Emma Yee is a current Senior Data Product Manager at GoodRx, after starting her career as an analyst for five years. In this Path to PM blog post, Emma and I discuss breaking into product management as an analyst, and the importance of saying "no" as a PM.
How did you break into product management?
I had been an analyst for five years and was looking for the next step in my career. I was actually researching Data Science masters programs, but was reluctant to go back to school, when a former coworker told me Cornerstone was hiring a reporting product manager. The requisition didn’t mention reporting and I wouldn’t have applied otherwise. (Referrals are everything. People change careers 5-7 times over their lifetime. Don’t burn bridges - you never know who will be in a position to help you one day)
The chance to make reporting software better for users like myself was very appealing. I decided to try it, and obviously I love product management.
Afterwards, I was the Reporting Product Manager at Cornerstone. Cornerstone is a B2B (business-to-business) SAAS (software-as-a-service) HR software that helps companies realize employee potential through learning, recruiting, performance, and compensation.
How many companies did you apply to? How many did you hear back from?
For Cornerstone, I wasn’t actively looking quite yet and think I applied to maybe 2 other places. For my current job, I applied to 17 places and interviewed at 6. Like I said earlier, referrals are everything.
Like I said earlier, referrals are everything.
What about being an analyst beforehand prepared you well for the PM role?
Being able to understand data and do your own analysis is useful. Also,
having experience working with stakeholders and translating business goals
into formulas/metrics and translating the numbers back into business speak.
It's very similar to the PM role of translating stakeholder/client and
company goals into user stories engineers can work from.
What was uniquely challenging about breaking into a product management role from an analyst role?
Anything you do for 8 hours a day shifts your mindset and approach to life. So the jump from doing as much analysis as possible to making decisions sometimes just based off qualitative data is a big change, especially since it's your job to keep the pipeline of work open for developers. You have to be ready to decide if doing more analysis/alignment is worth lost developer productivity.
What was your most successful interview question?
“Why do you want to work in product here.” Because I love product and am proud of my resume, it’s easy to weave a narrative about how I came into product and why I’d be a great fit at the company. I am also very, very picky about where I apply, and I know well before my interview why I want to work in that specific role.
What was the most challenging interview question you faced?
Back in my consulting days - estimate the number of cars that cross the Golden Gate bridge on a Tuesday rush hour.
How do you answer the “what’s your favorite product” question?
It’s easy, as my favorite product has a great app and it’s Surfline. It’s a surf camera and forecast app and I check it daily. As a surfer, it improves my life a lot. I like giving a non-cliche answer that shares a little about myself, my ability to explain something new to someone unfamiliar, and my priorities as a user.
If you were applying for product management careers all over again, what advice would you give yourself?
Go for it earlier! Product management is an amazing, versatile career. It can be done in so many styles, and differs from company to company, so there are ways to make it work for you. I was afraid introverts need not apply but I’ve thrived in my role.
What’s your favorite book that you’d recommend to a current PM interviewee?
The best book I’ve ever read for enterprise product management is The Power of a Positive No, by William Ury. So much of your success depends on your ability to respectfully say no to clients and stakeholders while getting their buy in to your roadmap.
Got follow-up questions for Emma? Tweet this article with your question and tag @tryexponent!
Visit Exponent's PM Interview Course for more great product management interview prep.