During the last couple of weeks, I have been talking to a lot of APM/PM candidates looking for advice regarding the PM recruiting process. A lot of the candidates have been asking me a lot of similar questions, so I thought this was the perfect excuse to write my first blog post. I could list the most frequent questions I get, but most of them boil down to one simple question: What is a company looking for when they consider hiring an entry level PM/APM?
The short answer: They want to know if a candidate has the potential to transform a big open question into a successful tangible feature. While fully testing for this is almost impossible in a time-sensitive or cost-efficient manner, companies look for traits and skills that increase the likelihood of you doing that. So what are some of those traits:
- Good product sense and customer empathy: this one is super important since it’s something that it’s very difficult to teach. Product sense can be refined, but empathy is more of an innate trait.
- Structured thinking: structured thinkers make rational decisions and are able to articulate their decision making process; This will eventually lead to other teammates trusting you and your decisions.
- Great written and oral communication: the fact that you need to be able to articulate your thoughts is a given; a good communicator should also be persuasive and be able to radiate excitement.
- Collaboration: Be able to understand and work with a lot of different people; closely related to empathy. Being a good listener is also crucial for working cross functionally.
- Data-driven decision making: There is no worse mistake than spending a lot of time and effort in the wrong idea; test your assumption early on, and use data to move forward.
- Pro-activeness and ability to get shit done: as a PM you are often responsible for pushing features through the finish line; When you work cross-functionally, there is often a lot of friction and resistance to move forward. Pro-activeness and bias for action are essential if you want to ship your feature.
- Open to feedback and learning mindset: As an entry level PM, companies don’t expect you to perform/behave as experienced PMs; however, they do expect you to get there relatively soon. A learning mindset and openness to feedback are great signs of someone with a lot of potential for growth.
- Self-awareness: do you know what you don’t know? Do you have an accurate perception of your own abilities?
Well the theory is great, but how do I put this into practice during my interview?
You can do this in two ways:
- Talk about a past experience where you have been through the (PM-like) process of facing a big open question, and turning into a big tangible success. The key here is not to get caught up on the details or on fixate on your success. This is great opportunity to prove that you followed a process where you demonstrated that you have most/some of the previously mentioned traits. How did you break down the big question? What assumptions did you make? How did you test your hypothesis? How did you measure success? What did you learn from it? What will you do differently next time?
- Demonstrate the previously mentioned traits during onsite interviews or take-home work assignments. Again, answer each prompt by following a process that will allow you to demonstrate that you have those essential traits. The only difference here is that the time is limited; in order to move quicker through the process, you can make assumptions, and ask clarifying questions to the interviewer. Thinking out loud is always a great idea since it allows interviewers to understand how you make decisions; make sure to mention tradeoffs, list pros and cons, and identify the risks/open questions associated with your decisions.
Yeah, but that’s assuming I make past the initial resume screening… How can I make my PM application stand out?
- Make sure you highlight that relevant (PM-like) experience in your resume. Include bullet points with that big open question, what you built, and how did you measure success/what did success look like. And by the way, this can be applied to a wide range of things — you don’t have to have built an app. Building a club at your university from scratch, leading your division 1 team towards the championship, or starting a nonprofit are all valid processes where you can display those traits.
- Write a great cover letter. While it’s true that most companies go straight to the resume, the cover letter can be a great resource to help recruiters make a decision about a candidate that are on the fence. A great cover letter should accomplish three things: 1) show that you have done your research about the company, and that you would be a great cultural fit. 2) go in-depth explaining the process you followed during your PM-like experience. 3) Surface examples from any part of your life where you have showed excellence. This is your opportunity to talk about the accomplishment that you are really proud of - like founding a club, launching a side project, or even winning a dance competition.
- Think of your resume as a product: show that you can prioritize important and relevant work experience; display your product sense with clean and extremely readable formatting; and finally, avoid typos at all cost to demonstrate that you have an eye for detail.
Keep in mind that the PM role description/responsibilities can vary across different companies. While my goal is to make this blog post applicable for most PM entry roles, it’s important to become super familiar with the PM responsibilities at the company you plan on applying and prepare accordingly.
Did you find this post helpful? Let me know if you would like me to cover other topics and consider applying for an APM role at Asana!