Taking a Chance on a New Product Manager - Advice for Hiring Managers & Candidates
Updated: Dec 20, 2022
Jen Yang-Wong: Three main reasons companies and hiring managers are hesitant to hire inexperienced product managers...
Speed of hiring
Hiring manager insecurity in being able to mentor new PMs
product, role, hiring manager, hiring, people, mentor, experience, folks, candidate, jen, great, management, managers, pm, product manager, important, bit, pms, books, adjacent
Welcome to Product voices, a podcast where we share valuable insights and useful resources. To help us all be great in product management. Visit the show's website to access the resources discussed on the show, find more information on our fabulous guests or to submit your product management question to be answered on our special q&a episodes. That's all at product voices.com. And be sure to subscribe to the podcast on your favorite platform. Now here's our host, JJ Rorie, CEO of great product management.
Hello, and welcome to product voices. On this episode, we're going to be talking about taking a chance on a new product manager, and how companies and hiring managers can become more comfortable giving someone a chance, even if they don't have previous pm experience. We all know that product management is hot, lots of people want to get into this career. And while there are lots of product manager job openings, I actually did a quick search on LinkedIn recently, and there were over 200,000 Product Manager openings in the United States alone. So there are a lot of job openings out there. But there still seems to be this big hurdle for folks to get that first product manager role companies and hiring managers expect product experience. But what's that age old question of how do you expect someone to get experience if you won't hire them to have that experience and gain that experience in the first place. So, you know, I think a lot of folks trying to get into product management are really in that situation. So some product managers are still ending up in the role through internal transfers, they work at a company and hiring manager has worked with him and other roles engineer, business analyst, salesperson, etc. And so they have some trust in their knowledge of the product or domain. And that's how they get into the product manager role. But there's still such a burden for people to get into product manager roles through the outside, right. And so, and some hiring managers won't even hire an internal candidate without that product manager experience. And so I really believe personally that it's something that that we collectively as leaders and hiring managers and product management, need to grasp a new way of looking at things, we need to understand that there are folks out there who have the skill set or can develop the skill set, even if they don't have the formal experience. And so today's conversation is all about that. And I'm really looking forward to it. So I've got a great guest with me today. Jen Yang is Director of Product at contrary capital. She was previously the head of product at Novi and Senior Technical pm at Uber Eats where she led the Data Platform team and launched Uber grocery. On the side, she Angel invests and advises early stage startups. Jen, thanks so much for joining me.
Thanks for having me super pumped to be here.
As I mentioned, you know, one of that biggest challenges, if you will, with breaking into product is that most product roles require at least on paper, because of the hiring manager and the expectations that require product experience. So why do you think there's so much hesitant to hire people without product management experience?
Yeah, it's, it's a great question. It's something that I actually, you know, spent a lot of time thinking about even, you know, a couple years into my pm career, I was I was talking to others, and they're like, oh, like, you have all this, like formal product training. So therefore, like, you know, I'll trust your decision or whatever it might be. And I constantly kept going back to, yeah, but there's no such thing as that. Right. Like, you know, now there are maybe certifications and whatnot. But the reality is, at some point in time, for the majority of PMS out there, someone just saw that they had really high potential, saw that their skills probably had good overlap, and likely cause therefore adapt, and then grow product skills on top of it. And so I spent, you know, a bunch of time trying to think through Well, why is it that that both people have this kind of, you know, maybe misconception around needing kind of product training. And then on the other hand, you have hiring managers who most likely went down this path if someone else wanted to take a bet on them as well. Now, having these barriers that they're putting up, I, you know, I spent a good amount of time reflecting on what those reasons could be. And so my hypothesis, at least is centered around three core areas. The first is around speed, and how quickly they want to hire or move or onboard someone. The second is around the recruiting process, just kind of processes in place filters, if you were to call them. And then the third is around conviction in themselves. And this is one that I spent extra time thinking about, because I think, you know and believe strongly that many people have belief in themselves in their ability to mentor but does that always translate? And so you know, those are kind of the three three main areas.
