand how the product is aligned with the company’s strategy.  Put also the time to look at the competition and check what is the USP of the product.

After you understand the product in the context of the market, look for features you could define and that are aligned with the strategy of the product and the mission of the company.

Some key questions you should be able to answer are:

  • Will the feature you are creating increase the value of the product?
  • Will the proposed feature improve income or customer experience?

This question and step is fundamental to proof that you know what kind of features will move the business forward.

Once you thought through the feature you would create, put the time to really define the feature that you would create and take it as if you were already working in the company.

If you have the opportunity to show your proposal, it’s important that you highlight that there could be technology or business gaps, as you lack important information about the product.

Maybe your proposal is not idea, but you will be showing your intention to become a Silicon Valley PM, as you have focus on the business and can show you can create functional features that developers can use to evolve the product.