Tag Archives: product manager interview

Product Manager Recruitment in India is in Trouble

Some issues which I came across, and have posted about before:

  • Candidates barely get to speak to hiring managers during the recruitment process. A colleague mentioned how he was interviewed by a solution architect and the HR manager for a PM role in an IT services firm.
  • You are likely to find a “young inexperienced star” running the product function in many startups today, who then looks for senior, experienced folks to report to him.
  • Hiring managers in most startups are unable to understand the job needs and make generic job specification (very common across e-commerce websites).
  • Resumes are so filled with jargon that they give no sign of a candidates skills, capabilities or achievements.
  • 90-95% of applications on job portals may not be viewed by a human.
  • PM training is reduced to a few certifications or some short term courses.
  • Promoting from within (along with limited PM training) is reducing the firm’s ability to actually deliver great products.
  • Recruitment teams are not able to filter good candidates, which is why candidates should start networking with anyone at the firm who can promote their application.
  • Many business analysts or solution architects are positioning themselves as product managers, without having the necessary skills to do a good job.

More to follow

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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.

The Startup PM Recruitment Scam in India

So you are a Product Manager looking for an opportunity to work in a small team, and you see a job ad for a startup. It says that they need a product manager and the job description is really exciting. You immediately customize your CV and shoot it over to the recruiter and start preparing for the interview call. Unfortunately, in the vast majority of cases in India, it is a scam.

An employment scam in the simplest form is a recruitment event where there is no intent to hire a candidate. It can be related to a general recruitment drive, where the intent is to obtain payments from candidates. This practice is illegal and widely covered in Indian media, here are one, two and three stories from the past month alone.

The Startup PM Recruitment Scam

A related scam that has come up now is in the field of Product Manager recruitment by startups in India. The way it works is this:

  1. The startup release an ad seeking resumes for PM roles
  2. It keep the job requirements vague to attract widest variety of resumes
  3. Candidates are shortlisted if:
    1. They are working for or have recently worked for a competitor
    2. They have useful domain knowledge or are from a top college (IIT/IIM/ISB)
    3. The hiring manager is curious about them, their salary etc
  4. After getting shortlisted, the candidates are called for an interview

The interview is actually an opportunity for the hiring manager to learn about the competitor, to get ideas for implementation in his firm and to research how other firms are solving problems in a specific domain (e.g. web analytics experiment design in e-commerce).

How to identify a fake interview?

A huge red flag in such interviews is the focus on questions such as “identify 3 issues with our current website/product and how you would solve them”, or “work with us as a paid consultant for 2-3 days to identify a new market opportunity in the VAS space” or “write-up a detailed proposal on how you would introduce a service into the Indian market” or “find 2 ways to improve our product/feature”. The idea behind these questions is not to test the candidate, but to actually get new ideas for product development.

After the interview, the candidate gets a polite rejection letter and the cycle restarts with the next candidate. This is completely unethical, and a startup e-commerce firm in Bangalore, a matrimony portal and some product development startups are known to indulge in this practice. A quick scan at the company reviews on glassdoor.com will reveal which firms use candidate interviews for ideation only.

Also, in case your compensation comes up in the shortlisting process, and you know that you are highly paid (you can check this on glassdoor.com, payscale.com etc) as compared to the hiring company then it is very likely that you are going to have a fake interview, which will not proceed beyond a phone call.

How do you avoid this?

It is pretty simple actually, if called for an interview you must:

  1. Review the feedback of other candidates called for interviews
  2. Decline all questions related to the live product, or analysis of a new opportunity in the same domain
  3. Explain that you cannot reveal confidential details about their competitor (your former employer), and they should focus on your skills and expertise
  4. Insist that they focus on case studies or other methods of interview (competency based interview etc) at this time
  5. If they want to work with you for a short while to check the “fit”, then ask for a 3-month, consulting assignment at a reasonable pay. This will give you time to search other jobs, and keep you working in the same domain

The pressure to agree

In this slowing economy, when interviews are hard to come by, it is very hard to not agree to almost anything asked by the recruiter. Just remain confident that the people who are actually hiring, will hire you in a professional, ethical manner, and if you are seeing these red flags, then you are extremely unlikely to be hired anyways. Maintain your poise and calm and this will actually help you in the long run.

