Hiring of Contract Product Managers

Hiring contract product managers can be somewhat problematic, especially if you are in a competitive market. Don't delay!

The Dude spent a year as a contract Product Manager, and has shared his experiences. It wasn't a terrible time, and it probably opened the door to the permanent position he now has. But there is a significant downside for the hiring organization to only be able to offer a contract position.

Case in Point

The Dude's group is changing. Expanding. There was a search for another contract product manager to augment the team, and to fill a couple of gaps.

The search wasn't short. Partly because there were some specific requirements needed, and partly because a lot of riff-raff is picked up by the contracting agencies. But a great candidate was identified, interviewed well, and he seemed excited to join us (the Dude will admit that it isn't the most exciting product management job out there).

But, due to big company policies, lots of bureaucracy, and feet-dragging, it took about 5 weeks from decision to start date. Not a huge deal, but for a contract position, with no security, no benefits, crazy expensive healthcare (think COBRA prices), and no paid time off (we are in California, so there are some "sick" time off, but the contracting company usually wants evidence that you are sick).

However, the longish time between the decision, and the start date, allowed something to happen. The new Product Manager, being smart, kept his options open, and another, permanent position offer was made, and he accepted it.

Add to that the caution that is often part of the discussions and negotiation, that there is no guarantee of being brought on as full time. The Contracting agency is quite clear about this.

So, 3 months of work, time spent with three different contracting agencies, one hundred plus résumés (and really, no good second choice candidate to fall back on), 40 - 50 hours of phone screens, interviews, all wasted.

Lessons

If you are hiring a product manager, especially in a "hot" market, don't drag your feet. According to Rich Mironov, when he did a survey of open product management and product marketing positions in the SF Bay Area, there was north of 1,600 open positions. Plenty of other places to go. Get a good candidate, and get them hired.

If you are hiring a product manager, you should justify it to be a full time position. You will be asking them to commit 100% to the role, but to also ask them to live with the uncertainty of 3 month contracts, with skimpy or non-existent benefits is pretty unfair. The Dude gets why you might want contractors, and the Dude definitely gets how hard large companies make it to hire a full time employee, but be fair, if you need a full time employee, justify it, and open a requisition.

If you can't justify a full time permanent position, or a contract to permanent position, suck it up and live with fewer people. Perhaps bring in people for short stints of project need, but live without a full time product manager.


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