Hiring Your First Product Analyst
5 skills to look for in potential candidates
A follow-up to my previous post — “Why Product Analytics is more important now than ever before”.
There has recently been a growth in companies looking to hire Product Analysts. I’ve even advised a few Product Leaders over the past few months on what to look for when hiring. So I thought I would take some time to write and share the skills I look for when interviewing potential candidates for a Product Analyst role.
Although each candidate is unique, I’ve found that assessing the following 5 areas can give you a like for like pyramid style framework to fairly assess candidates. Note: This is not a checklist of requirements for one person, but rather a framework to help you build a team. I use this to ensure I’m building a well-rounded team of individuals who complement each other. Candidates will vary on the scale for each one of these 5 areas so it’s up to you to recognise which gaps you can bridge and which you can’t.
Product Analytics Hire-archy
- Technical skills (bottom of the pyramid)
- Analytical ability
- Experimentation knowledge
- Effective communications
- Product mindset (top of the pyramid)
- Technical skills:
You’re hiring an analyst first and foremost, so having the ability to extract data is a core part of the role and a fairly obvious skill. What may not be so obvious is that you should also be looking for candidates who can direct the team on how to build a measurement plan. This is the ability to understand your product and work out the levers that drive user behaviour and how to track them. A good measurement plan can be the difference between good insights and great insights! Product analysts are the gatekeepers of all front end event data and should feel a sense of ownership when it comes to building, managing and maintaining the integrity of it. To do this, technical knowledge on how event tracking works is essential as they’ll need to guide engineering teams on what to track, when to track, the hierarchy of events, event nomenclature and which parameters to pass.
- Analytical ability:
Extracting data is useless if you can’t analyse it and I don’t mean making graphs. That’s not analysis. I’ve often seen analysts present slide after slide of graphs without a clue of what the data represents or even the question they’re answering. A Product Analyst should be able to piece together data and discover insights that tell a story and drive decisions. They should be asking the right questions of the data and building strong hypotheses using their product knowledge and answering/(dis)proving with analysis. Discovery work is a core part of a Product Team’s responsibilities and a strong analyst will use quantitative analysis to play an important role in the discovery process. And finally, working with front end data is not as black and white as transactional/customer data so a good analyst should be able to separate the signal from the noise from fuzzy data.
- Experimentation knowledge:
Building a culture of experimentation within Product needs someone who understands the fundamentals of experimental design. Thus, experimentation knowledge should be a core skill for Product Analysts. The job is to oversee experimentation methodologies, ensure testing is statistically rigorous, processes are defined and the use of experimentation is championed across the team.
- Effective Communications
Effective communications are one of those skills that are universal across most functions but it might not be something you considered high on your list of requirements for a Product Analyst. Let me assure you, it should be! Product Analysts deal with a diverse group of technical and non-technical stakeholders so the ability to communicate insights, results and recommendations clearly, concisely and effectively will ensure they get stakeholder buy-in and win their trust. Clear communications will also help when the need to challenge decisions and assumptions arises, and they will! When things are up, even the worst communicator can be effective. It’s when the chips are down that an unwavering voice of unbias reasoning is needed. They will have to communicate insights effectively and efficiently to inform the next steps. Remember, effective communication comes in the form of verbal, written and visual form. If the data is the story; the analyst is the storyteller.
- Product Mindset
This is the top of the pyramid. What distinguishes Product Analytics from other types of analytics. A good Product Analyst has the ability to put themselves in the shoes of the customer and think about the challenges the customer is facing. They think about user problems from many angles and question the value of every part of a product. Once a Product Analyst is thinking like a Product Manager, it becomes easier to find opportunities within the product, frame them analytically, quantify them and propose the next steps. A good Product Analyst can bridge the gap between “quant” and “qual” by using qualitative insights from user research, surveys and other areas to spot opportunities to quantify. Finally, a Product Analyst should not let data paralyse them from being decisive and learn to trust their instinct — a skill that is missing in many functions.
For each of these skills, you’ll need to decide which areas you already have in your team and which areas you don’t and need and therefore are unable to compromise on. As I stated in the opening section, this is not a checklist of skills that every candidate needs to hit and over-index on. It is merely a guide to help you build the skills at a team level. Now that you have an idea of what skills a Product Analyst should have, you can start thinking about framing interview questions in a way that allows you to score each candidate fairly against the other.
If you’re thinking about moving into a Product Analyst role and want to know more, I highly recommend the following post by Lottie Linter: Product Analytics: a mind(set) of its own or feel free to drop me a message in the comments section.
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