10 Proven Tips to increase your odds of landing a job

Over the last few months, I have been interviewing for a software product management leadership position – Director or VP level. The search took over 6 months (discounting the lull between Thanksgiving and New Year when hiring activity is understandably very low).  Over the course of my 25+ year career, I have also reviewed hundreds of resumes, interviewed hundreds of candidates and been part of hiring decision for 10s of candidates, some of them as a hiring manager. Given my experience as a job seeker and a hiring manager, here are 10 job search and interview tips that I would like to share.

Image: Courtesy of pixabay

Yes, we are living through unprecedented times because of Covid-19. Unemployment has gone through the roof, many companies have laid off people (how to survive a layoff) or have gone on a hiring freeze. There are still companies hiring, but you should plan for the hiring process to be slow and very selective. Candidate experience was terrible to begin with, expect it only to get worse because now companies have less recruiting resources, less number of open positions and a ton of job applications. But it is what it is, it is not something you can control. This time will pass and to get a job when companies start hiring again, you have to start seeding now. Train your mind for this job search to be a marathon that could last a few months. Then if it happens sooner, you will feel great. If it does not, it would have been what you expected. But everyday tell yourselves this “Today, I am one day closer to my next job“. This is a fact and it could be your biggest motivator during the job search which sometimes can be exhausting. It did for me.

Resume

  1. Your resume must focus on outcomes and not activities: 99% of resumes I have reviewed as a hiring manager or been asked to review by job seekers, are resumes which are a list of activities. For example, a bullet point reads “Identified new product opportunities via market research”. This tells me nothing about the business outcome that resulted from this activity. Companies want to hire employees that will help them achieve business outcomes. So your resume should speak to the outcomes you accomplished in each of your jobs. So if you rephrase the above to be outcome based, it could read something like “Conducted market research that resulted in identifying 5 new product opportunities. Presented the business case for these opportunities and launched 3 new product features that resulted in 12% increase in product adoption within 6 months of launch” – that is 100X better to read as a hiring manager – You now stand out and I want to talk to you. Remember that when I am doing a 10 sec scan of your resume, numbers catch my attention because they stand out in an ocean of text. So make your resume as quantitative as you can (but never lie – believe me this happens more than you think) and be prepared to explain these numbers in more detail if asked.
  2. Resume file format: Always send your resume as a PDF file. If you are applying via an external recruiter, they will ask for a Word document so that they can put their information on top of your resume before sending it to the hiring manager. But for all other cases, use a pdf file for the following three reasons:
    1. A lot of users now use Macs. Many of them do not use Microsoft Office. So if you send them a resume as a Microsoft Word file, they have to do a lot of work just to view it.
    2. Pdf file is portable, looks professional and printing it is guaranteed to be WYSIWYG. If you send your resume as a Word file, the format is not guaranteed to be portable between Windows and a Mac.
    3. Your resume is your product brochure and represents your brand. No one should be able to make any modifications to this brochure. You own it, period. No one can modify your resume if you send it in as a pdf file.

Applying for the job

  1. NEVER EVER apply for a job via the company’s website: If you do, expect to hear nothing or get some automated reply. As well, not apply. Here is an example of what actually happened in my search. Since I did not know anyone in this company, I decided to apply via their careers page. Two days later, I found a way to network my way in to an executive at this company. He connected me to the internal recruiter who immediately called me and we spoke over the phone for 30 min. He said he was going to discuss with the team and get back to me. About 10 min later, I got an automated reply that I was not a good fit and that my resume will be kept in their database. I was perplexed. I forwarded this email to the recruiter to find out what was going on. He asked me to ignore it and wondered who sent it – very likely an auto responder. Go figure! Your #1 goal is to get your resume seen by the hiring manager. Stated in other words, your goal is to cut in long line of job applicants and get in front of the line. Period. So how do you do this?
  2. You MUST network your way in: You need to find your way into the company via your network (assuming you have built one, if not start building one now). You have to figure out a way to get introduced to the hiring manager or higher up by someone in your network that is well known to the person. (A blog post on how to effectively use LinkedIn during your job search is coming soon, so stay tuned).
  3. Provide a short blurb to the person who will introduce you to their connection in the company: Let us say I am in your network and I am connected to the hiring manager or someone else in the company you are applying to. I agree to make an intro because my connection is strong. Don’t just send your resume and ask for an intro. Also send me a short blurb (one or two paragraphs) that I could wordsmith to include in my intro email. I may know you very well, but writing something from scratch is high friction and I want to introduce you well. So help me help you by providing me starting material that shines the best possible light on you.

