Hiring Managers: Are you discovering the talent you seek?

As a product manager with over a decade of experience across various sectors public corporations with 100K+ employees, I’ve seen it all. like platforms, B2C, and SaaS, and within companies ranging from Series B startups to public corporations with 100K+ employees, I’ve seen it all.

Interviews seem to go smoothly; I share pertinent professional stories in response to behavioral questions and often establish a strong rapport with interviewers. Yet, I frequently receive vague feedback citing a lack of domain expertise or specific Kanban experience—factors that weren’t deal-breakers at the initial stages with hiring managers or recruiters.

I’m reaching out to the hiring managers in this community: Apart from the clear-cut reasons such as failing a case study or offering insufficient professional anecdotes, what are some underlying reasons for rejecting candidates?

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Utilize a variety of recruitment strategies, such as networking events and job boards, to attract top candidates with the skills and experience you desire. Consider partnering with industry organizations or universities to tap into a pool of qualified professionals in the field. While networking events and job boards can be effective in attracting candidates, partnering with industry organizations or universities may limit the diversity of candidates you are able to reach. Specialized recruitment services may also come at a high cost and may not necessarily guarantee finding the best fit for your company.

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Is it possible that the hiring managers are looking for a candidate who not only has the required skills and experience but also fits well with the team culture or has a certain level of enthusiasm for the role? Could it be that they are seeking someone who shows potential for growth and development within the company? It may also be worth considering if there were any red flags or inconsistencies in your responses during the interview that may have raised concerns for the hiring managers. Taking a closer look at these potential factors could shed some light on why you may not have been selected for certain roles.

Reflecting on these considerations can help you better understand the decision-making process of hiring managers and potentially improve your chances of future job opportunities. It’s important to not only focus on your qualifications but also on how well you align with the company’s values and culture. Additionally, seeking feedback from the hiring managers can provide valuable insights and help you identify areas for improvement in your job search strategy. By taking a proactive approach and continuously learning from your experiences, you can increase your chances of securing a role that is the right fit for both you and the company.

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Quite agree with @MarcoSilva. Few questions that come to my mind are:

  • Could it be a lack of cultural fit or a misalignment of values?
  • Is there a disconnect in communication style or personality?
  • Are there unspoken expectations or biases that play a role in the decision-making process?

As a candidate, it can be frustrating to receive generic feedback that doesn’t provide a clear understanding of why we weren’t selected for a position. It’s important for hiring managers to provide constructive and specific feedback to help candidates improve and grow in their careers. Transparency and open communication can lead to a more positive and productive hiring process for both parties involved.

For example, a candidate may have been passed over for a promotion due to a perceived lack of leadership skills, but without specific examples or feedback, they may not understand how to improve in that area. By providing clear and actionable feedback, the candidate can work on developing those skills and potentially be considered for future opportunities within the organization. Open communication also helps build trust and understanding between the hiring manager and candidate, leading to a more collaborative and successful working relationship.

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I oversee product managers. I think unicorns are a myth. I believe that most interviewers of PMs have unrealistic expectations about what a product manager ought to be or accomplish. They go into an interview with a heightened sense of pride. I’m not sure how, but I consider the product managers I’ve employed to be really lucky. I would want to collaborate with most of them again because of how well they’ve done. Although I don’t think I’m a very good interviewer, I’ve had (what I think are) excellent product managers, for whatever reason. That is, I am always picking up new skills from them.

However, I never search for unicorns. Instead, I look for individuals who are adaptable, have strong communication skills, and can work well with cross-functional teams. I believe that a successful product manager is someone who can prioritize effectively, think strategically, and pivot when necessary. In my experience, the best product managers are those who are able to balance the needs of the customer with the goals of the business, while also staying on top of industry trends and technological advancements. It’s a challenging role, but when you find the right person for the job, the results can be truly remarkable.

