Applying Product Management to Executive Search

By Alexandra Sirjani

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I recently graduated from a Product Management program here in San Francisco. For those who are unfamiliar with what a product manager does, the short answer is that they do many things. PMs wear multiple hats at once: they are a liaison between internal and external stakeholders to bring a product vision to life, they constantly collect feedback from customers to ensure that the product reflects market demand, as well as conduct research their competition to become an expert in their industry. But perhaps most importantly, a product manager must take full ownership of the success of a product. They must own whether consumers love or hate a product, and are in charge of making any necessary changes to guarantee that buyers have a good enough experience to become repeat customers. In short, product management is a strategic, process-oriented and user-centered way of working.

Enrolling in this program was quite a leap of faith for someone with no technical background and a liberal arts degree, but it turned out to be one of the best investments I could have made in myself. I was excited about the work I was doing during the program and knew that I had found a meaningful career path in product management. So, if my new dream was to become a successful product manager, how did I end up where I am now - working as a Project Management Associate on MitchelLake’s Executive Search team?

While using Agile methodologies within the service-based executive search industry may not be the most obvious application for my product management training, it has actually proven to be an effective way to help manage executive search projects. I recently met with Agile/Lean Product Development Practitioner, Joëlle Gernez, a well-respected manager in the tech community who confirmed with me that not only was it possible to use my PM skills at MitchelLake, but it was actually a great idea. Here are some of Joëlle’s tips as well as a few basic principles I learned during the program that I felt were applicable to the Mitchellake Executive Search team...

Keep it Simple

This is a fundamental rule for product managers in more than one way. When bringing a product concept to life, we must create simple but powerful MVPs that get the vision across. When conducting team meetings, PMs use brief, structured stand ups to simplify checking in with their team members and keeping everyone accountable for their goals. On the Mitchellake SF Executive Search team, we have replaced the daily 30 minute team check in with ten minute stand ups. This allows us to reallocate the other 20 minutes of time to one on one meetings between teammates to discuss specific roadblocks while the remainder of the team can use the extra 20 minutes to accomplish their goals.

Work in Sprints

Part of being a product manager in today’s tech scene is using some form of agile methodologies, or working in short, one to two week sprints, so that your team can easily adjust to unpredictability. For my team, this unpredictability can come in the form of digital disruptive client expectations. Evaluating our current process allowed us to gauge that working in one week sprints would be the most effective way for us to respond to changes during a search.

Conduct Retrospectives

Having a retrospective meeting with your team at the end of the week is extremely valuable if you want to continuously improve your internal processes. The retro should be used to identify pain points from the previous week, and then the team can vote on which pain point to focus on fixing during the following week. This discussion also allows people to empathize with one another and communicate openly about road blocks they may be experiencing. The average work day is often filled with numerous meetings, but it is helpful to schedule a separate meeting for retrospectives instead of trying to tack it on to the end of an a meeting scheduled for a different purpose so that there is adequate time to reflect on the week.

Don’t Fall in Love

The first time I heard this I laughed because it seemed a little ridiculous. Who falls in love with a product? It turns out to be a very practical piece of advice for product managers: you can’t fall in love with a product that you are building, because it will always need to change to keep up with the evolving needs of consumers. The same goes for candidates in executive search - you can’t fall in love with a carefully curated candidate regardless of their caliber or ideal background because at the end of the day, it is the client that makes the hiring decision and their needs evolve as well. During my short time in my new role, I’ve learned that it is easy to get excited about some of the really incredible people that our associates get to connect with - especially in some of the lengthier, more difficult searches - but remembering not to get our hopes up too high is what motivates the MLE team to keep delivering new quality candidates all the way up until contracts are signed and a search is officially closed.

Applying product management to the executive search process has been an enjoyable experience so far and I am looking forward to seeing how else we can improve the experience going forward. If you're on the hunt for a great Product Manager who has your best interests in mind, get in touch now for a chat.