It’s a difficult (and crowded) job market out there…
Most weeks during the pandemic, I’ve spent between 5 and 10 hours coaching and mentoring aspiring Product Managers and Product Managers seeking their next challenge.
P.S. If you’re looking for coaching/mentorship, you can find more on offerings from The Modern Product Manager here: Coaching and Mentoring with The Modern Product Manager
Almost everyone I meet with has a compelling background, unique stories, and can almost certainly add tremendous value at the right company.
However, almost everyone is also struggling with simply standing out.
How can you possibly hope to stand out from the hundreds (sometimes thousands) of other people applying for that coveted Product Manager role?
In short, you need to be unique.
You need to do something different than everyone else.
However, there are also several things that you can do to at least help you become part of a smaller group (let’s say dozens) of applicants that earn serious consideration. I recommend many of these techniques to the people I work with.
It’s all about improving your odds.
How You Can Stand Out
1. Do Something Truly Unique With Your Time
If you’re currently unemployed and looking for a Product role, one way to stand out is to do something truly unique with your free time.
Instead of simply applying to as many open positions as you can each day, get out there in the real world and make a big impact in any way you can.
Today, that may mean lending your PM skills (or developing them) to help a non-profit that is assisting with the COVID crisis. Even if you’re not getting paid, it will help you build your skills and will give you a strong and highly unique story that will catch the attention of hiring managers like me.
Plus it’s an experience you’ll never regret!
It’s important, of course, to find something you are passionate about doing, but also to focus on making it BIG and making it truly unique. Those are the characteristics that will help you stand out.
2. Go Build Something or Lean into Something You’ve Built in the Past
What projects did you start but never quite finish due to your 9–5 job?
What did you build in the past, but never fully grew or marketed?
Can you pick up one of these projects again or would you rather work on something new?
Stand out by building something.
Document your building journey on Medium (or YouTube). This will serve as a strong portfolio that will help you stand out from other candidates.
3. Find the Right Connection
I don’t want to undersell the amount of effort that it takes to build an effective professional network. It’s truly a lifelong endeavor.
If you haven’t started building your network, there is no time like the present to begin. Here’s some more information on how to do that through virtual/in-person coffees:
But here’s a shortcut: Once you’ve identified the types of companies and types of roles you’re interested in, I’d recommend finding a mentor who’s worked at one of these companies on GrowthMentor or MentorCruise.
Schedule some time with a mentor, bring strong questions about the company or the industry, and how you can best position yourself for a Product role.
On the call, if things go well, ask if there is anyone else that the mentor would recommend you talk with in their network to learn more about the company/type of role.
It’s important here that you aren’t perceived only as a job seeker.
Rather, aim for a “curious explorer” who is doing research on their next opportunity. It’s less threatening and will more quickly and likely lead to your goal of the next conversation.
4. Act Like a PM of the Company You’re Applying To
Prepare a case study (even if they didn’t ask for one).
Describe your PM process and how you identified several new feature opportunities for their product, how you would validate your hypotheses, and how you would gather customer feedback.
Make sure to answer these questions as you describe the opportunities:
- What problem(s) does this product/feature solve?
- Who uses this product/feature?
- What differentiates this product/feature from competitors?
- Who are those competitors?
- How does this product/feature fit into the overall business?
This recommendation also ties closely to the previous one. Once you’ve created your case study, it’s important you find the right person to share it with.
Find the connection or the connection of the connection that can help you get the case study into the right hands at the target company to get you an interview.
5. Transform the Interview into a Working Session
Great, you got an interview!
Now, don’t be like the 99% of interviewees who allow the conversation to largely be questions from one side (interviewer) and answers from the other (you).
Stand out by transforming the interview into a working session.
Share your ideas and thoughts as the right context arises. Ask the interviewer(s) Product and business questions you are genuinely curious about throughout the interview.
Brainstorm with the interviewer, treat them as a colleague. This is one of the most tried-and-true success techniques, but it takes some practice!
If this doesn’t come naturally to you, book a coaching/mentoring session, and get some reps.
6. Lean into Your Product Manager Type
Most Product Management candidates try to convey that they are experts at everything in their interviews. However, this rarely comes across as convincing.
While it’s true that you need to have competency in many different domains to be an effective Product Manager, you can stand out by strongly leaning into or “embracing” your Product Manager type.
If you are a Technical Product Manager, I want to know how you have leveraged those particular skills to be even more effective with highly complex and technical projects.
If you are an Analytic/DS Product Manager, I want to hear how you leverage data throughout the development cycle and how you’ve built models for your team to proof out potential value (as an example).
You get it.
Lean into your PM type, your PM superpower, and make sure it stands out in your resume, your bio, and your interview.
More on Product Management types here:
7. Write a Book
I get it: It can be very difficult to pull yourself away from the endless application, cover letter, resume modification cycle. But, I’ve seen far too many posts talking about “applying to hundreds of positions” with no results.
These individuals clearly aren’t standing out and those hours and hours and hours of time could certainly have been used more effectively.
It’s easier than ever to publish a book with Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and if done well, it can be an immensely positive signal that you are serious about learning, growing, and teaching.
There are even several services, like Scribe Writing, that help first-time authors with every step along the journey of authorship.
My first book, Building Digital Products both helped me learn about a career I was still new to (Product Management) and began to position me as an expert in the field.
Writing BDP also led to numerous opportunities and introductions that I never would have had otherwise, including both Meetup and conference speaking engagements.
Writing a book will certainly help you stand out from the crowd and will be another great story you can share in your Product interviews.
Your book also doesn’t have to be full length! It can be 50 pages and still offer compelling value to a niche audience.
How Have You Tried to Stand Out in a Crowded Product Market?
Let me know in the comments or on Twitter at @amitch5903!