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How to become a product manager by landing a great job – 2021 update

Hi, I’m Sam! I have been a product manager for years. Now I work as an industry mentor for the product, strategy, and operations track at Pathrise. I help people land their dream job through workshops and 1-on-1 mentoring. Check out our guide so you can find out how to become a product manager.

Updated in 2021

Working in product management as a new grad or early career position provides you with opportunities to learn the ropes and increase your relevant experience for when you are looking for more product positions later in your career. However, it is tough to break into the industry in that type of role because there are not very many openings. To combat that, oftentimes early product positions will include some strategy and operations as well. So, you should be ready to increase your bandwidth to include those functions.

Luckily, we have worked with hundreds of job-seekers to optimize their search and land great product management, as well as strategy and operations jobs. We put together this step-by-step guide to help shed light on the road ahead. That way you, too, can get a job that you love.

Step 1: Tell your story on your resume and LinkedIn

When applying for product management jobs, you need to have a strong story on your resume and LinkedIn. This is especially true if you are looking for your first PM role because your experience might not exactly match. Therefore, you need to show your skills as much as possible. This helps recruiters know you are a good candidate who should move forward in the process. 

In order to do this, each statement should show the impact of the work, rather than just what was done. You also need to include quantification of results and/or scale of the project. These statements will likely take up more space, but it is worth it to help you stand out.

For example, this is a statement that only shows the grunt work that you did:

  • Researched market trends to build models.

Instead, this statement can be updated to show the impact and quantify the results:

  • Conducted market research, analyzed 60+ seed-stage startups, and built valuation models to optimize opportunity identification process by 20%

Work on highlighting your logistics, operations, strategy, and project management skills because your background and experience might not be a perfect match to the responsibilities of a product manager. This is part of telling the right story for these roles.

Once your resume content is strong, the formatting should be clean, professional, and tech-centered. Readability is key, so keep it to 1-2 columns. and make sure your spacing is consistent. This makes it as easy as possible for an applicant tracking system (ATS) or a quick glancing recruiter to parse the information. 

We recommend sans serif fonts (fonts without feet) and a maximum of 1 cool color (blue, green, purple) to make your resume look more modern. It is especially important to include a skills section to highlight the tools and systems that you can use. But, do not include “proficiency” for each. Try to match as closely as possible to the keywords on the job description. We recommend this because both recruiters and applicant tracking systems will be looking for exactly those words.

For even more tips on how to make your product manager resume as strong as possible, check out our article. To optimize your LinkedIn profile, make sure you have a professional photo, contact information, and a short bio about your experience and the types of roles you are interested in. You should have all of the experience from your resume. But, you can even include more description on LinkedIn, since you do not have a space limit.

Step 2: Find the right opportunities

The next step is to find opportunities that fit you and your goals. Think about the types of work you enjoy doing and the culture that best suits you. For additional help, try asking yourself some of these questions:

  • Do I want to work at a well-established, large company or a small, new one?
  • Do I like variety in my role?
  • Am I better working on a team or solo?

The way you respond to these questions can help you decide if you want to work at a big company or a startup or maybe even on a remote team. When you get a sense of the types of companies that are best for you, you can narrow down the job boards that you use.

We ranked and rated even more product manager job boards, too, so you can check those out.

Step 3. Get more responses to your applications

Sending an application into the online portal is not the end of the line. You can increase your response rate by taking one extra step that can be as quick as 5 minutes.

That step is what we call reverse recruiting, which means that you reach out to the recruiter first. First, you need to find the recruiter, hiring manager, or a senior team member on LinkedIn. Them, you can find their email address through a free service like Clearbit or LeadFinder. If they don’t come up on there, you can try to guess their email addresses using these likely combinations:

You can test your guesses using email address verification services like Hunter and Email Checker. You can also check out our guide, which teaches you how to reach out to recruiters. Then, download our spreadsheet with contact information for Google recruiters, Facebook recruiters, Apple recruiters, and hundreds more.

Once you have their email address, write a compelling and concise cold email that lets them know you have just applied for the position. In the email, explain that you would love to learn more about the company and the role by jumping on a quick call. Make sure that you give them specific times to choose to make it as easy as possible to say yes. Our data has shown that this increases the likelihood of response by 3x, on average.

Here is an example of a template you can use for this cold email:

Hi [name],

I hope you’re doing well! My name is [your name] and I’m reaching out because I recently applied for the [position] position I saw on [platform] and noticed you are a [role] at [company]. 

While I am not sure if you are the right person to contact, I wanted to reach out to you specifically because I was interested in the work you are doing, specifically [something from their LinkedIn or something the company is working on]. I am a logistics-minded aspiring product manager with internship experience in the field and I believe I would hit the ground running and be a great fit for your team.

