What Do Product Team Leaders Look for in New Hires?

The traits product leaders look for in new hires offers clues about how they approach their work in general.
Quinten Dol
March 30, 2021
Updated: July 9, 2021
Quinten Dol
March 30, 2021
Updated: July 9, 2021

Product teams bring together a diverse set of skills to design, test, iterate, advertise and deliver digital goods and services. So how can leaders make sure that a team of professionals with wildly divergent skill sets is pulling in the same direction?

The answer: a set of values or a mindset that can unite a team behind a common purpose. 

Those values are unique to each organization and manifest themselves in different ways. To demonstrate this, we asked four leaders at tech product teams across the country what they look for in new hires — what are the traits that knit together those diverse skill sets? Their responses demonstrate the different types of values that leaders can emphasize as they scale product teams.

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Passion, Inclusivity and a Strong Set of Values

wayfair product leadership
Wayfair

Says who?: Liz Lehtonen, Associate Director of Product Management at Wayfair

The company: Wayfair’s e-commerce platform provides a furniture, decor and home improvement marketplace, hosting some 22 million items. Headquartered in Boston, the company went public in 2014.

Tech trends in e-commerce: In a subjective and style-oriented field like home decoration and furnishing, the ability to visualize an item in a space can mean the difference between a purchase and a pass. To help users predict how an item will fit within their home, Wayfair’s tech teams pioneered the use of virtual reality in e-commerce. 

“We were early adopters of this technology, and our laser-focus on the home category continues to put us in a position to explore the latest trends and offer a world-class experience,” Lehtonen said.

 

“There are so many interesting problems to solve in e-commerce — let your passion for something about the new role shine through, and be specific.”

 

What she looks for in a new hire: “Our teams are made up of people with a wide variety of backgrounds, interests and expertise. Across this wide range of experience, I’ve found that great candidates have a few things in common. For one, they talk about their previous teammates with language that expresses both passion and inclusivity. They’re able to demonstrate their ability to form critical relationships, which is an important trait in any team environment. Some of my favorite stories are ones about a candidate who turned a detractor into a champion.

“Candidates should also express an interest in the company we work for and the space itself. There are so many interesting problems to solve in e-commerce — let your passion for something about the new role shine through, and be specific. Finally, candidates who are comfortable with ambiguity, but have a firm set of personal ideals and a vision for their life, stand out in a positive way. If the past year has taught us anything, it’s that change can happen at a moment’s notice, and it’s important to be able to navigate that with flexibility while maintaining focus on your values. I’ve found that people who start with a solid understanding of what they want in a role are much more interested in engaging with complex problems and therefore learn more quickly.”

 

Collaboration and Technical Chops

motional basak ozer
Motional

Says Who?: Başak Özer, Vice President of Product, User Experience and Industrial Design at Motional

The company: Motional is a joint venture between software company Aptiv and vehicle manufacturer Hyundai with the goal of commercializing autonomous vehicles. The company has already completed more than 100,000 public rides in Las Vegas and recently announced plans to deploy fully autonomous taxis in U.S. cities in 2023 in partnership with Lyft. 

Tech trends in mobility: Özer said the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the autonomous taxi industry in several ways, increasing demand as users seek to limit social interaction while also creating new requirements for contactless user experience. “We’re making the entire experience as touchless as possible, and cleanliness is always top of mind,” Özer said. “This also means we’re reimaging how we might design the interior for a shared passenger experience. It’s a challenge that’s pushed us to think more creatively.”

 

“The ability to put ourselves in many different shoes is critical.”

 

What she looks for in a new hire: “I look for a passion for user behavior. At any point, each member of my team is thinking with the mindset of a mom or a grandmother who is taking a robotaxi for the first time. We’re building Motional’s robotaxis to be accessible for everyone — not just early tech adopters. The ability to put ourselves in many different shoes is critical. They also need to have a strong technical background, as we are building one of the most sophisticated and complex systems imaginable. My team works with the brightest engineers, PhDs, industry-leading product managers, designers and researchers. I need team members who can engage cross-functionally and understand the same technical language.

“You have to be a problem-solver and excited to be part of a collaborative, international team. We’re not solving these problems on our own. We have a large, global team that we work very closely with. You may be working with a colleague in Singapore or a development team in Korea. This means managing time zones, different work styles and cultural nuances. Embracing these differences will help us work toward the best solutions.”

 

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Integrity

npd group
NPD Group

Says who?: Darren Person, Global Chief Information Officer at NPD Group

The company: NPD Group is one of the world’s largest market research companies, measuring point-of-sale data from more than 600,000 retail locations (plus e-commerce and mobile platforms), 8 billion North American B2B transactions and more than 12 million consumer surveys annually. The company uses industry expertise to help its customers grow their businesses and adapt to changing market conditions. 

Tech trends in market research: Person said NPD Group’s clients are increasingly looking to access the company’s data through a range of delivery methods, from APIs to confidential computing. “NPD is continuously investing in technologies that will better enable our clients to leverage our data and help them to be successful, no matter where they host their platforms,” he said. “As technology continues to transform the marketplace, we will partner with our clients to navigate and achieve amazing outcomes.

 

“Many candidates try to give answers they think we want to hear, which creates a credibility challenge.”

 

What he looks for in a new hire: “One of the most important traits I look for in a candidate is integrity. We understand that trying to find the proverbial unicorn is impossible, so having someone who knows what they are good at — and can admit when they don’t know something — is critical. Many candidates try to give answers they think we want to hear, which creates a credibility challenge. I would much prefer an answer along the lines of, ‘I honestly don’t know, but I will find out and get back to you.’”

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Empathy

shea long modivcare
Modivcare

Says who?: Shea Long, VP of Product Development at ModivCare

The company: ModivCare provides home health care, with an emphasis on transportation, meal delivery and other health services. The company seeks to address social determinants of health and enable greater access while reducing costs and improving overall outcomes. 

Tech trends in healthcare: Long said his team is focusing on technologies that can elevate the patient experience — whether through digital-only solutions or more traditional, high-touch approaches — and is using AI to drive digitization. “We’ve moved from what I’d call a semi-waterfall/agile process to a startup/agile process, asking smaller teams to be more entrepreneurial, nimble and solve old problems with transformational, modern solutions,” Long said. 

 

“Empathizing with customers, understanding what their needs are and backing up from there.”


What he looks for in a new hire: “Significant experience in the technology space leading agile product teams, to help us develop customer-focused product development and human-centered design solutions for members’ needs. That entails empathizing with customers, understanding what their needs are and backing up from there to ensure that the experience and the solution that ModivCare delivers satisfies those customer needs.”

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