(originally posted on Quora)
Q: What Do Recruiters Look For in a Product Management Resume?
A: It’s important to note that most recruiters and hiring managers spend very little time reviewing most incoming resumes: I’m helping a client of mine fill a product role, and have been through 220+ resumes (most of which were entirely inappropriate or unqualified) in order to locate the 20–30 worth reading in depth and phone-screening. So time spent tuning sub-bullet #4 of Job #3 on Page #2 is mostly wasted effort.
Also, I’m on record as very strongly biased toward hiring product managers with previous experience (i.e. have actually held a product management title/job before). See This Is Why I Hire First for Product Experience. Not everyone agrees with me on this… but the #1 thing I’m looking for in a resume is “PRODUCT MANAGER” as a current or recent job title. At least 120 of the folks I passed over would tell me that their current role is like product management, or they really want to be a product manager, or they are current engineers and product management can’t be as hard as being an engineer 🙁 so I should want them as PMs. Unless I’m hiring into a really big company that has a well-defined training or APM program, I’d prefer someone who’s actually done some of what I want to hire for. (Cf: hiring developers who know how to code vs. hiring people who want to learn how to code.)
Also worth noting: the best way to get through the resume review process is to find someone at your target company to walk your resume over to the hiring manager. I carefully read every employee-referral resume, and almost all of those folks get a phone screen. Referrals are 10x more qualified than the online stream, and I owe my coworkers the respect of taking their recommendations seriously. (You: “But I don’t know anyone at Company X.” Me: “Check LinkedIn, poke your real-world friends, look at name tags at meetup, expend some energy. Find a friend-of-a-friend, buy her breakfast/coffee and find out what that company is looking for in a product manager.” You: “But that’s hard, takes effort, and pulls me out of my comfort zone.” Me: “All good product managers do validation and customer/market interviews. Essential qualifications for the job you’re trying to get.”)
If you’re only applying online, know that many hundreds of other PMs (and want-to-be PMs) are too. HR filtering and resume screening are happening in bulk, and most subtlety is lost. Most companies will match exactly the job specs as published, and move forward the folks who check the most boxes. (Not necessarily the best candidates, but certainly the most obvious candidates.) If you look different than the posted job req, you’ll need to find additional ways of getting in the door or getting noticed.
Then: if you do get a phone screen or F2F interview, please (oh please oh please) do a little homework. See my Interviewing Like A Product Manager tirade. I talk with dozens of candidates with don’t know where the company is located, or what our products do/who they are for, or how we hope to make money. Ideally, you have a thoughtful question/comment at the ready (“I tried the sign-up workflow and noticed something a little odd…”) that shows you’ve pondered my product or problem just a bit. Unless you’re talking with a stealth startup, don’t open the discussion with “Tell me what your company does.” (At the other end of the phone, I hear that as “too lazy or too busy to prepare, or doesn’t have enough product chops to form an opinion from our website.”)
Last: know that the application/interview/hiring process is deeply flawed and wildly random. Good/qualified folks are dropped from hiring processes every day, and less interesting folks get waved through. Interview panels are biased. Most folks don’t actually know what product managers do. Reqs are frozen and unfrozen and frozen again for no reason. Lots and lots and lots of noise in an imperfect process. Don’t get so hung up on a single company or opportunity that you neglect a dozen other good matches. If one hiring company can’t find it’s way to you, then there are 1900+ other product management postings in the Bay Area. Fall in love with your product once you get the gig, but best if you don’t fall in love with the employer until they hire you. Everyone on the planet is applying for that product job at Slack (or airBnB or Twitter or Facebook…) so you should broaden your search just a tiny bit.
Try to think about your job search from the employer’s side, assume a noisy process, and remember that resumes (by themselves) don’t get you a job.