This week I met with three former students – all graduates of my part-time product management class – to offer career advice.
I was struck by how different the circumstances were for each – some already successful in adjacent tech careers and wanting to make a step up, while others trying to make a big side step into a new industry.
Actually it wasn’t their differences that much surprised me.
After all, my class is always a heterogeneous collection of career-changers, entrepreneurs, designers or developers looking to “expand their role” and, often, recently promoted product managers who don’t quite understand the job they’ve been hired to do.
So it wasn’t the differences that struck me so much as how applicable the same advice became to each.
The goal of 100 Product Managers is to bring an inclusive and expansive perspective to the product management community.
In our weekly podcast we talk to a new product manager in Los Angeles every week.
So on the heels of some more general advice I recently gave to trepidatious career-changers, I wanted to share with you these five unconventional tips for landing a product management job – when you have “no experience.”
5 – Target Companies you Want to Work For
To a good sales person, the idea of targeting companies based on key parameters such as industry and annual revenue is essential.
You go after the clients you want, not the ones you don’t.
Yet somehow this concept evades so many job seekers.
I always try to remind students that interviews are a two-way transaction. You are as much evaluating your fit with the company you’re talking to as they are evaluating yours.
And by the way, who wants to be rejected by a date they had no interest in anyway?
I appreciate there is some privilege in this idea that you can cherry pick your place of employment because, for many of us, working for pay is not optional.
All I’m really saying is that while on the job search, connecting first with the kinds of products, brands, industries or ideas that light you up most is a great way to approach the hunt.
And the bonus is that if you get a job with a company that matches your interests, you’re instantly happier because you wanted to be there.
4 – Focus on What you Want, Not on What you Don’t Want
Almost immediately on the heels of graduating, many students ask me what class they should take next? UX? Web Development? Scrum Certification?
I usually ask back, well do you like the technical aspects of product management the best?
As I’ll cover more below, the skill requirements of product management are diverse.
This is what makes it such a strange job to train for and why so many people happen into product management.
Thirst for knowledge is essential to the role, but as Rocky Balboa says, “one step, one punch, one round at a time.”
My advice to all product managers is to first build up hard skills in the areas that most excite you.
If you’re drawn to coding, absolutely check out Scrum or a part-time web development class.
But if you love marketing, learn Analytics and Customer Acquisition first and make a name for yourself as a growth specialist!
There is so much to learn. Start with the skills you want to use most on the job when you land it.
3 – Market what You’ve Got Now
If you don’t have practical product management experience on your resume, what do you have that could be applicable?
It’s common for job seekers to feel down on themselves because they lack certain experience.
But what about all the other experiences you’ve accumulated so far?
Any job is a blend of hard and soft skills.
Speaking personally, I’m far more interested in motivation than degrees when it comes to hiring.
Take a minute and audit your life up until this moment:
What jobs have you had already?
What skills were you required to learn and use at those jobs?
What are the three best things people say about you as a collaborator?
Wherever you are, you’re there.
Repackage what you can offer today(1) and keep bolstering your skills in the background through continued education.
Another great way to get experience is to work on side projects. Who do you know that has a garage and a wild idea?
(1) Just don’t lie! Any sophisticated recruiter or hiring manager can see through that!
2 – Show your Skills Visually
Isn’t it bizarre that we’re obsessed with visual interfaces and design but most of us are still designing our resumes in MS Word?
Pictures tell a thousand words and your journey into product management is a hella long story.
Find a creative way to quickly communicate which practical skills you have and where those skills live within the respective domains of business, tech and design.
A graph like the one above not only presents a clear picture of your unique skill set (spoiler alert: somebody out there is looking for exactly YOU!), it inherently demonstrates your own understanding of the diverse requirements of a product manager position.
1 – Start with WHY
Since I read Simon Sinek’s book I can’t find enough occasions to apply this meaningfully.
Why did you apply for this job, Suzanne?
Why do you want to work at this company, Suzanne?
Why did you choose product management, Suzanne?
Why did you get out of bed today? Why do you anything you do?
Starting with why is about going inside and connecting with what drives you.
Self-auditing is at the heart of all the advice I’ve offered throughout this post and it culminates here because, in lieu of actual or enough experience, being a person of passion and clarity tells an employer most definitively who you are.
And discovering who you really are, more than anything, is what job interviews are about.
Do you know somebody who is looking for a career in product management? If you value the advice here, please share this article with them or invite them to contact me directly.