How I Transitioned from Engineering to Product Management — Part I: The Resume
Hello! My name is Jacky and I am a Product Manager at MemSQL and previously a Software Engineer at Looker. You can find me on Twitter and LinkedIn. I also founded and manage a PM group called subtle asian product manager.
You are reading part one of a three-part series on how to transition from Engineering to Product Management. Already got your resume figured out? Then jump straight to part two for how to compile a list of hundreds of companies and get a response from companies. Have a job interview coming up? Then skip straight to part three on how to prepare for that.
“Jacky Liang wrote this awesome TLDR cheat sheet on how to transition into product management.”
First of all.. Why did I transition from Engineering to PM?
In the beginning of June, a month before my 25th birthday, I went through a mild quarter life crisis. Between my full-time job at Looker and my internships in college, I had already accumulated four years of professional software development experience. I realized I like coding, but I wasn’t sure if it was something I wanted to do the rest of my life. After much soul searching, I identified a few things I felt genuine passion for. My true passions intersect design, engineering, strategy, and people. The more I read about product management, the more I knew it was the right fit for the next step in my career.
However, I lacked professional product management experience. I had an engineering background so I had less experience in areas like communicating with customers, assessing business needs, determining “why”, defining users, and more. I could apply to APM programs from Facebook, Google, Twitter, and more, but the acceptance rates for those programs may as well be lower than getting into Harvard. I heard a lot of cautionary words from friends that going from engineering to PM is very very difficult. For some time I was contemplating if I should go for an MBA first, enroll in Product School, become an analyst then PM, or whether this was even a possible without transferring internally to be a PM. I didn’t expect to get a single phone screen. It felt like an uphill battle, and in many ways, it was!
Fortunately, in two months, I was able to get multiple PM offers in the Bay Area, and I’ll tell you how
Transitioning from Engineering to Product can be tough, so I hope this serves as inspiration, because if I can do it, I am sure you can too.
What does a PM resume look like?
Whereas an engineer would list the languages and features having implemented, a PM resume focuses on the leadership and impact they have had in an organization or project.
I first started out by writing down all the projects I have done in the past where I had the opportunity to lead a team, communicated with users/customers, made decisions under uncertainty, coordinated with people with different skills, and more.
I was proud of the things I did in the past where I had to lead and work with people of multiple skill sets such as..
- Co-directing Dragon Hacks 2016 bringing in over 500+ students from all over the world for 24 hours of hardware hacking
- Working at Beta Software Technology as a software engineering intern and quickly promoted to product manager when my tech lead and PM left the company two months after I joined
- Founding and leading Schedulizer, a Drexel course scheduling service used by over 1000+ students each quarter
- Representing Looker in multiple career fairs in the Bay Area
- Hackathons I’ve attended, leadership positions I held in college, and more
The following are a few important points to focus on when writing a resume tailored to product management roles.
1. Do focus on leadership and impact
On top of projects, I also had to re-organize and rewrite the responsibilities at Looker, Schedulizer, Beta Software Technology, and Kieran Timberlake. Instead of showcasing the technology or features I’ve built, I focused on the leadership skills and impact I had on each project.
And what do I mean by that?
To demonstrate impact on your resume, you have to think of quantifiable and measurable ways to showcase your accomplishments.
This is one of the biggest mistakes an engineer can make during this career transition — by not listing the impact you’ve made in an organization
Examples of impact are — have you led a team in building features that lead to an XX% increase in user retention? Did you engineer a project that helped your company land big customers? Did you organize events that brought in over XXX number of leads? Did you help the team in organizing the weekly meetings by triaging, reproducing, and prioritizing the bugs/features?
Take an hour or two to think of times you led and had an impact on a project or organization.
2. Use data, but be honest
3. Be concise
It is important not to stuff your resume with too much, however. Showcasing impact and leadership is important, but no one wants to read a wall of text (especially when hiring managers only spends around 20 seconds on a resume). Cut down on wordiness, remove unnecessary detail, and keep past/present tense consistent.
4. Do pay attention to design
Have a designer friend give feedback on whitespace, font size, formatting, and structure. Your resume is the first product you show, so make sure its design is as good as its content.
Avoid, if you can, common resume templates. You don’t want to look just like everyone else’ resume.
P.S. Thank you Bryan for the design feedback and countless dumb InDesign/Illustrator questions
5. Do have it reviewed. Many times.
Have many qualified people review your resume— current PMs, hiring managers, mentors, experienced individuals, and more. I had over 10+ people review my resume, and rewrote it several times to get it right.
6. Do showcase startups and major projects
A great piece of feedback I received from a mentor was putting Schedulizer as an “Experience” in my resume instead of it being a blip under the “Activities” section. This made sense as Schedulizer involved design, leading people without authority, engineering, business, marketing, competitive analysis, and more — all PM responsibilities.
7. Do use these resources
Finally, an excellent resource to read about crafting the perfect PM resume can be found in Cracking the PM Interview. There are many examples of well-written impactful experiences to get some inspiration from. Another good place to have your resume reviewed is HH Websites and Resume Review.
8. Do send as PDF
Many people send their resumes as Word documents, and I think this is a huge no-no. A few reasons why:
- The format of Word documents are not consistent across operating system and even computers. For example, it’s common for me to open a Word resume and it spans two pages, but on the creator’s computer, it’s one page.
- A missing font will look different on other people’s computers — you want people to see your nice font and not Times New Roman, right?
- Not everyone has Microsoft Word, but everyone has a PDF viewer
- PDFs can be opened by all modern browsers straight from an e-mail with perfect formatting
It’s okay to write your resume in Microsoft Word, but when you send it out, just export it as PDF first. Problem solved!
Thank you for reading part one of the guide to transition from Engineering to Product Management! In the next part, I will go into how I compiled a list of hundreds of high impact companies to apply to and special tips on how to get at least a phone screen. Have a job interview coming up? Then skip straight to part three on how to prepare for that.
What are some resume tips you can give for aspiring product managers? Comment below!
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