How Andrew got his first job as a Product Manager (and how you can do it too)

I recently talked to Andrew*, who got a job as a Product Manager after an arduous search that took many months and thousands of hours of work. According to Andrew, “I really didn’t have the experience required to get a Product Manager job, but it was my dream role so I was determined to learn everything I needed to know and show employers I could do the work.”

Product manager roles are ridiculously hard to get. They are extremely scarce and highly coveted, so they are often filled without being posted publicly. To make matters worse, many managers only hire experienced Product Managers. The best way to get a product manager job is to have been a product manager before, but that doesn’t help anyone figure out how to land that first product manager role.

How did Andrew land the job? The short answer is: Tenacity and a lot of hard work. After graduating from college, Andrew worked as a financial analyst for four years. He quit his finance job in 2011 and joined a small start-up where he was a jack of all trades working on business development and marketing. He was actively involved in product management and design, but he never had a product manager title.

The lack of title became an issue when Andrew started looking for product manager jobs at other companies. Although he felt he had learned a lot about product design since graduating college, he found himself unable to land a single PM interview for weeks. When recruiters looked at his resume and didn’t see the golden title, they turned to other applicants.

Undeterred, Andrew came up with an elaborate plan. Here’s what he did:
1. Networking: Went on 75 networking coffee dates in 6 months. 15 of these were with Product Managers.
2. Classes: Took a 3-month General Assembly course on Product Management and learned basic coding on Codecademy.
3. Certification: Got certified as a product manager.
4. Portfolio: Built a portfolio of projects through his GA class and side projects.
5. Applications: Sent out dozens of applications, as well as actively reached out to HR managers in any company he might want to work for.
6. Spec work: Created spec work and wireframes for five of his interviews.

Each of these had a specific goal. The networking dates taught him what it would take to break into the profession. According to Andrew “getting to know other PMs was the most useful because I could actually envision what the job entailed and what PMs would ask me in an interview setting.” Similarly the GA class taught him the lingo, helped him build a portfolio and got him many of the networking dates. Learning how to code on Codecademy gave him the credibility he needed when interviewing with engineers.

The most impressive and time-consuming of Andrew’s tasks was preparing spec work and samples for each interview. He says he went four to twelve hours preparing for each interview. In many cases he would wireframe new products, redesign the homepage, and prepare a powerpoint deck with ideas and comments.

Even with all this preparation, Andrew still got turned down five times before finally landing his product manager role for a prominent travel company.

This story might come across as a bit disheartening – do we really have to do this much to get a job? But Andrew didn’t want just any job. In his words: “I didn’t just want a job. I was offered plenty of jobs in business development. I wanted to start a career in Product Management – a field I knew I could be happy in for a long time.” Andrew worked extremely hard to get it. He’s the kind of person who didn’t give up until he got what he wanted. Personally, I find that pretty badass.

If you are at a stage in your career where you know what you want from your next job, pursuing a determined strategy like Andrew’s can really pay off. Settling for another non-PM role wouldn’t have helped Andrew move further along in his goal of running product somewhere. Instead he chose to endure a long job search and spent a lot of time to position himself to get his dream job. This might not be the easiest way to a job, but sometimes it’s the only way to the career of your choice.

*We’ve changed the applicant’s name because he asked to remain confidential.

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