Meet the new builders

The product manager’s post is a coveted one in the digital world. Belong.co dissects the candidates who make the cut



What’s common to Sundar Pichai, Satya Nadella and Marissa Mayer? All were product managers at some point during their rise to superstar CEOdom. Pichai, a metallurgical engineer and an MBA from Wharton, worked on the successful Google Toolbar before leading product management for Google Chrome and Chrome OS.

For tech companies, a product manager’s role is becoming quite a crucial one and hence they are becoming quite picky. Product managers have to work with long-term and short-term goals and hence at two speeds – they don’t just launch products, but also work on continuous upgrades on features.

Outbound hiring solutions startup Belong.co surveyed the product manager landscape in India and says it is quite a difficult position to fill. According to Belong’s CTO Vinodh Kumar Ravindranath, currently, there are more than 4,000 job openings for product managers. There are more than 40,000 companies (we are only talking tech/internet firms) in India with a PM or a similar role in their organisations.

So who would make the cut as a product manager? To find out, Belong analysed the educational qualifications of 15,000 product managers in tech firms as well as the hiring pattern of companies such as Google, Amazon and Microsoft over the last four years. The first surprise finding captured in its report ‘Decoding the Product Manager Hiring Landscape in India’ is that 71 per cent of the product managers it surveyed did not have a software engineering background. Only six per cent had the ‘software engineer + MBA’ tag.

When it looked at who the tech giants hired as product managers when they opted for external candidates (usually people in-house are trained and promoted as PMs), it found that only 23 per cent had prior PM experience. Backgrounds were quite disparate, ranging from engineering to sales and marketing to business analysts to UX designers. However, mid-sized companies by contrast were risk-averse and over 54 per cent of hires for the position had prior product management experience.

While the perception is that ‘engineer + MBA’ may be the right fit for a product manager, if you go by the Belong report, companies should not be unduly swayed by keywords. Instead, recruiters could focus on the traits. Understanding customers and how they use products is crucial.

After dissecting the profiles of the 15,000 product managers, Belong has come up with a few persona types. These range from engineers with a strong visualisation ability plus entrepreneurial mindset to business analysts who have a good understanding of sales, marketing and product to a UX designer who understands the ease of use aspect of a product. It also finds that some product managers were generalists who were hustlers and had what it took to get the product off the ground.

However, says Ravindranath, a technology background is a big plus. Soft skills including people management and customer-centricity are another advantage, he says, as the product manager needs to work with cross-functional teams that bind a product together – engineers, designers, customer-facing teams, legal, finance and so on – as well as gauge the customer’s needs.

Published on November 22, 2017

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