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How to hire effective product managers for a news organization

Whether your news organization is looking to create its first product management role, or add to an existing product team, finding and recruiting the right person can be difficult.

For one, it is a field like developers that is in high demand, including from technology startups and large corporations who may offer a higher salary than you. For another, there are few people with direct experience in both product management and news.

So you’ll need to anticipate what kinds of people would be a good fit, even if they haven’t done the exact job before. The people at our summit offered some guidance on what to look for.

Find people who at their core have empathy for customers / users. A journalist who thinks the public is a mass of bumbling fools might not be a great fit as your next product manager. However, someone who is already excited about involving and serving your readers or viewers in new ways probably has the right mindset to become a product manager who studies those users’ needs.

Look for culture “add” not culture “fit.” Recruiting pools and finalist candidates often exhibit lack of diversity. One culprit is that managers enter the recruiting process looking for “culture fit” — someone who will think like and act like the rest of the team. This naturally leads to hiring people who tend to also look like and come from the same socioeconomic backgrounds as your existing team. Instead, look for “culture add” in your candidates — the traits, experiences and skills that are exciting because they’re not present in your current team.

Effective product managers often need to wield influence without authority.

Identify the “connectors” who naturally build relationships across the organization. A lot of being a product manager is about aligning and persuading people in different parts of the organization. For this reason, product managers are sometimes described as “mini CEOs” — with broad responsibility for their narrow product. But they’re not actually CEOs, so effective product managers often need to wield influence without authority.

Find someone who handles conflict well. The product manager’s job is rooted in conflict, notes Lauren Rabaino, director of editorial products at Vox Media, so you need someone who can handle that diplomatically and get to resolutions. Laura Cochran, user experience lead at Conde Nast, said product managers need to be “the ultimate negotiator.”

Listening is important. Product managers need to really hear both what people say and what they mean, and make them feel they’ve been heard. Look for people who are able to listen carefully, withhold their own judgment (at least temporarily), and clearly capture and express other people’s viewpoints.

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