Whether you're already a product operations manager or would like to get in such a position, this is for you.
I got the chance to join as a panelist at the amazing Product Operations Summit, where I talked about hiring. I got so many follow-up questions so I decided to share some of my thoughts about this topic.
This is not a “how to interview” guide, it's more of what to look for, and how to understand what you're looking for when hiring for a prod ops position.
What is product ops?
It’s almost a riddle, different companies have different needs, and for now (I have no doubt it will change in the future) there is no “format” to what a product ops manager will do in a company.
Many in product ops will start dealing with some sort of process, for example OKRs or data analysis and move on to many different areas based on specific needs and what they see in the company.
Job description and screening resume
Since this area of the product operations manager is still evolving and is different from one company to another, it's important to start with identifying what you need. Where are your pains and how can a product operations manager solve them and help you? These are factors your company/team must consider for this role.
For me, looking at other product ops job descriptions also helped validate what I a was looking for, but also helped me make decisions on what to avoid for my team.
If you are a product operations manager in a company, try to think about whether you now need to add a program manager or another person like you. Program managers are a highly-valued and much-needed addition in my humble opinion.
What a candidate should look like?
Whether this is the first product ops hire in your company or not, the product ops manager should be almost like a chameleon. You are looking for someone who loves to grow and expand to multiple areas, that loves to learn new things and learn them rather quickly.
You are looking for someone that has these cartoon stars in his/her eyes when they see a problem they should solve. This is probably not the place for people/candidates that love their day to look like the previous day.
Another important thing for me is to look for someone who is an excellent listener. So much of what we do is really centred on identifying problems, and seeing what needs to be done in order to align the product managers or other stakeholders. Meaning you need someone who is both an excellent listener and an excellent communicator.
Do I look for someone ‘green’ or someone with experience?
This is one of the most repeated questions I was asked about. I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer here. I do think, like a lot of things in life, it comes down to a combination of factors.
I’ll start with my own story; a year ago I interviewed for my first (and current) product operations role. I never did a product operations role before, not as my main role anyway. But after a decade of different product manager positions, from corporate to startups, I felt this was something I was always sort of doing anyway.
Yes, it was in addition to many other things but I managed process, I built and followed OKRs, I understood what data I needed and what I didn't. I have definitely come to know how important data is to me, I’ve built pricing and done market research, I've managed and mentored other PMs, and all of this encompassed my different roles as a product manager.
When I joined Cybereason, I was the first product operations hire and I needed to ramp up quickly and start delivering. I talked with many stakeholders and like a product manager, I built my roadmap and what I thought I should focus on and just started working.
So, to answer the question - do I hire someone with experience or not? I actually think there are many answers or other questions you should ask.
What do you classify as experience? Is it similar to working in product ops for two to five years, or doing similar tasks? How quickly do you want the new hire to start delivering value? How much you are willing to pay for this position?
Interview process and how do I know when this is it?
Based on the company size you probably already have some kind of a hiring process. Product ops managers are working with so many stakeholders in the company, it might make the process longer but try to set up interviews with some/most of the stakeholders. As much as you need a great and skilled person in this position you really need good chemistry or a good connection with the people they will work with.
The interview itself is also something that I know may change, even when I interviewed and hired product managers I didn’t give home assignments or ask people to write specs/epics. I found other ways to try and figure out if the person in front of me had what it took to succeed in the role.
I think that it isn't very different in product operations. Today I mainly ask open questions, such as “tell me of a time where…” or “how would you start a process with…”
There are no right or wrong answers, it’s mainly how the candidate answers, how their way of thinking aligns with the company and the stakeholders. A specific candidate may be a perfect match for me in one company but less in another, just like me or you or anyone else.
Having said all of that, I would like to emphasize that when there are specific skills that need a technical background, for example SQL queries or cyber security, I do believe in asking technical questions. If it’s part of the day-to-day work, I would never imagine hiring a software developer without knowing how they write code, for example.
You hired! Now what?
Congrats! You found your match!
Build them a plan to succeed. Focus on what they need to learn, who they should meet and talk with, also share what your plans are for them and make sure they understand them. Of course, make sure that they feel as though they can meet these plans.
Last but not least, I recommend reading “Teach your team by making learning look more like working” by Chris Butler.
If you’re looking for more insight and inspiration - check out our hub for all things Product Operations, designed to be the go-to place to get your learnings on the function. 👇