Hacks for the Early Career Techie

Publishing Date
Nov 12, 2018

Phew. I just finished recruiting. Whatta stressful cycle. If you’re in the throes of finding a new opportunity, I’m sure you understand the soul-crushing & emotionally fluctuating grind.

I’m super, super happy to have recently started my new PM role at LinkedIn! That featured image you see happened on the day of my onsite. I felt really good about it! I’m so glad to be here and could not have asked for a better company & product org to be in. Thank you for taking the chance on me.

I also received job offers and went through onsites for a mix of companies (CreditKarma, Change.org, Facebook, Walmart, Pinterest, Twitter+)

But the process was A MESS; A TOTAL SHIT SHOW. I had to leave my previous company quickly, after technically 1-year’s PM experience. Because of this, I got a lot of pushback being very junior in my career as a PM. It was a TOUGH 2 1/2 month job hunt to say the least. But I learned a lot and I want to distill to y’allz my hacks that worked (because oh boy do I want to make sure no one else has to suffer as hard a time).

I’ve 3 categories: Resume, Outreach Phase & Interview Phase, outlined in DO’s and DON’T’s format. Send some feedback if things worked or didn’t work for you!

Resume Hacks

DO NOT put your education as the top header.

  • For internships or new grad opps, education is the first section of the resume. For later stage candidates, you want to de-emphasize your education and emphasize your “years of industry experience.”

DO NOT put actual dates on your resume. Consider years.

  • I got a lot of pushback from recruiters and hiring managers saying I was too early in my career. Some were even willing to hire someone who had more years in industry, despite not having any product management experience! I technically had the equivalent of 2 years PM experience despite being early in my years. I found that ridiculous! But because I knew people were hiring mainly on sheer # of years of experience, I decided to get creative.
  • Instead of writing out the actual dates per job function, I instead put in the years. This was helpful for me in that I was working on two products at the same time. And so even if I was just one year out of college, because I had my regular 9 – 5 and my after work + weekends gig, I had a total of 1 year, 8 months of product experience. My internship experiences also “counted” towards my total years of experience in their eyes – I mean why shouldn’t they?
  • Taking away actual dates from your resume also de-emphasizes when you actually attended school. Of course, when they ask, you tell the truth, but at least you get through that resume scan. 😉

DO communicate a failure or failed feature.

  • On my resume, I have a “Implemented a failed feature, proposed new solution and raised core engagement metrics by x%.” One of my onsite interviewers said he really loved that I put it. We talked about it in my interview and had a good time! I recommend writing out that failure – just make sure you can back it up with a good story.

DO communicate impact. DO NOT list out mundane things typical of every PM role.

  • “Write tickets for designers and engineers,” “Communicate roadmap to stakeholders”, “Researched competition and market”, “Document detailed product specs”…. Cool story, bro.
  • Writing the above out is wasting precious real estate for bullet points that should instead communicate impact. We know you did all this. All PMs will be doing all this. Now, what did your doing this do to impact the team, the product, your metrics?

DO use lots and lots of numbers.

  • Instead of above, you want to communicate impact and you want to ground that out with cold, hard numbers. If you don’t have the actual number, ballpark it. You want your interviewers to latch onto the quantifiable progress you made and are metric-driven when driving a product forward.

Outreach Phase Hacks

DO NOT send your resume out into the ether of job boards.

  • I mean, you can. But know your success rate will be <10%. Remember: you’re competing against other senior PMs, who are probably more attractive in the eyes of recruiters. Better to get in directly through a direct referral (also not just a job board referral, but someone internally in the company who can ping a recruiter and bug them to look for your resume or connect you directly) or better yet…

DO reach out directly to hiring managers.

  • This worked SO, SO well for me. It was through this that I got onsites and interviews at Facebook, Walmart, Twitter, Affirm, & my job now at LinkedIn!
  • Recruiters are, more often than not, comparing my resume against more senior hires. When I reach out directly to the hiring managers, I like to think they admire my grit, passion & hustle. When they connect me with their recruiters, they vet for me immediately, making me more likely to pass the recruiter screen.
  • How did I find these hiring managers? Community job boards: I found emails of hiring managers on Women in Product and Advancing Women in Product job boards and emailed them directly.
  • Conferences & networking events: I also connected with a few via the WIP conference. Really made most of my time there!
  • But my big secret in reaching out to hiring managers…

DO use my hack in finding the right people to reach out to

  • On LinkedIn search, I type combinations of “[hiring manager job title]+[company]+[hiring keywords]”
  • Examples:
    • “LinkedIn product manager i’m hiring”
    • “LinkedIn group product manager hiring”
    • “Facebook product lead i’m hiring”
    • “Facebook product we’re hiring”
  • Bingo. You’ll find a bunch of senior or director PMs hiring for specific positions. Cold email / cold InMail away. Better if you can find a way to connect with them via a mutual connection. When I did this, I got **a really high response rate buuut also because I sent the right kind of messages…

DO use my little email formula that works!

