It’s hard to land a product management internship or full-time PM position right out of college. These positions value experience and as students, this can frequently be difficult to obtain.
However, after recruiting for dozens of PM jobs, and turning down final round interviews with Google, Uber, and other large companies, I figured out exactly what you need to do before applying in order to stand out. Yes, preparing for a product management interview is incredibly important. Yes, acing the product manager interview questions is also incredibly important. But, what is equally important, and often overlooked, is developing a background and gaining previous experience.
Landing a PM Job
If you work to fine-tune your skills and have interesting experiences in college, I believe you’d be a shoe-in for any internships. Whether your interview is tomorrow or you’re a freshman, this post will give you valuable insight into traits to showcase in an interview, how to develop key skills, and how to build up background experiences!
Here’s what I have learned is important to stand out and be the best PM possible:
Developing a Background for PM
Why: Every strong product manager needs a technical understanding, whether that be from a computer science degree or learning by doing through independent projects, to allow them to work with engineering teams. With this background, PM’s can accurately assess the engineering teams scope, find potential issues, and adequately budget time and money. More so, by understanding fundamental concepts, PM’s can represent the engineering teams need when talking with other departments. These skills all help increase the productivity of the PM, and hence, the value.
- Classes: A great way to build a foundation is classes, whether these be university classes or Coursera type classes! Specifically, to gain relevant background skills to help you know what you’re talking about on the job, you should look into data structuring, operating systems, networks, databases, and artificial intelligence.
- Projects: For me, the best way to learn is through application. Dedicate some time to side projects as they help you learn about products from frontend to backend, as well as finetune your planning and communication skills.
- Internships: Similar to projects, this is a great way to learn through applying, while receiving excellent mentorship and learning opportunities.
Why: Equally important as technical skills, acquire a business acumen is critical to understanding how the product and business interact with each other. By being able to adequately understand what’s being said in high level meetings, you can position your team best to succeed.
How: Start reading the Wallstreet Journal more! Another way to acquire an unofficial business background is through online classes. By learning about a variety of fields, such as finance, marketing, and strategy, you can obtain hundreds of lessons to bring back to your team.
Why: An eye for design is incredibly important, as working with designers to create an excellent UI can often make or break products. PM’s should be able to convey their visions via either product wireframes or an aesthetically pleasing powerpoint to managers, so refining your creative design side is very important!
How: Critique existing products! By assessing and evaluating current market products, you’re learning both what makes then special, as well as what can be improved upon. Analyzing these products on a granular level provides key insights into what makes a product excellent. When analyzing products, think about what makes the product good, are their any painpoints, is it easy to use/understand, and other similar questions. Also, if you want to take your skills to the next level, try designing a wireframe to convey an improved version of the product.
Why: Being able to clearly convey your thoughts and ideas in informal and formal settings is perhaps the most important skill you can have for PM. Consistently faced with ensuring everyone is on the same page, delivering updates, and conveying product vision, this is crucial for the job.
How: When you are working on a new project or have an idea, as silly as this may sound, pitch it to yourself! By either recording yourself or gaining feedback, you can benefit from evaluating your pitch for clarity, filler words, and purpose. It is also beneficial to host networking conversations, where you can refine this skill through practice.
Why: Writing is crucial for PM’s as we have to communicate with all types of stakeholders clearly and concisely, while catering our communication towards them. PM’s also need to write PRDs (product requirement documents) to effectively convey their product specifications to stakeholders.
How: Write product reviews or summaries of past projects you have done. This will help you learn how to be concise, without omitting details. Also, target these paragraphs towards different audiences, so you gain experience about how to communicate with different types of people. I also recommend finding someone experienced to provide feedback!
Why: PM’s need strong leadership skills to effectively handle complex projects. Whether this is maintaining team motivation, adhering to a timeline, conveying information, overcoming roadblocks, or the many other traits involved, it is important to be able to manage your team.
How: Theres two trains of thought here – theoretical and practical. Both are important. For a theoretical basis, you can find excellent books about leadership theory on Amazon or elsewhere to lay the groundwork. To learn through doing, an excellent opportunity could be taking a leadership position in a club or on a class project.
Best Ways to Spend Your Time
Working on developing your skill sets is a great use of time, but there are also many opportunities that allow you to work on several at once!
Build a tech product
Think about how you can make your life easier or more enjoyable, whether that be a chrome extension to track your time on reddit or a modification to make your Alexa more useful. Seeing a project through can provide not only an awesome resume bullet, but a fundamental experience in learning how to plan, execute, and evaluate a project. If you have an idea for a project, go for it! And if you’re still thinking, check out reddit and other forums to see if there are any ideas of interest.
Start a business
Have an idea in the back of your head you’ve been thinking about for a while? Just build it! Some of the best advice I have ever received is that something good will always come from building a product. By starting a business, you’ve got an excellent chance at both making some extra cash and learning how the product side carries over to the business side. If you are searching for an idea, I recommend thinking about pain points in your life, as well as reading about current startups to generate ideas.
Start a club
Do you have a fun or professional passion? The best way to make the most of that is often with others! The learnings that can come from hearing other perspectives, deeper conversations, and group projects can be quite unparalleled. Starting a club is a great way to organize a group of people around a common interest, while practicing management principles.
Pursue any activity of interest!
Product management has a wide scope of work. Pursuing nearly any passion in college will help you build up the skills necessary to be successful. By pursuing your interests, you’ll form great stories and learning experiences which can set you apart in interviews.
There obviously lots of ways you can best prepare to be a great product manager. The list above will certainly set you up to excel, but is also very overwhelming at times. Strong product managers rarely excel in each of these areas, and frequently, they’ll be superb in some sections and be weaker in others. This list is meant to help you plan your college or educational experience, and best align your learning methods with the skills needed for your future dream job! You can also Google Us