During the Interview

  1. Be prepared with an elevator pitch: The first question I always ask any candidate I am interviewing is the same – “Can you please give me your elevator pitch? and you have two minutes”. The answer to this question tells me a lot about you – your communication skills – are you capable of highlighting your skills and qualifications in a short amount of time and how all of this is relevant to the job you are applying for. You should nail this! This is your chance to make the best impression. You should nail it such that I want to know more. However, don’t make it pompous, be modest. Tell me how your experience is highly relevant to the job you are applying for and how you are the candidate that the company should hire.
  2. Be prepared for behavioral questions: I like case studies, I love when interviewers ask me how I have handled specific situations in the past or how I will solve certain problems. I see them as an opportunity to showcase my skills. But it is difficult to think of best responses on the fly, so you need to anticipate them and prepare for them. Amazon is well known to do this as all their interviews have questions based on their leadership principles. There are a lot of good articles on the web on how to answer behavioral questions. I specifically like the one by Interview Genie. Create a document that has answers for as many behavioral questions as you can think of and review this document before every interview. Your answers must be genuine and you should be prepared to discuss them in depth if you get asked for more details. You cannot do this if you make something up just for the sake of answering the question. If asked a question during the interview that stumps you, it is perfectly fine to pause, reflect and even say that you will need more time to think about it than giving a less thoughtful answer.
  3. Ask questions: I respect those candidates that have a lot of questions for me. This is an indicator of their interest in the job, in the company. This is your golden opportunity to show the hiring manager how you think, how you do your research or gather information. For example, if you are a software product manager and are applying for a product management position, I expect you to ask me questions that will help you understand the product management landscape in the company. Interviews should be a two way exchange between you and the company. Good companies will treat interviews this way. They should be able to gather enough information about you to see if you are a fit for the job and you in turn should be able to gather enough information about them to make sure this is where you want to work for the foreseeable future.
  4. Ask if there are any concerns you could address and about the next steps: At the end of each of my interviews, I ask the interviewer if they have any open questions or concerns about my candidacy that I could address now. I am not asking them for their decision, but for an opportunity to address anything not discussed that could influence their decision. I ask this while thanking them for their time and do it a very genuine and professional manner. I do it with a smile. I also ask the last interviewer about the next steps and when I should expect to hear back and from whom.

After the interview

Send a thank you email: After the interview is over and you are back home, send a thank you email to each of the interviewers. Thank them for their time to meet with you and refresh their memory of why you are the best candidate for the job. You want to do this the same day as the interview when everything is fresh in their memory. In the email, also mention how you look forward to hearing about the next steps from whoever was told will get back to you. This reminds them of the promise that they have made. Sending this thank you email does not guarantee you anything, but it will never hurt and it is the right thing to do as a professional.

Thoughts? Do you agree with these tips? Any other tips you would add to this list?

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Related Posts:

  1. Ten job hunting tips for a product manager
  2. Job Hunting Cheat Sheet
  3. Eight traits of good hiring managers

Product Manager is not a “CEO” of their products

From the time product management has been around, there is a notion that to be effective, product managers should behave like CEOs for their product. A belief that the successful product managers have the power to make decisions for their product like CEOs do for a company. Others can provide all the input they want, but the final decision should be left in the hands of the product manager. In my career of 20+ years having worked in many software companies in the Boston area, startups to large companies, this is furthest from the truth – I have never seen a product manager having the final authority to make critical product decisions like CEOs have. The CEO has the final authority for making critical decisions for a company. The notion that product managers lead by “influence” and not “authority” is absolutely true and this by very nature indicates that product managers are not CEOs. No one reports directly to a product manager unlike a CEO. This held true even when I was a product management exec – I could choose to exercise making a final decision with my direct reports, but usually not one that spans across the organization.

