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Product Management Roles Continue to Skyrocket – Elevated Hiring and Interview Practices

In the current marketplace and across a multitude of industries, you could make the case that no job has garnered more attention and significant interest in recent years than product management.
Demi WIlkinson

With the number of product manager jobs in the US increasing by 32% in the past five years, the median salary has climbed to an average $150,000, making it one of the highest-paying jobs in the tech industry, while the top 10% percent of product managers earn more than $180,000 per year.

As a result, there is verifiable data suggesting that demand for product manager candidates has not only climbed but soared. In 2021, product management skills were mentioned in one out of every eight job postings. And the following year, Product School’s survey found that 43.6% of companies were planning on hiring additional product managers.

Accompanying the proliferation of product management roles, online interest in product management careers has been quantifiably on the rise. As of 2019, interest in the search term “product manager jobs” had already increased by 270%; meanwhile, searches for “product manager salary” have trended upwards by 303%. There has been an even greater emphasis on hiring mid and senior level product manager positions as leaders across numerous industries witness their digital footprint multiplying.

In order to land one of these coveted positions and galvanize a healthy team, let’s take a deep dive into the current state of hiring for both employers and prospective employees searching for the right product manager position.

What to Expect When Applying to a Product Management Team

Perhaps what makes entry product management roles so appealing is that there is no required degree for an associate product manager, thereby creating the illusion of an even playing field.

However, not all job applicants are created equal. In 2022, Product School surveyed 5,000 individuals in the product management industry — everyone from associate product managers to chief product officers. The survey found that although 42% of respondents had a bachelor’s degree almost 17% had some college or university education or no degree at all. That same survey also found that half of current product managers had a work history outside product management.

Moreover, product management roles span a variety of industries, and applications may be dependent upon your prior work experience and areas of expertise. Nevertheless, that does not mean there is significant room for improvement when building out a product development team.

In a Mckinsey survey released earlier this year, the global consulting firm reached out to 5,000 tech product managers from around the world who work on both internal and external software products. Employed across a host of industries ranging from global energy and materials to telecom, the respondents’ results indicated significant cause for alarm. Nearly three-quarters of those surveyed emphasized that product manage­ment best practices are not being adopted at their companies, and the respondents further highlighted that product manage­ment is a nascent function within their organization or that it doesn’t exist at all.

Given that product management capabilities are among the top two drivers of business performance for organizations across most industries, it’s even more important to dissect why so many product managers feel abandoned by their companies’ position or leery of their employers’ devotion toward improving their firm’s product management function. In fact, with nearly 70 percent of the top economic performers using their own software to differentiate themselves from their competitors, only one third of those companies monetize the software directly. This may account for the dissatisfaction among so many product managers across the marketplace; nevertheless, the problem clearly runs deeper into the culture of these firms.

As author and Harvard business school professor Joseph Badaracco stated, “Communication can’t always follow the top-down model. With the fluidity of information in business today, leaders need to be masterful listeners; they need to be able to receive as well as send.” A requirement of the job often overlooked upon hiring, product managers need to feel emboldened in their jobs, and furthermore, the process requires that an autonomy carries through during the hiring process.

According to the 2023 Product Management Report, teams with a higher degree of autonomy were more likely to feel aligned with their stakeholders and see higher engagement levels while they are also less likely to negatively shift company priorities.

When asked which source provides the most actionable ideas for a team’s product, the breakdown of answers went as follows:

35% – Receiving customer feature requests.

26 % – Feedback from sales support.

19 % – Senior leadership decides for us.

16% – Reviewing the competition and market dynamics.

For a product manager to thrive in today’s job market, and subsequently upon his or her hiring, managers must be well versed in applying agile development to their team’s workflow. Agile product management is just one role within the process of agile software development. It is the product manager’s piece of the puzzle, and it is usually the first step that involves setting goals, creating user stories, prioritizing enhancements, and liaising with the development team.

Product managers use a variety of software tools during agile development. Some of the most popular tools include:

  • Project management tools: plan and track the work of their teams using Jira, Asana, and Trello. This software offers a variety of features that are useful for agile development, such as sprint planning, task tracking, and bug reporting. Additional features include some unique features, such as timelines and Kanban boards.
  • Product roadmapping tools: visualize and plan the future of their products otherwise known as roadmapping tools include Aha!, ProductPlan, and Airfocus. These softwares consist of feature management, release planning, scenario planning (only ProductPlan), customer feedback management, and reporting/analytics.
  • Customer feedback tools: collect and analyze customer feedback by implementing SurveyMonkey, UserTesting, and Qualaroo. While SurveyMonkey is a general-purpose survey tool that can be used to collect feedback from customers on a variety of topics, UserTesting user experience research tool that allows you to watch users interact with your website or app in real time. Meanwhile, Qualaroo enables users to engage in feedback while they are using the website or app.
  • Data analytics tools: track product performance and identify areas for improvement using Google Analytics, Mixpanel, and Amplitude. While most know the functions of Google Analytics, Mixpanel is designed to track how users interact with products, offering event tracking, user segmentation, funnel analysis, and reporting/analytics. Amplitude builds upon Mixpanel with features such as cohort analysis, A/B testing, and Data warehousing.
  • Documentation: tools like Notion help communicate the product vision and strategy to all stakeholders including engineers, designers, and sales/marketing teams. This helps identify any potential risks or problems early on, preventing costly delays and setbacks. It is also helpful to train new team members and support the product after it has been launched. This helps troubleshoot problems and provide updates on new features and releases, as well as collecting all the necessary API instructions for outside teams.

