You’ve already learned to stop sending your resume to everyone and anyone. Right? If you haven’t already, stop and read, how not to find a product job. This post will build off of that one.
We’ve learned the best way to find a job is to start thinking of yourself as a product.
But what does that mean? What should you do first?
You could ask, who would want to hire me? But that feels a lot like building a product and then searching for a market. You already know that rarely works.
So instead, start by identifying a market. Ask yourself, where do you want to work? What type of products do you want to build? What type of customer do you want to serve? Where are your skills and unique talents most valuable? What interests or hobbies do you have?
This process isn’t easy. If you are like most people, your first list is going to look something like this: Twitter, Square, Facebook, Apple, Uber, Netflix (or whoever else is the hot company at the time). That’s okay. But these companies don’t make up a market. Other than being trendy tech companies, they don’t have a lot in common.
So what’s wrong with that? Well, how are you going to position yourself (remember, you are a product) to be a good fit for each of these companies? Each of these companies is going to look for very different things when they are hiring product folks.
Sure a few of them might share some similarities. Square, Twitter, Apple, and Facebook might all value platform experience. Twitter, Apple, and Netflix might value deep expertise with recommendation engines.
But you’ll be hard-pressed to find one or two areas that apply to each – unless you stay very general. All of these companies value design, both visual and interactions design But does that really differentiate you from other product managers? Probably not. We all value design.
Let’s shift back to our product analogy for a moment. When you try to build a product for everyone, it ends up being a mediocre product for everyone. If you target a narrow market, it is much easier to develop a great product for a very specific market.
The same is true when looking for a job. If you position yourself as a product manager that could work at any tech company, or any internet tech company, or any consumer internet tech company, it’s the equivalent as trying to build a product for everyone.
At best, you are going to come across as mediocre. Okay, maybe mediocre is too harsh. I know you are a star. But on paper, compared to the 400 other applicants, you aren’t going to come out on top.
That’s why you have to get much more specific. Your target market should be small. It should be an area where your unique skills and interests align with the needs of the companies so strongly that there’s no chance you can come across as mediocre.
Let’s look at an example. Suppose you are a public transportation junkie and you are passionate about solving the last mile problem. The last mile problem is when public transportation gets you almost to where you want to go but the last mile is a challenge. 4th and King in San Francisco is the epitome of the last mile problem – most people taking the train into the city walk the 1.5 miles to downtown, as the public transit options aren’t very reliable. If this was a strong interest area for you, you could define your market as companies tackling the last mile problem.
Just like with building products, once you’ve identified your market, you need to spend some time learning about your customer and their pain points. Continuing with our example, your target companies might be Zipcar, Uber, Segway, and Citybike. While these might seem like different companies, they all tackle the last mile problem in one way or another.
And as a result, they share many similarities. They all need to reach their customers at the very point where they are considering public transportation. They need to understand the trade-offs between their own solution and not just the alternatives, but the ultimate alternative of the customer driving their own car. They need to understand public transportation reach and the locations where the last mile is a significant problem. They need to know the laws and regulations related to their particular solution.
So how does knowing this help? Suppose you did your homework and you learned about this industry inside and out, what happens when you apply for one of these jobs?
For starters, you can talk intelligently about the problems that each company is facing rather than generic product management stuff. This alone will put you in the top 1% of applicants.
But as a good product professional, you’ll be able to take what you learned and design a good solution to a key problem your target companies are facing. Remember, I’m talking about you. You are the product.
If you identify a market (of companies), learn as much as you can about your customers’ (the hiring managers’) pain points and needs, you’ll have a much better idea of what it will take for you to be the top candidate for the position.
To sum up: Stop sending out your resume. Start thinking about your target market. In the next post, we’ll learn about some tactics for researching your market and target companies. Don’t miss it. Subscribe to be notified by email when it’s live.