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.
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.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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?
- 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).
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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, 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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