How I Transitioned from Engineering to Product Management — Part I: The Resume

Jacky Liang
Sep 17, 2018 · 7 min read
When I think of “transition” I think of pictures like this. I don’t know why

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.”

Lewis Lin, author of Decode and Conquer

First of all.. Why did I transition from Engineering to PM?

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

What does a PM resume look like?

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
Dragon Hacks 2016 was one of my proudest experiences
  • 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
Schedulizer pushed me hard in leading people with different skills and personalities
  • Representing Looker in multiple career fairs in the Bay Area
Thank you Looker for giving me the chance to talk to so many ambitious students in various schools!
  • 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

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

4. Do pay attention to design

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.

One of the best PM interview prep books, if not the best. For good reason.

6. Do showcase startups and major projects

7. Do use these resources

Do yourself a favor and get this

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

  • 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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