I admit, the headline, while true, is a clickbait. Here’s the full version “I applied to 103 Product Manager jobs and heard back from no one, until a few weeks ago and now I have 4 offers.” However, the point of this article is not to show off success but to show off the struggles and failures I encountered during the process.
Key lessons I learned
Don’t get too attached to any company during your process
For the first few applications, I spent a lot of time researching the company I was applying for, looking at the people and their backgrounds, watching CEO’s talks on YouTube – basically reading as much as I can and investing myself very deeply in their vision and culture. But there’s a fine line between grit & perseverance and getting hung up. Every rejection hurts, but these hurt so much more.
Plan, Plan, Plan
Have midterms coming up? Deadlines at work? Personal commitments? Great, so will your interviews and onsites – in the same week. There’s no getting around to this when you are applying at so many places. You just have to plan and re-prioritize quickly. I interviewed with four companies in three weeks; from the first recruiter call to onsite and that definitely wasn’t by choice. I talked to 31 different people across 34 interviews and definitely felt exhausted.
The best you can do is 50%
The rest is luck. Getting a job is a two step process: 1) Find a job listing 2) Interview your best self and get an offer. Unfortunately, there’s also a step 0. That company and that role you think you will be the best fit? That job needs to be open. There were so many instances where the position was filled just days after I applied or didn’t offer visa sponsorship to name just a few reasons. Which is why this also relates to point #1. Don’t get too attached to any company.
Everyone needs emotional support
Dealing with any kind of rejection is hard. When this rejection relates to one of the most important aspects of your life and you get bombarded with these every single day, it’s hard not to feel down. Having someone – spouse, partner, friend, family, career counsellor to talk is extremely helpful.
The hardest thing during this process and I am very bad at it. Unfortunately, there’s no getting around to it. Which is why having that emotional support fallback is so crucial.
Why I am writing this post
- To serve myself a reminder of what felt like a forever process, wasn’t actually that long or that bad
- To share my experience with others in a similar boat
They say, finding a job is a full time job. I sort of understood what it meant but had never really internalized it until recently. Last week marked an end to my process of finding a full time Product Manager job and I decided to reflect on the experience.
I want to keep the focus on the framework I followed rather than the companies or interviews themselves so I am omitting those details. There are far better resources to prepare for interviews for any company and any role than I could possibly put here.
When I looked at my notes, I was surprised by some of the numbers. Specifically, my entire process from my first job application to offer acceptance was just over 2 months. But it felt like an eternity! That really convinced me to write this post.
Product Managers need to be very data driven and structured in the decision making process. I decided to apply a similar approach for finding the job itself.
YOU are the product
What you are selling during a job interview is, well, yourself! I see this as being self-aware of your strengths, weakness, interests and skill sets. Knowing where you can fit best in the company goes a long way. To find this, I made a list of every single project that I ever worked on, my role and responsibilities in those projects and the impact they had. This required a lot of up front investment but it was worth it because during the interviews, I could always find stories or experiences for most scenarios. Then it was time to find job listings that I was interested in. Rather than creating a list of target companies and fitting my profile to match their roles, I started off with a few constraints around:
- Domains that I am interested in (e.g. FinTech)
- Type of products (e.g. B2B, B2C)
- Role and Seniority (e.g. customer facing, technical, strategy, operational)
- Size of the company / maturity of product (e.g. early stage, late stage, public)
- … a few others
This allowed me to analyze each job listing against these filters and only apply for roles that meet this criteria. This was important since time is always limited and I wanted to focus on the quality of each application than quantity. I don’t have the exact numbers but if I were to ballpark, I must have selected 1 out of every 10 open listings.
Companies are your users
During any interview process, the company is interviewing you and you are interviewing the company. As in any user research interview, make sure you do your background research to understand what their problems are and what value you can add; how you can solve their problems.
I kept a detailed record of each and every listing I was interested in. Then based on the above filters, I would prioritize the “backlog”. Then I would plan time for research based on the “Match” rating and a couple of other factors of each listing. I would rate each listing for a “match” based on how well I meet the job requirements and how it fits my criteria. There are several resources online about what and how you should research before the interview so I’ll skip that. At first, this seemed a bit of work but the decision paid off when I was doing this at scale (I made 103 applications in total over 2 months) .
Resume is your sales pitch
I think the job of a resume is to tell a story, any story that you would like about yourself and your background. The success criteria whether that story was effective or not is if you hear back from the recruiter/hiring manager on your application. Once you hear back, I think the job of the resume ends there. Then it is up to you to convince the recruiter/hiring manager. Since the resume is so important for the first part of this process, I wanted to customize my resume for each job listing so it tells a story that I thought would resonate well with the decision maker (Yes, it also needs to get through ATS and other filters but again there are several tools for this too).
In order to customize the resume, I needed to know what was working and what was not, an A/B test of sorts. Which led to me track each and every resume I submitted. Each time I heard back on a submission or had a conversation with a recruiter/manager, I would get a sense of what they found most interesting and I would tweak my resume based on that feedback and the job listing (I ended up with a total of 29 different resume versions across 103 applications).
On a couple of occasions, I also tried to get creative with my application packet, especially for the roles where I had no referrals or direct contact with the hiring team. I sent physical personalized letters addressed to the recruiting team and in one instance a poster explaining why I am a good fit. These two were time and cost intensive experiments and both of them failed but I am glad I did the test.
Application to offer is your conversion funnel
This is where rubber meets the road. A funnel is a great way to visualize the performance. This also helped me predict if and when I should continue applying for new job listings and when to pause so I don’t have to pass on calls because of lack of time.
Initially, I had an even worse conversion rate for ‘Applications: Phone Screens’ than shown below. The funnel made it clear to me that this is where I needed to focus the most. So I broke down this stage into sub-stages in order to optimize each sub-stage and thereby improve conversion.
While the final conversion from applications to phone screens of 6.79% logically doesn’t sound that bad, emotionally it requires every bit of energy. Besides, getting a NO during a phone screen is very different than getting a NO after the onsite. You are so much more invested in the company by the time you are done with your onsite. In my case, my very first onsite resulted in a rejection.
Just like in any product, I iterated on the entire framework several times throughout the process with the same basic approach:
Start with a hypothesis informed by data and intuition -> Proposal -> Execute -> Test -> Repeat.
My (not so) Big Data
|Sept 7th, 2018
|Oct 5th, 2018
This means I only spent one month applying for jobs. All the applications were “Product Manager or related roles” in Bay Area only.
|Contacted by Recruiter
|Other Job Boards
Shapr is a bit complicated to quantify here since it’s like Tinder for networking. I really only applied to one job through Shapr but did spend time talking to over 10 people and swiping away each day for about a week. I probably spent a little over 3 hours in total on Shapr.
Source to Phone Screen Conversion
|Contacted by Recruiter
Does this mean Referrals > LinkedIn in my case? No. Out of the 4 referrals, 3 were basically me finding that job listing on LinkedIn and then reaching out to my network to formally submit the application. Without LinkedIn, I probably wouldn’t have discovered those positions and without referrals, I probably wouldn’t have heard back from all of them.
After doing this retrospective, my feelings towards job hunting have changed so much. I realize it’s easy to say this now that it is behind me but even then, I can see how this will help me in future when inevitably, I will be in the same position again, running low on patience, feeling why nobody is getting back to me and wondering if at all I will find the right job.