As an MBA, you have a million things you're dealing with every week - from classes to meetings to parties to of course, the all important recruiting work. But recruiting for product management can be a whole different beast considering how high the bar is these days for a product manager. So here at Exponent, we've come up with a potential structure and tips for you to follow to increase your chances of pivoting into a career in product management if you've never worked in tech or a product adjacent role before.
Note: the approach below might change based on how much prior experience you have in a product adjacent role, your prior technical experience and the amount of execution experience you can show on your resume.
Your first year and your first semester especially as an MBA will be incredibly difficult. So to help with that, we’ve prepared a simple and effective approach to your PM recruitment below. For best results, we recommend starting the following plan 4 months prior to your class start date.
#1 Product Management: Make sure it's right for you
- Read: So you want to be a Product Manager
- Buy: Cracking the PM Interview by Gayle Laakmann McDowell and Jackie Bavaro
a. We highly recommend this book as it can serve as your handbook for every step of PM recruiting.
- Optional Buy: The Product Manager Interview: 164 Actual Questions and Answers by Lewis C. Lin
b. This book contains simple and helpful exercises that can help you get started on your PM interview prep journey. However, the answers included in this book are not in depth at all and would not come close to sufficing in an actual interview.
- Bookmark: Product Hired's list of links that they've curated across the web that cover frameworks, interviews, experts, resources, etc.
#2 Resume, Cover Letters, and Networking
Month 1: Setup recruiting
- Set up a workspace on Notion
- Make a list of companies that align with your existing domain expertise or a sector that you are passionate about. You also have the option of following the 2 hour job search formula.
- Setup your daily / weekly newsletters of job postings from these resources (LinkedIn, Accelerated, Product Hired)
- Clean up your resume by following Exponent's Guide or the one found in Cracking the PM Interview
- Generate a list of canned cold and warm-intro emails you can easily send to alumni over the next few months
- Begin reading tech industry newsletters (Stratechery, Hustle, Accelerated, Techcrunch, The Information)
Month 2: Begin applying + Expose yourself to the basics
- Apply to companies that are not high up on your list to get a better sense of how your resume and profile are performing
- Follow any one of Lewis Lin's 30 day interview prep schedule (Amazon) (Google) (Facebook) to get ramped up. For this, you might need the The Product Manager Interview: 164 Actual Questions and Answers to do the exercises.
- Begin working through the content on Exponent's Prep Course to obtain basic frameworks to approach different case interviews
#3 Interview Prep Methodically
If you still have time prior to entering your MBA program, we suggest starting your interview prep with the following timeline.
Month 3: Become comfortable with interviewing + keep applying to internships
- Practice casing by reviewing and answering questions on Exponent's Practice Question and Answer forum. We highly recommend Exponent's Practice Question forum as our questions are up to date with questions being asked in interviews today, and answers are reviewed by Exponent Expert Reviewers.
- Schedule mock interviews with peers every single week through resources like the Exponent's P2P Mock Interview Slack Channel. Aim to do 5 mock interviews per week while also reviewing your feedback and your own mock interview performance. At this rate, you will have performed at least 20 mock interviews during this month, and by this point you will feel generally comfortable with interviewing.
Month 4: Obtain depth in your answers + keep applying to internships
- Continue to schedule mock interviews with peers every single week. However, aim for breadth and depth in your answers. This will be a function of many things: reviewing answers on Exponent's Practice Question site, reading industry news, learning about additional frameworks or creating your own frameworks, and etc.
- Lewis Lin recommended 60-70 mock interviews to feel like you're fully prepared. We disagree with the idea that there is a 'golden' number of mock interviews. Rather we believe you should do as many mock interviews to reach a point where you can do all of the following:
a. Complete a 35 min interview question in 20 minutes with still the depth and vivid details necessary to complete the case and for the interviewer to follow along
b. Be able to communicate with ease - as if you're having a fun conversation with a colleague
c. Can be creative with the approach and/or the proposed solutions
- Some places to find information that contribute to deepening your answers:
a. General: Exponent's Blog, Product Hired's curated list of PM advice
b. Tech industry newsletters (Stratechery, Hustle, Accelerated, Techcrunch, The Information)
c. Product and Strategy Sense: Amplitude, Stratechery, PM Insider
By the end of month 4 you have hopefully reached some level of fluency and have identified gaps for improvement. You can now work on these small areas throughout your first semester while you recruit.
