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Trouble Hiring Senior Product Managers? Learn from Hiring Engineers

There's a recent blogpost (made popular by HackerNews, no less) on Hiring Engineers on why it's been so hard to hire software engineers especially the more senior kind.

This jogged my desire to comment on it and write about a similar perspective from the Product Management and potentially why it's been so hard hiring senior product managers too.  But first off, I'd suggest you read the original viral post here.

If we had a chance to read it and I have, the gist of it is obvious from the title of the post which is that recruiters both in-house and 3rd parties don't do nearly a good enough job enticing senior developers or senior software engineers.  Like any other product out there, human resources or people operations is a business about conversions, your pipeline is broken or your message is delivered to the wrong group or with the wrong tone.

One thing that I'd agree with whole-heartly and we have experienced this in the product management world certainly on is that the world or recruiting and hiring is a jobs MARKET -- emphasis on the world market.  There is a supply, demand, macro-economic and micro-economic situations at play.  In our current year (2019) things seem rosy and it's a buyers' market (the buyers being the job candidates).  The job market is hot, there's more product manager job candidates chasing fewer jobs and that makes it the buyers' market.

So that's just the current state of things in the job market and in our economy in 2019.  Everything looks rosy, economy is well fueled and chugging along at full speed and no wonder recruiters are having a hard time hiring senior product managers.

But let's examine how true this statement from the original post:

"When hiring [senior engineers], you're not buying, you're selling."

I think there is an element of truth to that.

It really depends on what channels and circles you move in, but I also had a similar experience a few years ago when I received unsolicited offers of interviews and job postings from many recruiters, sometimes a few a day to an average of a few a week.  At the time, I had about 2-3 years experience under my belt.

As I mentioned, I wasn't actively looking at the time, but I've observed a few things during that time:

  1. 3rd party recruiters were not doing not the right amount of selling the company or role
  2. 3rd party recruiters made the experience unpalatable and full of friction

My experience differs from the original post about Hiring Senior Engineers, but the spirit of it is the same -- the recruiting experience sucks for the candidate.  It's good to keep in mind that the job of the recruiter be them an outside agency for hire or someone in-house, is to provide a great experience for the people you're recruiting.  Sometimes we might forget that as we have headcount targets to meet and key roles to fill, but at the end of the day, you cannot run your company with people and good ones at that.  But my beef is mainly with 3rd-party recruiters and the hoops you have to jump through with them with every little in return.

Not the right amount of selling

This is all from personal experience, but the recruiters I spoke to had either one of those flaws:

  1. Knows a lot about the company and the hiring manager but not much about the role or the sphere they operate in,
  2. Knows a lot about the role, but not enough about the company to understand really why this role is strategic and important

Again these are coming from my own personal experience, but I find both of these to have been true at some time or another.  3rd-party recruiters feel like they are too salesy at times and at times not salesy enough.  I think the root of it is that I never feel like they are working for me, they are working for themselves and whoever is paying them but not for the success of the company.  Maybe some recruiters have some "skin-in-the-game" but I've found it to still come across as sleezy or disingenuous. At most, I feel like I'm being dressed up for the slaughter.

Full of Friction

If you're been in product management long enough you know that a product won't last if it is loaded with friction points.  Unless you're product is putting friction there intentionally for one reason or another, friction is the death of a great, usable product.

3rd-party recruiters feel the same way as a product full of friction -- for some reason they always resort to wanting to talk on the phone.  Why is that???

Every single recruiter has always reached out to me with a generic email or LinkedIn message but then the next steps is always to arrange a call on the phone.  It's just so inconvenient and so not confidential if it's during office hours.  I don't know if this point is lost on recruiters but people work in tech.  Their daily work consists of conversing on emails and other digital channels.

The main feeling I get is that I'm doing this more for them than they are interested in talking to me.  Sure, having to speak to 30-40 people a week is tiring and after a while they all become just a number, but there can be a better funneling system than needing to talk to someone right after the first outreach.


I agree with Alexander over at Hiring Engineers mostly.  Without getting into the entire job candidacy process, I agree that recruiters in tech need a mindset change when it comes to how they deal with candidates.  Need to talk on the phone from the get-go, need to have you come in the office from the get-go, and not aligning your incentives to the incentives of hiring good people are just a whole slew of issues with the 3rd party recruitment industry.  But certainly in tech it is indeed (and for now) a buyers' market and it's best to align incentives to get the best candidates for your team.