I have been building product teams for over a decade and during this time, I have built a short list of qualities that I look for when hiring an entry-level PM into the team. I should probably say that this list outlines qualities that I expect to see in all PMs regardless of experience level, but with the absence of a practical PM skill-set that often is the case with entry-level PMs, I give preference to early-career candidates that exude the following.
Thinking outside the box
A cliche’ of course, but as many cliches’ often are, there is value in the saying. The ability to think beyond the status quo and not to be constrained within “normal boundaries” when discussing possible solutions to a problem, is a quality that often leads to finding the most optimial solution (for any given situation). I will also note that over the years I have found this quality to be something that is hard to teach, hence something I look for early on during the interviewing process.
Ability to have vision
Do they have vision beyond just the tactical / pragmatic? Can they daydream about the future? The ability to dream big and envision what a product’s future could be — and the positive impact that this would have to the end user (down to the very last detail) — is a quality I look for early on when meeting with potential entry-level PMs (and a credit here to Scott Bleasdell as he speaks eloquently about this quality on Roadmap.com).
An inquisitive mind
An extension to being able to think out of the box, is the natural desire to question everything and to constantly look for ways of improvement. I, like many PMs I know, are constantly questioning the way things work and whether there is potential for a better solution — be it at the supermarket when buying groceries, to boarding an airplane, or working with our teams to build great products. This mindset of being curious / questioning is a quality I hold in high regard as it naturally encourages a rhythm of “flow”; the optimal environment to create great solutions without creative constraint.
The ability to be able to recognise not only their own emotions, but also the emotions of those around them, is quite possibly the most important quality I look for particularly in an entry-level PM role. Why you may ask? In my experience, a lot of PM is about being able to build relationships within an organisation to facilitate influence (and achieve the best solution to a problem that you are trying to solve), as well as simply being able to get the job done in an efficient manner. The ability to hence be aware of colleagues’ thoughts and feelings in any given situation, and adjust your behavior accordingly, allows a PM to navigate through virtually any situation to achieve a desirable solution.
Ability to tell a great story
Whilst arguably story-telling is a skill that you can learn, it is a quality that I have learnt to look for early on in a PM’s career, as some of us have a natural ability to be able to tell a compelling story (Sam Thorpe at Nitro being one of the best I have ever met). As a PM’s responsibility and experience evolves, the ability to communicate a message that resonates with an audience, one whereby the audience is engaged and aware, becomes an increasingly important skill to help drive product vision and strategy.
Not taking yourself too seriously
Last but certainly not least is the ability to not take yourself too seriously. Whilst this quality may have more weight for me personally as it aligns to my leadership style, nevertheless I do believe that being able to not take yourself too seriously is a quality that bodes well for any PM. I mean let’s face it, most of us are not solving world poverty (and kudos to those that are trying) and whilst it is sometimes difficult to get perspective when you are fighting for that one-so-important feature to be added to your product (yes we have all been there), the ability to breath (queue emotional intelligence), take note of the situation and often just laugh at yourself and with your colleagues is a quality worth having in your PM toolbox.