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Want to hire great Product Managers?

The best approach I have seen for evaluating almost any potential hire is to use an interview format that is based on a real world audition. I believe this is particularly true for a role like Product Manager where the hiring manager is faced with the overwhelming challenge of locating candidates that possess deep skills across a wide variety of domains. Johanna Rothman has an excellent series of posts that describe this interview technique.  Her primary thesis is that hiring decisions should be based on solid evidence that the candidate is the best fit for the position. Just as actors prove they’re right for a role by trying out, technical hires should be able to provide similar proof through an audition process.

This is an approach that we apply quite rigorously here at Seilevel. I have personally interviewed at dozens of companies, including some that are world-renowned for their stringent hiring practices, and I must say that Seilevel’s process ranks at the very top for its comprehensive nature. We have 7 separate auditions that take place during 5 sessions. Each of these, in turn, is measuring the candidate across multiple dimensions. All of them, without fail, are directly evaluating skills that we feel are critical requirements for the people we hire to be Product Managers. We aren’t talking brainteasers here, though Johanna might try to apply that label to one of our auditions, but rather a variety of exercises that measure a candidate’s abilities under a mix of real world conditions.

The downside to the audition approach is that it can be quite expensive. It takes an upfront investment of time to develop an effective set of auditions. After that, auditions tend to require somewhat more effort on the part of interviewers than the “couple of questions” approach that many companies currently utilize. The upside to this technique is a much greater level of confidence as to whether a candidate actually has the right skills for the job.

Is this approach perfect? Of course not. Any technique short of hiring candidates for some sort of lengthy probationary period will always involve a degree of artificiality that will lead to both false positives and false negatives with regards to hiring decisions.

Is this approach worth it? For almost every position I would posit that hiring decisions that consider some type of audition will prove right far more often than they are wrong. In most organizations all it takes is the avoidance of a single hiring mistake to provide a positive ROI for an audition based approach. You do the math.

Should you consider applying the same level of rigor for your Product Manager auditions as Seilevel does? The answer to that question is actually another question. How do you perceive the role of Product Manager? If you see a Product Manager as being “just another member of the team” then it would likely not be worth the extra effort to make your hiring filter as fine-meshed as ours. If, however, you view the Product Manager as a pivotal role on the team – a person who can exert a multiplier effect on the ability of the rest of the team to develop the best software possible – then the extra investment is definitely worth it. We have certainly bought into the latter viewpoint and the resultant approach has proven its benefit for both our company as well as the clients we serve.

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