My Career Transition (PART III)
This is PART III of the My Career Transition 3 part series:
PART III – The Preparation (THIS POST)
THANK GOODNESS. The opportunities I've been longing for, finally started knocking on my door. Bit by bit, my resume was looked at. Recruiters started calling me back. Companies began to be curious what I've actually got. Does this guy without a job title, have the potential?
It's my opportunity and I need to seize it. I needed to prepare myself. So how did I do it?
Let me speak to it in 3 parts:
When I first got started, I was both excited and anxious. I was excited about having a shot, and I was anxious for not knowing what to expect. AT ALL. From: Who would I meet? What would they look for? What questions would they ask? How should I prepare? All the way to: how many rejections would I collect before I landed my first job offer?
Then I started. I got rejected. Then I got rejected. Then finally....I got rejected again. It got to a point where I seriously suspected it was not my thing. But I took a step back and reflected what got me to the earlier successes in my life so far, I realized how important having the right mentality was. For me the top 3 boils down to:
Long Term Thinking: focus on the bigger picture. Expand the time horizon and you would know that the glitch (e.g. rejections) you are experiencing will be a neglected part of your life. What are your long term goals and what else can you do now to lead you closer toward them?
Growth Mindset: Embrace failures and see them as opportunities to learn and get better. Focus nothing on what you don't have in control. Focus solely on what you do have in control and improve yourself everyday.
Reflections: Be thankful for what you have and have accomplished. Reflect on where you could've done better, EVERYDAY. Turn them into actions and follow through. Repeat.
To some, getting into PM and succeeding in interviews might be easy. Not for me, not for many of you out there. That was how I realized the importance of preparing my mind. It's the foundation before you build up the house.
"How would you build a bike website for kids?" My interviewer asked.
"Hmm, lets see..."
"I'd start from allowing kids to customize the themes into their favorite...I'd have a space for them to create their arts...then I'd allow them to select and create their own bikes..." I enthusiastically responded, on and on.
I don't have to tell you that I did not get the job.
And for a long time I was clueless about where I did well and where I missed the mark, because most companies wouldn't share feedback. I kept failing the interviews, but I kept at it anyway and interestingly, I could feel that I inched closer bit by bit every time. I was better at reading the interviewers' reactions to tell whether I did well and used them as signals to reflect and improve. I learned a tad more about what to expect when I spent more time preparing. I discovered more resources online for insights. And I talked to my product manager connections to ask them for tips and feedback. And I worked harder and harder in preparations.
Ultimately, I became good at it and I was able to synthesize into keys. To summarize:
Understand What Makes A Good Product Manager: It's THE best way to know what the interviewers are expecting of you with the questions they ask. Don't start from just how to crack the specific interview questions. Start from understanding how a good product manager operates. As an example, for a typical product design question like the one above I failed miserably, what would a good PM do? A good PM does NOT jump into solutions. She would always start from understanding business and user problems and goals, before breaking it down structurally and ultimately lead (the team) into proper solutioning accordingly.
Get The Reps In: few are naturally good at interviews, especially as we all know product interviews are tricky and challenging. There's no shortcut. Study hard, practice hard (in mock or real interviews), reflect hard. Repeat.
Journey Is MUCH More Important Than Destination: It's a cliche, but it rings so true in preparing product interviews. In answering interview questions, the destination is the solution to the given problem; the journey is your logics, structure, communication, questions leading into it that interviewers primarily look at. In preparation, the destination is memorizing answers or some rigid "frameworks" to specific question types; the journey is to train your brain to think like a good PM (so you can follow the right journey in the real interviews with whatever questions coming at you).
It was my dream role at a dream company.
I was about to step into the final round of onsite interviews. I felt I was totally ready to nail it and land that offer. Because I built up the right mentality, I finally got to the bottom of how to crack the PM interviews, and I did super well in every single one of my practice interviews.
Then I bombed it.
WHY?? Well, a number of things. I was too nervous. It was the role and the company of my dream and I told myself I HAD to win. I read through all the interview questions from that company I could find on the internet and rehearsed through all types of questions to counter any chance in case my brain runs slow any moment during the interviews. I played through all potential scenarios over and over in my head, even up to the minute before my interviews started. And all of these ended up being counterproductive.
That was how I realized just being "technically" prepared for the interviews is not enough. I needed to learn how to condition myself to actually perform on the spot. What does that mean specifically? A few things:
Clean Slate: throw away any preconception or assumptions about how you think or hope the interviews will actually go, and just step in with a fresh mind. I cannot stress enough how important this is to get oneself to be ready to think on one's feet, and how important it is to think on one's feet to succeed in product interviews.
Listen: to your interviewers, very carefully. It's communication 101, and especially important in product interviews because a good product manager listen very well to get information, before synthesizing and responding. Not only does it set you up for structuring your answers as a next step, listening well all by itself is part of the game (what interviewers assess)
Slow Down: Not just the speed at which you speak. The time you take to think and organize is equally if not more important. Like listening, not only does it set you up to respond more structurally and logically, it's also a part of the game.
No, You Do NOT NEED to Win: Don't give yourself the unnecessary self-imposed stress when the interview itself is stressful enough. Yes it could be really your dream job. But remember, look at the bigger picture. Even if you fail this one interview, there might still be plenty of paths that could lead to where you ultimately want to be. Telling yourself it's not your only option to reach your goals, will simply help you relax and be yourself more.
This concludes the series! As you might have seen from my profile, I've now worked in product for many years at a number of major tech companies since my transition. The journey in product has been challenging and rewarding at the same time which I hope to share more in future posts. I hope this series not only encourage those of you in the process to charge on, but also provide you some guidance to do so in the right ways.
(Obviously, there are much more breadths and depths I can go about breaking into product and preparing for the interviews. Expect them in future posts!
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