How to Get a Product Manager Job for the First Time Part 1

In this 5 Part Series, we are going to take an in-depth look at what’s stopping the companies you are interviewing with from making an offer to you. In essence, we are going to help you Product Manage your way into a Product Manager job.

Whether you are an aspiring or experienced Product Manager, one of the most common (but fatal) mistakes job hunters make is only thinking about why they want the job, in contrast to why a company would want to hire them in the first place. It is painful for us to see here at Product Gym the number of people that apply to top-level name-brand tech companies without fully appreciating that other people might want to work at those companies too.

Our intention at Product Gym is to help all of our coaching clients here understand what challenges stakeholders interviewing you face that is consequently stopping them from making an offer to you.

Getting a Product Manager Job is a phenomenal exercise in helping you develop more end-user empathy. Most job hunters interested in transitioning into Product Management are only focused on what they want, rather than delivering the much-needed value for hiring teams to make an offer.

If you are only thinking about what you want, and the other person is only thinking about what they want, there ends up being no engagement. Interviewing for a Product Manager role has nothing to do with you. It has everything to do with the problem that this company is looking for a person to try and help them solve. You can be the best Product Manager with the most cutting-edge skills, distinguished MBA degree, and/or experience, but if you cannot convince the people you are interviewing with that you are the RIGHT Product Manager for them, you will not get the job.

Empathize with the Hiring Challenges Faced by the Recruiter During the First Round Phone Screen

First things first, let’s establish how many rounds there are. There are a minimum of 4 Rounds to any Product Management interview process before they decide to bring you on and possibly extend an offer. Every round is a different game with a different set of players, a different set of rules, a different format, and also a different objective and expectation for every new round.

Round 1 Round 2 Round 3 Round 4
Phone Screen Phone Screen Onsite Panel Onsite Panel
Duration 30 Minutes 30 Minutes 2 – 5 Hours 2 – 5 Hours
Team Talent Product Technology Business
Stakeholders Product Manager(s)

Engineers

Designers

Data Scientists

Project Managers

Mobile Developers

CEO

Finance

Marketing

Sales

Partnerships

Community

Operations

Imagine for a minute you are one of the stakeholders that is interviewing you right now and what their challenges would be in helping you become their next Product Manager before entering the interview.

Round one is going to be a call with a recruiter or a member of the talent acquisition team. This person is responsible for filling all the roles, scheduling all the calls, booking all the interviews, deciding whether or not you get a pass or fail on the first round, and going ahead and passing you down the funnel.

For this Part 1 of our 5 Part Series, we will first examine the challenges of your first stakeholder, the Recruiter. Let’s take a deeper dive into what the recruiter’s challenges are in passing you along the funnel.

Recruiter Challenge #1 – Resources

First of all, when you are working in a recruiting internal team, you are recruiting for a minimum of 12 to 15 positions at the same time. They are extremely overworked and they do not always have the best resources to perform their job. Most internal recruiting teams are working with legacy software and applications. Recruiting does not directly generate revenue for the company, so these people are the last to get the coolest laptops, they are the last to get Microsoft Office, and they are the last people to even get access to the fancy printers in the office. They do not contribute directly towards revenue being part of the internal recruiting team, so they don’t have a lot of necessary resources to work with. Most of the time they have Outlook, which is not designed for recruiting, sifting and sorting resumes, and scheduling interviews.

Recruiter Challenge #2 – Lack of Clarity on Hiring Expectations

There is a lack of clarity on what expectations are for most Product Management roles. When hiring teams decide that they need to hire a Product Manager or any role in the organization, they often email the recruiter and say “Hey, we need to start hiring for this Product role. Can we start interviewing people in 2 weeks?”

This recruiter has no ABSOLUTELY any idea what exactly the hiring team is looking for or what their team is looking for. This creates a whirlwind of challenges that create more challenges we will be covering in the future parts of this series. When hiring expectations are unclear for recruiters, a description is created to attract as many candidates as possible to apply for this job. The job description is usually copied and pasted from a competitor based in a different city. The byproduct of this decision is an overflow of candidates that recruiters often do not have the adequate resources to handle.

Recruiters have weekly deliverables too, and in regards to passing candidates, the expectation is filtered out usually 5 to 8 resumes a week for the hiring team for review. It is a process of elimination game from here on out. Since the recruiter does not have clear expectations on what the hiring team needs in a Product Manager, they will keep feeding applicants into the funnel. When a recruiter has enough feedback from the hiring team as to what they do not like in the candidates that have scheduled, recruiters will at some point being able to get a better grasp of what the hiring team does want.

This is why some roles are kept open for 12 to 24 or more months. The expectations keep changing, but the job description is rarely updated to reflect them.