In addition to these general purpose tools, there are also a number of specialized tools that are designed specifically for the product management function. For example, some product management tools offer features such as user story management, sprint planning, and release management.

How to Stand Out Beyond Your Technical Skills

Familiarity with industry leading software is only one component of the interview process. An analysis of soft skills will be equally pertinent during the interview process. Employers and prospective employees should expect a thorough examination of one’s behavioral skills as well as their ability to problem solve throughout the interview questions.

We’ve compiled a list of 7 relevant questions for those seeking roles as product managers:

  • How do you decide which features to include in a product? Feature prioritization is one of the most complicated and important aspects of a product manager’s job. An effective prioritization process is essential for composing a product roadmap, ensuring end-to-end consistency, and maintaining a product’s budget and deadlines. Candidates should be assiduous planners with the ability to exercise great judgment in their analysis of what to include in a product and what to eliminate. User interviews and user data should also play a big role in this process.
  • Which agile project management methodologies have you worked with in the past? Agile approaches have become a mainstay of product development across industries thanks to their track record of generating innovative and user-focused products. Candidates should have some experience working with agile methodologies and a competent to comprehensive understanding of which variations are best fitted to your sector, organization, and team preferences. A few other variations might include: Lean, Scrum, and Kaban. All are terms and methodologies you should be familiar with or participated in.
  • How do you balance using qualitative and quantitative measures? Product management is unequivocally data-driven — from a product’s ideation stages through post-launch evaluations. Metrics are vital to goal setting, forecasting, informing stakeholder decisions, and assessing results. Candidates should be well-versed in sector-specific KPIs for evaluating elements like product performance, product success, and customer satisfaction.
  • Walk me through your process for guiding a product development team from concept through launch. Homing in on a product vision and developing a roadmap for its launch and success is a product manager’s most important job. Candidates must have a creative vision, and furthermore, be fully adept at effectively communicating their ideas. Guiding a team through a product’s execution requires a verbal adroitness often overlooked in the hiring process. A candidate should be astutely cognizant of external variables such as shifts in preferences among the target market and competitive products. Internal factors such as their team’s composition and organizational goals must also be considered when hiring a new product manager.
  • Tell me how you might adjust a product’s roadmap on the fly. Why did you decide to make those changes, and how did you address the changes with the team? Product development is never a straightforward process — priorities shift, budgets get slashed, and new problems and customer pain points will arise as part of your team’s research. Product managers need to be flexible and quickly discern when it’s time to make adjustments to accommodate shifting priorities. Ideal candidates must involve their team’s input in these decisions and encourage their feedback, encouraging the autonomy of their colleagues and ability to flourish in their own specific roles.
  • How do you balance integrating user feedback and meeting business goals when developing a product? Generating excellent product experiences is essential for standing out. However, placing too much value on user input can often end up having a deleterious impact on a given product’s development. Product managers need to exercise careful judgment when integrating user feedback and cautiously scrutinize whether it will add value or not. Ideal candidates will strike a balance between a customer-centric approach while simultaneously upholding the business goals of the product.
  • What do you know about our products? Can you provide a brief explanation of the current state of our market? Keeping a watchful eye on your competitors is paramount for ensuring a constant assembly of useful ideas as well as gaining a competitive edge. Successful product managers have an implicit understanding of their product’s market, customer base, and general competition. Candidates ought to have a track record of identifying emerging trends and opportunities in the marketplace as well as determining the best solutions for capitalization.

Hiring the right product manager can often be the lifeblood for a product’s success or perceived failure. No matter the industry, product managers are in increasingly high demand. In fact, product managers are being hired at a sensational rate.

In 2022, Glassdoor ranked product management as one of the top ten most coveted jobs. The year-on-year hiring growth in product management stood at 48.6% compared to the previoius year. Meanwhile, product management also recorded the highest hiring growth among professionals with an MBA degree at 30.4%, according to LinkedIn data.

Clearly, the competition for hiring premium product management talent has created a market favoring recent MBA graduates and those currently seeking employment, thereby further placing an emphasis on the best hiring practices. However, if you’re on the career path toward upper product management, the next question may be–where does this all lead?

The next step would be a leadership role such as director of product, VP of product, chief product officer, or even chief technology officer. In addition to more traditional product manager duties, you’d also take on managerial responsibilities. Overall, the job would include:

  • Creating and improving processes and procedures.
  • Managing direct reports.
  • Collaborating with other teams to collect and report product data.
  • Engaging with users and other stakeholders for relevant feedback.
  • Communicating product management decisions across the organization, and especially up to leadership.
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