Land That Dream Product Job - Resumes
I started Introvert in Product because I'm driven by helping others be successful in pursuit of their ideal product career. I fundamentally believe that all of us can overcome any disadvantage and accomplish what we desire, as long as we consistently leverage our strengths and be persistent and passionate in the journey. I know that because I've been experiencing it first hand. When I first started, I probably worked with similar if not more disadvantages vs what you're working with. I know how it felt when those "elite" product jobs seem too far for you to reach. I know how you might feel those "elite" product jobs seem only for folks from elite backgrounds. It's untrue, as I've learned myself and from people around me.
So I want to help. I want to share my knowledge and experience in my transition and career in product. For those of you who have strong desires (sorry I can't help if you don't want it badly enough), not only do I want to help you "break into" ideal product roles. I want to help you to succeed. It's meaningless just to "break int the role that you'll fail in. That's why I recently started a series of "Effective Product Manager" posts. I'll definitely continue that series as there's lots more to cover. But this week, let me take a step back and start a parallel thread to cover how to land that dream product job in the first place. And let's start from the first thing first: How to craft a winning resume?
Are you ready to join me to democratize elite product roles for all? Let's do this!
In this post, I'm going to cover:
What do recruiters/hiring managers look for on resumes
Good resume basics
Resume vs Linkedin Profile
Overcome some frequently seen challenges
What Do Recruiters/Hiring Managers Look For
First step, understand what recruiters and hiring managers want (and then give it to them). This is where empathy comes in. Know that recruiters and hiring managers are humans, too. Their goals are the flip side of yours in the job marketplace: they want to fill their roles with the highest quality candidates, as soon as possible.
So how does that translate into what they care about on the resume? Let's understand indicators of high quality candidates they look for, and their challenges.
High Quality Indicators
Here are some indicators they look for on a resume:
Specific Brands: Brands do matter when it comes to first impression and screening, even though as we all know. it contributes to biases. Not necessarily only big brands (e.g. "FAANG") that would catch their eyes, they also care about "relevant" brands. E.g. if the company is FinTech, they'd love to see someone coming from another FinTech company/competitor. Also in the context for Product Management, they might like to see specific companies/schools where great product managers were born out of. Don't worry just yet if you don't already have conventionally shiny brands on your resume. Read on.
Specific Experience: This is "have you done what this role requires you to do before". The easy thing is a "product manager" title in the past (plus number of experiences). But often it can be more than the title. Have you done what a product manager does? E.g. launch a product from end to end, solve a critical business problem, lead a cross functional team without authority etc.
Accomplishments: They care much more about what you've actually accomplished, than what you've touched and been involved in. So rather than "has this candidates work on / participate in this type of project", they'd love to see "whether this candidate has delivered on this type of project". After all, they want to find someone who will ultimately deliver the outcomes. Not just be a part of the work.
Communication: This is especially important for a product manager's resume. Your resume gives them first impressions about not only your experience, but also your written communication. Remember what's considered good written communication for a product manager? Being concise, structured, and right to the point. Yes, as a hiring manager myself, I ditch the resume that reads like a Lord of the Rings.
Now what are recruiters and hiring managers challenges? yes you should care. Because alleviating their pains as much as you can does help with your chance of standing out.
Too Many Resumes: especially for popular jobs, they do reads hundreds of resumes per day, and probably spend less than a minute on each on average. Chances are, your "dream" product jobs are popular too :).
Hard to Read Resumes: That includes a resume that's many pages long, unstructured, and attempt to "highlight" way too many things that they don't know where to focus.
Resumes Can be Deceiving: they understand from their experiences that what they read on the resumes might not always be truthfully reflecting candidates' qualifications. There might not be much you can do about it, but here, just know that they don't always take your resume details as seriously.
Alright, just like how you understand your customers before you can build a successful product they'll actually use/buy. Now that you understand recruiters and hiring managers better, your chance of crafting a successful resume they'd actually look, shoot up much higher.
Good Resumes Basics
Now, how do you go about writing a good resume regardless of your specific experience? Here are some basic principles (C.A.T.I.R):
Concise: keep it at 1 page, please. (No, smaller font doesn't count). I know I know, you have decades of experiences and you've done so much across 10 companies you need to tell about them all. Would you rather they ditch your resume just because it's too long, or they actually look at it even though it's just a highlight with partial information? Prioritize what's important to include vs to exclude. See below.
Advantages: Make sure you highlight your relevant advantages. No well known company brands but came from prestigious school/program? Highlight it. No PM experience but you proactively stepped in to lead a successful product launch when the team needed it the most? Highlight it. You're a domain expert for the specific area of the PM role? Highlight it!
Targeted: one size doesn't fit all. It's good to keep a consistent framework and some common basics persistent, but do customize a little for the specific job roles you're applying for. Read the job descriptions carefully, and highlight and prioritize what's most relevant. Why is this important? remember, give recruiters/hiring managers what they want. And what they want are likely different for different product roles.