So I love the way you've positioned that on those three core areas speed recruiting processes, and kind of conviction of their own abilities and mentoring. And that third one's really interesting. So I want to dig into that, but But tell me a little bit more about each one. So speed, obviously, everybody wants to do things as quickly as possible. But how does that kind of get in the way of, of, you know, their viewing candidates?
Yeah. So I think it's, you know, especially earlier stage startups, and maybe like a fast moving team at a bigger company are really across the board. People want to hire someone who can get in the position onboard quickly, you know, and get up and running, and hopefully make an impact, really quickly. And so I think that in their minds, they're thinking, well, if someone has experience as a pm already, they will be able to move a lot faster. And that's kind of the incentive or priority. I'm sure that's true. I don't disagree with that. But I think the counter argument is, well, there are folks who are in adjacent roles where their skill set could actually be a great fit already. And so, you know, you're not teaching them from zero to 100, their skill set might carry them from zero to 50, or 70. And so you're really just betting on on them having the potential for that last leg, which is, you know, pretty viable. I think the other is internal transfer. So maybe you're in OPS, or maybe, you know, another another kind of adjacent function and product marketing or product operations as other roles. And you actually have business context, and the business context and knowledge around the industry, the space that competitors is just as valuable in a world where you could then develop an exhibit kind of potential for developing those product skills next. And the last counter argument that I'd put out is oftentimes, you know, these folks who are wanting to break into product, they're also incredibly hardworking, ambitious, eager to learn. And that kind of eagerness to learn willingness to kind of absorb and be a sponge, I usually kind of associate with, with like, not really having an ego and wanting to kind of just learn as much as they possibly can. And at times, PMS with a lot of experience like they, they're kind of set in their ways, too. And so the combination of those three things is why I think, sure, yes, you can hire someone with product experience, and they may move just as quickly. But the argument is that you don't necessarily need to have product experience to also be able to enable a team to move quickly to. And I think that shift in mindset and perspective, not only allows more people who don't have product experience, but have a bunch of potential to be able to jump in. But also for a hiring manager, you can cast a much wider net, when it comes to trying to find the right person for the role.
Yeah, you know, I love that because I think it's so interesting that hiring managers, especially those who've been in product management themselves, which they still fall into this trap, right of only looking for product experience in candidates. But the truth is product management is of course, it's a discipline. And, you know, there are technical skills that you need or hard skills that you need. But there's so many soft skills, human skills, you know, whatever you want to call it, that are so important. And those can can be transferable from lots of different roles. So I love that, that you bring that to the attention because that's, there's so many candidates out there, there's so many people out there that have a baseline that can be, you know, transferable into product. So that's awesome. In fact, truth be told, many of the best product managers I've hired over my career have come from non product backgrounds had no product experience, they were really good at communication, they were really good at as you said, the domain or what have you. So love that one. Tell me a little bit more about your thoughts on the recruiting process and how that can get in the way.
I'll start by prefacing and saying that, like, I have a ton of respect for recruiters, and what they do. And I think that there is definitely not as you know, not nearly as much appreciation for that at times. But I think that at the end of the day, the recruiter isn't the hiring manager, right? The recruiter isn't the one who's going to mentor this hire, or work with them on a day to day basis or delegate tasks or set them up for success necessarily, they're more focused on, you know, getting that role filled. And as a result of that, you now have two people who are looking at least right, the hiring manager or the recruiter who are looking after a certain role. And there are so many people kind of just out in the universe, call it LinkedIn or otherwise, to try to find someone. And so my hypothesis here and I've seen it kind of play out multiple times, is you have to create filters for yourself ways to you know, be able to dwindle down who are the candidates you're going to source or reach out to or whatever it might be, but also to you know, when you after you've had a conversation with someone and like a recruiter phone screen. Be able to kind of explain why that candidate is being passed to the hiring manager. And the reality is that it's easier to pass on to the hiring manager. And, and justify having spent your time reaching out to people who, for example, have that product experience already. You know, recruiters are often measured on like the number of people, they've sourced number of phone screens, they've done kind of how many people are moving through that recruiting pipeline. And I say this as assumptions given, I've never been a recruiter myself. But you know, because they're measured on these things, that higher hit rate, right. And it's easier to justify or those people who explicitly have product in their background already. And then they can kind of defer that like needing to bet on someone who doesn't have that experience. And I think that makes sense from from a recruiter and kind of from a process perspective. But the counter argument is very similar in that, well, it actually means you're dwindling down the number of people, you could reach out to the number of people who are actively looking to make a jump into a new role at any point in time, maybe you're closing the opportunity on folks who have, you know, adjacent kind of functional experience, whether it's in a project management, operational role, whatever it might be communication structure, thinking cetera, is very core to their roles already. But maybe they have domain expertise in a specific industry, maybe, you know, maybe they're great at it's a marketing type growth product role. And they have a marketing background. And I think, you know, it goes back to just casting that wider net, and being more open to different role types, as as having a really great fit. And I think the traditional kind of recruiting process, especially at larger orgs. That kind of structure that they implement, inevitably filters those types of folks out.
