January 13, 2020 / Blog

From Prep to Offer: My Story Breaking into Product Management

I’ve gotten a lot of questions about my experience recruiting for product management, so I wanted to write this medium post in an attempt to help as many people as possible with something that I found to be one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. The blog post will cover my background, my personal recruiting story, and tips I have for people going through the same process.

About Me

I’m going to try to keep this short; I am currently a Program Manager (Microsoft’s version of a Product Manager) at Microsoft on the Mobile Connectivity Team. I went to the University of Michigan where I majored in business with a minor in computer science. While in school, I was Director of Partnerships for the consulting club 180 Degrees Consulting, which would consult for non-profits and social enterprises. I also started a business importing office products from China, then selling them online. I ended up selling that business going into senior year. For my internships, I did my first internship after my freshman year at the infamous startup Juicero. I spent the next two summers as a product management intern at ZX-Ventures (Anheuser-Busch’s venture capital arm) working on B2B E-Commerce. My LinkedIn

My Recruiting Story

I knew I wanted to become a product manager after college since my internship with Juicero, but because I was a business student, it made the process much more difficult as most of the PM programs require a computer science degree. I didn’t know a ton going into the process, but I started looking into full time recruiting in May of 2018. This is what my preparation schedule looked like:May: Bought Cracking the PM Interview and talked to a few friends that went through PM recruiting

  • June: Started to format my resume and get my preparation materials organized
  • July: Two mock interviews per week, one product & one behavioral. I also started to network to get referrals
  • August: Would do 2–3 mock behavioral interviews per week. Late August I began to do 2–3 mock PM Interviews a day
  • September: 2–3 Mock Interviews per night with 4–7 mock interviews every Saturday and Sunday. I was doing mock behavioral and product interviews mostly with some execution, strategy, estimation, and technical
This was a typical week in September for Me (*PM Prep was preparing alone)

Going into recruiting, Facebook and Lyft were probably my top two choices because I had liked everyone I had networked with there and neither program required you to be a computer science major, where most of the others ones do. However, despite only having a minor in computer science I was still able to get an interview with every company I applied to that required a degree in computer science. To give an idea of the PM recruiting process for a company, this was mine with Facebook, which was the first application that opened:

  • First Round (Phone) August 21st: Recruiter screen (15 minutes) — This interview went OKAY for me. I was nervous, so I ended up talking pretty fast. Recruiter screens aren’t a big deal and usually just a couple of easy behavioral questions

  • Second Round (Video Call) September 13th: Product Sense (45 minutes), Execution (45 minutes) — I thought I had crushed these two and was pretty confident I would get an on-site interview. I had prepared a ton with 3–4 mock execution and product interviews a day the week before it

  • Final Round (Onsite) September 28th: Product Sense (45 minutes), Execution (45 minutes), Leadership and Drive (45 minutes) — I felt pretty confident the morning of the interview, but when I got to the first interview I just fell apart and completely BOMBED. I got so nervous that I couldn’t think straight. I ended up redoing the interview for one of my friends to show him how I answered the question and about 15 minutes in he goes “Philip I think this is where the interviewer realized you had absolutely no idea what you were doing.” It was bad. I ended up smoking the next two interviews, though, which was a bummer because you need to do well on all three to get an offer.

  • Double-Over Time Interview (Video) October 12th: After bombing my on-site execution interview I was 99% sure I was going to get rejected, but I got an email asking to conduct another execution interview. This interview went OKAY, but I didn’t think it was good enough to get an offer.

I finally got rejected on October 22nd after 7 interviews over 2.5 months. I’ve been told that Facebook RPM receives about 8,000 applicants and takes around 10–20 people, so you can imagine how defeating it is to get to the onsite only to be rejected. That was for just one company and that’s the typical process because literally 99% of applicants are going to get rejected, so imagine doing this again and again and again. On top of this, I had spent about 20 hours working on my interview case for Lyft. The same day I bombed my Facebook interview, I got rejected from Lyft. I got the rejection email in the Uber back to my hotel from my Facebook on-site. That was a pretty awful day, and no one teaches you how to deal with rejection. I was crushed because the two companies I thought I had the best chance of getting were no longer an option.

But you can’t change what has already happened, so I ended up grinding on technicals for my Microsoft interview, which was my next on-site interview. I didn’t think I would get Microsoft because their interviews are usually more technical, but I just started reading the lecture slides for a couple of CS courses I hadn’t taken. This was my process with Microsoft:

  • Campus Interview (In Person on Campus) September 14th: Behavioral & Product Sense (30 min) — This interview can also be a coding interview, but for me, I thought it went well, and Microsoft typically gives a lot of on-site interviews, so I was confident I would get one.