In a future post, I will explain why this scam is less prevalent in established firms.

Web Product Manager Recruitment Ad – 4

There is a job ad in the US for a Product Manager – Mobile Advertising. Similar to that, there is another job ad on Linkedin for a Senior Product Manager/Director in India. Here are some points to consider about both ads.

  • Both ask for prior relevant experience. The US ad mentions Mobile Ad Network and Data Analytics specifically, the Indian ad mentions nothing specific which makes it harder to understand the role.
  • The US ad talks mainly about functional capabilities. The Indian ad specifically mentions Interpersonal, Leadership, Core Product Management and Technical skills, which indicates that they are looking for a fairly senior person.
  • The US ad does not mention the advertiser, but says that the compensation will be based on experience. The Indian ad is for Pubmatic, a firm started in 2006.
  • Neither ad mentions team size. The US position is for Boston, MA and the Indian position is for Pune.
  • Pubmatic is open to hiring either Senior Product Manager or Director, however, the former role has no direct reportees. The US firm is only looking for individual contributors.

The ad for the US based opportunity is fairly specific about the requirements. So it will collect fewer responses, but the ones they get will be pertinent. Since the ad is about a very specific role in the ad industry, career growth will occur if the person becomes highly skilled at his job and gains more domain expertise.

Pubmatic has actually provided a good and detailed job ad. However, it lists a lot of traits and qualifications, so they will have a lot of irrelevant resumes. Hence the chances of getting shortlisted in India even with relevant experience are correspondingly lower. And it is extremely unlikely that you will be interviewed unless you are known to senior people within the firm or have strong brands in your resume (IIT, Stanford, Google, Yahoo! etc). Additionally, perception management will be very important in this role for career growth. To apply for a role in India, I would definitely search on Linkedin to identify how many PMs Pubmatic has hired and released in the past few years.

Web Product Manager Recruitment Ad – 3

Myntra.com is hiring 2 senior product managers. One role is called “Senior Product Manager, Back End/ERP” and the other is called “Senior Product Manager, BI/Analytics“.

The complete JD is available from their website, and these are the 2 main roles in product management advertised. Myntra.com is one of India’s largest e-commerce websites and their offices are located in HSR Layout, Bangalore.

Location: Bangalore
Desired Qualification:Engineering degree from a good college; Having an MBA is a plus
Desired experience: 810 years

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

  • This ad has been on their website for about 6 months now.
  • The years of experience desired, and qualifications such as engineering from a good college mean that this will be a relatively high paying job, but that will depend on the interview, experience and other factors. You can probably expect compensation between 8-15 lpa.
  • A person with “deep knowledge of ERP” is usually a specialist in that role. Such a person is extremely unlikely to have strong Usability and UI design knowledge. Neither will he have full product management experience.
  • They are looking for people who have undergone multiple releases as product managers in 3-4 years. It is very rare in India, especially given the slowdown that occurred after 2008. Offshore enterprise product managers will probably not fit in this, even though they are the most likely candidates with relevant experience.
  • Someone who has worked for several years in software development, and has implementation or design exposure to ERP packages in an engineering role will be a good fit.
  • The designation says “Senior Product Manager” however, normally it is the work of a “senior business analyst” to design, customize and deploy an ERP package. This designation is normal, as candidates are more attracted to the “product manager” designation.
  • They are not specifically looking for candidates from other e-commerce firms.
  • Operations and Finance will be the key stakeholders, along with engineering and senior management.
  • The marketing team interaction mentioned is unlikely to occur, given this is a product for interal users.
  • An MBA from a top college is unlikey to add value in the role, it may increase the salary offered. Total compensation is unlikely to be more than 15-16 lakhs per annum. Most e-commerce companies in India are struggling for growth & profitability and profit margins dictate employee salaries and perks.
  • Growth after this role will probably be to a larger organization in the e-commerce space or an IT consultancy firm working in the e-commerce vertical. PMs working on UX and front end will have a greater opportunity to work on new initiatives.
  • I have not discussed the BI/Analytics role, as normally it is about obtaining and processing data for creating reports, dashboards and presentations on usage trends and customer insights.

