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Domain Experience

A lot of job postings for product managers mention experience in a particular industry as a qualification for the position. I believe that the best product managers are the ones who don't need any experience in an industry to perform their jobs effectively.

Let's imagine a product manager who has extensive industry experience and knowledge. As with any product manager, her job is to continually understand an ever-changing market. She will be unable to perform her job effectively if she lacks the skills to interview prospective customers and quickly and thoroughly learn their situation and problems. Yet if she has these skills, then her pre-existing industry experience and knowledge are superfluous, since she should quickly be able to gain the knowledge.

It is also a product manager's role to communicate her understanding of the market to the sales, marcom, and development teams. Our experienced and knowledgeable product manager, therefore, should impart her knowledge to these teams. Once she has done so, she has effectively made herself obsolete unless she is uniquely qualified to learn more about the market. Again, the ability to extract and impart new information, not reliance on experience and knowledge, are the key qualifications.

Instead of requiring "ten years of experience in the industry", hiring managers should focus on the facilitation and analytical skills necessary to be an effective product manager. Experience in a particular industry is little more than a crutch.

Comments

Adam said…
Great post, Roger. I 100% agree with your points here.

My feeling has always been that a Product Manager needs to be good at the fundamentals of being a Product Manager, not a PM tied to an individual product or market.
TxnByBrth said…
Could the same be said for a recruiter? With the exception of having a "Rolodex" (I know...I'm dating myself) of talents, shouldn't hiring managers who go outside to recruiters look more at the recruiter's understanding of the processes necessary to find then attract the winning candidate rather than the "Rolodex"?
Roger L. Cauvin said…
TxnByBrth, I do think there are some similarities to the skills needed by recruiters. I'm glad you raised the "Rolodex" factor, as it's important in both realms.

Much of a product manager's value comes from access to prospective and existing customers. A product manager obtains much of her knowledge of the market from these people. If no one else at the company has the contacts and is able to facilitate access to them, a product manager's prior connections to them could be of great value.

This factor may be even more important in recruiting. Typically, a hiring manager doesn't have access to a lot of prospective employees. A recruiter's prior connections may be quite valuable.

However, as you wrote, the understanding of, and ability to carry out, the processes necessary to achieve the goals is what's most important for product managers - and, I suspect, for recruiters.

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