Land That Dream Product Job - Applications
"Land That Dream Product Job" series is meant to help those of you who are working toward your dream roles. Whether or not you're actively looking/interviewing now, I hope it will be handy at some point in your career. Do I think I'll be looking/interviewing again in my career? Absolutely!
We started the series with resumes. The job seeking lifecycle is:
Resumes -> Applications -> Interviews -> Negotiations -> Decisions.
So next in this post, we'll cover how to optimize your job applications! Specifically:
FAQs on Common Challenges
Lets dive in.
What are different ways to get your foot in the door to start the process?
Company Careers Page: Each company has their website, and on the website there's a career section where all their open jobs should be listed. If you have specific companies you target, it's still the best and most conventional way of looking at what's available, what you're interested, and send in your applications right there. It's usually the most comprehensive and up to date among all sources. Also, not only are there job openings, you should easily find more information about company's culture, core values, benefit, and generally how it's like working in the company (per how the company itself would advertise, of course), which will be helpful to you to determine fit and prepare interviews.
Linkedin Jobs: It's similar with job openings on company's career site, but on Linkedin. Linkedin has long become the biggest job seeking/hiring marketplace, especially in tech. So companies are incentivized to make their open jobs available on Linkedin as well to attract talent. What's the difference for you as an applicant? First, Linkedin Jobs are richer with useful insights beyond job descriptions. E.g. if you have connections in the company, how popular is the job, company's headcount growth, etc. All of these can help you strategize your applications. (NOTE: some insights are free while others are for Premium Members only). Second, some jobs have "one click apply" feature that makes it easy for you to apply, by just sending in your Linkedin Profile (vs filling out 10 pages of job applications). Third, Linkedin does have personalized job recommendations for you based on not only your profile but your job viewing/applications activities. So I'd highly encourage you to take advantage of these tools in your job search.
Referrals: If you have connections in the company you're applying to, they might be able to provide internal referral for you into the job. Some companies provide referral incentives and those will be more easily approachable even if you're not as close with the said connection. Others don't. Some people refer anyone who asks, others only refer ones they've had deep relationship with and thought were well qualified. Nothing is wrong or right, you just have to work with what you have. More on this later in FAQ. If you do have connections you believe are willing to refer you, do reach out.
Passive Leads: It's also known as "the jobs that come to you". It's too good to be practical, you might think. It might not be easy when you first get started with minimum credentials on your resume, but it should definitely be your goal to work toward. That's because believe it or not, it's the #1 channel in which companies make qualified hires. That's why all major companies have an army of talent sourcers in the first place. Their sheer job is to reach out to candidates who have not applied, and send them into the pipeline. Also, passive leads can come from your friends and connections too. For example, their companies might be hiring roles they know you want, or their companies might just be looking for bright people to join without specific job title but are willing to create roles for them. So not only should you build toward a stronger brand, you should made your goals known to those around you. It was said that some of the best jobs were never posted.
Across these channels, how do you strategize and optimize your chances at top of the funnel? Let me start with a few bullets:
Optimize Your Resume: It's covered in the last article. Make sure you do it before you send your applications.
Use All Channels: it doesn't hurt to have more doors when it comes to job applications. It's not the same as randomly and blindly applying to hundreds of jobs without knowing what you want. It's about increasing your chance to get noticed. Yes referrals might be on average more effective than applications in getting responses, but I bet you don't necessarily have connections in every companies you want to apply, and your connections might not necessarily send in the best words even if they're willing to do it for you. Yes company's career sites might somehow overlap with Linkedin Jobs, but behind the scene you never know which source recruiters pay the most attention to. Of course, even if you have shiny credentials on your Linkedin Profile already which already attract recruiters to contact you from time to time, I wouldn't just sit there and wait for the fishes to get hooked if I really want to pursue my next dream role. The point here is, don't over rely on a single channel. Use them all.
Optimize Your Linkedin Profile: similar to resume, but not quite the same. To reiterate, resume is a focused snapshot of your experience targeting a specific job role you're applying to. Linkedin profile is more 360 degree, comprehensive dynamic, and richer. A Linkedin Profile reflects your professional identity to date, all encompassing not only your work experiences, but your activities, credentials, goals and aspirations. My resume tips still mostly apply: be concise and readable, and show case your advantages and impact. Do complete all sections. Link out to any prior work, websites, speeches etc. which can strengthen your personal brand. Get some endorsements from your current and past coworkers don't hurt either! Why this is important? Well not only does it increase your chance to attract passive leads, hiring (tech) companies nowadays almost always check your Linkedin Profile anyway even if you send in an application with your resume separately from Linkedin, in order to get a full picture of your professional experience and qualifications. That also reminds you to make sure there's no factual discrepancy between your resume and Linkedin Profile, please.
