PRODUCTHEAD: Writing a product manager job description
PRODUCTHEAD is a regular newsletter of product management goodness,
curated by Jock Busuttil.
the daily product #
The wording of your product manager job description could be putting off good candidates
Listing excessive requirements for the role will deter risk-averse candidates
Think about why you’re hiring and the candidate attributes you need most
Don’t copy-and-paste other job descriptions — they won’t describe what your organisation needs
a favour: please share this with other product people
every PRODUCTHEAD edition is online for you to refer back to
Why are so many product manager job descriptions so poorly written?
Perhaps it’s because the authors have no idea how to describe the role of a product manager to begin with. Maybe it’s because the reality of product management in their organisation is so disheartening that it needs a more optimistic gloss.
Copy-and-paste and patchwork job descriptions are also unhelpful. Aside from perpetuating other badly-written or gender-coded examples, they end up selling a product manager role that doesn’t necessarily reflect how product management works in practice at their organisation.
What’s a better approach? #
For starters, have a think about what prospective product managers might need to know about the role you’re recruiting for. Write for the needs of your audience.
With a product manager job description, you’re trying to describe how product management works at your organisation, what you’d like a successful candidate to achieve, and ideally how you’d assess whether they were succeeding.
If you’re finding any of these difficult to articulate, pause and think through the role more carefully.
How much are you willing to pay? #
Think about the level of experience you want. Then be realistic about the salary you’re willing to pay. You’re unlikely to attract super-experienced product people if you’re only paying the market rate for an entry-level position.
Product manager salaries vary a great deal by job title and country, so search for ‘product manager salary survey’ to find recent data to guide you.
Publish the salary you’re offering. It’s honest, transparent and will attract more applications. If you’re concerned that doing so would put off candidates expecting a higher salary for the role advertised, or would highlight pay disparity to people already working for you, then sort that out first.
What does the support network look like? #
If the role is junior or at the lower end of the salary range, will the role provide the structure and support for someone to make the move into product management from another role?
It’s not going to work for either party if a relatively inexperienced product person is thrown into a dysfunctional mess without any kind of support from more experienced product leaders. In contrast, a better established product practice with community support will provide a nurturing environment for a product person to gain more experience, and in turn become more valuable to your organisation.
Or if the role requires more experience, is it because the product is complex, challenging or sensitive, or because there are no other product people at the organisation and the recruit will have to fend for themselves?
A generalist doesn’t make up for absent specialists #
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that, as a generalist, a product manager will make up for other absent roles, such as user research or design.
Even if the product person you recruit is able to do some of this, it will be a false economy. Non-product management activities will take a product person longer and will be of lesser quality than a specialist would deliver. And the time they spend on this stuff is time not spent on managing the product.
You shouldn’t expect a product manager to write code; likewise, you shouldn’t expect them to design the user interface or conduct detailed, unbiased ethnographic research either. Expecting a product manager to fulfil multiple roles shows you don’t understand (or care) about the experience and effort that goes into each discipline. And that’s probably not a good look for you.
What should you avoid in your job description? #
Don’t state the obvious. If you were writing a job description for a bus driver, you would not include in their responsibilities “steering the bus” and “opening and closing the bus doors for passengers”. (I hope.)
Likewise it’s redundant to list out stuff like “leads product development, strategy, and redesign from concept through development and manufacturing to market launch”. (Templates offered from job sites can be particularly egregious offenders.)
If a candidate isn’t already clear what a product manager does, and is applying for the role regardless, my guess is that they wouldn’t be a great hire.
What should you include in your job description? #
Bear in mind that you’re probably being assessed by candidates on how clearly you can articulate yourself. If your meaning is obscured by jargon and meaningless fluff, it gives the impression you don’t really know what you’re doing. Use plain language.
As prompts to help you, try answering these questions:
Your organisation and its purpose #
What high level problem is our organisation solving, and for which people?
Why do we care about solving this problem?
The product practice at your organisation #
How well established is our product practice?
Why are we recruiting for this product role now?
What support (team members, resources, budget) will the product person we’re recruiting receive to define and deliver the product?
How much autonomy will the product person and their team have?
Who will the product person we’re hiring report to?
Who (if anyone) will report to the product person?
The product(s) they’ll be managing #
What high level problem does our product solve and for which people?
What challenges / opportunities is the product facing?
How do we measure success for the product, and how is it currently doing against those metrics?
Interviewing the candidates #
Assuming you’ve received some applications for the role you’ve advertised, you’re going to start sifting and interviewing the candidates. Helpfully I’ve already written a detailed guide to interviewing product people. Have a read!
Final thoughts #
Let’s put an end to waffly job descriptions written by people who have no idea about product management. I will happily critique your product manager job description if you fancy sending it to me.
Speak to you soon,
what to think about this week
Yahoo, Facebook, Google and LinkedIn have all recently published diversity reports that reveal workforces that are overwhelmingly male, white and Asian.
Changing this status quo is something we’ve always cared about, though it’s not always been an issue that’s been at the front of our minds. However, this isn’t just a personal issue, but a business one. It’s been proved over and over that having a diverse and inclusive workforce is a key to business success, especially in the field of innovation.
[Isaac Pinnock / Made By Many]
Hiring is the most important thing your company does. Who you hire will dictate the success of your organisation.
[The] top 1% employees are 25x more productive.
But how do you find and hire them?
It might be overlooked in most hiring processes, but there is a science to recruitment…
[Joe Caccavale / Applied]
When I am asked for help in hiring a product manager, I typically ask the person to force-rank this list (or something similar). I keep re-writing it, but this is what I used last week.
[John Cutler / Medium]
One of the most common requests I’ve received over the years is to share a good job description for a product manager of an empowered product team.
[Marty Cagan / SVPG]
Because I tend to help organisations build up their product team from scratch, I’m often involved in the interviewing and hiring process, so I’d like to share with you my product leader’s guide to interviewing product managers.
[I Manage Products]
“There’s plenty that needs doing with the products. I could focus on the hiring process, but the only product manager on my team has their hands full, so I can’t delegate any more to them. I could get stuck in with the products myself as a player-manager, but this means I won’t have time to hire.”
[I Manage Products]
I was asked recently whether platforms will conquer the world. My view? They already have. In this article I share how they’ve done it, and how you can successfully bring your own platform to market.
[I Manage Products]
When your stakeholders each have their own interpretations of the product strategy, this lack of stakeholder alignment will cause you no end of problems. Here’s what you can do about it.
[I Manage Products]
can we help you?
Product People is a product management services company. We can help you through consultancy, training and coaching. Just contact us if you need our help!
Helping people build better products, more successfully, since 2012.
PRODUCTHEAD is a newsletter for product people of all varieties, and is lovingly crafted from dubious deals on electronic goods.
Read more from Jock
The Practitioner's Guide To Product Management
by Jock Busuttil
“This is a great book for Product Managers or those considering a career in Product Management.”— Lyndsay Denton