If you could just say to a hiring manager “Hey, I’m so-and-so, I’m a rockstar Product Manager who can set vision and is great with roadmaps, give me a job”, to which they would (of course) reply “Awesome, I completely believe you, you start Monday”, that would be ideal.
However, that’s not how reality works.
In the resume stage of a job application, you must be your own source of proof. Your PM resume needs to be structured to “prove” that you have the required skill set to do the job, and you do that through precisely framing stories and accomplishments that accurately convey your job competencies to the reader.
The goals of your resume are to demonstrate sufficient experience to get that first interview and to give the interviewers easy stories to ask you about. When your resume is well-written, you’ll not only drastically increase the success rate of your job applications, you’ll also easily sail through the subsequent behavioral (fit) interview.
Let’s go through my favorite exercise to improve your resume.
This exercise makes sure your resume actually says what you want to say about yourself and helps anchor your accomplishments to make your experience believable. Note that this exercise assumes you already have a draft resume. The steps are:
- Reduce your resume down to core phrases
- Add and remove phrases to craft a well-rounded picture of yourself
- Expand those phrases into anecdotes to provide “proof”
By doing this you’ll ensure you’re covering all the important points, not leaving anything important out, and not repeating yourself too much.
First, take every line on your resume and boil it down to a 2–5 word core phrase that reflects the essence of what you’re trying to convey about yourself (a resume line is a clause or statement that says something about you, and a bullet can have multiple lines).
For example, if one of your resume lines is “Presented the product roadmap to C-suite stakeholders and shared out top priorities to 500 people at the annual company all-hands”, then the core phrase is something like “Amazing, engaging executive communicator”. If a resume line says “Interviewed and prototype tested with 15 representative users to pivot the client towards a validated solution”, then the core phrase might be “Skilled in lean user research”.
You may find that some lines don’t boil down into a significant core phrase. If one of your resume lines is “Led a cross-functional team to design and develop the iPhone app”, then that really only says “I have mobile experience”, which is kind of insubstantial by itself. Consider either removing or going into more detail for these.
Second, with these core phrases, make sure that you’re saying everything you want to say about yourself and that you aren’t excessively repeating points. A PM must come across as well-rounded, so you should deduplicate points wherever possible and add in any potentially missing core phrases.
For duplicate points, only keep the instance where you can best defend having that character trait–you don’t want to be interviewed on an experience that you can only weakly remember. For inspiration on what might be missing from your holistic self-portrayal, reference the job descriptions you’re applying to or search around for lists of key product manager skills.
Make sure the most important things you want to convey are high-ish within the page or section. You can’t really take jobs out of chronological order, but you can arrange lines within a section just fine.
Third, expand these core phrases into anecdotes. Think about the job you once had and come up with an accomplishment, project, or story that “proves” you have the core phrase attribute. You should be explicit in the skills exercised to accomplish said story; this way you blend responsibilities, skills, and accomplishments into one coherent “proof” of your competency. You don’t need to do this for your entire resume–it’s okay to have 30%ish of your resume just be statements about your skills, as long as they are not isolated statements. Support them by placing them beside other anecdotes that provide “proof”.
When you write these anecdotes make sure you phrase them to highlight what you accomplished, not what other people accomplished. Sentence starters such as “partnered with”, “facilitated”, “managed”, “responsible for”, or “member of” are weenie words that make it look like other people did a lot of work and you were just along for the ride. Your old team might have been great, but the hiring manager isn’t vetting that team, they’re vetting you. Try verbs such as “launched”, “built”, “researched”, “created”, “owned”, “presented”, “secured”, and “validated” instead. Don’t worry, your old team won’t mind if you hog the credit.
As a final flourish, quantify the impact of your accomplishments as much as you can. “Unlocked a newly identified customer segment by leading user research and launching the data exporter” is good, but adding “leading to a 5x (+40k) growth in average DAUs” makes the line excellent. Do this wherever you know the numbers, but it’s okay if you don’t have the data for some lines.
Let’s take a line from my resume as a polished example: “Reconfigured the company’s pricing and product offerings after instituting a culture of user feedback, tripling the customer base and unlocking a self-service market segment.”
The core phrases are “holistic business thinker” and “user research master”. These points are “proven” by stating how I used them to triple the customer base and unlock a new market segment. As a huge bonus, this line opens up an easy opportunity for the hiring manager to ask about it if they find it interesting, in which case I have a nicely rehearsed story in my pocket.
Don’t make the hiring manager search for things to ask you about in the behavioral interview. Instead, use the anecdotes in your resume as hooks for them to latch questions onto… and of course those questions all end up being softballs because you’ve rehearsed each answer ad infinitum.
As another general tip, make sure you are using the key phrases in the job description to boost your resume’s chance of resonating. When I changed a line from “Sole product manager in charge of our B2B SaaS offering” to “Owner of roadmap, backlog, and success metrics for our B2B SaaS offering”, my response rate skyrocketed. Be explicit, and hit those key words and responsibilities explicitly. Just frame them with stories and accomplishments.
This advice all hinges on the assumption that you know both what you want to say about yourself and how you want to present yourself. That’s a function of your experience and your desired position; the same facts and characteristics can be packaged and sold many different ways based on who’s reading and what you want to say to them. If you don’t know yourself or your desired roles, then you need a whole different exercise–for that I would recommend picking up a copy of Designing Your Life.
Good luck! If this advice helped you out, I’d love to hear from you. You can drop me a note at my personal website.