Hiring Product Managers: Closing

Imagine if you went to a car dealer and he said, “I like you. I want to sell you a car. I will give you this car for $30,000. Go home, think about it, and if you’re interested, let me know in a week or so.” Yeah, that salesman would last about a day before the boss would kick him to the curb. And yet, this is standard operating procedure for most hiring managers giving job offers. Make no mistake, closing a top candidate requires salesmanship. So, sell the candidate!

Think of it this way, if someone has passed your incredibly tough interview, then they should also be passing the incredibly esy interviews they had elsewhere. Even if they haven’t interviewed elsewhere, they could. And the best usually have the confidence to realize it in advance. Therefore, you need to demonstrate to them why this job is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, why they should ignore any other offers they get and why they shouldn’t bother interviewing anywhere else.

Here are the golden rules of selling top Product Management candidates:

1. Give a tough interview

Selling the candidate is not an afterthought. The whole process is important, down to the details of the interview. If you give a hard interview that really puts a candidate to the test, then the candidate will put 2 and 2 together: “all my colleagues must have passed this interview, too.”

That means they’ll likely be working with the best people they’ve ever worked with. “People” usually appears as an essential criterion when Product Managers evaluate new companies, since they know they are dependent on their team to make their own work come to life, and if they have any experience at all, they’ll understand how much poor colleagues can hold them back.

2. Sell the job, not the offer

Product Managers are not mercenaries. They are problem solvers, innovators, visionaries, leaders. Sell them on the opportunity that they will have to do what they do best, what they love most, and what will have the greatest impact.

Ideally, when making an offer, get the candidate to accept the job before you put any figures on the table. Get them to commit to you that they want the job and that if the money can at least work out to support their lifestyle, then they agree this is the right job for them. Then you can dive into the details of the offer. Now, unless the comp level means they can’t pay rent, it’s not about $5K here or $10K there. That’s important. If the candidate’s decision really is about $5K, then you lose, even if they accept the offer. They could be wooed away for $10K elsewhere or worse yet, they will put in the minimum effort to earn a payraise, rather than the maximum effort achieve the goals you set out for them.

How do you do that? Directly. When you call to give the offer, tell them you are offering the job and see if it’s the job they want. Address any reservations they might feel and get them to agree it’s the right job for them. Then talk about comp, benefits, vacation plans, etc.

3. Demonstrate opportunity for growth

This is not about how long it will take to get a promotion, but what kind of values your company has and how they make decisions about responsibility. Explain to them that the bounds of what they will own are up to them. Explain that your company culture is that of a meritocracy, that people are rewarded for good work and for being able to demonstrate to the company that the company would be better off with them taking on greater responsibility.

For example, suppose a Product Management candidate asks how many engineers will be working on their project. The answer is, “It’s up to you. Make the product successful, show us why we should put our trust in you, and propose a smart plan for continued success through greater investment. If you can do that, we’ll make that investment. Over time, I would love to see your scope of responsibility expand, and I will do what I can to help you get there.” Oh, yeah, and we’re starting with n developers for now.

4. Provide a unique value proposition

You have to explain why this opportunity is unlike any other. There must be at least one element that no one else can beat, and ideally multiple. Consider attributes like, commitment to success ofthe product, the team they’ll be working with, the upside potential of the company and the name the Product Manager can make for himself/herself by nailing it out of the park, the opportunity to truly changethe world in a positive way.

5. Surprise them with your honesty

Good candidates will ask their own tough questions of you, too. You can usually duck out of them by being glib with your answers. Don’t try. Tell them the real deal. If they ask what keeps you up at night, tell them what actually keeps you up at night. Is it politics? Is it how to get the next release out on time? Is it blocking out 20 unnamed and unknown competitors working in garages trying to replicate what you do? If someone asks what you dislike most about working there, tell them. But then bring it back to what you’re doing to address those challenges — that you take it seriously, and that you want them to, also.

This is about two things: 1) Building trust, and 2) Showing them that you, as their manager, are not out of touch with reality, and that you are a person who takes business problems seriously, has great foresight, and is willing to work hard to proactively address issues.

6. Be tenacious as hell

I’ve been asked what makes for a healthy ratio of offers accepted to offers given. The answer is 100%. You may not win every single one but you’d better damned well try. If you need to, apply the full court press. Call them. Send them “welcome to the team” cards signed by those those interviewed with. Point them to recent news about the company. Have VPs call them to answer their questions. Have board members call them to tell them about the upside potential they are counting on based on the product the candidate will own. Meet them in person following the interviews. Just keep going until you seal the deal.

7. Believe in what you tell them

Quick anecdote: Before writing this, my wife (astutely) questioned whether I should actually publish my sales tactics for hiring.

“Now when you sell a candidate using these same tactics, won’t the effectivenss of those tactics be diminished?”

“Not if I genuinely believe what I’m saying, not if they know it’s real when they’re hearing it.”

Every day I sell a candidate on a role at Opower I am selling myself, as well.

A few words of wisdom: If you ever wake up one day and realize you’re unable to say any of this truthfully, you should stop hiring other people into your mess and either fix it or start looking for a new job yourself.