Category Archives: Recruitment

Facing The Phone Interview In India

With hundreds of resumes coming for every open position, the phone interview should be a useful way to screen candidates quickly and cheaply. Unfortunately, this tactic has been frequently subverted in India. Many times, the hiring manager does not conduct the interview himself, but passes it on to a junior PM (this is rampant at most internet firms including the MNCs). Occasionally, the HR team itself conducts a phone screening session before even short listing your resume.

Here are some of different types of phone interviews in India.

The Salary Screening Interview

Based on many discussions with recruiters at all kinds of firms, it seems that their dream is to hire candidates for free. However, as slave labor is illegal, they would definitely want to hire you at the lowest possible cost. For this, the screening interview is all about your willingness or desperation for the job. And the questions are deeply probing, designed to elicit your intent to join and the minimum salary that you are willing to accept. There is no discussion about the workplace, the team, the culture, the role or anything else.

At the end, either the candidate is so turned off by the process and does not wish to join. Or the desperate candidate is willing to accept any condition for employment.

The Peer PM Phone Interview

[I will publish a longer piece on this next week.]

The peer phone interview has its own set of problems which include:

  • Short listing candidates from the same school or former employer as the interviewer
  • Fear of competition from a brilliant candidate
  • Misuse of informal networking to pre-judge the candidate
  • Rejecting candidates because the panelist is not trained properly
  • Rejecting candidates not referred by existing employees
  • Rejecting candidate referred to by existing employees
  • The interview is just a formality to complete the process, candidate’s resume is already rejected by the hiring manager

Fundamentally, merit is often ignored when peer product managers conduct phone interviews. And this makes it very difficult for a good PM, without connections, to get to the next stage in the recruitment process in any top firm.

Interview By The Hiring Manager

The hiring manager is the stakeholder with the most to gain by hiring a good candidate. He is concerned by the salary expectations, but is not looking to bargain about salary. Neither is going to reject a candidate because he is brilliant or from a different college. And the hiring manager will seldom take the interview simply to gain knowledge about a competitor, or pick the candidate’s brain for new ideas about his product. If he does this, you can expect him not to last long in his role.

Looking at the above scenarios, it is clear that there are few chances for an ordinary candidate to pass this round of screening. And this leads to the homogenous group of mediocre product managers at many firms. My strong suggestion for a candidate would be to insist with the recruiter that they

a) reveal the panelist’s name,

b) identify the hiring manager’s name and designation

c) provide the opportunity to speak to the hiring manager directly

In case the hiring manager is “too busy” to speak to you, this is a huge red flag, and perhaps you should avoid this firm altogether.

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Web Product Manager Recruitment Ad – 5

On Feb 8th, Ebay posted a recruitment ad for a Director, Product Management in Bangalore.

The complete JD is available on the link above. In December 2012, they had hired Ramkumar Narayanan, VP Product Management, Yahoo!, as the GM for their India center, so their focus is shifting to Bangalore. Should be an exciting time to join them.

Location: Bangalore
Desired Qualification: Long list of experience, capabilities and personality traits listed in the ad
Desired Experience: Not mentioned

Here are some points to consider about the role and the firm:

  • This looks like a new, senior level role in their eBay India Center of Excellence.
  • The ad mentions the job title as Director, Product Management 1 – Tech. so it is definitely for someone with a strong product engineering background.
  • Networking skills and industry reputation will be the key to getting an interview for this role.
  • Based on data available on glassdoor.com and other internet sources, the typical salary for this role should be more than 45 lpa CTC. This would exclude RSU/Stock Grant/ESOPS or other bonuses. The ceiling could be a total package of Rs. 65-70 lakhs all inclusive for a very, very good candidate.
  • Roadmapping is a key requirement for this role, and hence someone with an MBA and many years of product management experience should be an ideal fit.
  • The role will involve building and grooming a team of product managers. Given that such roles typically go to people with an MS/MBA from a top school in the US and significant US work experience, the product managers hired later would likely have a similar profile.
  • You can expect ads for junior level product managers once this position is filled out.
  • India engineering, US senior management and India leadership team will be the key stakeholders.
  • This role is unlikely to carry P&L responsibility for a product line, but would probably focus more on building the product management competency in India.
  • Growth after this role could be to another organization in the e-commerce space or an IT consultancy or strategy firm. Or you could join a startup as a CEO, CXO etc.

Disclaimer: I have a lot of respect for Ebay.com. This post is only provided to prospective PMs to help them to interpret job ads for product managers

If you have applied/joined somewhere for a web PM role similar to this, then drop me a comment, and we can discuss the same.

