Why recruiting a Product Manager is so difficult


From “Abduction of Proserpine on a Unicorn”, by Dürer

Good product managers can’t really be unicorns, can they? Well they can’t be, because we have some great product managers at Redgate. So why then is it so difficult to recruit more? Redgate is an amazing place to work, are these people just not applying? Are we asking for the wrong thing? Too much?

Well we do get a decent number of applications. Not 1000s – “Product Manager” is a pretty new and relatively rare role. Most people have never even heard of the job till they’ve worked in a commercial setting for a number of years, and you certainly need experience to do it. So why do we struggle?

I’ve thought about this a lot, and I think it’s because we’re looking for three primary groups of skills or characteristics – and it’s rare for these three things to coincide. To be a great Product Manager at Redgate, you’ll be strong in the following three areas:

  1. Domain knowledge. E.g. we have a job role at the time of writing for someone to help in the field of agile database development. If you don’t know one end of a SQL Server database from another, you’re going to struggle,
  2. Commercial nous. You realise that we’re not just making products for the love of it – these things have to sell, be attractive to customers, be worth what we charge (and help figure out what we do charge!),
  3. Teamwork. At Redgate, if you want a team to work on your bright idea the “Here it is, now just get on with it” approach won’t work. You need to work with that team, convince them, influence, build up a strong argument and so on. Influencing without (direct) authority is key to success.

Do these people exist? Yes they do – as I say, we’ve got 8 or 9 of them. And we often find people with two out of three of these traits – the person who knows everything about database lifecycle management and can work really well with the team. But has no idea about the commercials. Or the individual who has the product management background, and is a great team player, but just knows nothing about the world of databases in which we work.

But finding all three – now, that’s tough. There’s lots more to the role of course – a love of customers, strategic thinking, leadership and so on, but with the above three strings to your bow, you’ve got a fighting chance of becoming a great product manager (and that’s what we need – great product managers).

The real issue here I believe, is that these three characteristics don’t naturally appear together. If you ask for someone who has “Knowledge of .NET development and is interested in web technologies” then guess what, you’ll get a lot of natural coincidence. But ask for “Knowledge of .NET development, but likes to get out and about and not be tied to a computer all day”. Well, good luck! It’s not impossible of course, just rarer.

And this I believe is the problem we hit – a tech guru who knows everything about database deployment problems and has devoted his/her life to studying this is less likely to have developed team-working skills or commercial awareness. A great team-player – perhaps a personal coach or similar – is unlikely to also “dabble in advanced data schema migration patterns” in his or her spare time. And therein lies the problem – these people exist, they’re just not as easy to find.

But, is this you? Even if you don’t see a role advertised, please let me know if you’re interested, or get in touch with me directly – ben.rees@red-gate.com if you have any questions. I look forward to talking to you.