Red flag in a potential PM hire

Product Management recruiters and Hiring Managers, what’s a red flag in a potential PM hire, either on their resume or in the process of interviewing?


A few things come to mind:

  • Talking about past failures as failures of others. They’ll rarely say it outright, most are smart enough to realize they shouldn’t say that, but the ego-stoked ones can’t help themselves from avoiding pinning anything on themselves, so look for that. PM is a high accountability role. If you can’t eat humble pie now and then, I see that as a risk for toxicity.
  • Lack of demonstrated experience actually talking to “customers” (Be creative for internal-only experience) as part of their path to solutioning. For instance “I analyzed the market and competitors” vs "I spoke with {personas} in the {target market} industry and learned that… this shows me they are user-centric. Saying you are means nothing.
  • taking credit for solutions but not ever taking credit for problem discovery. I believe they should be focusing on taking credit for the latter, not the former.
  • Talking about their team in a way that sounds like they see themselves as being ‘above’ them in some way, instead of being gracious and recognizing that their team are the key to any success they’ve achieved. It’s a tough one to speak about in absolute terms, but depending on how the candidate talks about it - there’s something about how some people talk about “their team” that rubs me the wrong way. Think Boss vs Leader crap you usually see in linkedin feeds etc…
  • Candidates that never seem to structure their answer to the common “product-thinking” questions. A PM needs to be an excellent communicator. It’s not enough to answer my question (correctly), you have to explain why, and how you came to a conclusion. Look at all my other bullet points :wink:
  • Indication that someone is reactive in their implementation based on easy-to-regurgitate industry common knowledge rather than user needs, business goals, or data-based research. There’s something about this (and alot of it is dependent on intangibles in the conversation) that gives me a feeling about how problem focused they are in their research.
  • A candidate that struggles to speak about value proposition in terms of outcomes and customer benefit, but rather dives into the weeds of specific features

@MichaelYoffe, This is such a great comment. Thank you so much for explaining it so elaborately.


I’m in implementation & integration consulting, going through the interview process for a product owner role in my company. I have a great reputation for knowledge of the product, the team needs the role filled ASAP, and I also come highly recommended by someone on the team. I will probably get the position, but I’m still genuinely curious because I want to do a good job. Can you elaborate on your last bullet?

Before I worked here, I had interviewed for a pre-sales solution consultant position. I didn’t get that job. I think I remember hearing from somewhere (maybe it was the recruiter giving me the debrief after turning me down) that the difference between implementation & pre-sales consulting is that in implementation, you’ll show a customer how to use a part of the system, and in pre-sales consulting, you’ll tell them what the value is in using that part of the system. Is that an accurate analogy to your last bullet?


@MarcoSilva, Let’s take a scenario on Spotify, where you’re asked what feature you’d add. For starters, it’s important to ask first what the focus area/theme/improvement metric is. Say for instance the scenario is to improve music discovery for users. Well, as a quickly concocted scenario, you could talk about adding a “dislike” button like YouTube Music has.

You could open with “because YouTube music is a competitor and they do it” and proceed to go on and on about how it gives you an extra learning dimension that allows you to improve ML of the AI to improve heuristics of calculating the set of songs the user will like by combining the intersection of liked and disliked songs of others to build a set of suggestions. You cover all your “look at me I know AI because keywords used” bases and you may think you look smart. Thing is you’re not being hired to actually do that.


Imagine if as a user, you could not just tell Spotify what you do like, but also directly teach Spotify what you don’t like. Now, with one quick tap, you can influence it so that you don’t hear songs from that artist who’s voice you just can’t stand, but in the process, there’s a whole new way for Spotify to curate a selection of new music discovery in a whole new way, reducing poor recommendations and making you want to explore new music even more, which increases engagement.

Same feature; different story.


@MichaelYoffe, I’d never have to hear Bright Eyes again. That sounds worth it, hahaha.

But really, I appreciate this elaboration. I think I get it. It’s a greater focus on bringing it back to the customer behavior you want to change.

Would simply mentioning in your first story that building a better set of suggestions leads to expanded trust and engagement with discovery suffice to bring it back to the customer? I understand it would still be in the weeds with the details.

Or is the gist of the bottom story that you’ve actually determined a novel metric to help with the building suggestions? I must say, I don’t know if I like it–if that is the point of it–because then it seems like the difference is that the person in the bottom story just came up with a better idea, which seems hard to train someone to do.


This is me. it’s so hard to get away from.


This is one I believe can be learned, and lots of people I’ve run into, including this guy I see in the mirror each morning, have struggled with “seeing the forest from the trees” at first.


If they don’t know the difference between Product and Project management.


@NatalieSmith, What is the difference actually? I see Project Managers often applying to PM jobs and convey their work as actual product management.



Product Managers - decide what to build

Dev Managers - decide how to build

Project Managers - track and communicate when to build



Check this out, maybe it might clear some of your doubts.


For more senior roles red flag if you can’t find specific examples where they directly contributed to growth of solution via revenue or market share. PM isn’t all about solving customer problems like the interview training e-books teach you to say… you have to solve problems that are fiscally viable and drive business returns. This is a level up skill to ensure your more senior members have.


@DonovanOkang, I really only speak in financials/business value for interviews. That’s the headline, the problem discovery, solutioning, delivery is all the “how” but the business results measured in dollars is what I “did”.


This is more of what I’ve seen in hiring but gauging personal impact.

Aka they might’ve been PM#2 on a product that went from $0 to $2B but that doesn’t mean they’re a goat tier PM. In reality they could’ve just been riding the wave of momentum others created and now you’re handing them a leadership position thinking they can recreate it.


“i really just want to join a rocketship”. if a candidate cannot express the bare minimum of being excited about the company or at least about problem solving and delivering value but goes straight for the UNICORN.


For me, if a candidate says anything about being the CEO of the product, that’s a near automatic disqualification. If they talk more about specifics of a feature, they “launched” vs. the outcomes for the users or the business, that’s another.



  1. Other than the fact that PMs have no direct authority over anyone, what other differences are there?
  2. Why not both?


  1. It’s the attitude around it. Product management is (or should be) very collaborative. The candidates I’ve interviewed who talk about being the CEO of their product tend to display command and control style of leadership, which isn’t something I want anywhere near my teams. The PM is not above the designer, or the tech lead, or anyone else, and they shouldn’t think of themselves as such.
  2. Because I don’t want to hire project managers. We practice outcome-based product management. I don’t care if you shipped five features, or ten features, if they didn’t solve user problems or did anything towards business goals.

For me, the biggest red flag has been not knowing the company you are interviewing for, their product nor their market space. To me that represents a complete lack of research and preparation.