At Product Gym, we are asked the question, “What do you think about building side projects? Or what are the best side projects for me to build?” The answer that we always tell to our clients is, “Building a Side Project is the worst strategy you can employ to land a product manager job.” The following are 8 Reasons Building a Side Project is the Worst Strategy Ever to Land a Product Manager Job.
1. Let’s Start with Why
When you’re thinking about building a side project to land a Product Manager job, what is your intention? Is your intention to:
- 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?
- Just simply claim that you have built something?
- Land a Product Manager job?
For most people, it’s a combination of all of the above, but ultimately what they are trying to do with their side project is land a job with it. But building a side project is not going to be worth all the effort for these following reasons.
The intention of many people building a side project is to get a better chance of landing a Product Manager job.
If this is your intention then your time is better spent applying and interviewing for Product Manager roles. The only KPI that is relevant to landing a Product Manager job is to do more interviews. The best side project is not going to help anyone applying land an extra 5 interviews next week.
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. At Product Gym, our students, 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.
However, just in case you are still adamant about building a side project; then let us Product Manage this roadmap out. Let’s make the assumption that building a side project WILL help you land a Product Manager job.
2. How are You Going to Build this Side Project?
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. If it’s really a passion project of yours, go ahead and build it. 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.
3. What are You Going 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 even know which restaurant you will end up working at, nor do you have a preference. Your only intention is that you can land a role where you will be working with very smart people, learn tons, and gain 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 basically eliminated your chances of working at a seafood restaurant in the city, and if you chose a seafood dish, vice versa. If you chose a pastry dish, you become known as a dessert chef.
4. You Can’t Be All Things to All People All the Time
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 to it and you could be talking to as much as 29 or even more stakeholders. Can you guarantee with absolute certainty that the side project that you have chosen is going to impress everybody? Probably not.
- Are you going to build a side project every time before you interview with a company?
- Are you confident you can scale that process?
- Is that expectation or assumption realistic?
5. What Does the End Product Look Like?
- Where are you going to display this product?
- Is it going to be on a Github?
- Is it actually going to be on display as a website?
- How are people going to be able to access it?
- Is this going to be a PowerPoint? Google Slide?
- Will you have mockups?
These side projects will never be a physical entity because most aspiring Product Managers are not engineers. Even 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?
- Sales / Account Management
6. Keep the Focus of the Interview on the Problem this Company Can’t Solve, NOT Your Side Project
The other challenge of choosing to do a side project is the notion that you are using your and the company’s time in the interview and application process to focus on only your side project, rather than focus 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 on the interview should always be on the problem that the company hope will be solved when they hire the right person.
7. Who Are You Going to Be Working With?
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 a challenge of actually building the Product. Half of the time, Product Managers are in meetings talking to various stakeholders talking about which direction that product should go in. On top of that, they are satisfying the needs of the various stakeholders.
You can’t actually 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 that was 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 creating a project is going to be a waste of your time.
8. When are You Going to be Working on this Side Project?
Your time is valuable! Is your time better spent applying and preparing for interviews or building a side project?
How much time are you going to spend on this project? When are you actually going to be able to start the project? I would argue that your time is better spent applying because more applications generally mean more interviews. Product Management is one of those obscure roles where nobody tells you what to do. The Product Manager starts day one telling other people what to do.
You can be interviewing for a Product Manager job, say and do everything right, and still not land the offer. Furthermore, you can land the offer and it could still be a bad offer. You have no choice BUT to play the numbers game. At Product Gym, we coach aspiring Product Managers and working Product Managers alike, so we know these challenges exist. People spend a lot of time on activities that don’t help them yield more interviews. Even if you got the best side project out there, that side project is not going to help you land an extra 5 interviews.
We are all cognizant of the challenges when we interviewed professionals working in the Product Management industry.
There are times when an interview seems to go great and you think that your chances of landing the position are great. But then the position gets put on hold because the budget is put into a different department where a role just became vacant and all of a sudden the priority is to fill that position rather than the position you are applying for. They will now have to pay more money to entice applicants to take that 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 scenario just mentioned signifies the many different unforeseen circumstances that can be happened at any given time. To give yourself the best chance of landing a Product Manager position that you are actually excited about, you have to play the numbers game. Your time is limited, so there really isn’t any time to spend on building a side object while prioritizing landing a job.
The question you should probably be asking yourself is, “Would you rather have multiple offers, one offer, or no offers?” If you are spending all your time building a side project, you will never scale your interviews to the point where can garner multiple offers.
Who Said Building Side Projects was the Secret to Landing a Product Manager Job?
People that do not understand or appreciate your pain in transitioning to a Product Manager job. They do not understand because they have never had to or will ever have to struggle as much as you are right now to land a Product Manager job with an inspiring company, all the while maintaining a full-time job you hate, and selling yourself as a rockstar Product Manager with no official Product Management experience and/or title.
Where Your Time is Best Spent
The methods that do work include:
- Apply at scale and treating your application process as a business development process. At Product Gym, we are able to 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 and making sure that everybody that you talk to does not forget who you are. Just because of a bad follow up, there are many candidates that get left behind and fall through the crack. 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.