How do I prepare for this job hunt?
Great, so you’ve now decided that you want to aim for a PM position at a tech firm, and you’ve begun writing down a list of potential companies to reach out to. What are some other things you should be doing as part of this job hunt?
Building evidence that you’re serious about this
As somebody coming from outside of tech or from a non-PM role, you have to build evidence to support the fact that you’re serious about this transition. See this chapter with more specific advice on how to demonstrate interest, but spoiler alert: the more effective ways to demonstrate interest will take time and effort. Generally, the goal is to build up a portfolio of “side projects” that demonstrate your interest and dedication to tech and product management.
If you’re at business school, it also wouldn’t hurt to take classes relevant to the technology industry and to join relevant clubs. These are not going to be a super strong signal, but classes could give you a stronger foundation to talk about theoretical topics relating to tech, while clubs could give you a chance to network with companies and alum who might be helpful.
Reading up on industry news
This is a prerequisite. It’s not that an interviewer will ask you a question explicitly about the latest tech news, but without being aware of what’s generally going on in the tech industry, you might find yourself in an embarrassing situation where you don’t know something that your interviewer thinks is basic. Keeping up with the news will also allow you to draw connections with different companies or projects during your answers in the interview. For example, if a question about VR comes up, you could comment on how almost all the major tech giants are getting involved in VR, but with slightly different strategies or target niches.
In general, good advice to follow with tech news is to get some breadth of different topics, so that you become generally aware of what’s going on, and then dig deeper by reading up on topics that interest you. It’s useful, not to mention fun, to have areas that you’re more invested in, and you never know when these might come up in an interview setting.
It’s also important not to solely focus on news relating to the business side of the tech world. Make sure to incorporate some reading on technical developments, so that you can speak to what the limits of certain technologies are, and which problems seem solvable vs. not solvable today.
See the list of tech news sources for ideas on which publications to follow.
Prepare for the expected transition-related questions
In addition to preparing for product or technical interview questions, make sure you prep for the more “get to know you” questions that will inevitably ask about your background and why you’re now interested in tech and product management. Be authentic here – if your goal truly is to “change the world”, go ahead with that answer, but it’s fine to talk about the characteristics of the industry that you find appealing, e.g. “I want to work somewhere a bit more lean and willing to experiment, because I want a chance to get my hands dirty and help build something from scratch.”
You must be able to define what a product manager does. This is a hard enough question for a PM to answer, let alone somebody who hasn’t tried out that role. Using your own definition, make sure you can explain why you’re interested in the PM role.
Also be ready to talk about your background and, if applicable, what skills are transferrable to the PM role. This question is easier to answer for some jobs than others. You should be able to identify at least one skill area that’s transferrable, but don’t stretch it, because that could let off negative signals that you don’t really know what being a PM is about.
Have informational interviews
It is definitely worth it to do a bit of networking. Try to find PMs in your network and ask politely for a 30 minute phone call or coffee chat (always offer to do it over the phone – these are less intrusive and thus harder to say no to!). Your goal at first shouldn’t be to talk to strangers in order to land a job at their company. Rather, take some time to legitimately learn about what that person’s day-to-day is like, what the company culture is like, and what the company’s priorities are.
First off, these interviews give you a glimpse into what being a PM is actually like. More importantly, they’ll hopefully begin illustrating how being a PM can be somewhat different depending on the company and the types of projects going on. As you hear more and more PMs talk about their roles and projects, you’ll be absorbing language that you can use in your interviews to describe what a PM does and a PM’s perspective to help you answer the product questions. Note that if there’s a target company you’re interested in, it may even help to talk to somebody who’s not a PM but who works with one, so that you get another perspective about the job.
Second, these informational interviews help you build up knowledge about the specific companies. You get to hear from an employee how the company views the world and itself. This information is invaluable if you ever decide to interview at that company or a competitor, because it’ll give you a great foundation to come up with interesting topics of conversation and questions. Hopefully you’ll learn information that isn’t readily available in public news about that company.
Third, use these talks as a way to gauge the company’s culture. Does the person you’re talking to sound happy or bitter? Does she describe her job as something she finds inspirational, or as just a job? How does he talk about his coworkers? This kind of information will help you determine if you’d even want to work at that company.
Finally, one benefit of having a lot of these conversations is just getting more comfortable with these topics. The more relaxed you feel when describing what a PM does or answering any other kind of interview question, the better you’ll do. And the more you’ve talked to others about these questions, the more relaxed you’ll feel. Put another way, recognize that you’re actually learning quite a bit from these informational interviews; don’t feel like a fraud later when you bring up this information in your on interview!
The following two chapters will do a bit of a deep dive into specific areas of prep. First will be a chapter on ways to set yourself apart as an applicant from the business world. Second is a deep dive on different ways to demonstrate your interest in tech.