Over the past several years, I’ve interviewed and hired many Product Managers at Vistaprint DigitalUpside Travel, and ICX Media. While I’ve certainly made hiring mistakes along the way, I’ve found one key factor that correlates strongly with Product Management success at startups:

(Side) Hustle

P.S. I’ve written extensively about the side hustles I’ve done in the past and what I’ve learned from them here:

Never Stop (Side) Hustling.(And why I can now sell you a house in DC.) Author: Alex Mitchellmedium.com

What a Side Hustle Tells Me About a Product Manager Candidate

  1. You Can Manage Your Time

Product Management is part strategy, motivation, organization, and execution (just to name a few components). You’re constantly battling with prioritization of work and prioritization of time.

When I see a Product Management candidate who has successfully balanced both a side hustle and a full-time job, I see someone who has at least the basic time management and prioritization skills needed for the role.

2. You’re Committed to Learning and Growing

I learn each and every day as a Product leader. While over the course of your Product career you see patterns repeat themselves, there is always something new. Whether it’s a new research technique, a new technology, or a new approach, you’re always learning.

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When I see a Product Management candidate who has a side hustle, I know they aren’t 100% content with where they are today. They want to push themselves to learn, to grow, to experience that discomfort that is completely necessary to improve.

3. You Have a Passion for What You Do

When you see someone who is passionate about what they do (either as a full-time job or a side hustle), you can feel it, it’s palpable. I’ve said this before: Product Managers need to be passionate about their products. Very, very passionate.

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When I see a Product Management candidate who has a side hustle, I can often see a glimpse of the passion I need them to bring to my company and our products.

4. You Can Bring Outside Experiences to Your PM Roles

I absolutely love it when people bring their unique life experiences to work that they are passionate about. The diversity of ideas and perspectives often results in amazing outcomes.

When I see a Product Management candidate who has a side hustle, I know I can count on them to bring these outside experiences to work with them. They’ll be more creative, more experimental, and more effective.

5. You Have the Ability to Thrive in Different Industries, Work Structures, and With Diverse Groups of People

Similar to the diversity mentioned above, when a Product Management candidate has a side hustle, especially one in which they’ve realized some success, I can see that they have the ability to thrive in very different environments.

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Each day is different for the Product Manager. While certain Agile ceremonies repeat on a regular cadence, the problems change, the approaches change, the customers change, the people change.

An effective Product Manager needs to adapt as well, often quickly changing the “language” they talk when they are meeting with leadership vs. their development team vs. marketing.

6. You’re Entrepreneurial

Product Managers and Development teams are often creating something from nothing but an idea.

Depending on the particular side hustle, I can often learn just how entrepreneurial a Product Management candidate is and see if they’d be a better fit for a team that builds completely new product features or one that iterates on existing features.

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But, I Also Watch for These Warning Signs

Not all side hustles are good. I’ve learned to watch out for a few key warning signs that indicate a detractive side hustle.

  1. Side Hustles That Consume a Ton of Time (And Mind Share!)

When I’m meeting with Product Management candidates who have side hustles, I have them explain those hustles, how much time they spend on them, and how they balanced that hustle and their “day job”.

If they are spending every night and weekend on the side hustle (or >20 hours/week) that’s approaching full-time job territory and is concerning.

Is their side hustle really what they would rather be doing and is this Product role just a means to an end? Worse, I know I’m going to be losing their mind share to this side hustle. They may be at my company, but their mind will be elsewhere.

2. Side Hustles That Don’t Help You Learn or Grow

While Uber or Lyft is an ok way to make some extra money on nights and weekends, it’s likely not helping you learn or grow.

(P.S. I did actually drive for Lyft for a short period of time when they first launched in DC, learn more about that here)

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When I’m meeting with Product Management candidates with side hustles, I ask them to tell me what their side hustle has taught them, how they feel it’s added to their education and skills.

Make sure if you’re side hustling that you can answer these questions!

What Are The Most Important Things You Look For In Product Management Candidates?

Share them with me in the comments or on Twitter: @amitch5903


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