Hiring Product Managers

At Cleartrip I was involved in hiring more than 80% of all PMs who’ve worked there in the last 4-5 years. Along the way, I developed some personal heuristics on what to look for to predict success in the PM role. This is my personal approach. And this, of course, varies depending on how the PM role is defined within an organisation.

Personally I think PMs should be responsible for an entire “flow”. As they grow, the number of such “flows” in their portfolio will also grow. Without this approach, there isn’t an end-to-end view of the customer. Which inevitably will lead to worse solutions. This means the way you evaluate a candidate also needs to adapt to this goal. So, here are the parameters that I evaluate when hiring PMs.


Knows what they have done and why. This is what I focus on in the first interaction. CVs are a good elimination tool, but almost always inflated. So, the idea is to go deep into what the candidate has done in their career and understand if they know the why. It is surprising how many with very strong CVs fall at this stage.

Comfort with data. Comfort with data is super important. Analyzing metric changes and having an intuition on the right metrics to track is critical for PMs. It is important to breakdown the problem before diving into what the problems might be. For example, I could ask — “conversion for the hotel funnel is down by 10%, what went wrong”. I am not really looking for what went wrong, but the journey she takes.

Product thinking. After data, is an evaluation of product thinking. This will typically involve discussing a product that is live or being built or something that we have been thinking about. What I am looking for is the ability to think about user problems, jobs to do for users and constraints. What gets built is the last thing I want to discuss.

Spikes and new learnings. This is a bit subjective. Here I am looking for things that we may not have thought about internally or something that is difficult for someone from a different domain to know. You will know when you spot this. This is strictly not a necessary factor. But helps with making the final decision.

Ability to work with others. There’s no PM who works alone. How do they deal with conflicts with engineering and design teams? How good is the quality of requirements they produce? Without good requirements, engineering and design teams will end up working with ambiguity. And that’s not good. I will typically ask the candidate to structure a requirement document to evaluate this.

Complement yourself. No individual is good at everything. But the team should be. Look out for skills where the candidate can add value where it is currently missing. This could be anything from marketing skills, design chops to experience working with customer support. It’s unique to every team. Decide accordingly.


This is a framework I follow. I may end up overindexing on one of these depending on the role I am hiring for and the candidates’ past experience.

Principles for Managing Teams

I have recruited and developed a team of high-performing product managers in the last few years. In terms of mentoring them to grow there are a set of principles, I try to stick to. This has evolved in the last 3–4 years. I am sure this will evolve in the future as well.


  1. To scale as a product leader, delegate and trust your team. If you cannot, you did a bad job of hiring. Take your time to build the right team. Spending time before a hire is better than after.
  2. “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” — Steve Jobs
  3. Define clear responsibilities, goals and expectations, then get out of the way and let them do their job. Give freedom and protection.
  4. Be available always to guide and mentor them. Give feedback along the way — don’t wait for formal reviews.
  5. Dedicate time every week to discuss their week, guide them, brainstorm with them, set expectations and inspire them.
  6. Make being redundant your goal. If you are no longer needed for what the team is responsible for, you have done great. This frees up your time to focus on other things to push the business forward.
  7. Think of your team’s future, their growth. Work towards that — with them and in the background.
  8. Work to increase their visibility in the organisation.
  9. Take the fall for them and protect them from the rest of the organisation. But show them the right path to help them improve.
  10. Be honest and brutal with your feedback if they are off-track. But be clear with examples, expectations and a path to improvement.

In a follow-up to this I will write down differences in my approach to individuals in the team.