There is no golden recipe or singular attribute to look for when hiring a junior product manager. The nature of the position requires a yin yang of traits ranging from technical to analytical to interpersonal.
While the job description differs greatly from company to company, junior product managers generally are responsible for researching, understanding, and communicating the needs of the consumers to the product manager and throughout the entire business.
Experience in the field is very important, but some skills can make a candidate stand out from the crowd. To illustrate these traits and aid in the tedious interview process, we pulled examples from our favorite Netflix characters.
Empathy: Kimmy Schmidt
Known for her larger than life smile and selfless drive to help those around her, Kimmy Schmidt of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt wouldn’t be our top pick for junior product manager, but she does have one thing going for her: empathy.
A candidate might be a coding prodigy with brilliant ideas and a nose for business, but without high emotional intelligence, these skills aren’t sufficient. Arguably the most critical attribute to succeed in this position, empathy describes the capacity to recognize and understand the emotions being expressed by others.
Why is Empathy Important for a Junior Product Manager?
Empathy is important in any tier of product management, as product managers are the hub between many different departments. They must have the ability to wear many hats — meaning really understand the demands, difficulties and desires of each department. Much like a conductor is to an orchestra, the product manager is the person like the who aligns each department’s objectives with the company’s big picture.
Specifically in regards to junior product manager, the ability to empathize with others will help him/her slip into the shoes of the product’s users. Viewing problems from different angles will give the product team a better sense of the relevant markets and result in a better product.
How to Determine Empathy:
A good way to gauge empathy of a candidate are with questions about their own behavior in past situations, such as “describe a time you got angry,” or “tell me about a time someone came to you with a problem.” These questions require an interviewee to self-reflect and their answers will be very say a lot about the way they see others and handle themselves emotionally.
Strategic Thinking: Prairie Johnson AKA The OA
The OA is a master of strategy. She may have been gullible in her early years, but as an adult she understands how to strategize and execute a plan, as well as influence others.
Why is Strategic Thinking Important for a Junior Product Manager?
A product manager must know it all: users, market, product, industry, business, and technology — and weave all these parts together towards the end goal.
A junior product manager is responsible for reporting on the product’s roadmap to senior product management. He or she should be a forward-thinker who adds value to this process based on their knowledge of the the big picture.
How to Determine Strategic Thinking:
The best way to determine a candidate’s strategic thinking skills is to give them a problem to solve, possibly a real one that your team has already worked on so you can compare answers.
Strategic thinking starts with asking the right questions in order to make informed choices. This is a good clue to show a candidate’s strategic thinking: take note of the number and quality of questions an interviewees asks.
Communication Skills: Lorelai Gilmore
The premise of the show Gilmore Girls and it’s recent Netflix adaptation, A Year in the Life, is commonly known as young mother’s close relationship with her teenage daughter growing up in a small town. However, an alternative perspective reveals a different interpretation: a story of a woman who uses impeccable communication to further her professional, personal and romantic pursuits.
Why Are Communication Skills Important for a Junior Product Manager?
Carrying an idea from concept to reality requires a clear and pragmatic communicator — from the initial stage and throughout many adjustments and clarifications.
Product managers must translate tech lingo to market needs and visa versa, he or she must answer to CEOs, CFOs, communicate with trainers, sales reps, designers and customers. A good product manager can tailor his manner of speech to fit his target audience, including language styles and jargon.
This is absolutely critical for a junior product manager since the position involves constant communication between them and the senior product manager as well as effective communication throughout different departments.
How to Judge Communication Skills:
Communication skills should be evaluated throughout all interactions with a candidate both digital and in-person. A candidate’s eye contact, body language, answer structure and ability to create rapport during an interview are all excellent indicators of their level of communicatory skills.
To take it one step further, ask a candidate to describe an instance where they displayed or witnessed exemplary communication.
History of Success: Queen Elizabeth II
The very first episode of Netflix’s The Crown starts off with a big personal win for the future Queen Elizabeth II when she is permitted to marry the man of her dreams, Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.
Now I know that’s not exactly the type of success we are looking for in product managers, but it sets the mood for a series of political wins by demonstrating her strong character and refusal to give up in the face of adversity.
Why is a History of Success Important for a Junior Product Manager?
This midas-touch quality is something to look for in potential candidates, especially in candidates that do not have relevant experience. How they contributed to the the success of their past company is an excellent indicator of how they will contribute to yours, even if it was in an entirely different field.
How to Determine a History of Success:
When asking about previous employment, notice employees who share what they’ve accomplished, rather than what they were responsible for. Anyone can be given responsibility, it is what they did with it that is interesting.
Influence Skills: Galina “Red” Reznikov
Within Orange is the New Black’s prison landscape, Red establishes her status as a leader despite lack of any formal hierarchical power. Her authority is earned through personal influence, dedication and ownership of her product—the meals.
Why are Influence Skills Important for a Junior Product Manager?
Similar to Red, a good project manager must be able to command respect and direct different teams without sitting on top of the chain of command. The position essentially requires someone who can organize people around a specific vision and persuade them to work towards it.
A junior product manager is lower on the food chain, and usually has less overall experience, making this skill doubly critical.
How to Determine Influence Skills:
Reference checks are a good place to probe the leadership skills of a potential candidate. Also asking about the professional relationships a candidate built in his last position will give a good indication of his or her ability to connect and influence.
Raw Intelligence: Rick Sanchez
Although Rick and Morty is not a Netflix original, this list would not be complete without a certain wacky, two-dimensional genius. Able to cook up a combative poison to any alien invasion and catapult himself across multiple dimensions — Rick’s intellectual horsepower propels him out of even the stickiest of situations.
Why is Raw Intelligence Important for a Junior Product Manager?
Product management boils down to being able to think quickly, stay one step ahead of your competitors and meet the needs of your customers. Even more important than experience, is an extremely sharp mind.
When it comes to a product cycle, there is no time to waste — you need a junior product manager who will learn the ropes quickly and continue to self-teach.
How to Determine Intelligence:
There are many ways to assess IQ — from tests to puzzles to theoretical scenarios. One interview question that has been circulating silicon valley tech companies since the 90s: “In five minutes, could you explain something to me that is complicated but you know well?”
However you chose to pose the question, look for a clear, confident and structured answer. Watch out for candidates who mumble a bunch of buzzwords and sound bites when they really don’t know what they are talking about.
Prioritize the Junior Product Manager Skills You Need
While these attributes are generally predictive of industry standards, they in no way dictate exactly what you should look for in a junior product manager. This role will undoubtedly vary from company to company, team to team.
A good way to think about it is that the position is defined by the lack of skills within an organization, and the needs of the specific product. Reflect inward on the strengths and weaknesses of your team in order to prioritize the traits to look for in a junior product manager.