Impact: communicate the business impacts you delivered by the products you launched, in each of your experience. That's what the recruiters and hiring managers want to see, not just a laundry list of projects you've worked on or participated in. This also showcase your ability as a product manager to always be connecting to business outcomes.
Readable: avoid long sentences or even paragraphs. Resumes are not essays. Think of it more like a presentation. Recruiters or hiring managers can quickly scan and see what they should expect from you when they have a chance to talk to you in interviews. But they wouldn't expect to know your full experience and qualification by just reading your resume. And remember, they probably would spend sub minute scanning through it. So make sure your resume is scannable, and they can easily get what you want to convey. Think of it like designing a product UX (user experience) for your customer and you'd like them to get the key message in their short attention span.
Remember, C.A.T.I.R. (cater) to what recruiters/hiring managers want to see! (I'm usually not big on acronyms, but just having some fun here if you don't mind...).
Resume vs Linkedin Profile
I'm often asked: are they the same thing? different? Do people still look at resumes now that we all have our Linkedin Profiles? Good questions. Here's my answers, as someone who spent a few years working on Linkedin Products (at Linkedin, of course):
They're not the same, and they do complement each other in job seeking. Think of your Linkedin Profile as your general professional identity that's not targeted for a specific role, but an up-to-date representation of who you are and how you position yourself professionally. Resume is carefully selected snapshot of your professional experience targeting a specific role of your interest. So sure enough, your Linkedin Profile is usually more comprehensive, richer (with Links, attachments of your works, your professional activities, endorsements etc.), and "alive" (more dynamic vs static). Your resume is static (a snapshot), but is much more focused with a very specific job seeking goal behind it.
I believe most hiring teams do still look at both. Linkedin Profiles are increasingly how they proactively search for candidates and reach out. Resumes are used more often when you're already in the application process. Many companies ATS (Applicant Tracking System) still requires a separate resume doc from your Linkedin Profile. So hiring teams do still look at resumes, for the same reason: they want a targeted snapshot of how you'd express your experience and qualification.
Having said the above, there are general tips that should apply to both: you still want to be crisp and concise in your written communication, you still want to highlight your best, you still do want to communicate your impact and the outcomes you deliver.
Keep these in mind when you manage your Linkedin Profile and resume.There can probably be another dedicated post about managing your Linkedin Profile to get noticed even more. Let me know if there's interest!
Overcome Frequently Seen Challenges
Like I said, I believe most of us don't come from traditional "elite" backgrounds, or else the product role seeking could've been easier. "Backgrounds" are in the past, which means it's out of our control at present. So we'll focus on the best we can do today. Let me address some of the common challenges I've seen with regard to crafting a resume for those of you who believe you might have "disadvantages" in your background:
"What if I don't have shiny brands on my resume"?
Yes we all believe FAANG (or other high profile / unicorn tech company brands) helps with the initial attention. But trust me, most recruiters and hiring managers were bitten by terrible candidates coming from these companies at some point. So they do like to be open minded about those who came from unknown brand companies but have relevant experience. So don't sell yourself short just because you think it's hard to compete with "brandy" resumes. Again, highlight your advantages, impacts, and what's most relevant to the roles.
"What if I don't have product manager title in the past?"
The second best thing you can do is to highlight your product management related work instead. Chances are, if the hiring team is look at your resume without a product manager title (meaning they did not get to your resume by searching by "product manager title"), you're already given a chance. Highlight how you've acted product manager, how have you led the team, what impacts have you delivered. Remember, a real good product manager is one who does NOT care about titles anyway (i.e. she focuses on the right decision gets made, getting the job done and deliver, much less about titles or seniority of the decision makers). I'm not saying the PM title doesn't make a difference. I'm just saying, you'd be surprised how many hiring teams (though not all) would be willing to consider candidates without a former PM title.
"What if I really don't have much in my professional experience yet?"
You have not even acted a product manager before, there's unfortunately no significant business impact you've delivered, and you might be just getting started in your career. I feel you. It's the cold start problem that probably hundreds of thousands of candidates have each year. I'd suggest that you:
Think harder about anything relevant. What about school projects? What about some personal projects where you create and launch something?
Fall back to demonstrate good general quality: that you communicate well (crisp and concisely), that you work hard and keep learning, that you did solve complex problems (math, tech, design, ...).
Of course, make sure you focus on gaining relevant experience - on the current job, read, go to classes, start a relevant project etc.
Just also know on the hiring side, if they look at your resume when you have minimum experience, they'd probably have low expectation on your direct experience anyway but want to look for someone who has potentials and desired qualities.
This article is getting a bit long, because there's a lot to say about managing your resumes to optimize your chance! I hope the above high level information is helpful.
I understand that each one of you is unique, who came from unique background, and might have your own unique challenges with your resumes. A general guide might only help you to some extent. So if you'd like some personalized suggestions and guidance with your resumes, reach out to me!
Like this article? Subscribe to join the community and receive free weekly posts!