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An inflated ego is indeed a reality. Ironically, it’s a major deterrent for me in the hiring process. The expense of employing someone who considers themselves too superior to collaborate with others at a lower skill level is simply too high. Finding a product manager who is not only skilled in their role but also humble and willing to work with others is crucial for the success of any business. The ability to collaborate and communicate effectively with all team members, regardless of their level of expertise, is what sets apart a good product manager from a great one. As the saying goes, “it’s not about being the best, it’s about bringing out the best in others.” An individual with an inflated ego may hinder the progress and growth of a team, making it essential to prioritize humility and teamwork when hiring for such a pivotal position.

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I may not be responsible for our hiring, but I am close friends with the person who is. I’ve recommended two of our top PMs who lacked prior experience. When questioned about my decision, I explained that a PM should be someone who naturally organizes their pantry alphabetically; they can learn the rest on the job.

That’s not to be taken literally, of course. The point is, if your hiring successes outnumber the misses, it’s partly due to luck, but it’s also a testament to your skill in recognizing talent. One of the PMs I recommended had a background in marketing, but their ability to lead and communicate effectively made them a strong candidate. Despite lacking traditional project management experience, they quickly adapted to the role and exceeded expectations. The other PM I recommended had a knack for problem-solving and had shown great potential in their previous roles, demonstrating humility by being open to learning from more experienced team members.

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As a PM hiring manager, I’m not in search of the unicorns; however, I aim to avoid candidates who require extensive training and guidance. Given my dual responsibilities as a first-line manager and product overseer, my schedule is already full. I prefer candidates who have relevant experience or demonstrate strong motivation and the ability to learn independently.

My advice is to focus on behavioral or situational questions, not just to answer them but to discern the underlying skills sought and address those directly. For instance, if Kanban appears to be a critical skill for the role, discuss your proficiency in it. I am confident I can do or learn this because I have experience with similar agile methodologies, such as Scrum, and I am always eager to expand my skill set. I have a proven track record of quickly picking up new tools and techniques, so I am sure I can adapt to using Kanban effectively in this role. Additionally, I am highly self-motivated and take ownership of my work, so I believe I would excel in a position with product responsibilities.

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Another tip: candidates tend to speak excessively during interviews, which may seem odd. However, this can lead to boredom and disengagement. If possible, aim for a more natural dialogue and provide the interviewers with more chances to speak if they are willing. For example, in my previous role, I was tasked with implementing new project management software for our team. I quickly learned how to use the software effectively and was able to streamline our workflow using Kanban boards. Additionally, I took on the responsibility of managing the product roadmap and making key decisions, which resulted in successful product launches and increased customer satisfaction.

During an interview for a product management position, instead of dominating the conversation with lengthy responses, I made a conscious effort to engage in a more balanced dialogue with the interviewer. I shared specific examples of how my leadership and decision-making skills had positively impacted my previous team, and how I was able to adapt to new challenges with ease. By focusing on the value I could bring to the new role and showcasing my ability to collaborate effectively, I was able to convey my enthusiasm and readiness to take on the responsibilities of a product manager. This approach ultimately led to a successful interview and my eventual hiring for the position.

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In the years 2020 and 2021, I conducted numerous interviews and found that many candidates who presented themselves as senior-level were unable to provide a clear business rationale or market analysis for their past investments or decisions. They appeared to be carrying out tasks mechanically, following directions from others, or relying solely on intuition without conducting any self-evaluation.

Such tendencies necessitated a level of coaching and mentorship that exceeded the requirements of the positions I was seeking to fill. As a result, I realized the importance of not only hiring candidates with the right skills and experience but also those who possess critical thinking abilities and a strong understanding of business principles.

Moving forward, I made it a priority to thoroughly assess candidates’ analytical abilities and decision-making skills during the interview process. By doing so, I was able to identify individuals who could contribute meaningfully to the organization without requiring extensive hand-holding or guidance. This shift in my approach ultimately led to more successful hires and a stronger, more efficient team.

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This advice is the best I’ve encountered and deserves more recognition. Many candidates simply search for answers to questions instead of grasping what the interviewer seeks. The goal is to respond in a manner that aligns perfectly with the interviewer’s expectations, demonstrating an understanding of their thoughts and how one can contribute to the team with minimal training.

