Hiring Product Managers: Making The Decision

OK, so you’ve invited this candidate to your office to conduct this kick-ass interview and you’ve put him/her through the ringer. The problem is (or rather, the problems are):

  • The information on the candidate is distributed. 6 people were involved in 6 different 1:1 interviews, and no one’s shared their views with everyone else yet.
  • Some people focused their interview on specific facets of the candidate’s performance, and don’t have a complete picture.
  • You’ve interviewed a number of candidates already and you’re getting desperate to find the right person for the role.

How do you make the right decision whether to hire this person?

A few things need to come together. You need to:

  • Get people to share their experience with the candidate.
  • Get recommendations on a decision from your trusted advisors (those on the interview roster).
  • Address any issues discovered during the interview.
  • Ultimately, be confident that bringing this person onto your team is the right decision.


Don’t be too hasty; schedule a proper debrief with the interview team. Have each person tell you what they focused their interview on, and have them provide thoughts in four areas:

  • What was especially strong (above the expectations of the role).
  • What the yellow flags or unknowns were following the interview.
  • What the red flags or specific concerns were following the interview.
  • Whether the candidate should be hired or not.

As you go around the room, write bullets for each comment on the whiteboard in three columns. Keep adding to the list until you have a comprehensive view of the candidate. For each yellow flag or red flag, learn the rationale.

Some organizations use an evaluation form. Don’t. Ever. Instead, talk it through, ask clarifying questions, be free form, get the real deal.

Getting Advice

When asking people whether they would make a hiring decision or not, use a 1–4 scale.

  • 1 means you would go out of your way to make sure the candidate was not hired.
  • 2 means you would support a decision to not hire the candidate. You were not impressed.
  • 3 means you would support a decision to hire the candidate. You were impressed and think the person is fully capable.
  • 4 means that you would go out of the way to make the candidate was hired; you will champion his/her candidacy.

Make everyone give a 1, 2, 3, or 4. No 3.5's. And certainly no 2.5's. If they can’t be definitive with their recommendations, then they’re too wishy-washy to be part of your interview team. They need to put their ass (and their reputation) on the line! If they won’t give a whole number, round down every single time. 2.8 means 2.0. This is important because otherwise you’ll just keep getting scores of 2.5. There’s a huge difference between four people telling you “I don’t know,” and telling you, “I guess we should keep looking”. Make them commit!

While input and advice is invaluable, the hiring decision is clearly not a democracy; no one is “voting”. However, as the hiring manager, you should almost never hire someone who receives a “1” score from anybody on the interview team. It’s almost impossible to justify if you trust their opinion (and if you don’t trust their opinion, they shouldn’t be interviewing your candidates anyway). You should also really look for at least one or two people to “be a 4” on the candidate. If no one is going to champion the candidate, and everyone is basically lukewarm, then you should probably pass.

Checking flags

When interviewers provide yellow and red flags during the debrief, ask what they would need to hear that woud make them feel comfortable retracting their concerns. Make a list of those items. Now you have something to talk about with references — and I’m not just talking only about the references the candidateprovides.

Backdoor references

Ideally, you’ll be able to find 2nd degree connection “backdoor references” on LinkedIn. Try to find people the candidate doesn’t give to you so they’re really unbiased and dont’ have their relationships at stake. Work hard to find them. Once you do, ask their opinion of the candidate for the role. Ask what you think the candidate struggles with. Pursue the flags that came up in the debrief.

Direct references

First off, never have some other entity (outside agency or recruiting department) do references. Useless! They have no skin in the game. Check references personally.

The candidate will almost certainly give you a list of buddies, former managers turned friends, etc. 99% of the time, they will say only positive things about their friend. Worthless! I’ve successfully applied two tricks to get the real deal:

  1. Tell them you are pretty sold on hiring the candidate and that you are planning to, but you want to make sure you can jumpstart the continuation of their growth/development. Ask them what you should focus on day 1. Then press like a crazy mofo on whatever they tell you. “Whoa, hold on, what do you mean by ‘needs strategic guidance’?”
  2. Tell them that you heard flags in specific areas, then ask them why that feedback would make it’s way to you. Is it a) a matter of legitimate concern or b) a matter of misperceptions the candidate has allowed to persist? If so, why? Press. Then press. Then press more.

The candidate as a source of information

There’s one other way to follow up on flags. Do so with the candidate directly. Hit him/her square in the nose with the feedback. “I want to hire you, but I heard these concerns following your interview. Where do you think they came from? Can you address them?” Candidates will usually be pretty honest about themselves since they need to show a level of modesty and don’t want to disagree with the feedback of the interviewer. You may also be surprised how appreciative they’ll be for the direct feedback plus the opportunity to address it. I do this with almost every candidate.

Looking for Option Value

Now suppose everything checks out: You had good interviews, no one hates the person, the candidate has a few people who really believe in him/her “the 4's”, you’re personally sold, and you’ve addressed any minor flags through references.

Before deciding to hire, there’s one more thing you need: option value. Filling the open position is only half of what you’re hiring for. The other half is the potential to become a leader at the company as it continues to succeed. Require your candidate to have both halves. Never hire someone whom you think couldn’t rise to the level above what you’re hiring them for now. If there’s no chance you’re undervaluing the candidate’s potential, then there’s a good chance you’re overvaluing it.

So, be sure you can honestly say to yourself, “this candidate can rise to do even bigger and better things in the next 2–5 years”. Then pull the trigger.

Next, you’ll have to sell the candidate on the job, which is the subject of the next (and final) post on successfully hiring Product Managers.