Frequently Asked Questions
The more hands-on experience you can get the better
The best form of hands-on experience are PM internships, do as many as you can, so pre-mba internship, in-semester internships and summer/winter internships.
It's even better if you can hold a part-time PM role throughout school so that you are able to launch features or products and see their impact. One way to do this is by helping a startup evolve their product over time.
You can also try to learn how to design, code and deploy your own app through Design Code.
And lastly, attend a few Hackathons put on by Major League Hacking.
Expand outside of your business school to see past the typical opportunities
Visit other schools on campus and take in ongoing activities but also future recruiting events. You'll quickly notice really interesting companies that do not frequent the business school but do attend career fairs and recruiting events for others. You can seize this opportunity to find interesting internships or full time roles in product or product adjacent roles.
When revising your resume, focus on your execution experience
PM roles are in high demand and in low supply meaning companies can be as picky as they want to be. Typically this means they'd like to hire someone with prior product experience, from the same domain/vertical they're in, and someone who has a CS undergrad.
To climb over these obstacles, highlight your 'execution' experience and push it to the top of your resume. So if you used to be a consultant, try to move up projects around making tools for clients, product strategy, or any product adjacent experience all the way to the top. It may also be valuable to write about any projects you're working on in a 'projects' or 'startup' section and push that to the top as well to show interesting, relevant and execution-oriented experience.
Note: At the end of the day, the above is simply an idea worth A/B testing - it may not work for everyone, so please review with peers and career advisors as needed.
Cover letters can be a hit or a miss
Sometimes companies read them, sometimes they do not. Facebook, for example, does not read any cover letters. But they could be meaningful at smaller businesses like a Series A or B startup.
So do them when you really care about the company and keep your letters: short, concise and to the point. (3 ways to say, please do not make it an olde english letter to your pen pal)
Develop your brand
Your brand is what people say about you when you're not around. Your brand is also what you're known for as a professional - so the marketplaces expert, or the healthcare operator or so on and so forth. However, if you're seeking to shed an existing brand and switch into a new one, it helps to create that persona online - primarily through content creation. The content you create can be a podcast on a particular industry or vertical, or you can write up weekly product case studies or re-designs on Medium or your own blog.
The great thing about the content you create is that it lives forever and it is infinitely reusable for a plethora of conversations and job opportunities.
Tech recruiting timeline is all year long, but somewhat bucketed into phases
You have summer (May to August - diversity hiring like MLT or Consortium), fall (August to November), spring (December to February) and just-in-time recruiting (March to end of school). Although there are simply no rules for tech recruiting because tech companies are hiring all the time, it is important to understand these bucketed phases. This is because different companies hire in different phases.
For example, legacy and large companies (think Facebook or Microsoft) will hire early, summer or fall, because they know their headcount and needs well in advance. And inversely, startups will hire close to summer. But again there are no rules. So if you are a Consortium or MLT fellow, then you could have full blown PM internship interviews (e.g. CVS Health, Amazon) in June or July before you start your MBA . Or you could submit an application for Google in August, but get an interview in April right before summer.
Tech companies are picky - especially with MBAs
Tech is in high demand, the ecosystem is dominated by a 'what have you done' or execution philosophy, and as a whole the tech world has typically not valued MBAs. Moreover, if they do decide to take a chance on you, it might be because you're from the best of the best MBA programs.
What does this mean for you? Play to your strengths. Double down on your prior domain expertise and find a PM role in that domain instead of pivoting too much. Do things to set yourself up with opportunities to make an impression on the hiring manager outside of the typical recruiting process.
Two ways to get into PM after an MBA
The far more successful route: One is to go work at the company you love in a role you performed prior to school and then make a lateral shift within the company after you join full time.
A bit more risky: Second is to go to a company that is probably not as competitive and is willing to hire you as a PM, and then changing companies after you’ve worked there for a while.
The number of open roles at large companies are sometimes very low
Large companies may sometimes only hire a few MBAs. For example, in 2019, LinkedIn was only going to hire 14 MBAs across sales, product marketing, product management and etc. Sales for example, would only hire one or two MBAs max.
Try your best to not deviate career tracks while in school but if you do, hedge for similar interviews
Once you're in school, it's quite easy to get sucked into preparing for consulting or banking or etc. This reduces your prep time for PM interviews and your time to network with tech companies in general. However, if you do decide to hedge, hedge with recruiting tracks that will help with PM recruiting. For example, preparing for strategy consulting interviews can help with overall product and company strategy setting in PM interviews.