Tag Archives: product manager recruitment

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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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.

Resume Variants You Need as a Product Manager in India

ResumeVariantsMost interview preparation sites will say that you need to customize your résumé for every job application. This is correct because if your customized resume does not contain keywords a recruiter is searching for, you are unlikely to get shortlisted for an interview. However, what they often neglect to mention is the need for multiple resume templates for applying to product management roles in India. This is even more important once you gain some years of experience in product management.

[In large firms, your résumé is typically scanned by a recruiter, shortlisted by an HR manager, forwarded to the hiring manager and then scanned by the interview panel. It may also be scrutinized by a background checking team after you accept the job offer]

You should remember some points while creating a resume template for each category. Remember, the template is the master list of all work related activities, you need to trim it and customize it for every job application.:

Offshore Enterprise Product Management

  • Highlight cross-functional, program management and engineering work experience
  • Show details of customer and account team engagement or work as a Business Analyst
  • Add keywords that match the technologies advertised (security, virtualization, networking etc.)
  • Based on the job description, you may want to highlight work done within Asia-Pacific for sales support, RFP response and so on

Offshore Consumer Product Management

  • Show patents, innovations, work on new product design etc.
  • Show experience in UX design, product release etc.
  • Also mention if you have conducted customer interviews, done customer data analysis or have worked with web analytics

Market Facing Enterprise Product Management

  • Show financial skills (you can decide what flavor you wish to add)
  • Show pricing, sales support and marketing experience
  • Add points to show that you are tech. savvy (but you need not show engineering experience)

Market Facing Consumer Product Management

  • Show brand names you have worked with
  • Show impact on profitability, sales, customer acquisition or other relevant metrics
  • Add details of your MBA projects, data analysis skills and interpersonal skills
  • Add details of team management if done earlier

Your résumé is the key to your success in the technology industry in India. You must make sure that it lets the reviewer get a grasp of your relevant experience in the first glance. There is no such thing as a catch-all resume that can be used for applying to any product management role.

10 Reasons why “MBA preferred” appears in Product Manager recruitment ads

10. The recruitment team wants to shortlist candidates from thousands of applicants for an entry-level role, and MBA/PMP is chosen as a criterion. This is fairly common in large firms.

9. The Product Manager is actually required to have business modeling/statistical analysis or product pricing/marketing skills. This is very rarely needed in India, for both offshore roles and for Indian market facing roles.

8. The “MBA preferred” lets the recruitment team decline internal applicants who want to move out of an engineering role into product management.

7. The head of product management/hiring manager has an MBA

6. This product management role reports to the local sales head, and it is actually a category/brand management role for India/Asia-Pacific. Such roles are quite prevalent in hardware/mobile firms.

5. The role requires the product manager to work with vendors/clients/account teams etc. based in India, and a person with an MBA might have an edge in relationship building and management, as per the hiring manager.

4. The ad wants applicants with a full-time MBA from a top business school, but the recruitment team was not sure if they would actually get many applicants. This is often the case with senior level positions.

3. The PM head wants a “business oriented” product manager, even though the role is actually completely engineering facing, and requires strong domain knowledge. This often happens in offshore R&D centers, and often leads to a bad hire.

2. The “MBA preferred” can be interpreted as a code for highly paid candidates to apply for the job.

1. (My favorite) The ad was copied from a standard template and it contained the words “MBA preferred” in the original ad.

Web Recruitment Ad – 6: For A General Manager

Now this is an interesting recruitment ad on LinkedIn (job posting is removed):

Designation: General Manager-Web Publisher Products

Location: Bangalore

And here’s the interesting part, in the description of Professional Background and Experience, the ad states that “A degree in Computer Science or a related field is highly preferred”.

It is remarkable that for selecting a person in such a senior role (at least in the Indian arm of Amazon), the undergraduate major is “highly desirable”. Does this mean that a top manager without a computer science or related background is unlikely to be hired, or may not have a good career at Amazon India? And perhaps this also indicates their lack on interest in hiring MBAs in such roles.

Now this may be a typo in the ad, and I do not have the inside information on why they would insist on this, but if you add in this news report that the Yahoo CEO is looking for computer science graduates from top colleges, then things become murky.

Here are 3 things to ponder:

a) If you are a product manager in the web world and do not have a computer science background, are you likely to hit a glass ceiling?

b) How is a computer science degree correlated to success in a general management role?

c) Is this ad a self-selective ad, which indicates that IITians with a computer science background, who have been successful in their careers, are what Amazon is actually looking for among the applicant pool?

Disclaimer: I have a lot of respect for Amazon.com and the work they do in India and overseas. I was just curious about this report on Yahoo and the Amazon recruitment ad, and hence this blog 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.

“I Went For An MBA Because I Hate Coding”

binary-codeAsk any software engineer turned MBA student why he is in business school in India, and you will probably hear about his dislike of software development in his earlier role. This is especially true when the student is in his 20’s and studying in a 2-year, full-time MBA program. He has seen what the IT services industry has to offer, and is looking for something more.

So here’s a surprise for all young MBAs out there looking for jobs in the tech. industry. The best paying jobs, which occasionally include product management roles, require a significant amount of technical knowledge and close interaction with software developers. And this includes knowledge of software development, domain knowledge and familiarity with software engineering processes and technologies.

This knowledge is not important for doing code reviews or software QA, but for truly understanding the efforts required to build a product feature. It is also useful in rapid prototyping of features, building or validating UX designs, reviewing system architecture and so on. If a top-notch software engineer is rated a 9 or 10 in his knowledge of Java and SQL, you should reach at least a 5 (on a scale of 1 to 10) in those technologies. Otherwise you risk being shut out of design discussions and your UX and design contributions may be ignored.

You can become a product manager in India without software development expertise, only if you have significant post-MBA experience and strong domain knowledge. Otherwise, treat your programming books with respect and they will help you earn the programmer’s respect.