I would appreciate the opportunity to learn more about you and the company. Would you be free for a 15-minute call, either at [timeframe 1] or [timeframe 2]? In advance, I have attached my resume for your review. I really appreciate your consideration and look forward to hearing from you.

All the best,

[Your name]

Step 4: Practice in preparation for the technical interviews

The best advice we can give is to practice the type of questions you will see in the technical sessions. We compiled a list of product manager interview questions from top tech companies, which is a good place to start.

Most of the questions will be in one of the following categories. So, make sure you have a good sense of these topics:

  • Personal taste/experience
  • Operations/strategy
  • Design
  • Technical
  • Metrics
  • Market sizing/estimation
  • Situational

Step 5: Research so you can nail your behavioral interviews, too

Behavioral interviews help the company determine how you would react in certain situations and whether or not you are a good fit for the culture and team. They are often just as important as the technical sessions, but a lot of people don’t know how to prepare for them. 

The first behavioral interview you will have will be your phone screen, which is often short and more casual, but that does not mean you shouldn’t prepare. Read our guide on how to prepare for a phone interview here.

The first step to behavioral interview preparation is research. Start with the company About page, so you can learn about their mission and history. Move onto the Culture page, where you can read about their values. Questions on values often comes up in interviews at big tech companies like Amazon and Netflix. They also often include good information on what they are looking for in a candidate and new teammate on the Jobs or Careers page, so make sure you review that. Finally, take a look at their Products page to ensure you are able to speak knowledgeably about what you could be working on if you are hired. We’ve created a guide showing you how to research a company to prepare for your interviews, which you can review for more tips.

Insert this information into the responses you prepare for the behavioral interview questions from top tech companies that you will likely be asked. Write your responses down and practice them in front of a mirror or with a friend so that you feel comfortable. People often think the more they say, the better, but that usually comes off as rambling, so instead, keep it succinct and offer to “go into more detail,” if the interviewer wants.

You know you will be asked to introduce yourself, so prepare your elevator pitch in advance. The structure should look something like this:

  1. Education: Introduce yourself, your major, and your class or year of graduation. This lets the recruiter know right off the bat what type of position you will fit in. It will also help frame you if this is the first product management role for you.
  2. Experience: What have you done in internships, school projects, student groups, or activities (as it relates to product, strategy, or operations)? Show that you put your skills to work and continue to tell your story.
  3. Projects (optional): If you don’t have much experience, or if you have very impressive projects, supplement your elevator pitch be mentioning 1 or 2.
  4. Conclusion: End strong with a preview of your response to “why this company” by adding how you fit with their mission.

Check out our guide to writing a strong elevator pitch with a template you can adapt for your own use.

Prepare the questions you will ask at the end of the interview, as well. We’ve compiled the 10 best questions to ask in a product manager interview, which you can use as a jumping off point.

Step 6: Maintain a good impression while you negotiate

Negotiation actually starts from the first interaction you have with the company. Usually, this is in the application or phone screen with the recruiter. If they ask for a salary or range, tell them you want to do more research or write “Negotiable, within reason.” Be careful throughout your interviews and avoid mentioning numbers or other companies you are interviewing with because that can factor in as well.

When you do receive an offer, say thank you to the recruiter and let them know you are excited about the opportunity. Don’t say yes or no on the phone! Hang up and do some research.

According to Glassdoor, average compensation for product managers is $109k. Associate product managers, which is a position that requires a less extensive background, has an average salary of $85k. On AngelList, the average salary for a product manager is $105k. This might be a more well-rounded salary average because it includes startups. 

You can figure out what to negotiate based on the type of company extending an offer. For example, if you are in the offer stage with big tech companies like Facebook, Google, and Amazon, they are likely already offering you a good salary. In that case, you might want to focus on asking for changes to equity, signing bonuses, and other benefits. 

With smaller startups, your salary might be lower at first, so you should try to negotiate that higher unless they explicitly mentioned that they cannot. If that occurs, look at bonuses, equity, and benefits so that you can increase your total compensation. Use this negotiation email template, which we annotated, so that make sure you hit the right points and highlight your value to the company.

Step 7: Take a deep breath, you did it!

It might take some time, but using these tips and templates can help you gain confidence, expedite your job search, and help you land your dream product management job. 

If you are looking for more help, Pathrise is a career accelerator that works with students and professionals 1-on-1 so they can land their dream job in tech. With these tips and guidance, we’ve seen 3x as many responses to applications, interview performance scores that double, and a 10-20% increase in salary.

If you want to work with our mentors 1-on-1 to get help with any aspect of your product management job search, join Pathrise.

Apply today.

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