January 23, 2020 / Blog

Insights from TravelShift PM, Danny Pantuso, on how to break into Product Management Out of College

In today’s article, we’ll get insights from Danny Pantuso and his experience in breaking into Product Management. Danny is an undergraduate from Stanford University and he is going to be a PM at Travellshift, a start-up in Iceland which is very unique. 

We’ll follow his journey into product management all the way starting with his background and what internship he had on his way to his current role, to what made him get into product management and how did he go about it. So, stay tight in your seats!

A little bit on Danny’s background

Danny was born and bred in Silicon Valley. Grew up there and went to public schooling. It turns out that his parents were both VCs, so his mother was a CFO of venture capital firm and his father was a partner there and so Danny grew up around start-ups a lot.

At the age of 13, he already had his first start-up running in his garage. With his twin sister, they were hustling for tennis rackets, stringing them and delivering them. You could say that was Danny’s first glimpse into this product management and the idea of self-starting. 

From there on he went to Stanford University. Graduated with a degree in management science and engineering. A cool major that is half Design Thinking and half Data Science. So essentially using Data Science and crunching the numbers to finding insights and then do some testing through Design Thinking.

Those skills translated really well into his internships at the California Department of Finance but stuck in bureaucracy he quickly realized this is not what he wanted to do.

Luckily on his second internship, things were different. He was working with a team tasked with creating a new product for Anheuser-Busch and the health beverage industry. It’s also there he met Philip and have been friends ever since.

Then at his last internship, he worked in innovation consulting and all these internships were in New York.

Deciding on product management

After experiencing more creative development at ZX ventures and interning in innovation consulting working, Danny learned that he didn’t like consulting as much as product management. 

He felt that in consulting you’re very much pitching an idea and you’re not the one carrying it forward. As a product manager, you are responsible for the success of the product. 

So, being closer to the product, more responsibility and having your insights really translate into product improvements. That’s what draws him to product management as he describes it.

Getting the interview and breaking into international roles

Networks and timing. In Danny’s view, these two are really key here. Use your networks a lot more. It then comes to timing it right. Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and all the big companies hire very specifically in the fall and they get ready for their summer hires to come in a very specific time. If you’ve missed it, you’ve missed it. There’s no getting in that door. 

But then there are other companies like Zuora as in Danny’s case were their need just arose. After he applied, they got back to him and this moved quickly in three weeks and that was the result of mainly timing and networking.

When it comes to applying for roles a cliché is “tailor your resume”. Don’t do that! is the advice Danny gives here. He mentions that a better approach is to tailor your resume if the job reads as “this is my dream job”. But you’re wasting your time if you’re like writing a new resume for every single one. 

A lot of places don’t read cover letters, so the trick here is to focus more on the dream jobs and then casting a wide net and being quick to respond.

When it comes to international roles, there are two routes to get there as Danny tells us. The first approach is to just start somewhere and then get transferred. So, you start in the US and after a year and a half, you get switched into maybe their Amsterdam office or their London office which is pretty common at for example Goldman and many other companies with international offices.

Then we have a second route through connections and networking. I think that’s the way to do it if you want to go international. It’s networking, says Danny.

Final words of advice from Danny

Be persistent, know what you want and be true to that. After receiving a job offer that paid way less than he had been marking Danny said no. His parents were like “what are you doing?” He reasoned that he hasn’t been waiting for the last month just to take the first thing. So, persistence is important and that requires some savings too but getting the job you love is maybe worth that.

And the last thing is that a lot of this stuff takes follow-up. A simple follow-up email a few weeks after you have applied can help you get so many more responses or get the recruiter’s attention again.

Another thing that is easily overlooked is career fairs. Those are your phenomenal chances to go put your resume in front of a recruiter and have a genuine chat. If they like you an interview is almost guaranteed. So, it’s a chance to stand out. If they’re on your campus they’re looking for you so don’t waste that opportunity.

But career fairs shouldn’t be viewed as a kind of like a speed-dating opportunity. Like “here is my number”. Let me take your number. Here is what I do. What do you do?

It’s more like actually getting to know them. Don’t be afraid to ask hard questions to them such as “Hey, I saw online that you guys talk a lot about how immersive your online learning program is, what does that mean and what makes you guys actually immersive”. Those are the kind of questions that really help you connect with the recruiters and are actually valuable.

Danny’s final advice is that the last thing to do is your research. You should know what jobs and where and come in with a game plan.

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