And that makes a lot of sense. So I want to dig a little bit into that last one, because that wouldn't really piqued my interest. So one of the ways that, you know, hiring managers can get in their own way, in, you know, taking a chance and finding a really good candidate, without product experience is the lack of confidence that they have, in their own abilities to mentor. I love that thought that you brought up. So tell me more about that.
Yeah, um, I think the reason why I started with that conclusion is actually when I, when I was at Uber, one of my managers, you know, he would say to me, he was like, Jen, I think you're like really solid at being an IC. But you have to know how to delegate and scale. And basically, like, if you don't figure out how to do those things, like you will burn out one day. And so I want to challenge you to start mentoring, kind of like younger PMS. It hurt, you know, maybe more junior whatever it may be, and, like, learn how to kind of empower them and guide them. And it's really hard for me, and it was really frustrating. I to be honest, like I would in my head, I'd be like, okay, you know, I present you know, this is what we're going to try to, you know, tackle, here's the problem at hand in my head, you know, having done a bunch of like stuff behind the scenes, chatting with folks, hearing stakeholders, input requirements, etc, kind of came to some kind of conclusion. But then I'd have to kind of allow my mentee to kind of figure out how to get there themselves, right. And maybe that path is different, and being accepting of the fact that like, there are multiple ways to get to an outcome, and that there's no necessarily correct path. And so, you know, I first went back to thinking about my early days trying to mentor and how how bad I was at it, if I'm being honest. And after that first experience, I actually had very little confidence in my ability to mentor in fact, I was almost, you know, I almost wanted to not do it, because I felt like not only was it incredibly frustrating for me, but I also didn't feel like I was setting up my mentee for success. And it was kind of just like negative on both ends. And my manager just kept pushing me and he was like, you will figure it out, like, here are various tips. Here's ways to kind of, like, be a little bit more patient in certain areas, etc. And, and so that experience is something that I really distinctly remember. And so as I look at, you know, and think about hiring managers today, I actually wonder like, how many may feel that way, in some way, shape, or form, maybe this is their first time in a more senior role. They've never, you know, had someone report to them before, maybe they haven't had a ton of experience mentoring someone, maybe a bit more junior has less experience, whatever it might be, and maybe they don't have that conviction that they're able to do so. And the other could be could be that, you know, again, like they think they have solid experience, but having someone else come in who has experience would augment, you know, maybe any blind spots or gaps that they might have and that that combined is a stronger call it like product pairing, if you were in terms of creating a team, and I think that's rooted in this belief that like, oh, maybe I don't have enough of the skills myself. And the reality is that product is a role where, you know, we don't really go to school for it for the most part, you know, there are certifications, there are now courses at various universities. But you know, at least to my knowledge, there's no product degree. Correct me if I'm wrong, I do not have a degree in product at least. And so, you know, I think I think it's just comes with experience. And I think it comes with, you know, the more people you can learn, learn from who you can mentor who you can receive mentorship from. And because of that, there's no like, sudden switch that says, now you're ready to become a mentor or not. And I think without that, at times, people basically, you know, I think, maybe have less confidence in their own abilities there. And that's where I'd say someone bet on you, you have what it takes. Now you have years of, you know, product experience, etc. At this point, like, I believe that you can, you know, mentor someone and guide them. And, and I think that you probably have a ton to share, and also a ton to learn through that experience, too.