Recruiter Challenge #3 – Too Many Candidates Puts You in the Hunger Games

This lack of clarity creates another problem, as they start attracting way too many resumes in their job portal. Once the resumes are in the portal, internal recruiters have difficulty sorting and sifting through all of the candidates that are coming in.

What kinds of problems does this create?

Hiring teams start finding reasons to not hire you, as opposed to finding reasons to hire you, because the overwhelming number of applicants forces hiring teams to thin out the herd.  When they have your resume, they are not looking for reasons to call you; instead, they are looking for reasons to not call you.

That is, if they even get to look at your resume.

To make matters worse for you, a recruiter’s weekly deliverable is to pass 3 to 8 resumes per week, per role, to the hiring team. If they find 5 to 8 decent resumes for the hiring team within the first 17 resumes that week and your resume is not within the first 17 resumes, then you will probably not receive a call.

Recruiters will only sift and sort through as many resumes as they need to for that position, and then they move on to the next role once they fulfill the quota for applicants for that position. All of this is continuing while the recruiters are getting an influx of more resumes for every role they are recruiting for.

In the hiring processrecruiters look to hire someone through the procedure of looking for flaws in an applicant, or reasons to not hire him or her.

Through the eyes of the hiring team,

  • When they review your resume, they are not looking for reasons to schedule a call with you; they are looking for every reason to not schedule a call with you.
  • When you are on the phone screen, they are not looking for a reason to bring you on site; they are looking for every reason not to bring you on site.
  • When they have you in their office for an onsite, they are not looking for reasons to extend an offer to you, they are looking for every reason to NOT extend an offer to you.

For them, it’s a process of elimination through and through from the very beginning. They are not looking for reasons to make a deal happen, but you are.

Can you see how this creates an impassé?

Recruiter Challenge #4 – What are Internal Recruiters Motivated By and How are they Incentivised

Considering there is a lack of clarity regarding the expectations and what the hiring team actually wants, the recruiter is not going to spend a lot of time trying to conjure up the job description. Most job descriptions are copied and pasted from competitors that are based in other cities. The reason for that is that they have to go out there and get this job done quickly. They have 12 to 15 roles to recruit for, so when they are done posting for this role, they have to move onto actively posting for the next role.

Many of you have probably gone on the interview and realized the job description has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with the role that you are interviewing for. In fact, the more you are progressing towards the interview, the more you realize everyone seems to have a different interpretation of this job.

Beyond that, internal recruiters do not get compensated well enough for the amount of work that they do. One of the ways they are incentivized is the amount of money they save a company in a given year which dramatically impacts their bonuses.

Here’s an example :

Let’s just say a company in a year has a hiring budget of $1,000,000, which does not mean each person will earn $100,000. Realistically, some people are going to make less money, while some people are going to be making more money. Most of this is based on function, responsibility, title, and overall value that someone is bringing to the company when hired. If the recruiter saves the company $300,000 a year in hiring, they are probably going to be entitled to about 10%-15% of that bonus, or $30,000 to $45,000. This creates a little bit more incentive for them to go out there and persuade applicants to take low offers.

Your compensation may directly impact the bonus some recruiters expect to receive. It is not much you can do to rectify this since this put your interests of getting the highest offer in direct conflict with the recruiter’s interest in trying to get the best bonus possible.

Solution

When you are interviewing for a Product Manager position (regardless of what your professional background is), you have to:

  • treat all the people that you interview with as your stakeholders and end-users.
  • empathize with the real world challenges and hesitations that are stopping hiring teams from giving you offers.
  • appreciate that the interview process is as frustrating for hiring teams as it is for you too.
  • sympathize that the hiring team has an unreasonably short timeframe to determine if you are the right person to lead the team.
  • approach and solve this problem as a Product Manager would.

Even though this process is flawed, appreciate that it is likely to remain this way for many years to come.

Product Manage Your Way to the Second Round

Common Definitions of a Product Manager

  • The Mini CEO of a Product.
  • Help lead an entire Product Development lifecycle.
  • The bridge between business, tech, design, and the consumer.
  • The glue that fills in the gaps, whatever it may be, and is the glue to an organization.
  • Meet the unmet needs of the end user.

At the end of the day, Product Managers are problem solvers, so solve the problem(s) of the person that is interviewing you is having and you will get the job.

When you factor in all these different definitions of a Product Manager from the countless different Product Managers we interview here at Product Gym, you may get the sense you may be able to do all those things but you were just not the right person to lead this team. One of the reasons why your stakeholder cannot envision you as their new Product Manager may be that they do not get the sense that you are a leader. This is why skills do not matter in an interview because there are so many people more skillful than you are competing for this role that got passed on all the time.

In our next article for this series, we will take a deeper like at the challenges second round stakeholders face in extending you an offer.

If you are interested in learning more about how to overcome these first round challenges so that you can transition smoothly into the final money round, then please schedule a call today or RSVP for our next event to see how Product Gym can help you land your next Product Manager job.

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