Disclaimer: I have a lot of respect for myntra.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.

5 Reasons Why Product Managers Should Get An MBA

Product Manager with an MBALong story short, you should definitely do an MBA if you wish to grow your career in the field of product management in India. Here are 5 reasons why:

  1. The Network: If you get into a good, full-time MBA program at any of the top 10 colleges in India, you will become part of a ready network of alumni. Pretty much every large tech. firm in India has one or more IIM/ISB alumni working in a senior role today.
  2. The Knowledge and Skills: I have previously written about the challenges of becoming a one-dimensional product manager. Obtaining first-class training on marketing, strategy, finance and organizational design will have a huge impact on your ability to contribute effectively in many more dimensions. Additionally, strategy formulation, project management, statistical analysis, linear programming and soft skills such as negotiations, effective presentations  etc. are not necessarily learnt in IITs/NITs or on the job. Doing a full-time MBA forces you to practice these skills.
  3. The Job Interview: End of the day, everyone wants to be a part of a top notch product management team at a top organization such as Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Yahoo, IBM or others. An MBA from a top college will make it easier to get your resume shortlisted, when you are starting your career. It will also open doors when you want to change jobs and you have the relevant work experience.
  4. The Safety Net during Recession: Ignoring the contempt about GOMBAs (Grossly Overpaid MBAs) and their lack of skills, the MBA is the preferred degree when you are laid off, in a recession or likely to face salary cuts. They have the most mobility within the organization and across companies and roles if facing involuntary movement from product management.
  5. The Confidence: Let’s face it, wearing the hat of a product manager every day while dealing with every department in the company can be daunting for most of us. Gaining admission to a top MBA program and surviving it will give you the edge when you are dealing with anyone in the workplace.

If you are not able to get into a top MBA program, it does not matter. There are still plenty of organizations where you can hone your skills and gain practical experience while looking for career growth opportunities.

A part-time MBA can also be useful, but I would be extremely cautious while evaluating the B-school, the maturity of the program and the subjects and quality of course work it offers. Do not join the program just because it’s cheap or because it allows you to work while you study.

Finally, if you graduated from an IIT, NIT or another top college, you can probably continue in your career without an MBA. But even then, you should consider a part-time MBA or a Masters in Technology for the skills and advanced knowledge they provide.

Web Product Manager Recruitment Ad – 2

Times of India has the requirement of a product manager. However, the hiring firm is actually called Times Internet Limited.

Online Product Manager
Location: Delhi
Desired Qualification: Graduate/ B.E./ B.Tech
Desired experience: 2 – 5 years

The full details of the advertisement are given here.
So what should a prospective candidate analyze from this information? Here a peek:

  • It’s about the subscription pay wall design and how it is implemented around the world, so it’s a very specific role
  • Competitive research is very important, the depth of research will depend on the type of report generated and the audience
  • Website launch is another key requirement, so this role will probably be less important after 6-9 months

Here are some insights on the role based on the advertisement:

  • Its more about business analysis and launch and not product design. MBA from any good college will be useful
  • A very junior level role, compensation will probably be between 4-8 lpa
  • It is possible to grow from this role in to more customer facing roles, such as business development or partner management
  • The role requires little to no technical knowledge, basic smartness and research skills are important
  • The role does not report into engineering leadership, so a software engineer may not fit this role
  • You can expect good opportunities in the job market after this, in online advertising and media
  • Monetization and content management will be other product management roles that are part of the same team
  • Times of India is a great brand in any résumé, and will be a strong plus for career growth
  • Marketing skills are important, but cross functional co-ordination or project management is not.

Disclaimer: I have a lot of respect for Times Internet and their website, timesofindia.com. This post is only provided to prospective PMs to show how 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.