Breaking into Product | My job hunt in numbers and graphs
For every success story you read out there, there are many many failures that never see the light of day. My ‘success’ only came after countless mistakes, wrong decisions and 64 rejections.
My journey would have been very different if it wasn’t for a single email I sent back in 2015 titled: “Investment Associate Application |InReach Ventures”.
It started with: “Dear Mr.Bonanzinga,”
and ended with “I know I don’t have much to offer to your team at this point in my career but I know that InReach is exactly where I want to be.”
I wasn’t expecting an answer. At least I knew I had tried.
A few days later I received a reply titled “chat” and that was really when the wheels started turning leading to this point.
At InReach Ventures every day was an adventure filled with cutting-edge ideas, ambitious founders and talented people. I was fascinated. During my random chats with Roberto I kept talking about this fictional dream role that is technical yet involved business, a role that involved strategy but at the same time involved building and creating stuff, a role that was a science and art all in one. For him it was trivial what I needed to focus on. Product. And indeed; since then I have never looked back.
After a few months at InReach I though I had found my place. But had I..?
Looking back, I don’t think I was given a chance to be part of the team because I would be a good employee there; but quite the opposite. I was never there to offer something to InReach it was always them offering the world to me and the biggest favour they could make me was letting me go...
A few months later they pushed me to sail for bigger opportunities and so I embarked on a journey to break into product.
Confident I am now ready to tackle the world I thought I knew it all and despite the subtle advice of finding a place where I can be taught Product Management from the best, I thought I was ready to jump right in and build awesome products.
And so I joined an awesome young startup, Neufund, as a Junior PM. I thought that such an opportunity would give me the chance to work on a product from inception to release. But I slowly realised that Product Managers are not made by googling their way through techniques, practices and methods. They are made the same way I became who I am today. By learning and being mentored by people who know better.
I had failed to understand that at the beginning -or I just didn’t want to see it-and so I learned the hard way; by stubbling and falling. Falling right back to the piece of advice I had received by Roberto Bonanzinga but refused to follow. ‘Go find a place where you can grow and learn from the best’.
And this is what you are about to read below.
How I found that place I should have been from the beginning.
After a week in my current role as a PM at nexmo I can now clearly see what a fool I have been for thinking I knew better. I consider myself extremely fortunate and I hope that through these essays I can help people to find their path the same way I was shown mine.
The job hunt
Objective: Find my way into the Product team of an awesome small-mid sized tech company preferably in EU startup hubs (LDN, Berlin, Stockholm, Helsinki), NY or the West Coast (SF, LA).
Prioritisation: Product Manager (PM) & Associate Product Manager (APM). Product Analyst roles, lower in preference. I would be willing to ‘sacrifice’ my ideal role for a badass company and vice versa.
My background: You can see more here.
If you want the quickest way, this is your solution. I looked for 4 different titles (PA, JuniorPM, APM & PM) in 9 different location search terms, opening tabs of what sounded interesting. Did the same drill every 1–1.5 week, ending up with an average of ~10 possible positions after each session. LinkedIn & BetaList worked out really well, angellist, not so well.
2. Manual Search
Not everything is listed in aggregators. Sometimes you have to do the tedious work of manually googling companies one by one. Those could be companies you know and find cool, from articles, crunchbase etc. I group bookmarked the careers pages of ~30 companies I really liked and opened them all in tabs once every 1–2 weeks to check if something came up. You can also setup website monitoring tracking through 3rd party websites that email you when there is a change in a specified URL.
Manual search is really worth it. These are the opportunities that people who only use aggregators never find and most importantly the best ones since these are the companies you shortlisted and really care about.
3. VC funds’ portfolios
Some VC firms might have a search function for all the jobs in their portfolio if you are lucky. If you are not, then you gotta do it manually. My yield doing that for 3 portfolios was: 25' minutes of searching per job I found interesting and a 2.4% chance of one of the companies to have a junior product position. Worth it..? Hmm
Worthwhile Mention: Ken Norton’s PM Jobs’ Directory from the GV Portfolio
Even though I did contact 3 London-based recruiters, I got 0 answers.
5. LinkedIn Cold Messaging
This is another way to approch job hunting but I did not do this. I felt that my value proposition at this point in my career was not clear and strong enough.
→ Average time searching to find a Junior Product opportunity I wanted to apply to across all sources : 10' minutes
- 14' on average to tailor my Cover Letter for each application. My CV stayed untouched for all roles.
- On average 1 out of 13 applications would require you to answer 1–2 extra questions. It took me on average 35' to do each question.
→ 18' completing each application +time spent looking
= 28 minutes for each application from discovery to ‘Submit’
Companies don’t look for us when we decide to look for them. Give yourself some time for the right opportunities to arise. There is an effect of seasonality in the jobs that are around.
The US ecosystem is much more ‘ahead’ in regards to product compared to the European one. That all means that there is more appreciation for the value of product know-how → more $ invested→ more product roles.
Junior product roles do not yield as much value upfront but is more of an investment to the individual and the future. That is why I have noticed that even though there is a inherent gap in Product roles in general between the US and EU, there is an even bigger one when it comes to those junior ones.
Drilling down on this subject even more, I managed to find 1–2 companies (Google & Facebook) that offer a structured APM programs(work+training) in Europe. In the states the selection is much bigger with companies like: Uber, Yammer, Yahoo, Twitter, Google & Facebook offering a variety of such programs.
2 in 3 applications are left unanswered. It is safe to say that if you do not hear back from them within 3 weeks, it is probably not going to work out.
The first stage was always a call with HR. They never assesed any technical knowledge(just asked if I had experience in X) or be able to answer any technical questions. They are usually informal and short at about 30 minutes max. Their task is to re-evaluate the applicant’s background, motivations and the fit with the company culture and role.
4 out of 9 companies included a practical assesment after the first stage. The contents varied per role but PA roles involved a task that involved data analysis, SQL, methodology and KPI/metric related questions. APM roles involved data tasks, planning tasks(feature related), ideation tasks and product intution questions.
The second Stage also involved an interview with the Hiring Manager who usually dives deeper into the value the applicant can bring to the team, if she/he is able to perform the job well, her/his ambitions, interests and motivations amongs many other things. This stage might improve multiple interviews with many people from different departments.
Final stage is usually an on-sight. It includes some more interviews and final checks that there is a fit in with the culture and the colleagues. On average before an offer you will go through 3–6 interviews/chats.
Side-note: Part 2/2 is a 10 minute read with everything I learned through this journey. All the things I wish I knew, insights & tips about CVs, cover letters, the application process and a list of 50+ questions I got in interviews.
Being an EU citizen, applying to EU countries brought me better results over the US (see Fig.3). I believe that is for 2 reasons:
- Product Maturity: As explained above, product opportunities in the US are easier to come by but at the same time are more competitive. Hence due to depmand and supply, the entry requirements are higher.
- Legal Implications: With a large pool of talented individuals, US companies do not need to go into the hassle of sponsoring VISAs for internationals.
The wait seemed to be worth it. After 64 rejections and 21 interview rounds, I was lucky enough to get an offer for a Product Manager position in London!🎉
The illusion of success
The stories of extraordinary success we read daily might be motivational but can also be toxic. Not only do they represent the top 0.1% and show us the filted, pumped up -often fake- version of the story but most importantly, they show us just the tip of the iceberg. We rarely get to see what’s behind that peak and by that, our expectations of how success looks are radically different from reality. Success is not the absence of failure; it’s the persistence through failure (Aisha Tyler). So never get disheartened by these rejections. Keep working on your craft.
Success simply consists of getting up just on more time than you fall — Oliver Goldsmith