AMA: Hiring in Product and the Great Resignation – March Wrap

As the environment continues to evolve, so does Product Anonymous, with our first hybrid event. 

Over the past couple of years, many companies had to go into survival mode: pivot business models, apply recruitment freezes and even let people go. However, as the environment began to improve, and business confidence started to return, the (jobs) market reopened, with a lot of companies beginning to recruit again, seemingly all at the same time. 

We were joined by Megan McDonald (Head of Product and Experience Design, World Vision Australia), James O’Reilly (Talent Partner, PaperCut Software) and Shiyu Zhu (Group Product Manager, Zendesk) for an Ask Me Anything panel session, talking about the state of recruitment and hiring, and the great resignation.

How has recruitment changed?

With so many other opportunities being so visible, the power dynamic between the candidate and recruiter has changed, and candidates know it. 

Megan: Recruiters and hirers are now much more in sales pitch mode – ‘why you should want to work for us?’

James: It’s important to try to differentiate, and showcase the benefits of joining your company. 

Megan: In the past, when working with both internal Talent Partners and external recruiters, both would often come back with many of the same candidates. Now, not so much. 

How has the recruitment process changed?

James: Because Product Management is a mix of art and science, it can be difficult for a recruiter to recognise what makes a good product manager. Therefore it is as important as ever for Talent Partners and Recruiters to work closely with the hirers (ie, Internal Product Managers) to really understand their must haves. In the current environment, the nice to haves have become a luxury.

The candidate experience has also become incredibly important, which includes being responsive to queries, and the speed to progress through the process.

Shiyu: Zendesk adapted their approach. Rather than individual interviews with engineering, product, design and a VP, they started to combine some of them. As there was always some crossover, this allowed the to trim some of the fat. 

Also, their take-home assignment became an in-interview case study to help understand how the candidate thinks and approaches business problems. 

Megan: World Vision Australia have taken a more holistic view, not just focussing on recruiting, but extending to the onboarding process. They want to avoid candidates having post-purchase dissonance and regrets about not working somewhere else.

But are compressed interview processes all good? 

James: Can the process be too short? Yes. With engineering, they went down to 3 stages, and some candidates said it was too fast, so they went elsewhere. Have empathy for the candidate, and check in with them around the process. Ensure they have adequate  opportunity to tell you what they can bring, and why they are right for the job. 

Shiyu: To remove people who are just good at interviews, and who may have practised the perfect answer to behavioural questions (such as, describe a time you dealt with conflict), Zendesk use case studies and business examples instead. This way they can get an insight to how the candidate thinks.

How can smaller companies compete with the finances of bigger players?

Shiyu: What is your value prop as an employer? How are you different? What can you offer? It doesn’t necessarily need to be monetary. 

Megan: Consider how you invest in your people. Don’t limit your thinking to just what they need to do a good job, but also how they can grow their career.

Hiring is the easy part, how do you keep the talent you have?

James: There are many different aspects here:

  • Onboarding: set the right expectations of the role.
  • Recruiter handover: during the recruitment process, more than likely, the recruiter will be the one who has spoken to the candidate the most often and knows them best. So handing over any recruitment knowledge to the new manager, such as their motivation and goals, can help set them up for success.
  • Impact: Allow candidates to understand what impact they can make.
  • Exit process: When things don’t work out, the exit process is important, to learn why people are leaving, so you can identify what things may need to be changed. 

Shiyu: A common misconception about a person changing jobs is that they will just be getting more money elsewhere. However, different people have different motivations:

  • Title;
  • Responsibilities;
  • Visibility; or
  • Earning more.

As a manager, give your team members the opportunity to be able to win. Set them up on their winning ways. 

What areas do they want to develop? Have them do a self-assessment, and then start the conversation and create actionable items that they can use to progress. Giving them a goal, how they want to grow, and then continuously revisiting can help them see where’s next. 

Megan: We’ve seen a higher proportion of people moving sideways internally. Attitudes are important, and you don’t necessarily need all the technical skills, those can be learnt.

What advice do you have for applicants?

James: Usually the first touch point will be with somebody in recruitment, and they won’t be able to understand how good you are at Product, as you need a Product Manager to be able to assess that. So, demonstrate to the recruiter how you are good (eg, display you’ve done your research, about the company, the roles, the industry, the products). You can also show in depth thought and knowledge through your cover letter. 

Megan: Ask the smart questions, not just the short term and immediate outputs. 

Shiyu: Some of the attributes that Zendesk looks for include a can-do attitude, the desire to build awesome products, and also a willingness to learn. And it is not just about hard skills, like defining a vision. Soft skills are just as important, like how you structure your responses in a logical manner, so that somebody can follow your thinking.  