You know, I would bet that there are a lot of hiring managers out there that don't even realize that's one of the hurdles or the burdens in in their, in their mindset, if you will, right, I bet they don't even realize that the fact that they have a little bit of, you know, lack of confidence in their own abilities, is one of the reasons why they're, you know, not comfortable hiring someone. And so I think the fact that you've really sought fully examined them laid that out is really important, I think, you know, I mean, I can even think of my own story, like you gave, I think a lot of folks can can relate to your story, I certainly can and think back about, you know, when I was a new leader, and a new mentor, and I think we all had that kind of impostor syndrome. And so I think that's really, really important. And I love that you've, you've thought through that and brought that up. So let me move on and ask you a different question now, to build on this. So what can organizations and hiring managers do to take a chance on someone? How can they identify folks worth betting on if not looking at, you know, previous product manager experience? Because they don't have that? How can they identify those folks that are worth betting on?
It's funny, because in some ways, you're like, Well, how do you go bet on someone who, who doesn't have product experience, you don't have the word product somewhere on their resume or LinkedIn to look for. And so these are the the handful of, I guess, indicators, if you were to call them that I tried to look for. One is level of interest in both kind of wanting to become a PM, but also in the company itself. And, you know, I don't know how many folks still write cover letters today. But cover letters is actually you know, an avenue to really get to express why you really care about a specific company, or why you think that this is the company where you want to become a PM. And if that's kind of very clear, and not some generic cover letter that just like talks about what you've worked on before and whatnot, but very kind of like pointed, to me, that's an indication of like, wow, this person is focused, they want this, they're ambitious, and they're trying really hard to get there. Like, notice them. I think the other is actually, you know, folks who do cold outreach to people on the team, and use that as a way to get a referral, or simply just learn more about the company, the role that the product team, whatever it might be, again, to me is an indication that they really want this role, they are really interested in this company, they're trying to do whatever it takes. And FYI, for those candidates who do that, you know, most company, I mean, hiring is hard. Many companies today, or most, I might even go as far as to say have some kind of referral bonus, because then paying, you're paying an employer, an employee, sorry, a referral bonus, is cheaper than paying a recruiting agency for their fees. And so those employees are actually just as incentivized to talk to you and then refer you. So definitely use that app, use that angle. And then other indicators I look for are those adjacent adjacent function. So if you're an ops, or you're in product operations, or marketing or something like that, even how you frame your resume, and so the way that you'd write about those bullet points, are you looking at solving problems? Are you making impact are those you know, can that impact the quantify things along those lines? I would, you know, maybe, maybe go you know, go to say that role is like finance and sales might have less natural overlap. And so that's where storytelling is particularly important. But you know, I would say I look across the Jason functions, and then my maybe like, last indicator, is actually you know, I actually when I hire still take every phone screen myself, and I do that because I'm one And as an hiring manager, employer, whatever, you equally have the responsibility to pitch a candidate and create a great candidate experience, it's not a one way street. And so I take the time to do that. And then the second is, I can then truly assess their level of excitement about the role, why product, specifically what their story is, and use that as equally an assessment around well, they're super excited, I think they have high potential, like, this is someone I may want to continue the process with. And so maybe as, like, an underlying theme to all of that is storytelling. Because you know, across the cold outreach that you're doing, or the adjacent functions that you've worked in, or in a phone call, or phone screen, the ability to tell a compelling story around why, to me is just as valuable as having just like, hey, maybe you have just like pure product experience. And I'm, you know, I care about x role that I want to break into, I think it's, you know, just as compelling, if not more to see someone so passionate about a specific space or role.
