Hire externally or promote internally?

We are planning on hiring within our product team and have the following question: *Do we need to hire an external PM or promote an existing employee as PM? For the facts:

  • As of today, the team is composed of 4 PMs with experience in Product ranging between a couple of months to 8 years
  • We already know that some of our CX employees have an appetite to become PM.
  • We have never offered an Associate PM position before or first PM job onboarding.

Questions: How do you assess this trade-off between promoting someone internally rather than hire someone external? Do you have a dedicated onboarding process for the internally promoted APM/PM? Thanks in advance :slight_smile:


Does it have to be a trade off? Why answer this question today before interviewing anyone, especially for an APM position? Why not just put up the role and interview both types of candidates, being careful to acknowledge how important them being internal is in the scorecard beforehand? But if you feel really strongly that it should be someone from the CX team, and you don’t want to also teach them about the organization while teaching them how to be a product manager, then why not just make it an internal hire only?


It depends on what problems do the new PM needs to solve.
I’d evaluate 3 things:

  • The hard skills needed are easily learned or attainable for someone with no PM experience?
  • Is industry / product knowledge a huge advantage for a PM in that particular position?
  • Possible impact on company culture, it sends a good message to the team (growth opportunities).

More angles to consider:

  • Cost to ramp up an external vs internal hire: Someone from CX will already have considerable business and product context, and chances are they know the user and their pain points better than anybody else
  • Maturity of product org: Is the current PM team better positioned to mentor and develop an internal vs external hire?
  • Company culture: With external hires, you are betting they will be a culture fit, whereas internal candidates have already proven themselves in this regard

Onboarding an internal hire: Make sure you transition them off their prior workstreams so they can focus on ramping up. It may not end well if they are forced to balance conflicting workstreams
I’ve seen some orgs do a trial period of a few months before making a go/no-go decision, but IMO this is unnecessary because 2-3 months isn’t long enough to give you a true picture of their ability especially while they are learning the ropes


I would be happy to learn a bit more about how a scorecard works and specially to understand how important a candidate being internal is in the scorecard.


Everyone above has such thoughtful answers. My perspective: promote an existing employee. At least a third of my PM hires have been this path, and I’ve never regretted it:

  1. Here’s someone whose work you know, and already knows your company/domain.
  2. It does great things to build company culture
  3. Only do it if you’re confident you can support a new PM. (And: don’t underestimate the work an outside PM would do.)

Given the option, I always promote internal.


Only you can determine how important it is to you that the candidate is internal!
Having a scorecard can help you measure your candidates the same way to reduce bias. Before you interview anyone, each interviewer should have a sense of what they are judging the candidate on, know that they’re able judge every candidate by the same measures, and the importance of certain characteristics (whether that’s where they worked before, the impact of the projects they worked on, certain skills, etc), should be the same for every candidate. This would mean that an internal candidate might get a yes or a strong yes depending on how close their current role is to your team right now, while an external candidate would get a no or a strong no on that criteria. Then you figure out how that weighs against the rest of the things you evaluated them on.
This doesn’t mean that every interviewer should be measuring the same things, in fact I would argue that’s a waste of time, and different interviewers should be looking for different things in the candidate. But among all the interviews that a particular interviewer does, the candidates should be asked the same starting questions (+ clarifying ones based on what they said) and evaluated on the same skills. And a “score” can be a simple as a thumbs up or thumbs down, or the addition of a strong thumbs up and strong thumbs down.


Many great points in this thread so far. When considering to bring on an APM, you should also think about:

  • What’s the scope of responsibility you need the person in this role to take on? An APM will need to start with less responsibility than an experienced hire, even if they are familiar with the product and customers.
  • Do you have capacity and structure to mentor an APM? As a small team you won’t have a structured training program so you’ll need to ensure that you and other experienced team members can work with the APM to ramp them up on PM basics.

In my experience, the best way to vet internal folks for PM roles is to give them small, PM-like tasks while in their current job, and to see how they do and how they like it. I did exactly this in my last role: a manager in our operations/fulfillment team had an interest in PM, so I spent a few months mentoring him and giving him small assignments related to his current team (e.g. design an operations dashboard or prioritize and spec out internal-tools feature requests from the operations team) so he could get a feel for what’s involved. In the end he decided that PM wasn’t going to be his thing, which from my perspective was a good outcome because he now didn’t have grass-is-greener syndrome about his current job.
Obviously, the best time to figure out whether some non-PM folks have the interest and aptitude for PM is before you have a job open. Then you can afford to take your time vetting internal folks without them having to leave their day job. Couching it as exploration rather than definite is a good way to avoid bad feelings from the potential PM and their manager, esp. if the alternative is for the person to apply to be a PM at another company.
Also, obviously, you should coordinate with the person’s manager to ensure there’s no hard feelings there. Good managers should want to see their employees happy and retained, even if not on their team forever.
But even if you do have a job open, you can try something like this, especially if you’re frequently opening new PM roles so even if they can’t pass the interview process the first time, there’s always the next train leaving the station in a few months.

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Something I’m learning about this is that if you want to have a AMP promotion for someone, you have to evaluate them as if you where hiring someone outside.Even you have to think about this:

  • do you have the time or someone else has the time to coach the new AMP on their path?
  • does this person invest in his/her path to become a APM?
  • is it clear what it takes to be a good PM in your company?

As it could be a good sign for your employees to show they can be promoted to a PM role, the main issue is to get people understand that this is the only way to grow and be successful.Also, I think the best way to do it, is to have a trial period to make the person understand if they are going to be capable to accomplish the role or not.TL;DR:

  • If you have the time to coach them, and the company does not have urgency on the goals, it could be a good option. If you don’t have any of them, I suggest to don’t do it.

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