Product Management Job Hunt: How to get an Interview and Nail it

BY Kostas Sirvydis ON JANUARY 8, 2019

Whether you are moving from a product management position from one company to another or hunting for your first job in product management – it’s an exciting journey full of ups and downs. I‘ve recently been job-hunting in London and I want to share what I learned during the process.

How to Present Yourself in Your CV

If you google how to write about your job experience, you’ll find the advice is that you should list your responsibilities and measurable achievements. This makes sense; however, I found that detailing the products you’ve worked on is at least as important.

I noticed that I received much more interest when I outlined what products I was working on instead of the impact they had on the business. For example, for one of the bullet points in my latest position I initially wrote:

  • Increased sales staff efficiency by 30%+ by leading the development of key backend products and integration of Salesforce;

Later I replaced it with:

  • Owned booking configuration, supplier management and contract management products of an internal backend system, representing the company’s sales manager;

You can see that the latter does not have any information about the measurable achievements, however I got much more traction once I’d made this change throughout my CV.

There’s a broad spectrum of potential employers you need to appeal to: some are looking for people who worked on products similar to theirs, others are looking for product managers who are able to achieve a measurable result and can transfer this ability to any product. My advice would be to combine the details of your products with the results that those products achieved. That’s what I had in my CV in the end as well.

Prepare Your Pitch

Virtually everyone – from recruiters to interviewers – will ask you to talk about yourself. You should prepare a pitch that you can use every time so that you don’t need to think on the spot. It means you don’t forget anything important and you can focus on your non-verbal communication instead of content.

Several things need to be included in your pitch:

  • Your recent job history – what company you were/are working for, why did you choose to work for them and why do you want to leave, your progression within the company or across several organisations you worked for;
  • What products you have worked on;
  • What you like about working in product management;
  • What you are good at (make sure to have some examples to back it up if you’re asked);
  • What you are looking for in a new role/company;

Keep your pitch short – up to two minutes – and make sure that you aren’t speaking in a monotonous voice. Your pitch should grab the interviewer’s attention and make them curious. Practise your pitch beforehand – record it and listen to it yourself or ask your friends and family to listen to it and give you feedback.

Get Noticed by Recruitment Agencies

For a couple of months I was submitting tailored CVs, writing bespoke cover letters, and following up with job posters only to hear… nothing. Then at one point a recruiter called me, I told him about the products I’d worked on and he pointed out that what I said was very good, but it wasn’t obvious from my CV. I made a few changes to my CV, started applying to jobs like crazy and boom! – I had calls coming in left, right, and centre. What happened? Recruitment agencies noticed me and remembered me. Make it your goal to build a relationship with these agencies. This will put you in an advantageous position – where you have multiple opportunities thrown at you and you become the one who choses.

Do some research on which recruitment agencies operate in your area, if you’re in London – there are a few that focus on tech recruitment and even product recruitment. There are several ways in which you can connect with them, but I recommend you do the following at the very least:

  • Apply for the jobs posted by these agencies. Unless the job opportunity is totally the opposite of what you are looking for, you should apply. Your goal here is to be noticed and remembered – and it’s a numbers game. Unless you regularly take the stage at product conferences and everyone knows you, in most cases you won’t really get a response from an agency. So make sure that your name and CV gets looked at regularly.
  • Call the agency or a specific agent. If you have a good pitch and can deliver it well on the phone this will significantly increase your chances of being noticed and remembered. I spoke with a few recruiters at a recent ProductTank meetup and they confirmed that if someone presents themselves well over the phone they will turn to their colleague and let them know that this person sounds good – even if they don’t have the right opportunity for them at the moment.
  • Connect with the agents in other ways – LinkedIn, conferences and events, networking… I personally don’t feel I’ve used these ways enough, but they are great ways to build connections that will help you get more opportunities.

Prepare to Answer Questions

The questions thrown at you will vary from interviewer to interviewer. You should research what kind of questions product managers and product owners can expect to be asked and prepare your answers with examples in advance. Those questions may come or they may not, but at least you will be prepared and – again – you won’t have to think on the spot, which will give a better impression.

My experience has been that interviewers are trying to get a picture of what you’ve worked on, what challenges you had, and how you dealt with them. In other words – they focus on your past. Occasionally though, an interviewer will give you a situation and ask you what you would do and why.

When I was job hunting I didn’t like the fact that most interviewers focus on the past so much – I understand why they do this, but I didn’t feel that there was a fair balance between what a job seeker had done and what they would do if they faced the same situation again. If an interviewer asks you to give an example of what you did in the past and you can frame your answer to include how you would respond knowing what you know now – “at the time I did X; however, if I was in that situation right now I would do Y because Z”. This shifts the focus from the past, shows that you have reflected and learned, and have grown professionally.

Summary

You should expect the unexpected. Several times I went into an interview expecting to speak with person A, but was welcomed by persons A, B, and C. The first time this happened it threw me off and I definitely did not present myself as well as I could have done, simply because I was nervous. So keep in mind that you won’t always be interviewed by the same people who are mentioned in your interview invitation.

It takes time, so be patient. There are plenty of jobs out there, but the competition is fierce as well. If results don’t come quickly, seek feedback, adjust, try something new, but keep calm and keep looking.

Trust yourself. Tell yourself that you already know a lot, have done a lot, and prepared a lot, so you should relax and enjoy the process.

Kostas Sirvydis

About

Kostas Sirvydis

Product Management enthusiast with 9 years of experience in IT and e-commerce. Typically work with distributed cross-functional teams who struggle collaborating effectively to deliver high-quality results, I help them grow as a team, increase their productivity and make them feel more engaged and invested in the work that they do.