Interviewing Like A Product Manager
Stating the obvious, every good product manager should be able to segment markets, target customers, turn features into benefits, and do basic solution selling. For instance, if you’re product managing a SaaS offering for single-location veterinarians, you know a lot about your customers (solo practitioner small animal vets, 2-5 person office, concerned about proposed regulations for tracking mood-altering pet meds), which are the best prospects (upgrading from old on-premise products), and
how customers benefit from your features (cloud app mean no special hardware, no need to run local backups, drug reports auto-faxed to the local DEA office). Then one-on-one, you can highlight less obvious features/benefits of interest to individual customers. (“You’re in California… so our ‘remember to hydrate your dog/cat’ email reminders will save pet lives and reduce weekend emergency calls during the drought.”)
This should be second nature.
So you need to apply your product management tools to yourself: what special skills or experience do you have (features), which companies should value your particular attributes (segmentation/targeting), why do those features matter (benefits) and how can you demonstrate problem-solving abilities (solution selling)?
Think about this from the hiring manager’s point of view, since she’s your customer. She’s busy doing the work of two people (until this job is filled) and looking for someone who will solve her particular problems. She’s bombarded with unqualified or generic-looking resumés, often submitted multiple times. There’s little joy in the screening process. It’s as if hundreds of vendors have mailed her the technical specifications/data sheets for random office products, and expect her to sniff out the right one.
How About An Example?
Brain training apps, multi-player trivia games like Stumped, prep courses for Mensa membership. Save-the-animals campaigns, high-end pet grooming salons… Something that you can tell a story about, that ties to specific expertise or experience, that you could show some passion for.
You really want that Senior Product Manager slot in Cisco’s enterprise network security suite? It’s going to be much harder. You’re swimming upstream in the submission and interview cycles with no B2B, no enterprise networking, and not enough experience. Llamas and comic books are probably points against. And the online application process won’t help here: instead, look for a friend/champion already at Cisco who’s willing to walk your resumé over to the hiring manager and explain why you’re special enough to sidestep the standard process.
As early as possible in your conversation, try to shift from reciting resume details to talking about her product. (“I noticed that the SIGN MY DOG UP NOW button is below the fold on my browser. Are some visitors abandoning the site because they don’t see where to click? “) If that falls flat, have another issue handy. You’re showing some product sense, demonstrating interest/commitment, and moving the discussion to how you add value. A huge improvement over talking about universities or commute patterns. And if you’re just a bit lucky, you’ve picked a real issue – one that Customer Service or Sales has been screaming about all week.
Suddenly, you’re her #1 candidate. (“Wow! He spotted one of our hot issues from outside, with no prompting, and suggested some reasonable work-arounds. Can he start on Monday?”)
I’m amazed at how many candidates don’t bother to find out what my company does, how my product works, or think through my likely issues. Instead, they hand me a generic resume, wait quietly, and expect me to do all of the heavy lifting.
A lot of work? Absolutely. But the scatter-shot apply-for-every-posted-job model doesn’t look very productive from this end.