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Top five traits to look for when hiring a junior/mid-level Product Manager

Product Hire

Oscar is a Consultant, and a member of Zeren’s Product Management division. He works closely with high growth companies, typically VC or PE backed, that are looking to build out their Product function.

So you’ve just raised seed funding and beginning to onboard your first hires. You’ve also read Sifted’s article on scaling from 5 to 50 employees and prioritised engineering and product. Yet, you don’t have the capital to hire a product leader as the first product hire.


In this instance, the solution is hiring an up-and-coming Product Manager who has the potential to mature into a leader as the business scales or lay the groundwork for a senior hire later down the line.


The five key factors to consider can be broken down into the following categories:

  1. Experience
  2. EQ
  3. Levels of Autonomy
  4. Comfortability with Ambiguity
  5. Culture Fit


Experience – Have they worked in an early stage start-up before?

This is the first criteria that you should consider when searching for your rockstar PM. This role is not for the faint-hearted, it’s a juggling act of hands-on product work and holding your own with senior stakeholders, both internally and externally.


Therefore, it’s paramount that this individual has been in a fast-paced, scrappy environment before and has an understanding of what they would be walking into. We usually find that candidates who come from enterprise backgrounds are too process orientated and crumble in an unstructured environment.


Emotional Intelligence – How have they overcome objections and bought buy-in?

When you’re an employee of a sub 20 FTE business not only will you have to be a capable hands-on product manager but you’ll also be exposed to the product strategy at a high level. You’ll work closely with the founders of the company to create a roadmap that you will take ownership of.


The key to success here is to ensure that the PM can not only take feedback but has the capability to give feedback in return and influence the decision-makers. This is particularly true if the founders come from a non-technical background and might be used to more sales-led environments.


Ambiguity – How comfortable are they with change?

Start-ups are highly ambiguous, affecting all elements of the business with no 2 days that are the same and change is constant. There will be continual product development, pivoting and the never-ending battle to improve product market fit.


For the PM to succeed, they’ll need to be an individual who is able to prioritise – often there are many ideas flying around from the cross-functional nature of non-hierarchical early-stage start-up and the PM is often required to make sure the company is able to focus on the critical tasks.


Autonomy – Have they managed a product end-to-end before?

As this person will be the only product hire in the business for some time it’s vital to ensure that they are autonomous as the support network that a larger business will have is lacking.


The PM will be wearing many different hats, having a solid grasp of design principals whilst being comfortable interacting with Engineers and being to communicate the product strategy to the wider business.


Cultural Fit – Can I trust this person?

Everyone knows that this is an important factor to consider but truly is the backbone of the hiring process and ultimately whether the final decision will be a yes or a no. You’ll be spending a lot of time with this person who’ll be looking after the heart of the business, the product.


You should be looking for someone who you’re genuinely excited to work with and who shares your passion for the mission. This is someone who has a hunger to work hard but also has the ability to adapt and the humility to admit when they’ve made mistakes or need help.



Zeren exists to empower the world’s change makers. We do this by building high-performing teams in the world’s most innovative businesses, to accelerate growth by connecting visionary leaders and ambitious talent.

We are a leading global Executive Search & Recruitment firm with teams and offices in San Francisco, Houston, New York, London, Berlin and Frankfurt.

We partner with high-growth, VC/PE-backed businesses and ambitious Corporate brands placing senior leaders, building exceptional teams, or providing critical interim and consulting talent.

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