MBA mortarboard

I share a lot of informal advice about product management/marketing jobs, start-up culture and skills development.  Here are mash-ups of some recent conversations, with a nod to Dan Savage.


I’m a new MBA who’s just moved out to San Francisco, and am looking for a product marketing job. I worked on analytic tools for banks before B-School, but got a cool internship with a Bay Area social media company here last summer. So I want to work on something more exciting than FinTech. How should I restructure my résumé and LinkedIn profile?
— Recently Moved to the Bay Area with a Respectable MBA

Dear RMBA2

First, It’s fine to Have An MBA, but don’t Be An MBA.  (HAMBAM)  If you’ve moved here to get rich instantly, or join a name-brand company to impress your classmates, or become CEO by Thanksgiving, don’t cash in that return ticket yet. Tech firms want folks who are passionate about their company’s solutions, willing to work hard, and (initially) not hung up on titles or degrees.

Second, hiring companies are interested in how you’ll solve their problems, not in your need for a job. Figure out what you’re good at (and willing to do), and focus on companies that need your special expertise – where you can MDBYSIJ (Minimize the Distance between Your Skills and Interesting Jobs).  You might look for analytics firms selling to more than just finance. Or a consumer company targeting an obscure musical audience that you know…

Third, it’s rare to get jobs through online postings. Sorry. Résumé submissions and LinkedIn profiles are not enough. You’ll need to network in the original sense (in person, face to face), find folks who know folks at interesting companies, and have someone walk your resume over to the hiring manager.  Silicon Valley is short on experienced product marketers but long on newly arrived MBAs.


rack cablingI’m the only software product manager at a company that thinks it’s a hardware company. Even though all of our product value is in software, we pour it into generic boxes and sell “units.” We use the same OEM gear as our competitors, but our execs and sales team obsess over “how many boxes we ship” and Cost of Goods Sold. It’s really hard to make investments in software architecture, cloud features, automated testing or agile. I’m having trouble being as passionate about our hardware as the other product managers are.
Still In the (Hardware Wiring) Closet

Even though most hardware is being commoditized or virtualized or out of existence, a lot of companies want to stick with traditional hardware business models. Historically, tech revenue was defined to be between one customer and one hardware device, and some folks still see software as the squishy optional stuff that makes hardware easy-to-use. But the last two decades of Software-as-a-Service have added a lot of diversity to HW/SW business models (pricing per seat, per stock trade, per TB of monthly storage, shareware, freemium, open source, compute-on-demand, attention as currency…).  And successful disruptions often come from reassigning how we deliver value (SalesForce, NetFlix, Zipcar).

At some point, SITHWC, you’ll want to come out of the wiring closet. Either you can convince your peers to respect the company’s software as strategic, or you’ll want to move somewhere more open to directly capturing customer value. Product management is an emotional role: if you don’t love your product, no one will.

Send your joblorn questions to


HAMBAM: It’s fine to Have An MBA, but don’t Be An MBA. Especially in your first job right out of biz school, take two teaspoons of humble every morning with your power breakfast, pretend to value actual industry experience over case studies, remember that some developers use ‘MBA’ as an ethnic slur, and never ever say “when I’m CEO…”

MDBYSIJ: Minimize the Distance between Your Skills and Interesting Jobs
Hiring managers want someone who’s an exact fit for their open positions. So an open slot for “agile senior product manager for restaurant point-of-sale systems in Boston” goes first to some senior product manager at NCR (or Micros or Aloha) who lives in Waltham (or Newton) and has a signed copy of Mike Cohn’s User Stories book.

Measure the job distance between you and various opportunities or companies, where smaller is better: +1 if you don’t currently have the right title (or +2 if you’ve never had it); +1 if you’re not at similar company or lack have specific market expertise; +1 for being in a different geography; +1 for being B2B if this is a B2C job (and vice versa); +1 for hardware folks wanting software jobs; +2 for not knowing anyone who can walk your resume over to the hiring manager and make a sincere intro.

FYI, hiring managers can’t count past 3; recruiters rarely get past 1.

  • Rich Reply

    Thanks @OpenMK for your great copy concepts, infinite patience

  • Vivek Vijayan Reply

    This is a different kind of post from you Rich. It would be great if you can model something around, where you can coach Product Managers or wannabees openly answering their questions maintaining confidentiality. May be you are already thinking on those lines.

    • Rich Reply

      Vivek: spot on. I have 2 or 3 of these chats every week, F2F, but that doesn’t scale. I’ll anonymize anything sent via email.

  • Geoffrey Anderson Reply

    Fabulous post, and very insightful. I live in a hardware world (scientific instrumentation) that isn’t going to go virtual anytime soon, but I have the same issues with selling the value of our software.

    Also, spot on about the MBA. I have had junior product managers ask me if they should buckle down and get an MBA, and universally I tell them if they really want to do it, go for it, but it probably isn’t going to be that useful to you in typical product management roles. I also guide them to one of the executive MBA programs that don’t consume 2 years of your time. I love the “Never ever say “When I am CEO…””

  • Tim Johnson Reply

    Spot on overall, Rich. The joblorn part is basic product marketing. If anyone looking for a PMM gig from me approached me with that opening line, I don’t think I’d even give them a reply. If they so badly misunderstand the buyer, they don’t deserve to be in PMM.

    As for an MBA in general, the older you get the more it becomes an equalizer unless you’re a rockstar or independently wealthy. The farther up the ladder you go, the more the req says, “MBA or equivalent.” I did the 3-year executive program at UCI and it was worth it. Didn’t really learn a lot but now I’m not rejected out of hand because I don’t have one. And I NEVER point it out to anyone in conversation because it doesn’t matter.

  • Stephen Reply

    This was great, especially the bit about measuring job distance.

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  • Brian Biggs Reply

    Fantastic post.

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