So if a product manager is not a CEO, are they anything that starts with a “C”? I say Yes – successful product managers are “Chief Information Officers” or “Chief Influential Officers” of their products – the product’s CIOs instead.

cio

Like a CEO, a product manager needs to work with every external and internal constituency that touches their product – customers, industry analysts, partners, executives, sales, marketing, legal, customer support, order management, engineering, QA, you name it. From all these interactions, the product manager gathers a 360-degree view of the environment their product needs to be successful in. They become experts in “all information” that is related to their product – information related to competitors, sales, product performance, product issues, customer support issues, the list goes on. Product manager becomes the central point for not only collecting this information but also in ensuring that the right information is communicated to the right people in the organization.

It is having the latest and complete product information that gives the influential authority for the product manager to influence their cross functional team and in guiding them to make the right decisions for their products. More trust you build up in the organization as the “go to person” for the product information, more influential you become as a product manager. More time you are spending time outside the building gathering information about the people who will buy your products, more influential you become inside your own organization.

One can argue that even CEOs do not make all the decisions but lead their team to make the right decisions. True, but let us not forget that the CEO indeed has the authority to make a “my way or the highway” decision which product managers never do. Hence the big difference in my opinion.

So let us not lull ourselves to believe that we are CEOs of our products, but instead call ourselves the CIOs and work hard to become the best product CIOs we could ever be.

Do you agree? If not, let me know through comments. If you agree, I would appreciate if you share this with your product management network.

 

 

Fear of Missing Touch – How to lose your way with your target market

You all have likely heard the term FOMO – “Fear of Missing Out” – the fear that makes us buy products/services because everyone else is doing it and for the fear of missing out on something that others are getting out of it. A fear that has been proven to move products – people wanting stuff that is short demand (“ONLY 5 SEATS LEFT”) or has a sense of urgency (“20% off only TODAY”) or one driven by social proof (“all my competitors are using the software, so I should use it too”). The fear that drives users from mere window shoppers to instant buyers.  In the technology adoption cycle made famous by Gordon Moore in the book “Crossing the Chasm“, this fear moves the late majority to buy your product or service. But this is a fear that is experienced on the buying cycle – one experienced by your customers that makes them want to buy your product/service.

However, a more important fear that needs to exist in every company is the “Fear of Missing Touch” (Thank you Steli Efti for introducing me to this term at the Growth Marketing Conference in NYC yesterday). Without this fear within the walls of your offices, you have a very low probability of developing any product/service that will generate FOMO within your target market. So what exactly is the Fear of Missing Touch?

michelangelo-71282_640

Fear of Missing Touch is the fear of not being in close touch with your target users that you don’t have a very good understanding of your target user’s pain points, needs and challenges. It is the fear that you are not leaving your office (where btw, none of your target users live) enough number of times to “spend time in the wild with the natives”.

It does not matter how many internal opinions are held within your office about what users want, unless you as a product manager is spending time outside the building listening to users and understanding what problems keep them awake so much, that they are willing to pay for a solution, you do not stand creating a product/service that will create FOMO. Don’t fall into the trap of not doing this because you hear stories of “Apple does not do this” or “Facebook did not do this” because they are mere exceptions led by exceptional one-in-million-leaders than the norm. Your chances of being an Apple or Facebook in winning is the same as winning the lottery. The business world is littered with more corpses of failed companies than successes.

Being in CONSTANT touch with your target customers does not guarantee product success, but not doing it guarantees failure.

It sounds very obvious right? But more and more people I talk to, it is apparent that everyone realizes that it needs to be done but is never executed on – it is like exercising. Some of the reasons I have heard for not doing it are the following:

  1. Our founders have talked with target users before they started the company.
  2. We all belong to the target users, so our needs are the user’s needs
  3. We do a lot of A/B testing
  4. We pay close attention to our competition
  5. We have talked about it, but we have not been able to find <insert some excuse here> (time, money, motivation, ….)

I believe the main reason for not getting started is inertia. There is a feeling that you have to visit a lot of customers before it would be useful – not true. So here are three action items that you could use to get started, overcoming that inertia.