With the current market, are lots of short term roles a red flag still?

Shiyu: In San Francisco, job swapping was common. However, maybe a better perspective to apply is, does your current job give you the satisfaction you need, and the room to grow. If you have a history of changing jobs, the recruiter or hirer may ask you about it, so you need to be able to answer it, hopefully with a compelling reason.

James: This has become more common in the current climate because of the abundance of opportunities available. The explanation could be as simple as ‘the market was hot, and you saw an opportunity that unfortunately didn’t pan out’.

Any tips to progress product careers, from product owner to product manager to senior product roles?

Shiyu: Make sure you talk to your manager, don’t expect them to know without you telling them. Work through it together, and look for opportunities. Sometimes those other opportunities may be in other areas of the company.

Also, get involved with Communities of Practice *cough*Product Anonymous*cough*.

Thank you

Thank you again to all our panelists, Megan McDonald, James O’Reilly and Shiyu Zhu for sharing; to Chris Holmes, Michael Lambert and Nosh Darbari for helping on the night, to IntelligenceBank for hosting and to our zoom sponsor Pluralsight / A Cloud Guru.

Unlocking your next Startup Product Job – June Wrap – Part 2

After holding a variety of Senior Product roles across many different companies, building product teams from the ground up, rising to Chief Product Officer at the startup accelerator and incubator, BlueChilli, and even founding 2 startups herself – Claire Sawyers knows a thing or two about working in startups. 

Why work in a Startup?

Are you sick of the daily corporate grind? There are plenty of up-sides to working in a startup. 

  • Autonomy: the empowerment to go get stuff done.
  • Career progression: moving between roles can be easier in a smaller pool.
  • Mission driven: more than just a pay cheque, and working on something that really matters to you.
  • Less of a cog in the machine: in a smaller environment, it can be easier to see how your efforts directly contribute to the outcomes.
  • Learn and try new things: with a smaller team, and less formal structures, there’s the need to be more T-shaped, and getting in there yourself – a great way to experiment and learn.

The Challenges

But it’s not all roses.

Corporate life has its benefits too. From stability, (sometimes) better budgets, to be able to freely hire specialists, access to mentors and supporting functions. If you’re leaving these behind, be wary of the potential:

  • Stress;
  • Workloads; and 
  • Job security.

If you’re not deterred by the above, and working in a startup sounds like something for you, then the next hurdle is what you’re up against:

  • Intense competition: Claire once received 250 candidates for just one role. Applicants from across the globe, including Silicon Valley.
  • Startups not knowing what they want: Sometimes, product roles can come about in strange ways in a startup. From the board telling the founder they need to step back and focus on investments, to copying and pasting product descriptions from LinkedIn. 
  • How does your experience read: Don’t assume your experience is perceived the same way in the startup world compared to the corporate. What does 10 years experience at the same company say? Comfortable and unable to handle challenges? Or lots of internal opportunities to try new things?

Applying

What are startups looking for in candidates? Take the time to understand your customer (the hirer), so that you can position yourself effectively.

  • Curiosity / Lateral thinker
  • Passion
  • Energy
  • Autonomous / Self Starter

So with this in mind, how do you go about applying?

Highlight your experience – breadth and diversity. Use your initiative. Show your desire. Reach out to the company directly. Or find a referral. 

Make sure your CV is a good user experience. Get your CV reviewed by someone in a similar seniority and/or style of company.

Interviewing

Like any interview, make sure you are prepared. 

  • Do your research. 
  • Use the product.
  • What are the market conditions.
  • Have a point of view.
  • What relevant experience do you have that will make you a star?
  • Have some questions prepared.

Final checklist

Before you accept any role, a few things to consider:

  • Do you believe in the mission? Through the ups and downs that are inevitable with any role, belief in the mission is what will get you through the tough times.
  • Are you aligned to the founder? The founder is likely to be heavily invested in the mission, and may have strong opinions of what should be done. And how. They may be your toughest stakeholder.
  • Is there enough support? As mentioned above, with limited budgets, workload and stress can also be part of startup life. Do you have the right support to be able to succeed?
  • Are there enough challenges? Nobody wants to be in auto-pilot. Are there enough challenges to keep you engaged?

Thanks again to Claire for all the startup advice, much of which can also be applied to larger companies, and best of luck with your next job search.

Resources

For a different perspective on startups, read about product leadership in corporates and startups.

See the slides from the session.

Thank you to our host: A Cloud Guru

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Thank you to A Cloud Guru for hosting us online again this month. A Cloud Guru’s mission is to teach the world to cloud. The largest online cloud school on the planet, with training that feels more like logging into Netflix or Spotify – it’s entertaining and playful.