Why Authenticity Matters in Your Product Management Job Hunt

In January 2019, LinkedIn published the 15 most promising jobs for the year. Product owner (87% YoY growth) and product manager (29% YoY growth) both made the cut. Search terms have doubled for “product manager”, and Harvard recently reported that 7% of graduates are pursuing product management careers. Product management is becoming a popular career choice, and therefore becoming crowded and competitive.

As a product management instructor and consultant, I find students often ask me how they can get a job in product management. Sometimes, it can be as simple as an updated LinkedIn profile and efficient networking. Other times, it can take hours of writing cover letters, or endless cold calls, and you find you still don’t get anywhere.

The job market places candidates that “make the match” with skills, domain knowledge, and experience. So, in a competitive market, what matters in a product manager job hunt?

Balance Imperfection and Professionalism in Your Online Presence

Today, tracking is everywhere. Our LinkedIn profiles show our career history. Social media like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are accessible for hiring managers or companies to form their own opinions on us early in the job application process.

People understand that it’s unprofessional to have a keg-stand photo up from college, but equally taking down everything that defines you could be harmful. New trends are emerging from a younger generation that combat the need to fit a preconceived mold. An Atlantic article discusses how this movement is affecting Instagram as “…fast-rising young influencers such as Emma ChamberlainJazzy Anne, and Joanna Ceddia all reject the notion of a curated feed in favor of a messier and more unfiltered vibe”.

This isn’t solely for Instagram influencers, corporations like Goldman Sachs say they will hire you if you cry in your interview after discussing a personal failure. It is because customers are demanding authentic products and brands, and who better to build authentic products and brands than authentic people.

Use Effort and Intention to Combat Lack of Experience

The biggest challenge for a novice product manager is lack of experience, and it’s worse for those without a previous “product manager” job title. I used to think this way, but after teaching hundreds of students, I’ve changed my perspective.

Effort and intention have the potential to surpass experience because great product management is a result of how you make decisions. Today, the hardest day-to-day challenge for product managers is prioritization followed by roadmapping.

If they understand this, candidates have an opportunity to demonstrate their decision making, prioritization, and roadmapping skills by either:

Lack of intention wastes effort. Without effort, intentions fall short.

Use Rejection to Build Patience and Track Progress

Job hunting can feel like dating. It’s a numbers game, and logic is challenging when you experience continual rejection. Who wants to date someone uninterested in us? Why would you want to work for a company that’s not interested in you?

Yet, it feels like every article on job rejection comes from the company’s perspective. You should flip rejection on its head and use it as a compass.

When building a product, it’s best practice to define the product’s success metric(s). Answering the question, how do we know the product is successful? Is it if 50% of people like it or 80% of people? Defining metrics helps to understand progress.

It’s the same with job hunting. By using rejection to track progress, you can apply a growth mindset for improving performance and patience to solicit honest feedback.

Stand-Out Candidates Are Authentic

Without the perfect match of skills, domain knowledge and experience, you need to stand out from the sea of resumes. How? Be authentic with these three techniques:

  • Balance imperfection and professionalism with your online presence

  • Lead with effort and intention for lack of experience

  • Use rejection to build patience and track progress

Being authentic and honoring who you are at your core is hard. Following is easy. I have done it, and so has everyone else. But if you want to stand out, I would argue the best way, and the way of the future, is by being you.

Bridget McMullan