By focusing on finding candidates who can think independently and understand the needs of the organization, I was able to build a team that was not only efficient but also innovative and forward-thinking. This shift not only improved the overall performance of the team but also led to a more positive work environment where employees felt empowered and trusted to make decisions on their own. I now swear by this advice and recommend it to anyone looking to build a successful team. It truly makes all the difference in finding the right fit for your organization.

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While it is important for candidates to understand the interviewer’s expectations, it is also crucial for organizations to provide the necessary guidance and support to help new hires succeed. Expecting candidates to contribute meaningfully without any handholding may limit the potential for growth and development within the team.

Therefore, a balance must be struck between hiring individuals who can hit the ground running and providing them with the resources they need to excel. By setting clear expectations, offering training opportunities, and fostering a supportive environment, organizations can ensure that new hires not only meet but surpass their potential. Ultimately, investing in the success of employees leads to a more cohesive and high-performing team, benefiting both the individual and the organization as a whole.

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With over 12 years of experience as a senior director-level product manager, I was surprised to lose a recent job opportunity. The HR representative informed me that they chose a candidate with a substantial digital marketing background. It raises the question: why label the position ‘product manager’ if the requirement is a decade of digital marketing expertise?

This experience has prompted me to reconsider my career path and possibly pursue further education or certification in digital marketing to broaden my skill set and increase my marketability in the job market. It is important for individuals to continuously adapt and grow in their careers to remain competitive and valuable to potential employers. By recognizing the evolving requirements of the job market, professionals can better position themselves for success and avoid missing out on opportunities due to rigid expectations.

For example, a marketing professional who has been working in traditional marketing roles for the past decade may decide to enroll in a digital marketing certification program to enhance their knowledge and skills in areas such as social media marketing, search engine optimization, and data analytics. This additional training can help them stay current with industry trends and make them more attractive candidates for digital marketing positions that require specific expertise.

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I recently had an interview for a position where I was asked to create dashboards for a customer and show my SQL expertise. I agreed and shared examples of my previous SQL use in product roles. However, when I inquired about the team’s product, they informed me that the product would be the dashboards I’d develop. This seemed more akin to a data analyst role than that of a product manager.

While I have experience with SQL and data analysis, I was looking for a role that would allow me to leverage my product management skills. It’s important to clarify expectations and responsibilities during the interview process to ensure alignment between the candidate’s expertise and the job requirements. This misalignment in expectations highlighted the importance of clear communication and thorough understanding of the role being interviewed for. It also emphasized the need for both parties to be transparent about their expectations and goals from the beginning.

Moving forward, I will make sure to ask more specific questions about the role and responsibilities to avoid any potential misunderstandings during the interview process. This experience has taught me the value of open communication and setting clear expectations to ensure a successful and fulfilling work environment.

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I recently experienced something similar, but from a different perspective. The job description emphasized customer voice, focus groups, market research, and strategic planning. It involved an aging product due for a refresh and relaunch, an area where I have expertise. The hiring manager appeared eager to offer me the position immediately. However, after further discussion, I realized that the company’s definition of “customer voice” differed from my understanding. It became clear that their focus was more on sales data analysis than direct customer interaction. This discrepancy highlighted the importance of asking clarifying questions and seeking specific examples during the interview process.

The team interview concentrated solely on Business Analyst and Product Owner tasks, and I was ultimately rejected for not being the “more tactical PM” they were seeking. This experience taught me the importance of thoroughly researching a company’s values and priorities before pursuing a job opportunity. It also emphasized the significance of clearly articulating my own skills and experiences during the interview process to ensure alignment with the company’s expectations.

This likely sheds light on why they are burdened with technical debt and struggling in the market. It is crucial for both the candidate and the company to have a mutual understanding of expectations to avoid misalignment in roles and responsibilities. By being transparent about their needs and requirements, companies can attract candidates who are better suited for the position, ultimately leading to a more successful working relationship.

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