Recruiting a Junior PM: Advice

I recently moved into a director level position, and I’ll soon begin hiring for Junior PM positions. I am very excited about mentoring this person because they will be directly reporting to me. After ten years of building products, I feel unchallenged as an IC, but at the same time, I have a wealth of knowledge and experience to share with someone who is just starting their career. I also realize that a large number of people are having difficulty landing their first job, so I’m hoping that hiring will go quite well.

I don’t want to be super picky about qualifications or experience because I know what to look for on a personal level.

I’m curious if anyone here has any tips for hiring juniors or APMs. Is there anything I need to watch out for? Any red flags to be careful of?

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

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Using this article as a reflection on my hiring an APM experience in a few bullet points from a post I made about a year ago:

  • Self-starter attitude; I appreciated asking them how they would have handled typical situations that I regularly observed from a product perspective.

  • Even if they do not have experience, I believe it is worthwhile to learn how they perceive product and whether it is in line with how your team works. - Transferable skills/experience that would help them lean into the Product job.

  • Our team works with several squads and agile sprints; it could be beneficial to be open and honest about your processes to see whether they match their expectations and experiences.

Good luck!

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Thanks so much @EvaRichardson, that’s really useful! In my opinion, it will be crucial for the new employee to establish positive working relationships with the engineering team. Although they are a large crew, they lack maturity and frequently seek assistance in trivial matters. Therefore, I will undoubtedly search for a suitable fit with the engineers.

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Be thoughtful about the work at hand and the profile you’re attempting to fill. then revisit this after three and six months. Discovering the kind of individuals who perform well for you and the type of boss you can be is the immediate objective.

E.g., You would be a poor fit for someone seeking to ascend since some individuals just can’t promote their employees up. The same is true for people who like to coast and take things easy. Once you have three direct reports, team dynamics start to matter.

As much as you can, keep those lines of communication open. Early in my career, climbing as a team was made easier by back channeling. I then switched to being open. People will join or quit your team more readily if you are consistent about your position.

Disclosure*: I don’t currently own a glamorous PnL, therefore everyone should focus on doing their jobs and putting out fires. I encourage my employees to win favors since I believe that a headcount cut is imminent. I wish to be separated from my family. For the mission, we are too big.

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That’s a brilliant advice @MichaelYoffe, thank you so much!

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It’s the two "A"s for me. Attitude as well as Aptitude.

Even if they lack all the necessary talents, I look for someone who has demonstrated their ability to pick up other skills in the past. Additionally, they must demonstrate some fundamental aptitude for whatever your profession needs, like knowledge of technology, the ability to get along with others, an understanding of users, etc.

Additionally, attitude is as crucial. Hiring someone with excellent abilities, talents, or experience but a poor attitude will be detrimental to your team. You need someone who won’t be overly egotistical, will put the task ahead of earning recognition, and who will be pleasant to deal with in general.

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Due to lengthy backfill delays, I am a junior PM who is now filling in as a PM on the product team. With a self-starter attitude, I would concur. The capacity to speak up on contentious issues and move things along has to be one of the skillsets that I believe has been most useful to me in trying times. While learning other skills, such as a domain, takes time, it is possible with the right resources and documentation.

Are you also willing to serve as a virtual product mentor? Fintech has always fascinated me.

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It’s quite comforting to see that you won’t be posting an advertisement requesting four years of experience and other requirements, which is all I seem to see right now as someone looking for their first APM work. Do you have any advice for applicants who lack direct PM experience to help them stand out in their applications?

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Consider what is teachable (backlog management), keeping in mind what is teachable given your surroundings and bandwidth.

Don’t employ for such qualities after you’ve recognized them. They are shiny deterrents. Anyone may enroll in a brief online course and pretend to have these abilities during an interview. They can be taught so readily because of this.

Consider all the attributes that person will need to achieve in the next 3-6 months and that they will need to have in order to go past the APM level. What you CANNOT teach? Recruit for them.

After hired a few APMs at various organizations, I can tell that the most crucial factor is making sure that this person’s brain is wired in a way that you can shape it. APMs are fantastic because they are a blank slate, but they are also hazardous. Finding “that thing” that makes you certain you can trust someone after they can manage the everyday is the key. Is it natural for them to flail when stuck? also to push? Or did they hear that PMs make excellent money and it’s more fun than making support calls? Are they motivated by a desire to solve problems?

I prefer to ask them to discuss a big obstacle they have faced in the past (ideally professionally, in any job), as well as how they overcame it. If they cared to address it, that says more about their motivation than anything else. If they aren’t driven to fix their own problems, they most certainly won’t get fired up about the suffering of your customers. The most intriguing part of their journey is how they got there, assuming they actually look for a solution.

You should also assess your decisiveness. Self-management of time is a necessary skill since without it, it will be difficult for someone to prioritize their own tasks, a backlog, and a future roadmap. In other words, don’t hire someone you have to “train” to do anything. Don’t kill yourself trying to educate them how to manage email when you already need to teach them a new position from scratch.

Additionally, there can be qualities you seek for in an APM that you wouldn’t prioritize in a more senior position. For instance, a generalist PM with years of experience may learn about any client. If an APM can at least gain a basic awareness of the issues your users encounter or the sector you work in, they will be at an advantage. My point is that you should strike a balance between what you’re looking for and a very realistic expectation of how much of a “project” you can take on with this particular individual.

When you reach a position of leadership, people resemble goods in certain ways. Strong base architecture is crucial for what you need now and what you’ll need in the future, just like with a product. You need a coachable candidate who possesses the fundamental traits of the PM you want in a year.

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I liked your response. Majority of what you said resonates with me so much (i.e., being good at time management, being able to move forward when blocked). I greatly value your suggestions!

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I wanted to add to the excellent advice you’ve already received by saying that I think the PSHE framework is useful for considering what the different levels of PMs should be able to achieve. For a Junior PM, the emphasis would be on Execution.

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Read this:

I’ve hired PMs and generally pick 3 things that are musts.

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I believe it is not a good idea for a junior PM to report directly to a director without any intermediate PMs (group/principal PM, Senior PM, etc.).

You should be defining strategy and assigning (most of) the implementation at the director level.

A junior PM will find it challenging to handle such accountability. Are you certain you require a junior PM rather than a mid-level or senior PM? Outside of the F100, a senior PM typically has just 2-4 years of experience in a product capacity.

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I partially agree with you @NathanEndicott; of course, it would be nice for me to concentrate on much more high-level work. We are a tiny organization, thus there isn’t room for any more PMs right now. Although we are on a tight budget and I would really like to mentor someone, I don’t believe we will be able to recruit a senior PM anytime soon. So there are other contributing aspects, and I have hope.

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I don’t concur with this.

Not all companies are large enough to have management levels between directors and ICs.

Because our product organisation only had five individuals, I reported to a VP in my first PM position (inc. the VP)

Since there are 20 employees working for our product organisation, I now report to a Director. Including leadership

Yes, if a product organisation has 30 to 50+ employees, then sure.