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 land a product manager job. Why? We have seven solid reasons for you.
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.
2. Action Plan and Timing
Putting together an action plan to build a side project is extremely time-consuming, especially when you live in most major cities around the country. You can have the best side project in the world or the worst side project in the world, but it’s not going to help you garner more interviews.
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 and many of them would argue that it is difficult to build a side project that can impress everybody you interview with.
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, 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.
- Will you build a side project every time you interview with a company?
- Are you confident you can scale that process?
- Is that expectation or assumption realistic?
5. Your Team
Who are you going to be working with this project on? 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 actually 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:
- Sales / Account Management
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?
Play the Numbers Game
There are times when an interview seems to go well and you think you have a good chance of landing the position. But then the position gets put on hold because the budget is put into a different department where a role just became vacant. All of a sudden the priority is to fill that position rather than the position you applied for. The company will have to pay more money to entice applicants to take that high-priority position. Now that they can’t meet your salary requirements, it becomes harder to take that job. Your interest plummets and you end up not taking the job.
The point of this scenario is to highlight the many different unforeseen circumstances that can happen at any given time during the application process. To give yourself the best chance of landing a Product Manager position that you are excited about, you have to play the numbers game. Your time is limited, so there really isn’t any time to spend building a side object while prioritizing landing a 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:
- 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.
- Optimize your Linkedin profile so that the interviews that you actually care for are going to reach out to you.
- 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.