  • Final Round (Onsite) November 2nd: 4 Behavioral & Product Interviews plus 1 Lunch Interview (1 Hour Each) — That day was 5 hours of interviewing, which was exhausting. I thought it went incredibly well though

I had loved everyone I met at my Microsoft on-site, and I knew if I got an offer I was probably going to take it. Lucky enough, I got my offer, and the recruiter called me the following Monday to tell me that it was the fastest turn around time he had ever gotten in three years. I ended up going to my Intuit onsite, which I got an offer from, but I ended up canceling interviews with Google, Uber, Asana, and a couple of others because I knew I wouldn’t take them over Microsoft. When choosing between Intuit and Microsoft, it ended up coming down to the fact that Microsoft had a greater variety of products to work on (hardware, software, enterprise, consumer) compared to Intuit which is mostly small business software. In the end, I was incredibly happy with how it worked out.

Recruiting Tips

  • Have a Backup: Make sure you have a backup plan. PM recruiting is extremely competitive, and you should have a backup if you can’t get a new grad PM position. When I was recruiting full-time Lyft took 4–6 people including new grads, graduate students, and full-time people, Asana, Dropbox, and LinkedIn all took 1–2 people out of undergrad. SWE, Consulting, and Business Analyst are all excellent backups that can all lead to being a PM
  • Start Early: PM programs are rolling admission, and there are more than enough people qualified. You want to be one of the first people to apply and interview. I wish I started preparing for everything a month earlier than I did. My biggest regret was always choosing the last interview day possible because I didn’t feel prepared
  • Network: Getting referrals are incredibly important. A lot of companies have entirely separate applications for people with references. Also, some of the best advice I got for recruiting came from my networking calls. Be sure to ask a lot of questions and understand the company culture, which will help with your interviews
  • Prepare as much as possible: No one regrets preparing too much, but plenty of people regret not preparing enough
  • Don’t just read prep books: What helped me was not just reading the classic PM prep books, but also dive into what it means to be a PM. Read medium posts, blogs, and books on product management
  • Have a side project: This is huge. Almost every person I know that got a full-time PM offer had some product or business they launched and managed themselves
  • Don’t give up: PM recruiting is hard; you need to persevere and keep looking to the next interview. I was crushed when I got rejected by Lyft and bombed Facebook, but I kept preserving, and it worked out for the best!

Resources I used:

  • Glassdoor: Glassdoor is fantastic for finding past interview questions for companies you are interviewing with
  • Cracking the PM Interview by Gail Laakmann McDowell and Jackie Bavaro: This is a great book to give you a complete overview of being a product manager and PM recruiting
  • Decode and Conquer by Lewis Lin: This book is excellent for learning about the different types of interviews and how to answer them
  • 164 Interview Questions by Lewis Lin: If you are looking for a ton of interview questions with beneficial solutions
  • Lewis Lin’s PM Practice Slack Group:This is a great group to use to find PM practice partners and ask questions
  • Inspired: How to Build Products Customer’s Love by Marty Cagan: This is probably one of the best books on product development and is incredibly important to read for any aspiring PM
  • The Lean Product Playbook by Dan Olsen: This book is an effortless read, and it will help to improve your point of view when answering product questions. I highly recommend reading the chapters on product market fit and metrics
  • HackingPM’s Practice Questions: This was something that I made to help other people with PM Recruiting. I compiled 150+ practice questions, plus the questions my friends and I were asked in interviews. You can quickly flip through questions and sort them by the specific interview type you want to practice

List of New PM Programs (Undergrad, Graduate, and Current Employees):

*(When they typically open)

  • Uber (August)
  • Facebook (August)
  • Google (August)
  • Oath (August)
  • Dropbox (September)
  • Microsoft (August)- Calls PMs Program Managers
  • Twitter (August)
  • Lyft (September)
  • Yelp (September)
  • Asana (September)
  • Linkedin (September)
  • Redfin (September)
  • IBM (September) — Calls PMs Offering Managers
  • Intuit (September)
  • Indeed (September)
  • Yext (September)
  • Salesforce (September)
  • Atlassian (September)
  • Visa (September)
  • Turnitin (September)
  • Amazon (September)
  • Fitbit (August)
  • Verizon (August)
  • Walmart/Jet (August)
  • KPCB Product Fellows (January)
  • Zynga (September)
  • CBS Interactive (May/June)

Hopefully, this blog post helps someone out there get a job as a product manager and please check out my website HackingPM!

Connect with me on Linkedin!

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