Updated: Jan 25
Take control of your career by interviewing your employer.
Many have written about what qualities they are looking for in a product manager and how they recruit them. I promise to write my own take on this at some point. This time I want to take another angle.
When I mentor product managers or talk with my colleagues, many times their greatest challenge is that the culture of their company ties their hands. They want to do great things but cannot move above the daily politics.
What I write below is probably relevant for almost any profession. However, I think it is even more so for product managers. As a product manager you need to be very aligned with your company and product. The only way to do so is to make sure when you look for a job to interview your employer even more than they interview you.
Product management is about people and trust. In my very humble opinion the people you are going to work with and for are the most important aspect of the job. These are the people with which you need to concur the world. These are the people that will either let you bring them to their extreme or work against you.
Don’t settle for an interview with only your managers and your peer product managers. If possible, try to meet some people from marketing, support, sales and development. These are the people you will need to work with day after day. Make sure these are people you can empathise and connect with. Talking with them can also give you many hints on all the topics I will depict below.
Culture is a very important aspect of a company. Organisations succeed or die many times because of culture and not because of the product. This is because great culture enables building great products.
It is important to ask for the values of the company and what kind of culture it embraces. Whether people are encouraged to innovate and make mistakes, whether people take ownership and embrace accountability and especially if it is a culture of givers or takers.
But don’t focus only on what you are told or what can be found at the website. Make sure you are interviewed at the company office. Feel the vibe and rhythm. Are people smiling and welcoming. How is the atmosphere at the coffee spot?
Above all by talking to as many people from the company as you can, you will get true essence of the culture and what it promotes and what it doesn’t.
Try to understand what impact the product you are going to work on can make. How many potential users, does it do good to the world, and so on. There are many ways for a product to make an impact and you need to find something you connect with.
A product with large impact can be satisfying with both the technical challenges it brings such as scale as well as the emotional satisfaction of solving large and complex problems that affect many users. An impact does not have to be only scale. A product may do big things for a small audience but still change their life in a very satisfying way.
The market in which the product operates is important, but personally I think not as people put into it. The size of the potential market for your product is very important but your prior knowledge of that market is less important.
A good product manager can learn a new market very quickly, and being able to work every time in a new market enhance your product management expertise, makes it more interesting, and allows you to bring new perspectives.
Don’t forget to check what are the process in the company. How agile they are and how fast they deliver to production. Do they embrace innovation or slowly die in bureaucracy?
The processes do not have to be perfect, but you want to make sure that they enable you and your team to bring value fast to customers, and to have enough autonomy and empowerment to take hard decisions.
And if the processes are not yet there, you want at least to understand that there is an openness to change them.
I usually like to ask product managers I interview how they perceive their role in an ideal world. I do this to understand what is their vision about the product manager role.
I do it also when I interview for a product management position. It is very important to understand how the company you get into perceives the product management role and whether it is aligned with your perspective. If it is not aligned you will either find yourself compromising too much on your beliefs and quality of work, or you will be constantly frustrated when you hit wall after wall.
You need to understand how the company treat self-development. Would they enable you to continue developing in the company by sending you to courses and conferences or outside the companies by giving you the thumbs up when you participate in activities such as meetups, blogging, mentoring, and more.
Product management is a hard mistress. It is around the clock work. Above all else you want it to be fun. Make sure you go work in a place which makes you smile every morning.
It is definitely good to work in a demanding environment. When I am talking about fun I am not talking about parties. I am talking about a place which fills you with satisfaction, and in which you enjoy going to lunch with your co-workers. A place which respects you and in which your boss knows to give even harsh feedback in a positive way.
Title, salary, equity and location are all important. Don’t get me wrong. You should not give up on any of them lightly. But none of those give a meaning to your work or help you get up in the morning with passion.
Make sure it is fun to be at work, you are doing something meaningful, and work with great people you can learn from.
Ask yourself: Would I recommend my friend to come work here. If the answer is yes, you are probably at the right place. And if you are looking for a job make sure you find such a place.
Enjoy the Ride