January 23, 2020 / Blog

How to break into Product Management out of college with Salesforce Associate Product Manager, Sohom Paul

After graduating from UCLA, Sohom Paul landed a role as an Associate Product Manager (APM) at Salesforce.

In this short article, we’ll get to know Sohom a little bit more and get answers on how he learned about product management, how he prepared for recruiting, and why he eventually decided to work at Salesforce.

A little bit on Sohom’s background

Sohom’s story starts in New Jersey where he was born. After living there for the first years of his life, he moved with his family to India in his fifth grade. They settled in Bangalore, India’s Silicon Valley, and lived there for 7 years.

It was during those years he finished middle school and high school. Then came college where his final choice of a major was statistics and economics.

How he found product management

His discovery started with a TA position for one of MIT’s newest online entrepreneurship courses. He was tasked to help students who were finding some of the MIT entrepreneurial concepts a little challenging. He would maybe post on YouTube every week or host some office hours.

But he soon realized that out of the total thirty thousand students in the first year, only twelve commented. For Sohom, that meant that they didn’t know what the students and basically their customers were thinking and what feedback they got.

Tasking himself with solving that problem, he started sending out emails, getting on calls with students and trying to figure out what they did right and what they did wrong. And soon enough, they started seeing huge improvements to the course and it turned into one of the highest-rated courses in EDX.

Essentially what he had done was a form of product management which was consumer ed-tech focused. After that experience, he really enjoyed this type of work and now fast-forward he is an Associate Product Manager (APM) at Salesforce.

Choosing his major and getting internships

Sohum was initially an economics major. He later got interested in statistics with his experiment in improving the MIT course during his time as TA there. So, after that, he stacked up a statistics degree on top of his economics degree making him more technical. He didn’t stop there and later on added some CS classes to learn more about technology.

His next stop was an Amazon internship. Working with data analytics as part of their economist team, he learned how to code without much of a background and actually built the company’s newest demand estimation time series models.

After the end of his internship, he started applying for APM programs as his newfound passion. But an amazon return offer forced him to face the first difficult decision of his career. He actually ended up not taking the offer and instead continued to interview in other places. His parents thought he was crazy not taking such an offer.

Determined as he was, six months of crazy interviewing followed for him, interviewing left and right. Not just product management roles but also for analytics and data science roles.

Three quick pieces of advice from Sohom

Sohom’s first advice for anybody trying to break into this field is to not put all your eggs into one basket. Be a little careful about how you apply and if this is your top shot definitely put in more of your effort into it but of course have some backups.

His next quick piece of advice is to really make sure you have your story crafted.

When it comes to choosing between offers, he gives a simple metric, the regret factor. With the regret factor you have to think in terms of if I took one offer over another one, how much would I regret that in the future?

Preparing for the interview

I would say buy “cracking the PM interview”, I personally think that’s the holy grail of product management. What a brilliant book, it gives you an intro into what product management is, says Sohum.

Another interview prep tip from him is to really make sure you have enough time for interview practice. With behavioral interviews, you have to do with a lot of introspection beforehand. Look at your experience, craft your story carefully, think about “Who am I?”, “What problems do I want to solve?”

Support from friends is also important, Sohum had good friends in different companies who are in the product. He worked really hard to mature his relationships with them and tried to genuinely get to know them. When preparing for design interviews they were really helpful by giving feedback and do sessions of mock interviews with him. So that was definitely helpful for his preparation.

Sohom also mentions how a PM needs to be influential. He highlights important skills such as knowing how to make friends, how to build relationships. Being a very confident speaker. Being a calm person who doesn’t get too caught up under stress and can sort of process things and interview well.

Why did Sohom choose salesforce?

In his view, the company’s mission and the values were really important to him. He observed how the company culture was strongly influenced by them.

For example, they have their 1-1-1 Philanthropic Model where they give back 1% of their time and resources. Other examples include closing the gender pay gap. So, for Sohom, he wanted to work at a company that really cares about these social issues.

Looking at their products, he saw the actual impact they had and how they were changing lives forever.

But what spoke to him the most was how they were getting to observe meetings where they literally saw how people are running this massive company at the front line, seeing what decisions they’re making. For him, that was a unique opportunity that doesn’t just hone you into a product leader but hones you into an amazing executive.

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