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7 Reasons to Stop Building Side Projects

At Product Gym, we are often asked, “What do you think about building side projects? What are the best side projects for me to build?” Our answer is always the same: Building side projects is the worst strategy you can employ to get a Product Manager job. Why? We have seven solid reasons for you.

1. Intention

When you’re thinking about building side projects to land a Product Manager job, what is your intention? Is it one of the following?

  • Go through the process of building a side project, so you can basically learn the ins and out of building a product?
  • Have something to talk about when you are interviewing for a Product Manager role and conversing with various stakeholders?
  • To claim that you have built something?

For most people, it’s a combination of all of the above. But ultimately, the intention of many people building side projects is to get a better chance of landing a Product Manager job. The trouble is that building side projects is not going to be worth all the effort. If your end goal is to get a PM job, then there are more effective and less time-consuming strategies you can and should employ instead of building side projects.

2. Action Plan and Timing

Putting together an action plan to build a side project in itself is extremely time-consuming. If your intention is to land a Product Manager job, then your time is better spent applying and interviewing for those roles. The only KPI that is relevant to landing a Product Manager job the number of interviews you go on.

At Product Gym, we talk to 10 to 22 Product Managers every week. Many of them would argue that it is difficult to build a side project that can impress everybody you interview with.

Instead, it is more worthwhile to focus your time and efforts on the things that can really help you stand out from the crowd. Instead, it is more worthwhile to focus your time and efforts on the things that can really help you stand out from the crowd. In our Product Gym career coaching community, we focus on the real game-changers when it comes to Product Manager job applications. These include how to pitch your background, how to nail case studies (yes, even the technical ones), and how to close your final round interviews with a bang.

Additionally, the average person that is job hunting for a Product Manager role right now is averaging at best 3 to 4 interviews per week. Our members, coaches, and clients are generating 15 or more product management interviews per week and they’re able to do this consistently for 6 to 8 weeks. There is simply no time for someone to balance a side project while actively applying and interviewing for Product Manager positions.


3. What to Build?

Imagine you are trying to land a position as one of the top chefs for a big restaurant in New York City. You do not know which restaurant you will end up working at, nor do you have a preference. Your only intention is to land a role where you will be working with very smart people, learning tons, and gaining valuable experience. You spend all day thinking about what signature dish best represents you.

What would that dish be? If you chose a meat dish, you eliminated your chances of working at a seafood restaurant in the city. If you chose a seafood dish, vice versa. Choose a pastry dish, and you become known as a dessert chef.

In other words, by focusing your attention and expertise on one project and one experience, you’re limiting yourself. You’ve narrowed your areas of focus, and you may miss out on opportunities that fall outside of it.

4. Universal Appeal

The point is that there is absolutely no way you will be able to build a side project or even a prototype that is going to be able to impress or satisfy every stakeholder you interview with. Job hunting for a Product Manager role is a numbers game. Why would you choose to limit or corner yourself?

In a given Product Manager interview, there are 4 rounds. You could be talking to as many as 29 stakeholders or more. Can you guarantee with absolute certainty that the side project that you have chosen is going to impress everybody? Probably not. Consider this:

  • Will you build a new side project every time you interview with a company?
  • Are you confident you can scale that process?
  • Is that expectation or assumption realistic?

Luckily for you, building a side project is not going to be the defining factor that sways your recruiter’s decision in your favor. Instead of focusing on building a side project, why not place your focus on building your other skill sets, so that you not only get the job, but also walk into your first day with utmost confidence?

At Product Gym, we cover everything from product strategy and roadmapping, to prioritization, marketing and pricing. We also discuss A/B testing and marketplace management, so that you can impress your recruiter with your product management knowledge… and not have to suffer from imposter syndrome on your first day.

5. Your Team

Who are you going to be working with on this project? Product management, at the end of the day, is a team sport. Most product management teams do not have the challenge of actually building the product. Half the time, Product Managers are in meetings with various stakeholders talking about which direction that product should go in. On top of that, they are satisfying the needs of the various stakeholders.

Essentially, you can’t build a project end-to-end by yourself. Will you be working with an Engineer, Designer, Scrum Master, or any of the other stakeholders that you will need? Even Mark Watney, stuck on Mars by himself, was working with other people to try to get himself back home. How far can you go by yourself? If you can not answer those questions affirmatively, this idea of building side projects is going to be a waste of your time.

6. The End Product

  • Where are you going to display this product?
  • Will it be on Github?
  • Is it going to be on display as a website?
  • How are people going to be able to access it?
  • Are you going to use PowerPoint? Google Slide?
  • Will you have mockups?

These side projects will never be a physical entity because most aspiring Product Managers are not engineers. And if you are an engineer, what will the product look like? You might be able to get a friend that is a Designer to help you, but what about the other stakeholders? Building side projects encounter some major roadblocks when it comes to the final product:

  • Finance
  • Marketing
  • Sales / Account Management
  • Customers

7. Your Interview Focus

The other challenge of choosing to build a side project is the notion that you are using your time, as well as the company’s time, in the application and interview process to focus on your side project, rather than on the problem this company is trying to solve.

The ultimate reason a company is hiring a Product Manager is to solve their problem(s). If they are interviewing for new people to work in their company, that means that they most likely have a problem that only a Product Manager can solve. Your entire interview should be focused on trying to help them solve that problem.

Your side project may not even be relevant to the problem they are trying to solve. The focus of the interview should always be on the problem that the company hopes will be solved when they hire the right person. And your focus in that interview is to show them that you are the right person.

So building side projects isn’t a clear shot to landing a Product Manager job. It demands too much of your time and focus, and the challenges you encounter will be insurmountable on your own. What then? If not through building side projects, how do you land the Product Manager job?

The question you should be asking yourself is, “Would you rather have multiple offers, one offer, or no offers?” If you are spending all your time building side projects, you will never scale your interviews to the point where can garner multiple offers.

Where Your Time is Best Spent

Here are some strategies you can employ that will help you land multiple interviews:

  1. Apply at scale and treat your application process as a business development process. At Product Gym, we have a proven application methodology where our clients are able to generate at least 6 to 15+ interviews per week for at least 6 to 8 weeks consistently.
  2. Optimize your Linkedin profile so that the Hiring Managers you’re interested in meeting with are more likely to reach out to you. Here at Product Gym, we teach our members exactly what to include in their LinkedIn profiles, so that they stand out from the crowd and leave a lasting impression.
  3. Be rigorous with your follow-up. Make sure that everybody that you talk to remembers who you are. There are many candidates that get left behind and fall through the cracks, just because of a bad follow-up. It’s up to you to follow up and respond to the people that are interviewing you so that you can go out there and get more interviews.

Want to learn more strategies to land more interviews and ultimately get the Product Manager job you’re after? Schedule a free career coaching call with our in-house team to learn how Product Gym can help you on your job hunt. We’d love to answer any questions you may still have.