“Are You Really A Product Manager?”

Background

Over the years, I have faced many product management interviews with all sorts of firms. A few of these have been with entrepreneurs in India who have launched multiple businesses and have been the CEO of their own firm for more than 10 years. In my experience they are some of the shrewdest people I have interviewed with, and they have a really good grasp of what skills and talent they need in a candidate.

The Incident

This happened during a discussion with a CEO in 2012, who runs an enterprise software firm with clients in the US, EU and APAC regions. The job advertised was for an enterprise software product manager.

As is usual, the interview start with the standard “tell me about yourself”. I gave a summary of my career so far, with details about my work in different roles and the related tasks and initiatives. During my description, I could see him adopting a quizzical look. So once I finished my narrative, I waited for him to take the lead and ask some questions about my background. I was taken aback when he said (paraphrasing here), “the work you have done sounds wonderful, but are you really a product manager?”

headscratcherI was flummoxed, and did not understand why he asked this. I have worked in product management with 2 large enterprise software firms, and that is the relevant part of my work life which I had described to him in the past few minutes. I asked him to explain what he meant, and he said that while the work of building products is important, what is also important is the amount of time spent with sales, pre-sales, account management, clients, prospects, marketing and all outward facing teams. And this is what I had glossed over (according to him).

Now the reason I did that is because the role advertised was for an inbound product manager, and there is little to connect what he wanted to hear and what I was to be hired for. I explained to him that I have done every product management task in my earlier roles (including the rarity in India, product pricing) and since he has a vacancy in an inbound role, that is what I spoke about.

He clarified that hee was really not interested in what I had to contribute on product design and engineering, and his main concern was “Can you manage the pricing, packaging and promotion of the product successfully?”. He wanted someone who could work with anyone in his organization, to get the product “out of the door”. In his mind, those are the traditional success metrics in any product management role. And that is what he wanted to hear about. Needless to say, I did not see a way to bridge this expectation gap, and did not get the job.

Traditionally, this is how senior management uses product managers, especially for enterprise products, and if you only have offshore product management experience you will probably never fit into one of these India headquartered organizations. So unless you have exposure to outbound activities as well, you will remain a one-dimensional product manager, with little possibility of getting a job in an India based startup. This career shift is important, as it is the a surefire way to get a leadership role in the technology industry.

So think about your own career, and ask yourself, “Are you really a product manager?“.

The “Big 5” of Offshore R&D Centers in India

Based on some basic internet searches, it seems that India has over 1000 offshore R&D centers of various MNCs. And while these are not restricted only to IT, it is the IT R&D centers that of interest to us. So which offshore R&D centers have the most Product Managers in India and which ones offer the highest compensation? Well, these are not easy questions to answer, mainly due to the wide variety of work done by these centers. And very few of them are offering product management in India. But here are my indicative lists.

Top 5 R&D Centers by compensation offered to PMs

Top 5 R&D Centers by Product/Program Manager headcount

Top 5 Enterprise Software R&D Centers

Now the fine print:

  1. The list is completely subjective and based on personal research. I make no guarantees about its accuracy.
  2. These lists cover all product management roles ranging from P&L owners with experience of 10-15 years to business analysts fresh out of engineering/business schools.
  3. Most of these are Bangalore based with a few based out of Pune/Hyderabad/Chennai/NCR
  4. A few organizations have some product management functions in India, focused on the Indian market. I have not included them here.
  5. Microsoft has program managers in India, who do similar work as inbound product managers.
  6. Quite a few IT services firms have product management roles, however, they offer less compensation and are not included here.

Will update this post, based on the feedback I receive

Offshore Product Manager Recruitment Ad – 5

Druva Software has a job posting for a product manager on LinkedIn. This was created today, and it looks like one of the least informative job ads you can come across. However, Druva is one of the rare technology product startups in India, which also has good traction in the market, so it makes sense to understand the job requirements.

Here is some more information:

Location: Pune, India

Designation: Product Manager

Job Description: Drive product development – from conception to launch – at the #1 Endpoint backup company

The ad vaguely describes the role and responsibilities and ends with a description of Druva. However, you can consider the following points while applying for the role.