Totally agree. In fact, you know, I was mentioning that some of the best product managers that I have worked with and hired, were from non product backgrounds, and one specifically comes to mind. And she ultimately was one of the best product managers I worked with, and has gone on to do great things. It was all because she could tell a story, you know, it was all because she, she got the importance of that and connected it to to the role of product. And I think that's really, really important. And so I thank you for that. I think that's those are really important indicators, because I believe that candidates have a responsibility, you know, as their, as their, you know, trying to move careers. And I'm gonna ask you, what can candidates can do in just a moment, but, but at the end of the day, hiring managers and organizations have to change the system, right, they have to change the way they operate, or it doesn't matter what candidates do, right. So if we're always going to put in my opinion, an arbitrary, you know, hurdle up of a certain experience level, a certain education, whatever, then we're always going to have the same folks in in the product space. And I think from a diversity and inclusion perspective, we have to change the system, or we're always going to be, you know, having some of the issues that we have. And again, tech, it may be one of the most diverse industries out there, but it's still got a lot of a lot of room to improve. And so I think this kind of conversation is really important to have. So I love those. I love that advice for hiring managers and organizations. Now let's turn it to the candidate. What can a candidate do? If they're trying to break into product? They don't have that experience? They know those barriers exist, but they still, you know, are adamant that this is the career for them. What advice would you give to a candidate trying to break into product?
Yeah, yeah, I love that. I mean, I think, you know, I spent a lot of time reflecting on the hiring manager side, since I've, I've now been in those shoes. But I think it's equally important, I guess, for both sides to be prepared, right, and to try everything possible to kind of expand, I would say a few things. I mean, to my point on the the various indicators before that I look for from a hiring manager perspective, from a candidate perspective, like highlight those highlight where your experience has clear overlap and applicability to a role in product, I think, you know, I'll make a quick note here that, you know, people, the, the role of product is quite glorified. And maybe it's around decision making, or you're the CEO of your product, or whatever it might be, there are so many, not sexy things that you do on a day to day basis, while in product, it's the reality, right, that no one talks about, whether it's your cutting tickets, maybe you are in meetings nonstop the entire day, and then you write PRDs, at 10pm, that's been me before, you know, maybe it's you know, there's so many little things that are happening, maybe you're setting up meetings, to keep the team organized, all of those skills still translate and apply. And so, you know, lean into that, and show that you already can nail 60 70% of the role, right? And again, going back to your gap is maybe 20 or 30% on paper instead of 100% off. So those are kind of the indicators, reaching out to, you know, various folks at at a startup or whatever company, they have referral bonuses, like go talk to them, message them on LinkedIn, message them on Twitter, whatever it might be, send, send outreach, shoot them emails, guess what that email might be. at early stage startups. It's usually first name at you know, startup.com basically insert startup name, and you know, make it a nice polite email ask for 15 minutes of their time. You know, kind of like make make yourself known or noticed is what I would say. I think the other thing is, there are folks who are great at the networking game, let's call it that, but actually stumble when it comes to the product case study. The End questions there. And I think it's just as important to spend time preparing for that correctly. And so you know, in terms of like, things to help prepare, I cracking the pm interview is to this day still my go to source on, on on that topic. And I use that a ton when I was trying to break into product, I found friends who also wanted to break into product and or someone who was already a PM, and use them to basically set up like practice sessions be really comfortable answering those questions. And I think that is really helpful. And then I think the third is explore the internal transfer. You know, it depends on the company, I, you know, I think it's too idealistic to say that every manager is super supportive of your career path, if it means transferring from one role to product. I wish that was the case, it's not. But there are many managers out there who actually just want you to succeed. And so that means transferring to product, you know, ask them see what that's like, you know, and see if they're open to that opportunity. See, if they're open to you working on projects in your current role, that have more exposure to product, it's a good way for you to kind of dip your toes in also see if you like the role for real because the internal transfer is a little bit easier. Because you have that business context side, as well as hopefully they've seen a great track record from you as well to make that bet.
Yeah, that's all great advice. I am back to your your point earlier about not having product management degree. Now, to my knowledge, there is not a pm degree either.
But thank you for confirming Yes, yes.
But there are classes being taught I actually teach one at Johns Hopkins. So definitely a lot of universities out there dipping their toes into educating on product management. But the truth is, it's still an application role, right and one class one certification one, anything isn't going to make someone completely ready for Product Management. I love that universities are now getting into the education game of you know, helping people who may want to get into product management understand the role a little bit more. But they still have to go through all of these things. So I love that I love your advice. I'm going to use it for my students reach out network. Understand that maybe a product manager role isn't your you know, Destiny right after school, get a role and then transfer to product management. until hopefully hiring managers and orgs you know, kind of changed the system a little bit. So love that advice. Very good. So my final question for you. And I love that you already mentioned actually one great resource cracking the pm interview, which is an amazing book. What other resources do you love to use in product? This is something I ask all of my guests on product voices because I think we all need to learn from each other and and leverage the resources. So maybe podcasts or books or people that you follow or your own resources that maybe you've created what what have you found that has helped you along your product management career?
