2d. Tactics for setting yourself apart

How do I set myself apart from the crowd?

Because tech and specifically PMing are relatively “hot”, there are lots of people with business backgrounds wanting PM roles. If you’re in this camp, you’ll be competing with people who do have PM experience for the same jobs. How do you differentiate yourself in this crowd? There are a few points of differentiation that you can try, depending on which are relevant for you and the target company.

Relevant previous work function

Who can try this: if you’ve had a role in the past that resembles a PM role

What to do with it: you should speak about your past projects, framing it with the PM framework. In other words, if you had role or a project that involved finding target users, figuring out what those users’ needs were, working collaboratively with others to create a solution for those needs, getting user feedback on it, launching iteratively to gather more feedback, and making decisions based off of lots of metrics, then emphasize that in those terms! Note that creating a prototype or product by this description does not have to involve software – it could be a new product line for a manufacturing company, a new product at a financial institution, or whatever else was relevant in your past job.

Relevant industry experience

Who can try this: if you have deeper experience in the same (sub-)industry that your target company is in, or if the target company sells their products into your industry of experience

What to do with it:  you should absolutely demonstrate and emphasize that you have deep knowledge and interest in this area. For example, you might flesh out some ideas you have on products that should exist in this industry. You can come up with a vision for the future of the industry, and how the target company might fit into it. You should be able to talk about what motivates customers and how they make decisions. Basically you’re trying to show that you already have a good understanding of the ultimate customer or user of the company’s product, knowledge which will not only shorten ramp-up time, but which might also give you a unique perspective on how to tackle those users’ needs.

Willpower and discipline

Who can try this: if you really want to make the transition to PM and have been investing time into side projects and self-learning

What to do with it: show off what you’ve done! Let’s face it – sometimes you just don’t have any previous work experience that is relevant to PMing or to the target company. But, you really want to make this transition, and you’re willing to put a lot of time and effort into it. If that’s the case, definitely make sure you communicate how hard you’re working! It’s important to be able to show somewhat tangible evidence of what you’ve learned and done. For example, include a list of courses you’ve taken, a portfolio of things you’ve created, or a portfolio of side projects you’re tinkering around with. The more of this kind of evidence you have, the more you’ll signal that you’re dead serious about this transition, and that you’re a hard worker who’s set on making this transition work out.

Sheer business acumen

Who can do this: if you think you have a lot of hustle (and you identify as this kind of person), or if you think your main competitive advantage is having a great eye towards the business side of things
What to do with this: this is a tough thing to sell, because PMs aren’t fully on the business side of things, and these kinds of skills are often difficult to demonstrate without actually doing things for the target company. This is not an impossible tactic though, depending on the target company and its culture. If you want to go down this route, try to present evidence of your skills. Perhaps try to have a portfolio of side projects that you can speak to. Or, offer to do a side project for the company to demonstrate your potential value (it’s somewhat controversial whether you should offer to do a side project for free for a company – will leave that decision to you).