  • This is an offshore enterprise product management role, with some exposure to the Indian market.
  • The total work experience expected is not more than 5 years. So the salary offered would not be more than Rs. 6-8 lakhs (considering that Pune is a Tier 2 city), and Rs. 10 lakhs at the high end.
  • Only 1-2 years of actual product management experience is expected from candidates. As the company operates in a niche segment, you can apply with any enterprise product management background. Domain expertise is probably not important.
  • This is a very junior role and the work will be equivalent to that done by IT Business Analysts. Use case development and visual design will be useful skills here.
  • Druva had their 2nd round of funding in the middle of 2011, and they have launched few products since then. Do not expect to lead any product launches there initially.
  • The work could be mainly about enhancements to existing products and might include competitive analysis and market research.
  • Fresh MBAs and Senior software engineers can consider this position favorably. A top college MBA will probably be overkill, someone from Tier 2 MBA colleges or an engineering degree and a background in storage technologies will fit better here.
  • Since it’s a startup do not expect much career growth unless the firm grows substantially or is acquired. You can leverage this to join a larger technology firm later. However, you will have to spend a minimum of 3 years in this firm to get a good salary and a track record in product management. Otherwise you could move to a client facing or a solution sales role within the firm.

Disclaimer: I have a lot of respect for druva.com. This post is only provided to prospective PMs to help them to interpret job ads for product managers

Is the product development dream in India over?

A quick scan of LinkedIn reveals that there are only 16 jobs available across 9 firms with the designation “Product Manager” in the whole of India. Of these, you can discount the perennial ads from Yahoo, Google and Amazon (they have been running the same ads for more than 6 months now).

In the remaining firms, only BMC Software, Model N, Play Games 24X7, Electronic Arts, Angel Prime (an incubator) and a few others are looking to hire product managers in India. Additionally, the job description makes it clear that they are looking for help in the areas of product design and development, and no outbound activities are really described.

Another interesting fact to observe is that most of these are consumer facing product management roles, and very few enterprise product management roles are available now. Perhaps this would be a good time to start beefing up your skill set in the consumer product management areas.

If you look at job portals such as naukri.com and monster.com, you can see a similar trend. While there has been a distinct slowdown in hiring in the technology industry, the disappearance of PM jobs indicates something more drastic. Nobody seems to be making new investments in product development anymore. As this has become a buyer’s market, you can expect the salaries offered to crash based on the desperation of candidates.

Post a comment if you wish to discuss this.

True Story: Compensation Negotiation at an MNC R&D Center

negotiations

The Candidate

My friend has a strong technical background. He complete his B.Tech. from an NIT, worked for 7 years in different IT services firms, spent 3 years in the US, and then returned to do his MBA at an IIM. Being a savvy person, he opted for the 1 year PGP program for senior executives, where he got in because of his engineering undergrad, his overseas experience and good GMAT scores. Post MBA, he joined a firm in Hyderabad as a product manager.

The Interview and Subsequent Discussion

In 2008, he was working in an offshore enterprise product management role in a large R&D center focusing on enterprise IT. Around 2008, he was approached by another enterprise software firm, that was looking to hire senior product managers for their center in Bangalore. [They are big on telecom, and he has a strong background in that domain.] He went through multiple rounds of interviews (one of them was an overseas phone interview) and the HR indicated that they were ready to roll out an offer.

The HR manager asked about his current compensation and breakup. At that time, he used to get 18 fixed + 2.5 variable + 1.5 signing bonus + 1.5 worth of stock every year for a total package of Rs. 23.5 lakhs per annum. They asked about his salary expectation, he indicated that he was expecting a cash package of Rs. 30 lakhs and other benefits on top.

Obviously, the HR team did not wish to give a 30% increment to him, so they offered 25 cash + 2 lakhs signing bonus. Now, this happened during the last IT boom in Bangalore, and a sign-on bonus was commonplace. He refused to budge from his demand. After 2 conversations, they finally offered him 27 lakhs and a 2 lakhs signing bonus (apparently, stocks were only offered on performance after joining). He refused and continued with his current firm.

In early 2009, he was again approached by the same firm for another product management role. By this time, he had completed a year in his current firm, and gotten a 15% salary increment due to his strong performance. He went through 2 rounds of interviews and was then offered a salary of 35 lakhs but no signing bonus. He accepted the offer and happily joined the firm.

What this means for PM candidates

Several things become very obvious after learning about this. First, if you are a strong candidate, have a good background and a stable job, it is easy to demand your own salary. Second, if you are not fully satisfied with the compensation offered, then you can always say no without any risk. Third, he never told his existing firm about the first offer he got, thereby ensuring that he was not sidelined during performance evaluation. So the complete discussion could be held again without putting his existing job at risk.

One last thing to note, the new firm had asked for a reference from his earlier managers. He offered a fellow manager as a contact and not his direct supervisor to avoid any problems in the reference check after he had resigned and before the offer was finalized.

Note: salary figures are accurate, as are the technology domains