  • No no to generic emails. You want to personalize your connections with these hiring managers.
  • I found this article online and adapted it to fit my needs.
  • Gist of your email should include the following:
    • Indicate something personal – or how you came to find them.
    • Genuinely compliment them.
    • Show your excitement for the role, job and company.
    • Show how you can add value to the team and the company. Provide a little about your background and story.
    • Mention how you might be connected (if possible).
    • End with a simple ask.

Interview Phase Hacks

DO perfect your “Tell me about yourself” pitch

  • Ultimately, you want to make yourself memorable. They may not remember your name but they’ll remember you as the “_____ person.” Make sure you highlight that memorable wow factor in your “Tell me about yourself” pitch.
  • I think mine were: “the Filipina with a strong mission” or “the startup gal with a breadth of product experience” or “the emerging market enthusiast”

DO have ~6 stories to tell

  • 2 conflict + 1 failure/ownership + 1 leadership across stakeholders + 2 projects/products/features you worked on
  • Here’s a sample list of mine:
    • Conflict with the CTO and how he eventually took me in and became my manager despite that earlier debacle
    • Conflict with design and engineering on priorities and how I convinced them via data and empathy
    • How I found my passion for tech and innovation despite a business failure
    • How I coalesced engineering, operations, sales, design towards working on a priority project
    • Investment account sign-up project I worked on with my dad
    • How a high-stakes feature failed but after learning from it, was able to recoup and raise core metrics enough to secure a much coveted partnership
  • Craft these stories using the Nugget + Situation + Task + Action + Result (STAR) method. Make sure they’re meaty stories!
  • Memorize these stories and practice them (with friends!) again and again.

DO NOT rely merely on the books.

DO practice via StellarPeers

  • At first, I went on different PM slack channels (Women in Product, Product School) and posted my Calendly link so people could schedule mocks. I got a few here and there, but it wasn’t the most efficient of strategies.
  • I recommend clicking this link right now, signing up for an account and scheduling mocks there. Malina created this platform when she was having trouble going through the PM interview process herself. It’s such a great platform and I honestly wouldn’t have achieved any calibre of interview success without her. (She’s also a great person – hit her up with any feedback about the platform. She’s always looking to improve it!)
  • The StellarPeers website also has spectacular product interview blog posts I highly recommend. Don’t get overwhelmed though – the answers are pretty comprehensive. Note: they were crafted by someone who had a good amount of time to write all this – not just 30 – 45 minutes on the spot like a normal interview. Do, however, extract the general structure and best practices from these blog posts so you can apply them to your own frameworks.

DO NOT practice too much

  • I practiced >30 times. WAY too neurotic. I made the mistake of practicing too much, without having any interviewers to actually apply all my practice on. Don’t follow me! You really only need a minimum to craft your own framework and get comfortable with the motions.

DO prepare great questions.

  • Not the kinds you can find online. But the personal ones. Show them you cared enough about their background and about them as human beings that you stalked them thoroughly! Ask them about why they did this versus that, what makes them tick, how they know this person. Your interviewers are humans, too!
  • One of my hiring managers commended saying she thought I asked very insightful questions that conveyed a good amount about my empathetic nature and curiosity as a PM.
  • On top of asking them personal questions, I also ask the following: “What value add can any one person provide for this role/team?” or “What are you looking for the most for any one person in this role?” because this sets me up for success when…

DO follow up with your interviewers

  • I hope you were writing down notes when you were asking those great questions! Mention something personal about your interaction with them in this email.
  • Also include a follow-up on how you can personally be of value add to the team or role (given their answers from the questions I mentioned above). That worked wonders for me in moving onto next steps.

DO NOT be afraid to ask for feedback post-interview

  • Sometimes they’ll tell you the BS that they’re only allowed to give a limited amount of feedback. (I say BS because, come on, the least they can give you is feedback for how you can improve! How hypocritical of them to ask for feedback about their interview process when they won’t give you feedback as a candidate! Anyway… end rant.)
  • Sometimes, they’ll actually have some helpful feedback to share!

DO debrief

  • After an interview, write down everything you remember. Because I overthink about every tiny interaction, this process helped calm me down. Future unemployed Mika is also going to be very thankful in case she needs to reference this for any future interviews. Document it, too, for others to learn from. Like I did here.

Phew a mouthful! What’s worked for you? 🙂