To help hiring managers and recruiters, like myself, decide whether or not to interview you, it can be a great exercise to treat your resume like a professional product. Here I’ll share some useful pointers on how to do just that.
Having reviewed hundreds of product managers’ resumes in the last year I’m sure I’ll have overlooked some fantastic candidates, simply because their CVs didn’t shine. Building on some of the other excellent career-as-a-product posts and talks out there, let’s do a deep-dive into your resume.
Consider this article a requirements document: it’s structured into several user stories from the perspective of a hiring manager, for a product manager role. I’ve pulled in examples from real product managers’ resumes to help you think about how you might improve your own.
Use this article as a guide to polish your resume and improve your job-hunting prospects. Ultimately, your resume should itself signal that you have the skills required to be a successful product manager on any team.
This advice is designed to apply equally well to those looking to break into product management as well as those who are already experienced in it. If you’re
- an experienced product manager, I’d expect to see strong examples of your work in your resume
- looking to break into product, I’d expect to see your non-product management work explained in product-driven language
And in both cases, no matter what, keep in mind that your resume is just one part of your job application. You will, of course, often need to take multiple steps to land that interview.
As a hiring manager, I want to hire great storytellers, so the team can work towards a unified vision.
Product managers need to be expert storytellers, and a resume is simply your story in bullet-point format. It needs to explain your journey into and through product management, as well as the evolution of your products.
If you’re looking to move into product, your resume needs to explain how your past experience is relevant for work as a product manager. Think of your previous roles as prototypes for a product management role – you might not have had all the features of a full product management role, but you had some of them. Highlight the relevant features of your previous roles.
The following is how one product manager describes their current role on their resume:
Leading a team of 20 people (analysts, developers, QA) developing one internal tool and integrating another external tool used by 800 agents on a daily basis.
Note for this example that the applicant just tells us what they did in a very literal sense. I could use this same sentence for a product, scrum master, or engineering manager role. In addition, “leading” in product management can be very vague. They could improve their resume quite a bit by being more specific:
Running ceremonies, identifying feature gaps, and defining requirements for a 20-person cross-functional scrum team building an internal tool to improve call center operations.
I can now understand a lot more about the product and role, without taking up more space on the page. Take a minute to look at each position on your resume and check that there is one bullet point that describes the role you had and the product you were working on.
As a hiring manager, I want to hire people focused on gathering good data, so we can craft good hypotheses about what to build next.
Every product manager needs to be data-driven. This includes qualitative and quantitative data. Use your resume to show how you’ve made decisions using data. This could include different tests you’ve run, quantitative analyses that have helped you make a better choice, or user research that has changed the course of your roadmap.
One product manager described their decision-making as follows:
Engaged client executives to assess strategic business needs and challenges, and translate business strategy into human capital opportunities with business impact.
This excerpt tells us at a basic level what the story was, but it could also use a dose of specificity. And any time you talk about strategy or roadmaps is a great chance to highlight your data skills:
Ran an ROI analysis and presented results to client executives, leading to a redefined strategy for our employee hiring and training programs.
See how adding a layer of data (and detail) enhances the story? If every bullet on your resume looks like this, it can highlight a wide range of relevant experiences, frameworks you’ve used, and the tools you’ve encountered. With this I can find reasons to interview you because I have more confidence that you have the right experience for what’s next.
As a hiring manager, I want to hire people who measure their impact, so we can make sure we’re building the right things for our customers.
Great product managers never stop measuring and communicating the impact of their decisions. Use your resume to highlight your successes and failures (aka learnings) through the performance of your product.
One thing to note: it’s far more useful here to talk in relative rather than absolute terms. Without context, increasing revenue by $1 million per year can either be revolutionary or quotidian. On the other hand, increasing revenue by 10% clearly shows the scale of your contributions.
Use detail and clear KPIs like this product manager to demonstrate these skills:
Introduced KPIs and evaluated success; depreciated underperforming features which improved engagement by 34%.
Note how good use of metrics reinforces the other two user stories – this bullet point is a mini-story where data led to a decision. The one thing that could improve this even further would be to add why removing the features led to increased engagement.
If you’re at a company that doesn’t measure the impact of your products or if you can’t share your KPIs for some other reason, talk about what you did to push your org’s culture in a data-driven direction. Did you install analytics or build dashboards? Tell us about it.
Iterate and Refine
Combine these three pieces together to make your whole resume shine. In combination, you have data-led stories which demonstrate the impact you’ve had on the teams you work with. This provides the hiring manager with a strong understanding of what they might be able to expect from you if they were to bring you on board.
Like any product, your resume should be a living document. Seek lots of feedback from as many sources as possible to make it better and better. While these concepts sound straightforward and simple, you’d be amazed at how many applicants have generic resumes which don’t tell me enough about them to move forward.
Thank you so much to the product managers and aspiring product managers who gave me permission to use their content for this article. Best of luck on your next job hunt, wherever it may take you!