Five Questions I’m Asked About Applying for Product Management Jobs

As a product manager with over a decade of experience, I’ve been a mentor to individuals with wicked talent and potential. On most days they tolerate my rants and raves. On occasions I support them in the throes of a job search. Here are five questions I get asked most often; also my answers to them.

1. “I Know my Sh*t — Can They Tell?”

Not all jargon is made equal. Outdated language that is specific to your organization shouldn’t seep into your resume or online profile. Current product-management-speak, however, is okay; it emphasizes your grasp of and interest in the practice.

“Responsible for speaking with customers to design new products,” is not as compelling as “led customer discovery process via in-depth interviews to produce empathy maps and user personas.”

This notion applies to your title as well. “Team Lead” may be an important spot on your organizational chart. Unfortunately the designation doesn’t scream product manager to your prospective employers and recruiters — human and especially the CV sorting bots.

Tip:

Read material from an industry expert to cleanse your palette off internal or archaic gibberish, then rewrite your resume.

I’m a huge fan of Design Kit’s human-centered design practices and peers rave about Steve Blank’s point of view on customer development.

2. “How do I Know What Questions to Expect?”

Product Managers are conversant in user experience, technology and business modeling, making it tough to focus your interview preparation. It gets fuzzier when organizations post vague or broad descriptions of their ideal candidate.

Tip:

A little sleuthing on LinkedIn and the company website offer breadcrumbs to the team’s skills, composition and manager. Also, always ask for names of those who are scheduled to interview you.

Between these two activities you’ll sense the direction in which your interview will skew. You could get really bold and position yourself for areas in which they lack skills. (Although, this insight usually emerges a few conversations into the interview.)

And for a solid workout of your interviewing muscles, you must try this awesome resource — the brainchild of Gayle Laakmann McDowell and Jackie Bavaro.

3. “What Should I Ask?”

The ability to frame the right questions is far more important than having all the answers as a product manager. The questions you pose during your interview showcases this aspect and gives a peek at how your brain cranks.

Tip:

Take a solid shot at piecing together the business model of the firm ahead of the big day. A really smart way to direct and to synthesize your analysis is to create a Lean Canvas for the company you are interviewing with.

This investment of time and effort pays off another way: you will be equipped to have impressive dialogues with their competitors. So check them out for openings.

4. “They Like me! Is This Right for Me? ”

This is not a question; it’s a mindset. It takes pressure off if you approach the process, from the start, as an exploration to discover the best fit for your needs and interests.

Tip:

A few considerations before you sign on the dotted line…

  • Did you request a walk-through of artifacts you’d be expected to produce?
  • Have you met with your potential stakeholders? What are their expectations from your role?
  • Have you had lunch with your future manager and peers?

5. “Is it Okay to Follow Up?”

It’s easy to empathize with the agony of waiting, especially if you are the one waiting.

Yes, you should follow up. You are human and so are they.

Even people who really want to help can slip or may not be masters of managing their schedule or inbox. Pace yourself though. To follow up after a day or two is a little too soon but a week seems reasonable.

An edited version of this article first appeared on Women2.0.

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