Tag Archives: networking

Product Management Merry Go Round!

Musical ChairsSeveral years ago, when engineering hiring in dot-coms was peaking, you could see the same resumes making the rounds in top firms (Microsoft, Google, Ebay, Amazon and others) in India’s Silicon Valley.

Some years back, there was a great article in Forbes India that mentioned how the Top Honchos of Tech. MNCs in India keep rotating between the same firms, which led to limited value addition to these firms.

Now it seems product managers resumes are making the rounds in the same way. Many recruiters with such firms are pinging folks on LinkedIn with product manager designations, to fill vacancies in their organizations.

Here’s a true story of what happened with me.

A few months ago, I got a mail from a recruiter at a well-funded startup, offering a product management role. The profile was interesting, with a mix of product design and analytics for a cloud based offering, but it was an entry-level role so I replied back declining the offer to interview with them.

The next day, I got another email, which had the email ids of about 20 product managers from Amazon, Myntra, Ebay, Infoedge, Intuit, Microsoft, Walmart Labs, Flipkart etc. (My guess is that the recruiter wanted to bcc all of us, but messed up).

It said that the recruiter was happy to have made contact with us, and wanted us to refer folks from our companies if we were not directly interested in working in that product management role. Being curious, I looked at the profile for these folks copied on the mail with me. It became clear that most of these folks had:

1) B. Tech. or MBA from a Top College (IIT/NIT/ISB/IIM)

2) Worked in at least 2-3 different product management roles before their current one

3) Rotated between an MNC and a startup in their career, or between different MNCs

4) done at least one stint in a client facing role (marketing/sales/business development) or worked in the US

My guess is that many offshore MNC with a product manager opening will ping these same folks for the PM role (unless internal candidates are available). This may also indicate why many folks are unable to get a PM role in India, if they have not done it before. Finally, my guess is that these firms are also compensating PMs at similar levels which makes hiring easier.

The merits of this hiring strategy are debatable, but let’s leave that for another post.

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.

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.

7 Tips for Fresh MBAs working as Offshore Product Managers

[Caution: long post]

Today, most business schools prefer candidates with some work experience, which is also useful during lateral placements. Hence you see an increasing number of candidates with exposure to IT services or software engineering joining these schools and completing their MBA. Post-MBA, it is inevitable that some of them will head towards product management during campus placements or shortly afterwards. This post is about the 7 things to focus on in your first year on the job, apart from working on PRDs or MRDs.

1. Build a rapport with program managers

In most offshore R&D centers, program managers play a key role in organizing projects, resources and schedules. Hence they know the resource costs and availability for any ongoing or upcoming project. And since engineering dominates decision-making in ODCs (offshore development centers), the program managers help to balance the engineering dominance.

2. Get customer exposure on a sales call

An enterprise sale is a complex process, involving dozens of people from different departments, and it typically has a long completion cycle. You must gain a first hand exposure to how this works, as this is the main source of revenue for the firm and for your product line. However, it can be difficult to gain a sales person’s attention, as he is always looking outwards for opportunities. As an incentive to sales folks to get them to talk to you, arrange a product demo or a feature presentation. If the demo is interesting enough, they will make sure that you get in front of the customer.

3. Gain the trust of engineering and service delivery managers

I have written previously about key stakeholders for offshore product managers. If you cannot get these people to trust you, you will never be able to drive product decisions, even with your supervisor’s help. And you cannot keep going to him all the time. One good technique to gain the engineering trust is the show them that you can deliver on the product requirements and are not simply there because of your MBA. Essentially, you need to prove yourself with every engineering resource, right from the VP to the intern.

4. Train yourself

If you are just coming out of b-school, with a few years of pre-MBA IT experience, you have NO relevant skills whatsoever. The people in the ODC do not care that you can prepare kick-ass powerpoint. Neither are they interested in the font, color or direction of arrows in you block diagram. You must focus on gaining survival skills, which today include, UI design using HTML, CSS and Javascript, UML and MS Visio usage, basic analytics, and programming skills in at least C++, Java or PHP. There is a lot more to gaining skills in multiple dimensions, and I will cover this in a future post.

Do not bother to go for a formal product management training yet. Without relevant experience, it will have very little value and you will forget most of it very soon.

5. Prepare for a change to your role/product within 12 months

In today’s connected, global economy, it is almost guaranteed that your first role will last no more than 12 months. The change could be due to external forces or internal restructuring (ODCs are very prone to this), but it will definitely happen. In the worst case, you might feel stagnating in your role, and you will yourself ask for or start looking out for a change. The best way to survive this is to shine in front of senior management, build a rapport with the US teams and network with HR and other support staff.