Yeah, I'm a bit of a book nerd or bookworm. And so books is is my go to recommendation. Obviously, always caveat everything by saying just because it's in a book does not mean that therefore your experience will be exactly like that, right. But I think it's great for prospective, it's a great like, you know, grab off the shelf, it's readily available. Cracking, the pm interview is probably the most might like if you had to pick one, if I had to pick one. That's the one I would choose. The two other books that I really like, inspired by Marie Kagan is another classic. And then one that is, you know, great, but maybe not discussed as much as playing to win how strategy really works. And that book, I really enjoyed it a little bit more storytelling specifically around certain products. And so you can kind of step into the shoes of a pm more. Whereas the first two books are like this is what product is like at various companies. And it's more from the outside view. I actually on my Twitter and I'm happy to share a link I created a like notion microsite where I asked various folks within the product community on Twitter to share their favorite books. And I just curated that as a kind of like a community library list. I'm happy to share that longer list as well. I know there are more books out there than those three. The other two things that I'd recommend or that I did one was I love the how I built this podcast. It's not necessarily product related and in a very explicit way. But at least back when I used to commute to an office and wasn't working remote. It was great to kind of just like hear about other products, hear about industries hear about challenges, how they tried to solve them and and have that kind of during my commute hours. And the last one is maybe a little bit odd. But I remember doing like thought exercises. And this maybe sounds kind of silly, but it was a combination of I would subscribe to ProductHunt and get their emails every day of like a new product that was launching. And then I would think to myself, hmm, like, what if I applied X concept to like, why industry? What would that look like? And I would just create these pairings in my head at all times, and just, you know, consider them. So, you know, a great example would be what if, what if we combined shopping and Facebook or Instagram and shopping, right? Like, those are real products today, whether that's now Facebook marketplace, shopping on Instagram, etc, etc. And so I just like would pick random things and just use them as like, I don't know, maybe this is nerdy, but just says like random thought exercises as I was going about my day. And it takes you know, anywhere from 20 seconds to five minutes to 10 minutes of thinking about it. You can do it at any point in time. And it can constantly change as you encounter other products that you might see or see an ad or whatever it might be. So maybe that's an odd one.
I love that one. Actually, that's that's really cool. And, you know, I, whoever, you know, thought up whether it was you and your thought exercise or somebody else thought up the shopping on Instagram, they did a great job because I have bought so much crap from Instagram. It's like, oh, yes, I do need that. I do need that donate. Yeah, so those are awesome, awesome resources. We will link to all of those on product voices.com So you can find those. We will also link to Jen's Twitter account and LinkedIn so you can connect with her. Jin Ying Huang. This has been such a fun conversation. Thank you so much for sharing your experience your wisdom and your insights with us.
Thank you so much for having me. It's been great. And of course love connecting with other women who play golf in addition to product quite a
no. I know that you know what we in fact, what Let's spend another like 10 minutes now talking about. So we have now had just getting but yes, listeners out there. Jen is a golfer, like all almost single digit handicap I believe, which is Yep. So here's the Yep. So here's the thing, and I played golf in college, and I play now and I mean, I just love it. So here's the thing. Here's a stat for everybody out there. If you can break 90 at playing golf, you're better than like 90 to 95% of the golfers in the world so that there's a there's a stat so Jen is a very good golfer. And we haven't had a chance yet but we will be playing golf sometime together hopefully it pebble or somewhere cool like that. But anyway, I would love it be fun. All right, awesome. Okay, cool. Maybe we'll maybe we'll have a product voices golf tournament. That'd be fun. We'd get a bunch of listeners out there. Okay, well thank you all for joining us on product voices we'll see at the golf tournament or on the next episode.
Thank you for listening to product voices hosted by JJ Rorie. To find more information on our guests resources discussed during the episode or to submit a question for our q&a episodes, visit the show's website product voices.com And be sure to subscribe to the podcast on your
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