8 PRINCIPLES TO LAND YOUR MBA PRODUCT MANAGEMENT OFFER: GETTING INTERVIEWS

What’s becoming more and more popular nowadays among incoming MBA cohorts is product management. It has a certain mystique to it. It’s hard to define as responsibilities differ from company to company and there’s debate about whether or not PMing is like being a “CEO of your own product”. But from experience, the number of students who end up with product management offers is drastically lower than the number of those who start the year thinking about it. Unlike other popular roles like consulting or investment banking, product is notoriously hard for MBAs to pivot into, especially for those trying to switch without pre-existing technology or product experience.

But regardless of all these difficulties, especially during these COVID times, I do believe that there is a formula that works. Here are the 8 principles that I believe helped me get my PM gig.

Oh boy, if only the PM process was this easy….

HOW TO GET THE INTERVIEW

PRINCIPLE #1: Use a machine gun approach

In shooting games, there’s a term called “Pray and spray”, which refers to holding down the fire button instead of being efficient with your bullets. That’s exactly what you want to do here. It’s quantity over quality. Most tech companies outside of FAANG hire very few PM positions, intern or full time. And even within FAANG, Netflix doesn’t usually hire for interns and Facebook hires largely ex-software developers into their PM roles. Thus, it’s important to cast a wide net, especially if you are an international student unsure whether the firm sponsors. Majority of non-FAANG MBA positions do not sponsor international students and it’s important to find the ones that do, leveraging school reports, alumni and networking.

I recommend starting with an excel file and mapping out target companies in the industries you are interested in. Start out with your school’s employment reports and history of on-campus recruiting. Then add on companies you find using the filters in Crunchbase or LinkedIn. Lastly, scan for positions and set up alerts on the job sites LinkedIn, Indeed and Glassdoor.

Once you have it set up, start applying. Throughout my search, I applied to over 60 positions over a three-month period. Do a couple each day careful not to burn yourself out or miss any deadlines. Since most tech companies do not require or even read cover letters, it’s easy and quick to fill out applications. Through this method, it’s not needed to do much research or network with said company until after you get the interview.

PRINCIPLE #2: Try to get referred

Trying not to contradict myself in what I said in my last point — this is always a trade-off between time you are willing to spend focusing on one particular company before you get an interview vs. applying to a couple more companies. I believe that referrals help a lot more in FAANG as well as smaller startups. It’s commonly believed that at certain FAANG companies, a referral lands you at least a glance from a recruiter, whereas without one means you can get rejected without a glance from a human. I got referred at 13 companies and landed at interviews at 6. While this might be self-selecting, my interview rate at companies I didn’t get referred but had referral fields, was significantly lower.

But not everyone might be able to get referred. It’s OK if you don’t, it’s definitely a nice to have, but in such a competitive process, I’m a believer that every bit helps. And you will usually be surprised by how strong your network is (reach out to alumni who share schooling) or how willing that friend you met 10 years ago at a birthday party is to chat with you. You just have to reach out. It doesn’t really matter what position that person is.

PRINCIPLE #3: Productize your resume

There’s a common belief that doing the “triple jump”, where you leverage the MBA to change your industry, function and geography, is really difficult. It’s especially difficult for switchers into product management, because these tech companies really want applicants with pre-existing tech, product or related experience.

Think about giving your resume a revamp and emphasize product management skills. No PM or software engineering experience? No problem, just talk about the times where you leveraged data to drive decision making. Or the time you managed a cross-functional team with multiple stakeholders and influenced without authority. Or when you designed a marketing strategy for that small bakery down the street.

And most of all, show interest in the technical. Try to pick up some programming 101 classes, and start learning Python, SQL and R. Try starting some technical projects, like building yourself a personal website (but instead of using a CMS or website builder, just download a free template and edit it) or some silly clicking game.

Yes, I did put on my resume a game mashing up our favorite Sam’s from Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings.

Click here to continue reading the rest of the 5 principles on how to get your offer once you get your interviews!

#CBSDigitalLiteracy

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This article is written by Tony Hung, a current student at Columbia Business School in the class of 2021. He will be interning at as a PM at a top technology company over the summer. The views are his alone and not representative of any company or educational institution.

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