The First and Essential Step to Landing Your Dream Product Job
It’s great to start a hiring process by getting a phone call from a top company’s recruiter, saying, “Your resume is awesome. It’s the best I’ve seen so far,” or, after you directly approach a CEO, getting a reply email with, “Love your resume, simple and informative. I have forwarded it to … We will be in touch.”
That’s the way to start: with a first good impression.
Writing product management resumes is challenging. The resume of a product management professional has unique characteristics and focus areas that resumes for other positions don’t have. That’s because product managers have many expectations, from market strategy to technology and data, up to leadership. Also, each company has different expectations ranging from product ownership responsibility to product marketing.
I help other product managers boost their resumes. I also help others get into product management and find their first PM position. Many of the resumes I see are missing the point, or they neglect the target audience: the first person (or machine) to read it.
Let’s see some basic tips.
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Tip 1 - It’s All About Achievements
Let’s start by looking at the challenges of our “end-users”: the people at the company that is hiring a product manager. Unlike with other positions, such as development or marketing, product management hiring is risky. In other positions, evaluations of previous experience with a hands-on interview or short assignment will do.
Product management is different. Experience is important but doesn’t necessarily lead to success in the new company. The reason is that success in product means more than performing a single, well-defined task. Product managers are expected to research, lead, deliver and generate revenue in uncertain conditions, without managing anyone and usually with no clear boundaries of responsibility.
If you worked for a well-known giant company or for a company that was acquired for a substantial amount or that went public, a new company wouldn’t consider it risky to hire you. In other cases, you must build confidence using your previous achievements.
Many of the resumes I have seen don’t focus on – or don’t mention – achievement. For example, they’ll include a long list of bullets:
“planned, designed and executed a SaaS platform, from concept to launch, including mobile and web apps”, or
“led UI/UX, creating flows, wireframes and working closely with UX department”.
You can assume that other applicants have done the same.
Instead, take the time to list all your achievements and things you are proud of. There are many of them. Quantify each achievement with a well-known and easy-to-understand measure.
For example, “revenue increase of 1,000%” or “increased user engagement by 80% in less than ...”. Now prioritize those achievements you would like to mention and build your resume around them.
Finally, add the right keywords to each achievement description. These may be technologies, business terms (such as CPM and CTR), well-known clients (such as Apple and AT&T) and methodologies (such as agile terminology).
For example: “Development from idea to 50,000 active users’ acquisition and initial paying users, including team buildup, delivery & online marketing”, and
“Building & designing disruptive B2C social loyalty program and app, dramatically increasing reward programs' engagement by over 500%”.
Tip 2 - State Your Value Proposition
This may be the most challenging task in positioning yourself, building your personal pitch and resume. Think about yourself as a product competing against hundreds of other good products. The person reading your resume should understand the benefits of hiring you instead of others.
Don’t fall into the obvious, like mentioning “team player”, “hard-working”, “self-learning”, “analytical”, “creative” and “problem solver”. A head hunter once told me: “Well, everybody says they are … Tell me something unique about yourself.”
Highlight your own value proposition and how an employer can benefit from it. For example, if you have experience in entrepreneurship, mention it and how an employer would benefit from it. Alternatively, connect your achievements to your unique expertise – for example, how you can deliver successful products from your own invention up to growth, while drilling down to technology, user experience, onboarding, analytics and revenue. If this is the case, I would refer to it in two ways. First, for each of three recent jobs, include a separate description of invention, hands-on and growth. Second, create a section in your resume for “most proud of” and describe it there.
Tip 3 - Personalize, Be Data-Driven
Personalize your resume to the company, the direct manager and/or the recruiter. Start by carefully reading the job description. Then focus your resume on the stated requirements. Even more importantly, try to understand the company culture and the background of the people you would meet. You can do this by reading about the company and looking at the profiles of key people – specifically, those who would be interviewing you – in articles and YouTube clips. This will allow you to fine-tune your achievements and value proposition to their past experiences as well as to the culture and what the company is looking for.
It’s critical to estimate who will be the first to screen your resume. I found that I had to adjust the resume format when I would first be approaching a CEO or VP as opposed to a hiring manager. For example, I found that there is an 80% probability of getting an interview when I approach an executive directly, following a post on LinkedIn (even if we’re not connected and if one of my contacts had only liked it). In this case, a single-page resume that is focused and has only the last three jobs will work best, like many of the examples on Enhancv. If the contact person for the position is a hiring manager, a standard resume would work better, listing all experience, education and details about each position.
In the case of automatic screening by software, I assume it would be best to stick to the job description and use as many relevant keywords as possible.
I like to tackle this as a product analytics challenge. I have a spreadsheet in which I collect data, including: resume format, company type, target audience (first screening), whether I get a response, getting-an-interview success rate and whether it is a company I’d like to work for. Following some job applications, I can optimize the resume by the target company and audience.
Tip 4 - Demonstrate Leadership, Market Sense, Design and Creativity
Each manager and company has a different understanding of what product management is. While writing your resume, you will want to show your practical experience and success in leadership, market strategy (being market-driven and data-driven), product design and specification as well as being creative.
It’s best to mention the specifics of these characteristics for every past job you’ve had.
For example: “Product innovation using automation / ML resulting in 100s times faster user flow & lower friction”. This demonstrates leadership because you can get management buying for new products. In addition it demonstrates technology sense, data-driven capabilities and being creative.
Tip 5 - Your Resume Is Your Product
You are a product manager. The people who read your resume, as well as those interviewing you, would like to assess your product skills.
Consider your resume to be the best product you own and the one you are most proud of. Design this product to your target audience by giving its readers what they need at a glance: achievements, value proposition, skills, product measures and the names of well-known brands/companies you worked for as well as those using your products.
Tell an interesting story. It may be about your entrepreneurship skills, being an inventor, creating products for millions of daily users or anything else that represents you. Product managers are expected to think methodologically, analyzing the need, understanding the users and the market landscape, evaluating alternatives and hacking growth. Build your resume (and your interview pitch) this way: your highlights; overall experience, achievements and value proposition; experience, focused on the audience; and fit to the job (the summary), connecting your experience and advantages to the open position.
If you were a backend developer, the look and feel of your resume wouldn’t matter. However, your resume must look great, like any of your products. It must also be well-written and easy to navigate. The reader must be able to quickly find the information he or she seeks.
I would be happy to hear what you think about this post. I would also like to help others improve their resumes or get their first product positions.
About the author: Gal is an experienced product manager and entrepreneur with a passion for breaking complexity by using disruptive technology, business models and/or user experience.
Recommended further readings and resources from the author of this blog:
Gal Ofel is an experienced product innovation manager, marketer and entrepreneur. Recently, Gal founded and launched Zoostr, the mobile and desktop solution for entrepreneurs.