  1. Set a goal of visiting just “ONE” customer a month (3/quarter). Once you get used to it and start seeing the benefits, up that to 5 customers a quarter.
  2. Plan well in advance and send a calendar invite to the customer such that now you have an external commitment (to someone not in your office)
  3. Visit that customer and send a report of what you learned to everyone. Or present at the company meeting to create awareness that you are visiting real people who will pay real money to buy your product/service. Invite others to join you on your next visit.

Trust me, you will be amazed at what you learn, how eye opening it would be for you if you do it right. If you want to know, how to do it right, read my previous post on “Customer visits – dos and don’ts“.

A word of caution – visiting target customers needs to be a continuous endeavor because customer needs change over time. There is never a state where you will ever understand everything you need to about your target customers.

Do you agree? If yes, please share this post with others in your network. Thank you.

 

4 reasons why titles matter in startups

So you have just been offered a product management job in a startup, but the job offer does not mention any specific title. Should you bring up the title in your offer negotiations? I say Absolutely. In startups everyone is expected to wear multiple hats, but titles still matter for the following reasons:job title

  1. Equity offered is directly proportional to your title: Startups have what is known as a capitalization or a cap table. In its most simplified form, you can think of it as a two-column table – first column lists the titles in each row and the second column lists the % of ownership each title is given. Founders get the most equity, a hired CEO gets the next big chunk, VPs get more than Directors, Directors more than Managers and then at the bottom are those who are individual contributors. So your title determines what you get. Of course, there may be exceptions especially for the first few employees, but the cap tables are a general rule of thumb when it comes to equity grants. Note that I specifically used % of ownership as opposed to number of shares (this is another pitfall you should avoid). The number of shares mean nothing other than possibly stoking your ego. Being granted 50,000 shares may make you feel good, but if the outstanding shares are 100 million, you have just 0.05% of the company. This means if the company gets sold for $100M dollars 5 years after you join, the maximum you will ever get in exchange for your 5-year sweat equity is $50,000 (and even this is not a given and it depends on the terms at which money was raised from investors). Instead if you had 1,000 shares in a company that has 100,000 shares, you own 1% of the company. If it now gets sold for the same $100M, you could get a sweet $1M.
  2. Current title typically determines where you go next: Very few startups succeed, actually only a minuscule of them. You may have a fancy title of “The Cool dude” in the company that says titles do not matter and one that touts great culture. Even if you were responsible for all of product management, it could hurt you in the future. Future employers will not know what “The Cool Dude did” or may not even believe what you did. I would any day choose a title of Director of Product Management or VP of Product because it sets you up for your next stepping stone. Note, the founders of a company will make sure that they have the title of “Co-founder” in their titles for a good reason – it demonstrates their entrepreneurship and risk taking abilities. So I don’t buy when I hear startups say “we are not big on titles here”. Don’t get me wrong, I have always done what is needed to get the job done independent of what my title states, but that does not mean that the title is not important.
  3. HR cares about titles: If your startup gets acquired and if the acquirer decides to eliminate positions, severance payouts are usually based on your position in the hierarchy. I have seen execs walk away with a much bigger pot of gold than individual contributors have. Even if you are not let go, your compensation structure (bonus, stock options etc.) in the new bigger company will be dependent on the title you held in the smaller acquired company.
  4. Titles matter when speaking to customers: “The Cool dude” on your business card is not going to help you much if you are trying to close a deal for your sales team or if you are trying to meet with an executive of prospective clients. Titles like Director of Product or VP of Product Management likely will. Customers want to spend time with whom they perceive has decision making authority and not with “The cool dude”.

Just my opinion. What’s your take?

 

Effectively managing your communication with your manager

In the past 4 years, I have had 5 different managers – CEO, CTO, CMO and 2 VPs of Product. By the time I had got adjusted to the style of my manager and established a working relationship, I had a new boss. This constant change has made me come up with a way that ensures my communications with my manager is effective especially given the different roles they have held. There are three elements I have proactively established with each one of them to ensure no surprises

  1. Depth of communication
  2. Channel of communication
  3. Frequency

Depth of communication – given their different roles, I find out upfront how much detail they want to know on the progress I was making or problems I am encountering. Do they just want to know “release is on track” or do they want to know the the status of each of the features in the release including which ones have been completed, in dev or in testing? Establishing this upfront helps alignment of expectations and prevents surprises later.