Be Focused: My advice is while you can apply to jobs in as many companies as you want, do NOT apply too many jobs in a single company. This indicates to the company that you really don't know what you really want. It doesn't have to be always single, 2-3 max is good. To be clear, it's nothing wrong to want to try many different roles, especially when you really don't know enough about all of them before you get your foot in the door. It's just about creating the right image to the recruiter that you're focused.
Be Open Minded: I know you likely have very specific dream roles or dream companies in mind. It's great to know exactly what you want, and you should definitely apply to them. My advice is to be open minded about other adjacent opportunities - smaller companies, adjacent roles, companies in different industries, etc. For 3 reasons: A) sometimes you'd be surprised some of them end up being great roles after learning about them, B) you don't need to jump straight into your dream role in one shot, iterate closer to it is more than a viable strategy, C) you need a lot of interview experiences to condition yourself to be fully ready for interviews, so it only helps if you have more conversations and interviews. Trust me, I've personally applied all 3 above and they worked well! But wait, does this not conflict with "Be Focused" bullet above? No! remember, be focused in a single company, be open minded about more opportunities across companies.
Mindset, Mindset, Mindset: or you might as well call it just growth mindset, or stoic mindset. You might get easily frustrated by sending your applications into black holes and never hearing back. Overtime you develop the negative thinking that you might not be qualified for any of those after all and that you might as well stay where you are. Let me remind you a few things. First, sometimes not hearing back has nothing to do with your qualification. There are a ton of reasons why recruiters might overlook your resumes, or your resume just doesn't fall into whatever auto screening mechanism they're using, or they might already go far in the process with several other candidates etc etc. The key is, don't beat yourself up for not hearing back, don't worry about what you don't have in control. Second, statistically the response rate of any popular jobs (you bet tech product manager roles are among them) is low (probably less than 5% if not lower), so why don't you be mentally prepared that you might not hear back but that's ok! And that's also exactly why I suggest you to be open minded and try more roles across companies and industries.
Common Challenges FAQs
"Appreciate the encouragement about not hearing back. But it's been a while and I really haven't seen ANY progress. What do I do?"
My advice wasn't to ask you to sit there, wait, and keep on doing the same thing over and over and expect different result (aka insanity). Whenever you start something new, in this context starting new applications, give it some time, carefully observe what happens, and then check in after a while to see how you can improve. Say after you did your best optimizing your resume/Linkedin profile, persistently apply across channels, and over a few weeks to a month the response was much worse than you expected. Then it's time to check in and see how you can do differently. Can you try a different way to communicate about your experience and accomplishment on the resumes? Have you tried some other jobs from companies you didn't know of before? Can you talk to people you know and get their advice? Not knowing anyone who can help? Do you consider hiring a coach (the real helpful ones) to consult It's both about keeping your head up as well as continuous improvements at the same time.
"I want to be open-minded, but I really don't think I'll like the jobs. Should I really force myself to apply and waste the time?"
There's fine line between wasting your time full on something you fundamentally dislike, and be open-minded to try things out. Of course, say if your goal is to break into a product management role in FAANG, I wouldn't ask you to even bother trying accounting roles in a tech startup for instance. It's just too far apart. (absolutely no offense to both accounting and startups!) I'm asking you to be open-minded about adjacent opportunities. And again, that interview/conversation experience is valuable to help you succeed in other interviews anyway. Rarely did I ever feel that I completely wasted my time talking to opportunities that I ended up not going.
"I want to be focused on selected jobs in one company, but I REALLY want to explore many of them, what do I do?"
Two things: 1) prioritize like a good product manager :). 2) again, create a focused image to get you to talk to a recruiter first, and then you both will be able to freely discuss your interests across different opportunities!
"I know referrals are usually more effective. I just don't have any close connection in the companies I want to apply to. What do I do?"
Again referral is not the only way. Just so you know, most of the product jobs I landed were from direct applications. I might be lucky. So say if we do want to get referrals, what do we do. First if you do know some "acquaintances" and fear they might reject/ignore your request, overcome your fear and go for you. You don't know if you don't ask, and what are you losing if you don't hear back? Make sure to make it less transactional, and use it as an opportunity to catch up after all. If you don't know anyone, see if you have 2nd degree connections. Ask your 1st degree to introduce you is an option. What if you have zero connection whatsoever? Personally, I wouldn't recommend cold reach out to someone in the company and randomly ask for referral. Not only the chance of you getting a yes is nearly zero, it might even hurt your image and show you're desperate. I don't have a better suggestion, other than making it a long game. Make sure you develop and nurture your network on ongoing basis for the long term. And remember, the best way to build connection is to be helpful first, way before you need help.
Job seeking (inclusive of job applications) is a long, daunting and exhausting process. Carrying the right mentality is as important as doing every step right. What I want to leave you with is, remember you're not alone. The rest of us have gone through and will go through the same process before reaching our goals. As always, I'd love to help. Reach out if you need any personalized advice on your unique situations!
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