Product management is not a conventional role. It requires competent business skills, technical expertise, and creative design and analytical thinking ability to stand apart from the crowd.
Most candidates go after a product management role without adequate knowledge of the role they are applying for, the skills Big Tech companies are looking for, and what their criteria for judgment are. Fewer still possess the experience that can be so useful for landing a product management job.
Here's looking at the most common mistakes aspiring Product Managers make that keeps them from cracking product management jobs at Big Tech.
Mistake 1: Not applying for Product Management jobs
Since product management is a fairly recent job role and most industries are just getting introduced to it, there isn't any specificity in recruitment with regards to a product manager's background and qualification requirements. Employers hire from a wide range of disciplines and a vast number of folks are eligible to apply. Someone with a background in UX design may be just as good a fit as a full-stack developer with a computer science degree.
However, not many candidates realize this which keeps them from applying for a job even if they might have been a good fit.
The solution to this to avoid getting hung up on the details and schedule an interview session anyway regardless of what the list of requirements are. Research the company you are applying for or consult ex-Vice Presidents of Product to shed more light on the job role. In this manner, aspiring product managers will have clarity on what skills to showcase on their resume.
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Mistake 2: Going in with no prior experience
Most aspiring PMs have no past experience that might demonstrate basic product knowledge. This puts interviewers in a challenging position where there is no concrete data to judge a candidate's competency. It also doesn't help that the product management field is a highly competitive one and even a junior role often demands past experience.
Luckily, there is an underrated solution to this problem — Side Projects.
Side projects are possibly the most effective of solutions to land a product management role in the competitive Big Tech landscape. They are a precise representation of your entrepreneurial spirit and willingness to learn. They also provide an insight into your problem-solving abilities. What's more, having worked on a product management project will help you answer interview questions with more confidence and clarity, thereby, increasing your chances of success in an interview.
So, it might appear that your fate is in your hands. Take initiative, gather hands-on experience, update your resume, and then apply for the job again. You might just hit the target this time around!
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Mistake 3: Failing to choose the right side project
It's clear by now that simply a college degree is often not sufficient to crack a product management job at Big Tech. You need to be able to demonstrate your skills and knowledge gleaned from experience. This is best done by pursuing a side project. However, most aspiring PMs fail to choose a relevant side-project that accurately showcases their abilities.
The general rule of thumb is to pick a side project that provides insight into the quality of product management skills you would be bringing to the job. This means role-related competence, programming and development skills, technical design and execution prowess, and knowledge of user experience. It also helps if you possess strong leadership skills, have an understanding of Product Marketing, and can manage cross-functional teams and collaborations.
You could start a blog or a YouTube channel, launch a podcast, or build a product from scratch to upgrade your technical or non-technical skills accordingly.
For example, if the company you are applying for also requires you to have managerial experience but you only possess technical dexterity, the way forward could be to hire a bunch of freelancers to help you build out your pet project idea - thereby demonstrating competence in managing requirements and driving product development forward - which would then make for great talking points in an interview.
Mistake 4: Underestimating the competition
Product management is a lucrative job field. Naturally, the competitiveness here is extremely high. As per a study that takes into account 600k+ employees from 17 online tech companies, only 2.7% belong to the product category.
There are a ton of skilled people going after product management roles, and unfortunately, only a handful positions to fill, which further require a rather specific skill set and knowledge base. Beating the competition requires extensive practice and a strategic approach towards skill-building.
From creativity, quantitative and qualitative data-driven skills and analysis abilities, to empathy, communication skills, a user centric approach, and leadership, you must check a minimum of the basics before appearing for your interview. If you are able to demonstrate competence in the majority of, if not all, required skills and qualifications, your chances of landing the role will significantly increase.
Apart from building technical know-how and expanding on your Product and management skills, developing productive relationships with potential colleagues can help gain competitive advantage.
Mistake 5: Lacking clarity on the interview process
We can't stress enough on how important it is to familiarize yourself with the interview process of the company you are applying at.
Most big tech companies have a comprehensive recruitment process that involves a number of interview rounds and sessions with a variety of influential company individuals. Given the competitive marketplace, product management interviews at Big tech are extremely stressful and exhausting to say the least. There is a unique list of attributes to grade your performance and evaluate your suitability for the role.
Therefore, it is crucial that you prepare adequately for the tough questions recruiters and interviewers might ask you to test your candidacy.
On the bright side, having worked on a side project, you will be able to cite experiences to better answer questions like "How do you prioritize tasks?" or "How would you approach conflicts in the workplace?"
Now that you have a clear idea on what is expected of you, we hope you will be able to dodge the challenges on your path to success.