How to get hired as a product manager

First off – this post talks more on existing product managers looking for a new opportunity and how best to approach it.

For anyone looking to become a product manager for the first time, coming from sales engineering, development, support or training – congrats! You’re in for a crazy ride and one of the most fulfilling careers you could ask for. You may find what comes next as a glimpse into your future, but there are many great articles focused more on becoming a new product manager. I highly suggest googling them and starting there.

Now, on to finding a product management job you’ll love, how to get hired for that position, and some tips based on my own personal experiences.

If you’re like me, you may not have a single reason that “broke the camel’s back”, but rather a list of medium-sized reasons to find a new job. For me the triggers are:

  • Reached a plateau in learning – you’re doing a great job, things are going well, but you’re not expanding your knowledge – not learning anything new
  • Getting bored – it’s just not as exciting as it used to be
  • Worried about the time warp – basically you can see yourself blinking and losing 5 years at the company without any significant changes

Once you’ve identified the reasons to move, you may or may not actively start looking. At a start-up I once worked at, one day the doors closed and there was no surer kick in the ass way to get me to look for a job. But many times you simply start exploring what’s out there – as product managers we always monitor the market – the job market is exactly the same.

Now what?

Here’s a few tips on how to get hired as a product manager (senior, director or VP)

Tip 1 – A cold network is a dead network

Keep it warm!

Everyone talks about networking as so important. I agree. But nothing smells so much of desperation and denial as someone who blasts their contacts and network looking for a job *only when they need one*. This is like your best friend who suddenly finds himself a girlfriend/boyfriend and suddenly drops off the face of the planet, only to come crawling back months later asking to do shooters at the local bar to forget all about their nightmare. Unlike your best friend, your professional network is not that invested in your happiness. They are though the most valuable resources for job seeking. I read a blog post once (which I can’t remember, wait here it is:  http://www.mattmcwilliams.com/maintaining-a-warm-network/) that goes into a pretty detailed way of keeping your network warm. I don’t do half of the things he mentions, but almost all of them are effective.

How does this apply to product management: Product managers are this wonderful mix of socially competent, business savvy, technology experts (i.e. Can wear a thinkgeek.com card reader yet still impress clients during sales presentations). We love networking, associations and clubs. Use this to meet more product managers inside and outside your industry.

Tip 2 – LinkedIn is your gateway to the world

Keep it updated!

I seriously cannot imagine doing a job search before the world of LinkedIn. Yes this does date me as a 30-something technophile, but LinkedIn is such a great tool that it horrifies me to think of a job hunt without it. More importantly there is a rising amount of “HR Recruiting Specialists” roles appearing at companies. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been approached by recruiters while employed. Keeping your LinkedIn network warm (see Tip 1) and keeping your profile up to date is very important. One extra tid bit – be sure to give your headline something meaningful – if you’re looking for a job then say it! By default LinkedIn will use your job title from your current job, but you can customize this as you see fit. Here’s a good example of what I mean: http://jorgensundberg.net/how-write-your-killer-linkedin-headline/

How does this apply to product management: A recent survey I read states that over 90% of product managers are on LinkedIn. I would say that it’s actually even higher than that. Besides all the recruiters and head hunters, other product managers are a great way to find jobs in your area. On top of this, LinkedIn has really invested in their Job posting section – pony up for a Premium Account and use every single LinkedIn Premium Badge job seeking edge you can. It’s not cheap, but then again, what’s your price for finding the right job?

Tip 3 – Get social in a meaningful way

Keep it relevant!

With the widespread use of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Yelp, blogs (such as this one) and other ways to communicate, picking the right channel is key to staying relevant. Become connected with others, read blogs, grow your Twitter followers, and most importantly – stay relevant. If you’re continuously looking to learn and grow like I am, then not understanding these modern ways of communicating reflects badly upon your ability to stay relevant. Personally I keep my Facebook for personal contacts, Twitter and LinkedIn for professional networks, my Back to the Product blog for product management interests and that’s it. But you don’t need to have a blog to understand how it works, where it’s powerful, and what’s going on in technology today. These are all things recruiters look for and hiring managers count on when bringing in new people. I’ve developed teams of product managers and product marketers, and I’ve always looked for the same things – smart, ambitious, opinionated, willing to learn and constructively debate any topic – and relevant in today’s business and technology world. Getting social is a great way to demonstrate this – and share those experiences with others (besides the fact I continue to find writing one of my most enjoyable past times).

How does this apply to product management: As a rule, we tend to look for external validation for many decisions we make. Be it customers, the “market”, sales, support or engineering. Because of this, many product managers have blogs (or read them), participate in Product Camps (or even organize them) or even conduct live podcast radio sessions with thought leaders (I’m looking at you Cindy Solomon). All of this increases our exposure as product managers and increases our chances of connecting with a great job out there. All we need to do is hear about it.

I could go on with many more tips, but I’ve tried to summarize them here to emphasize how important they are when looking for a job. I’m currently building yet another product management team, and will definitely be looking at the above items when recruiting.

How about you? What has been your experiences when hiring product managers, or on the flip side, looking for a product manager job?

Please share your stories below in the comments.

-Hakan Kilic

6 Thoughts

  1. Really great post! Another great way to network is to go to conferences that are relevant to your field- heard about a Product Camp that is for Product Managers that local people put together in different cities, looks pretty cool! From an internal recruiter point of view, I 100% agree that these are many of the things we look for when reaching out to a potential candidate… so definitely good info!

    Speaking of which.. we are actually hiring! I work at Ultimate Software, ranked #9 on Fortune’s TOP 100 places to work in 2013 in the US, and we’re looking for a Global Talent Product Manager to lead us in our large global initiatives for 2014.

    I’d love to connect with you or anyone you may know of that is looking for a great opportunity at a truly amazing company. Our HQ is located in sunny South Florida (near Fort Lauderdale) but the position can also be located in our Atlanta, Georgia office or anywhere virtually.

    Please apply to this job via https://myrec.ultimatesoftware.com/usg1006/JobBoard/JobDetails.aspx?__ID=*55DB5B624B102313 or check out any of our other open jobs at https://myrec.ultimatesoftware.com/usg1006/JobBoard/listjobs.aspx

    Hope to hear from you soon!!

    Like

  2. Great post, I’m a Product Manager looking for a position. So this article point out some of the many items I need to do in my efforts to find a new position.

    Like

  3. Glad you got some good stuff from that article Hakan.

    Too many people mistakenly think networking is only for corporate execs or salespeople, but it is for all of us…and done right can change your life.

    I never made it as a project manager…too much detail. I’ve hire some great ones and…some not so great ones.

    Like

  4. Amazing how simplicity can be sometimes so elusive until somone points it out to you. Reading your blog, I realized how outdated my LinkedIn heading was :). I did update my profile, thanks to you. Let’s see how it leads to finding more exciting opportunities.

    Glad I came across your blog.

    Regards,
    Dushyant

    Like

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