6. Connect with Solution Sales, Analytics, Customer Service Teams

This is probably the most important task that you can perform outside of self-training. To understand how the product is built, you need to sit with engineering teams. To understand how the product is sold, you need to work with sales teams. And if you really want to understand how the product is used, you need to work with solution sales, analytics and operations and customer service teams, who cover all real use cases that the product was designed for. And remember, you need to proactively seek them out and learn from them. As a fresher, it is expected that you will be learning all the time.

7. Network outside the firm

There are a lot of opportunities for networking in Bangalore, Hyderabad and all the other major tech. centers in India. You must go to these get-togethers (a few of them are listed in the resources section of the blog). It can be a lonely job, working as a product manager, with no outbound teams near you. Connecting with other people in similar situations is a good way to understand the challenges of an offshore product management role, and the different ways in which people are coping.

Summing Up

A product management role, even offshore, can be incredibly rewarding, but only if you take care of your first few years on the job. It is not for everyone, and you should make sure that you are still interested in it at the end of your first year. Else, as an MBA, it will be easy to find something else.

Are you an expert PM?

A Product Manager should have basic competency in a range of skills, and expertise in at least a few areas. This will ensure his credibility within the organization.

If you are a junior PM starting your career, analysis, documentation and presentation are the first few vital skills. Next comes domain expertise, which you will gain over time.

A mid-level PM, with 3-4 years of experience under his belt, must have domain expertise, strong analytical skills, people skills and persuasiveness. In addition, should know about pricing, marketing, sales and other ancillary functions. He will likely have frequent interactions with clients and partners, so he must promote the firm at all times. These skills are required in addition to the skills of a junior PM.

A senior PM must to have strong leadership skills, project management skills and the capability to hire and mentor junior PMs. He is likely to get authority for contract negotiations, product launches, vendor management and legal approvals. He might also have complete responsibility for one or more products. Again, this is in addition to the skills acquired over the course of his career so far.

Finally, a Director or VP of Product Management is expected to lead product management for a portfolio of products and provide vision and strategy to the organization or the business unit. It involves budgeting , planning, P&L management, inter-department coordination, analyst relations and visibility in the industry as an expert. He has a very strong network of contacts outside the firm which is often used to identify potential M&A targets. He also works with the bankers and the corporate strategy team for due diligence when a “hot” startup is identified.

It is possible to grow in the product management path without having expertise in a few product management dimensions. However, unless you are very, very good at the others, your career will either stagnate or you will become redundant to the firm after a while.

So, looking at your career graph, what expertise have you gained so far. And how did you gain that expertise?

5 Social Networking Recommendations for PMs in India

network cablesOne of the vital dimensions of Product Management is the skill of networking and the ability to connect with different people. This includes people outside your department and company. A strong network of contacts can often help in getting the next job, increase your visibility in the industry or give a boost when you are among the dozens of candidates vying for the coveted Google or Amazon product manager role. And no, the network cables shown here are not going to help you in that effort.
So how do you expand your network of online contacts? Well, there are three sites where you must have a well-developed profile:

1. LinkedIn
This is your most important professional network and you must have a complete profile here. Start inviting everyone in your firm who you interact with to connect on LinkedIn. As a rule of thumb, after every month on the job, you should have at least 5 new contacts here. Additionally, if you meet other product managers, or interact with them on social media, they should be invited too. However, a premium account is not necessary.
2. Facebook
This is the place where you invite people whom you meet socially and regularly in the workplace. They need not be peers or bosses, but perhaps someone you share a lunch with. As always, don’t post anything you would not want your parents to read.
3. Twitter
Start following people who have similar professional interests such as product management, product design, UX and top people from the industry. If required, keep 2 twitter accounts, one for professional reasons and the other for personal interests. However, it is not recommended to link Twitter and LinkedIn accounts.

Additionally, you should:

4. Express online opinions
If you have opinions on product management or about your industry, you must share it with bloggers. For example, someone actively in promoting social media for PMs must be aware that the Desi PM is writing about it, and should post a comment here.

It is strongly recommended that you post it in your own name, unless it is controversial and you would rather do it under an alias. In any case, you must track these forums and share your opinions.

5. Join internal networks within the firm
If you work for a large firm, there will be tools such as IM, SalesForce Chatter, Jive and others in use. You must create a strong presence there. However, the downside is that their usage is totally predicated on the presence of senior management, and the culture of the firm.

Today, almost every recruiter does a Google search or views LinkedIn on potential candidates before processing a résumé. So you can actually consider your online presence and your networks as extending your résumé, irrespective of whether you are searching for a job or not.

In the resources section, I am adding links to real world events such as Unpluggd, IPMA meetings and TIE meetings that can be good source of contacts too.