Channel of communication – now that the content depth has been established, I then establish how my manager wants this to be communicated. Do they want it by email? Skype? Some managers would like to get a status update the night before my 1:1 and others have requested an update during the 1:1.

Frequency – this is where I have made sure my manager knew about my style of communication and was aligned with me. I classify problems into three categories and communicate it accordingly:

  1. “House is on fire” issues – these are serious issues that need to be escalated as soon as possible, issues that need to be handled above my pay grade. These are rare but when they happen, I will chase down my manager to communicate the issue face to face or give them a call.
  2. Important but not urgent – If it cannot wait till my next 1:1, I send it to them via their preferred communication channel (typically email) so that they are in the know and can provide me a decision or guidance I am looking for.
  3. Normal, “run the business” issues – I keep a running list of things I want to talk to my manager about during the next 1:1. If I feel that some of these issues require some thinking from their end, then I send it to them before hand and label them as “talking points” for my 1:1.

I have had great success using the above techniques, so hopefully you will find it helpful as well. Thoughts? Other techniques you have used that work well?

Communicating when “fires” break out – “We are on it”

As software product managers, we often deal with cross-functional issues from time to time such as projects that fall behind schedule and now risk making a release, creative designs not ready for implementation, serious production issues that require immediate swats to be released etc. When such problems crop up, keeping your cross-functional team including your management team updated with the latest information is of paramount important. You can take two approaches to communication when such “fires” arise:

  1. Try to gather as much information as possible before you communicate so that you can include all the details of the problem and how you are going to fix it or
  2. Communicate immediately acknowledging there is a problem without revealing the seriousness of the problem and details of how you are going to fix it.

When substantial time is needed to gather data to understand the impact and quantify the size of the problem, I always prefer the latter. In an emergency, it is important to acknowledge that you are aware of the problem and to communicate the message “we are on top of it”. This way everyone (especially your senior management) know about the problem and can rest assured that folks are actively looking into it. Then, once you have gathered more information follow up with the details, options to fix the problem and the recommended solution. Instead, if you wait until you have all the information and good amount of time goes by, someone is going to find out, things get miscommunicated and you could spend more time trying to set things right.

Relate this to when tragedies strike – there is always a “first responder” team that appears on the scene immediately. Their job is to arrive first at the scene and take charge of the scene and start the data gathering process. As a product manager, you should be your team’s leader and part of the first responder team. On-time communication with the whole team is one way to gain respect and make you the go-to-person on your team.

Thoughts? Your experiences?

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Book Review: Cracking the Product Management Interview

If you are a product manager thinking about your next career move or someone looking to move into product management, this is THE book you should read and have as your reference.  I have been doing product management for many years and I found the book so resourceful. Gayle Laakmann McDowell and Jackie Bavaro have done a great job covering everything from the definition of a product manager role (remember that different companies have different definitions of what we do), how to transition from a non-PM role to a PM role, how to write a cover letter and resume that gets looked at to potential questions (behavioral, case studies, analytical problem solving) that you could be asked in a PM interview. They have interviewed product managers in companies such as Google, Twitter, Airbnb and Microsoft asking them about their day-day to activities and also senior Product Leaders as to how they have managed their careers.cracking the pm interview

It is written so well that it is a very easy read. The chapter I loved the most in the book was the one on “Estimation questions” where different examples such as “how many tennis balls can fit into an apartment” are worked out. The only chapter I have not read in the book is the one on “Coding questions”. This is only because I believe that Product Manager’s focus should be on the “Which” and “What” and not the “How”. It is our job to discover the customer problems, figure out “which” market problems are worth solving and “what” the solutions should look like from a User experience perspective. It is engineering’s job to figure out “how” they are going to develop the identified solution. But the chapter does not take anything away from the book.

I am confident that this book can end up to one of the best investments you could make if you are thinking about switching or finding a PM job. I strongly recommend it.

Here is a link to the book on Amazon: Cracking the PM Interview: How to Land a Product Manager Job in Technology