How I got to this new role was anything but a linear process. I was quite fortunate to have incredible mentors and resources as I went through these past few months.
My hope in this post is to share some of the experiences, resources, templates, and articles that helped me throughout.
First some backstory.
I know I’m not alone in saying these past few months have been some of the strangest and tumultuous of my life.
My startup, Wami, has been bootstrapped from the start, and the shock Covid-19 provided to the global marketing landscape (and the corresponding reduction in all marketing spend) put us in the uncomfortable position of having to figure out how to keep our company alive in addition to paying our personal bills.
While we’re able to chart a course forward for the business to survive near-term and continue forward, it was clear that I needed to reassess what I wanted professionally in light of a vastly different world and quite uncertain future ahead.
I first tried freelancing as a product manager through the TopTal network (which hopefully I’ll share more about in a later post). I met some great and interesting people through those projects but found myself wanting something different.
With the pandemic throwing the state of the world into general uncertainty for the near-term future, I decided to take a full reset about what I wanted to do with the majority of my time for the next few years.
At one point in mid-May, I saw a tweet from Nassim Taleb that summarized well my mindset at the time.
ADAPTATION— Nassim Nicholas Taleb (@nntaleb) May 11, 2020
Do a total reset professionally, economically, personally. Treat this thing as if it were here to stay & make sure you can do with it. If it goes away, it will be a bonus but remember that the shadow of the following one will be progressively built into the system.
The output of this reset for me was understanding that I wanted to work full-time in a vertical where I had genuine curiosity and interest, where I could apply what I’ve learned so far while also being pushed to continue to grow.
Quality not quantity
Taking the time to think about what your interested in, and why you want to work on those types of problems will carry you well throughout the entire interview process. Spray and pray is not the best way to end up where you want.
The first thing I did was put together a list of verticals and companies that fit my parameters.
Once I was ready to start actively searching for a role, I invested some time in cleaning up my portfolio and resume.
Especially with interviews being conducted over Zoom, I wanted to prepare for the fact that not all facets of my personality or past work would come out during the interview process. I used the problem, approach, outcome framework to unpack the strategy behind some of the products I’ve been a part of building, and solicited feedback from some of my friends and peers in the product space to make sure I wasn’t sharing gibberish.
Here are some of the links I highlighted from my portfolio:
Getting conversations started
With my targets, resume, and portfolio ready to go, the next step was getting in front of the right people at the places I wanted to be.
I was heavily influenced by Gibson Biddle’s article about cultivating your network and the process to get to two conversations a day. I was not looking for a VP job at Netflix (as he was) but the mindset and “activity” focus made a lot of sense to me.
I tried a variety of different ways to generate these conversations to varying results.
As a starting point, I built this template to serve as a lightweight tracker to help me manage my process of outreach to roles, recruiters, and in-network friends. You are welcome to use it, I suggest you make a copy and start with figuring out what types of industries and companies you are genuinely interested in first.
As every “how to get a job” post recommends, I went on some interviews with companies outside my targets to get some practice in. I got those interviews via recruiters. I was able to find quite a few product-focused recruiters simply via google search and browsing LinkedIn. I used this template to reach out and made sure to follow up weekly if I didn’t hear back.
In terms of getting interviews through my own efforts, I had the most success starting conversations by cold LinkedIn messaging prospective hiring managers and internal recruiters with this template customized for each role and organization. One of the companies I interviewed with I found via the Masters of Scale podcast. I heard the founder give an incredibly passionate talk about their vision and outlook for the future that moved me to reach out.
The exercise of understanding what you want also makes it easier for your in-network friends and connections to make an introduction or point you in the right direction. I had shared with a former manager that I was interested in what Teachable was working on and he was able to open the door for me to someone within the Teachable organization that would’ve been much harder to make happen on my own.
Going from interview to offer
Using the tracker template, I logged all my outreach, conversations, and in-progress interviews with all the corresponding next steps. Even if I was unable to get ahold of a recruiter or someone within a specific company, I still logged the outreach. This a) made me feel like I accomplished something (and the little victories come in handy in the midst of a job search) and b) kept me honest in terms of following up with each target.
As with anything that requires some form of selling, it’s often not the first touch that leads to success. Follow up at a regular cadence has to be a part of your process. This doesn’t mean you should harass companies you are engaged with for an update, but it does mean you should always be on top of understanding where you are in the hiring process, and what next steps remain to put the company in a position to make you an offer.
I’m not going to go into great detail in this post about how to ace product interviews but it’s definitely important to understand who you are interviewing within each company and what types of hard and soft skills they are trying to gather from you during each conversation. In addition, it should go without saying but you should spend quite a bit of time researching the product strategy and competitive landscape for any org you are interviewing with.
With most interviews happening remotely right now, I would also recommend learning how to properly use Miro or Mural as many of the organizations I interviewed with leveraged these for strategy presentations and brainstorming sessions.
Once I made it into the later rounds of interviewing with a few organizations I could see being a good fit for me, I then switched my focus to closing and receiving a written offer. I was transparent with the hiring manager of each organization about my comp expectations should they also see me as a good fit, and that I wanted to make a decision within a specific time frame. I also leveraged the input of friends within the product recruiting industry to get insight on what fair comp looked like in our specific market.
Using this overall process, I was very fortunate to get multiple written offers to chose from.
Other notes from the interview process
From when I started the search process, to when I accepted a job took about ~4 months in total. Some advice I got early in my process was to prepare for ~6 months and be pleasantly surprised if it happens sooner.
If I had to pick one area that I think paid off the most in helping me open doors for conversations, it would have to be the portfolio. It took some effort upfront to put the content together, but it paid off massively in being able to communicate strategy and outcomes in a way a resume falls short.
In addition to the templates I’ve shared above, I’ve also compiled some of the other resources that I found helpful during my search as well.