Looking for a job in product management can be a challenge in multiple ways. First, you need to understand a PM’s role and how this role shows up at a particular company you are interviewing for. Second, it’s important to define what kind of product management work you are after. Product managers’ job descriptions vary from company to company, so start to understand what kind of PM work is most valid and relevant for you.
When setting up your PM job search, look at yourself as the “product.” This viewpoint helps you clearly communicate during the interview process as you describe the business challenges as related to product objectives and your role within meeting those objectives.
Once you identify what kind of PM work you prefer, start to identify what needs you are serving within the PM role. These can vary from user researcher to scrum master to business analyst, so be prepared to ask questions to understand the scope of the PM role within a specific company.
Finally, put your resume together to apply for PM roles. The resume needs to clearly connect the dots between business and product while highlighting your most important and relevant accomplishments.
Setting up your search for a PM role in this way helps you land the most relevant interviews with companies of real interest for you. Following this process will also create a clear narrative for how to communicate your value as a product manager, helping you to land interviews and offers.
Let’s get started.
What does a product manager do?
The product manager is the person who sits between design, business, and engineering. They are often described as the “voice of the user” or the “CEO” of the product. Yet those descriptions are not very accurate because the product manager is neither. A PM is someone who owns the outcomes of the product strategy and roadmap, based on the inputs from a variety of stakeholders, including business (CEO, CTO, sales, marketing, customer success), engineering (engineering manager, engineer, QA), design (product designer, UX), and of course the actual product’s users (clients, customers, etc).
The PM is tasked with delivering on the product roadmap by working with engineering and design to build the actual product outcomes.
Research and define
When launching a PM job search, your key to success is understanding what kind of PM work is exciting for you. That means understanding what kind of work correlates with the stage of the company and product. Do some research to familiarize yourself with the differences between companies at different stages of funding such as a Pre-seed, Seed, Series A, Series B, Series C, and so on.
Research using job descriptions and company websites to learn about how product management is viewed at the company, or at least what values are key to the company and what stage is the product at (for example, achieved product-market fit). Hold informational interviews from people if you need more context to learn what product work is like at a mid-sized, 150-person company versus a small, 50-person company.
Define what product work you prefer (product stage and company stage) in your resume and LinkedIn About statement. This will help companies immediately connect your expertise with their own needs. Once there is a match, interviews will follow.
Product leader looking to work at a mid sized health-tech company to lead product growth initiatives.
You are the product
When creating your job search, the first thing to remember is that you are now the product. Not literally, but metaphorically: your experiences and prior work create a “product” that you are offering to a company. Companies are looking for a PM who can bring knowledge and insights about building products. Sometimes companies are looking for highly targeted experience in certain domains as well, such as experience with data, APIs, payment process, collaboration software, etc.
So now that you’re the product, think about how to brand yourself in a way that connects all the dots for the hiring manager. Tell your story that connects your thought process to business outcomes to user research to working with engineers. Talk about the WHY behind your decisions. Present how you led a team in discovering product challenges and solutions. Bring up the tough times and the celebrations. Build a narrative that can be used throughout the interview to connect the dots on why you’re a great product leader and how you can help move the needle on elevating the company’s product. Help the hiring manager imagine you already in the role.
If you are not already working in product, and looking to pivot into product, you want to craft stories that combine business outcomes with your initiatives within your role. That can look like being able to increase subscribers if you’re in marketing. Or it can look like creating strong process if you’re in project management. Then connect your work back to how it benefited the product or business growth or revenue.
What needs are you serving
Each product manager serves different needs for the company based on the product stage, company size, product-market fit, and other factors. So when you are applying for roles, take a look at the job description, company size, and product.
Research and learn:
- What is the product being sold?
- Who are the potential users?
- Is there product-market fit?
- Is this a developed or early stage product?
- Is the company early stage (i.e., still working out the processes) or later stage (i.e., clear swim lanes and processes)?
Starting from the job description, you can learn if the company is clear on the role of a product manager, ownership of the roadmap, relationship with engineering, and more. You’ll also want to understand if you are growing a new product, elevating a current one, or somewhere in between.
If the company mentioned project management or scrum master work, then perhaps they are not clear on what a PM work is about. Yet, if they highlight user research, roadmapping, and strategy, then they are better educated about the PM role. Also keep in mind that junior PM roles can fall into the realm of product owner yet have the potential to grow into a more senior PM role.
During the interview process, you’ll want to pay close attention to what the leadership’s expectations of a PM is and how they talk about their challenges. Are they looking for someone with go-to-market experience? User researcher skills? Technical knowledge of the product tech stack?
Every company and PM role is unique, so pay close attention and ask questions to determine what needs are you serving in a specific role.
Putting together the resume
When putting together your resume, you’ll want to combine the idea of yourself as a “product” who is serving specific “needs.” Create a resume to highlight those skills and experiences that are very clearly related to the job description and company expectations.
- Make sure your skills and tools section is easy to read
- Choose 2-3 accomplishments per job if you have more than 3 past jobs
- If you have less than 2 past jobs, focus on internships, projects, education
- Keep the resume to one page: find a way to keep it short and sweet, yet highly relevant and informative
Applying for a product role at a data analytics company? Mention your skills with analytics platforms. Talk about how you use data to create a product roadmap.
Applying for a product role at an early startup? Mention how you lead teams in creating strong process. Talk about creating alignment among leadership and product.
Your resume is greater than the sum of its parts. It needs to clearly communicate how you relate to the job description and company culture. That’s not to say you need a custom resume for every role, but if you’re applying for roles at different types of companies, it can be helpful to consider slight revisions in the resume to bring out the most important highlights based on the company stage and product type.
Then again, you may focus your search on only startups or only FAANG, so then one resume with a clear statement on what you’re looking for your next role can work.
As long as your resume is easy to read and clearly highlights your key accomplishments in product work or transferable skills and describes what kind of role you’re looking for, you’ll be getting plenty of interviews.
About Anna Miller
Product Manager leading product development for early to mid-stage products at mission-driven startups. Additionally, I offer Career Coaching to early-career people in tech. Ask me about job searching and pivoting into tech. Sign up to my email list for job search tips. https://createnewpaths.systeme.io/gethiredinfo