What are the biggest mistakes in the apps?
- Not doing the optional work. I don’t think this applies anymore because it’s now required but not writing an essay is a mistake! If there is optional extra work, always do it! It’s another chance to showcase us who you are!
- Not communicating or analyzing properly in your product review. I personally weigh heavily on that. I don’t care what opinion you have on the product so long as you back it with sound analysis. Also STRUCTURE is KEY. Outline dat shit.
- Not going beyond in your product review. Ok. I know how the product works. Ok. I know why you like it. Ok… that’s it? Tell me more, hun.
- Not tailoring your resume. The resume may be the single most important part of your application! The essay heavily applies to “Drive”. The product review heavily applies to “Technical Ability”. The resume applies to all three!
What impact did the fellowship have on your career?
The ultimate beauty of the KP fellowship isn’t going to be realized immediately. It’s 3 – 10 years down the line when we’ve become startup executives, started companies of our own, or funded world-changing companies.
It’s nice to have the KP network of founders, VCs and other fellows I can reach out to for advice or words of wisdom. So those connections are nice to have especially when I’m ready to start that company of my own. However, the most amazing “connections” I made were fellow fellows – people I’ve now called friends! So however way your friends can be “helpful” to you in your career – referring you to different jobs, connecting you with potential hiring managers, becoming your co-founder or business partner in a venture – is similar to how my KP friends will impact and have impacted my professional life. More than that of course, they’ve impacted my personal life. We have brunch, go on trips, watch comedy shows, explore the city and more. I am so grateful to be a part of this family.
On a personal note, here’s a reflection on the impact of the fellowship, not just in my career, but in my life.
Picture 21-year old Mika in her fall semester of senior year. She’s interviewing in consulting companies because she has no clue what other entry-level positions are out there for her. Her big goal right now is to become a PM. At the very least! APM programs, she believes, are the best avenue for her to get into the tech scene in Silicon Valley (her ideal situation), but they’re SO competitive (APM program are competitive now but even moreso then!) And apparently, every other young, aspiring PM wants in on it. How ever can she compete with CompSci majors from tech feeder schools with strong tech networks who don’t need to get sponsored to stay in the States?
The maximum best path she can think of to reach her tech career dreams is to get a consulting gig in SF, work there for 2-3 years and build her network and exposure around the tech scene, probably get kicked out of the country, come back to Silicon Valley via a $100k+ masters program and then try to finagle her way back into the tech scene. Maybe in 5 years, she’ll finally become a product manager!
Look at 24-year old Mika today. She’s worked as a full-fledged PM in 3 different companies. Something she thought would take 5+ years to achieve took her 1 year because of this amazing opportunity. Crazy to think she almost didn’t send her application!! On top of that, her horizons & perceptions of what she can achieve have opened up. She now believes it possible that in a few years, she can become a venture capitalist or start a company with her friends or create a feature/product impacting millions. Her fellow fellows, these inspiring individuals she is constantly surrounded by, make it possible to believe.
I hope that didn’t come off as narcissistic (eeeek reading back I realize how that can sound so braggy!!!) But allow me to defend myself by explaining the point I’m illustrating!
If you’re a fervent reader of my blog, you may be tired of hearing this already, but let me highlight it again in case it isn’t clear what I’m trying to do.
If someone like myself, with odds stacked against my identity (woman, person of color, international student, non-computer science major, liberal arts gal, previously no network in the tech scene) can reach her immediate goals in the tech scene, you, dear reader, can do so, too! We have too many of a specific profile in these competitive roles or positions of power, because it comes so easy to them! It’ll be much harder for us, I know. But it’s important that we push & help each other out so the cycle of inequitable power doesn’t perpetuate. I hope to help you and others out in the best way I can! I hope this blog and this post serves to encourage you to keep trying. It’s difficult but possible, I promise.
What makes a successful vs. unsuccessful candidate?
Hmm great question. As an alum of the KP program, we get the chance to review the next round of applications. I did it last year & just went through training for it this year.
KP fellows (as of 2019 at least) are assessed along 3 criteria. In Andy Chen’s (instigator of the program) words, “The application process is focused on evaluating what you can do (technical ability/raw intelligence), how you do it (leadership), and how big you can dream (drive).” What I think is spectacular and what was really highlighted in our training was this notion of access. Not from a top school or a CS major but found opportunities or created them for yourself? You will absolutely shiiiine.
Because so many amazing and highly motivated candidates get into the program, it isn’t a question of good vs. bad but good vs. great. That’s not to say the “good” don’t have a chance. You’re good for a reason! But, as I expect highly of everyone, I also push you to go beyond just good. And hey, if you’re to be a KP fellow, I’m sure you’re up for that challenge. 😉
For product folks, here’s how I’d evaluate you:
- Is a CS major
- Comes from a top school
- Solid GPA and/or test rankings
- Favorite product review describes/demonstrates the product very well & clearly communicates why the product is their favorite.
- Has a previous PM gig
- Was the voted/appointed leader of an organization, club, sports team, etc.
- Whether a CS major or not, has demonstrated their technical ability in other ways (i.e. coding/hackathon-ing despite not being a CS major, designing without design resources)
- Whether coming from a top school or not, landed exp in a competitive opportunity
- High GPA and/or test rankings, awardee, won competitions
- Favorite product review has thorough analysis (competitive, market analysis, UX breakdown, perhaps has an added, unexpected twist), demonstrates the product’s impact on society & talks about the product’s shortcomings.
- Has a previous PM gig, worked on a product to solve a problem in their community, started a company, published research
- Inspired action & leadership even though the pth is unknown whether through a new org, club, team, class, etc.
*Note: This is not a reflection of how other reviewers will go through apps, or how other rounds are tested, only my own, but could still be a good benchmark.
Product review in Blog Post vs. Video format?
My gut answer: doesn’t matter. They should be evaluated fairly if you’re given the choice!
My application reviewer answer: video. Videos give us a good sense of the candidate’s communication abilities from the get-go. That’s a good chance for you to wow us with your confidence and comm skills! It’s more difficult to be succinct & clear in speech format, so if you do a good job (even with a few mistakes here and there), that’s easily applaudable and we’ll recognize that. It’s also a more personable way to show us who you are – always nice to put a face to your name. BUT, be warned: it’s also risky and it may easily go against you if you don’t do it right.
My personal answer: written. I’m a better and more comfortable writer than I am a speaker! And so I went for the medium I was most comfortable with. Tried to add a little bit of my personality in there, too, so that’s a good way to make it more personable! Read it here!
My final answer: really, don’t overthink it too much! At the end of it, the content matters more than the medium. If you can do a video, sure, but writing shouldn’t be a dealbreaker, especially if you think you shine better through written word. 🙂