How to Get Your First Product Manager Job: A Guide for Aspiring PMs

How to Get Your First Product Manager Job: A Guide for Aspiring PMs
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This is a guest post is from Anton Kravchenko, a former Director of Product at Salesforce and the host of TechGuap. Anton is passionate about helping college students and young professionals land their first jobs in tech.

About eight years ago, Anton was wrapping up a Master's degree and was looking for a job.

Like his peers, he was originally interested in working for a big-name tech company like Google or Apple. Unfortunately, he knew little about the tech space and didn't know how to break in.

Ultimately, he decided that although these companies look great on your product manager resume, the work you'll do at these companies will be highly specialized.

For instance, Google hires product managers to work on specific features within their products. Or you may work on improving Gmail search functionality or enhancing navigation elements in Google Maps.

A screenshot of Google Maps for the city of Los Angeles.
Google PMs may work on one aspect of a product like improving search results for grocery stores or coffee shops, for instance.

But the scope of your work will be limited to just one product and maybe even one department.

If you're new to product management, this type of work won't help you accelerate your growth to thinking about products more holistically.

Anton decided to instead find work at a startup and improve his product management skills.

Where to Find Startups Hiring Product Managers

Anton's favorite places to find startups to apply to your first product manager job are:

LinkedIn

Every year, LinkedIn publishes a list of the top 50 companies to grow your career. This is a great place to start when looking for tech companies to apply to for your first product manager role.

You'll find a well-organized list with a summary about each company how they're poised for future growth.

Product management roles are often some of the first jobs posted for companies on track to grow. Increased traffic and demand push the need for PMs to the forefront.

Forbes

Another great resource for finding tech companies to apply to for your first junior product manager job is Forbes.

Each year, Forbes magazine publishes its own list of the top 50 startups in the United States. They consider things like the company's growth, culture, and projections for the future to include them on the list.

While you may not yet have a deep understanding of product growth, you can grow with the companies on this list. Eventually, you'll grow into a larger and larger product team.

For this stage on your career path, the companies on Forbes' top 50 list will help you build your product strategy chops in no time.

AngelList & Crunchbase

Finally, you should also look for jobs as though you're an investor. Sites like AngelList and Crunchbase dive into a company's financials and the investments they've received so far.

You can look for companies that have just received venture capital or who are making waves on their own.

Get an idea for how much financial runway the company might have so you can understand how long they'll be around. You can also see current head-counts to figure out where you'd fit in the product and development teams.

To make your search even easier, AngelList publishes their own list of the best tech companies to work for that they keep updated regularly.

How to Apply to Your First Product Manager Job

There's plenty of nuance when it comes to applying to a product manager role. So much so that Exponent has a complete PM Interview Prep Course dedicated to the topic.

Complete PM Interview Prep Course

Our product management interview course teaches you the essential skills you need to ace your PM interview, with hours of example questions, videos, and interview tips.

Watch Now

But let's take a high-level look at how to get in your first PM application.

Referrals and Recommendations

Instead of applying to a job through a career portal on the company's website, first look for a referral.

A Comprehensive Guide to Getting a Tech Job Referral
40% of recent tech company hires came from a referral. Learn how to stand out in the hiring process with a great referral from someone in your network.

A referral is when an employee already working at the company is able to recommend you to the hiring manager or recruiter. Referrals at companies like Apple and Meta are weighted heavily in the hiring process.

Employees are incentivized to make referrals because many tech companies offer cash bonuses if a candidate you refer makes it into the role. These bonuses range anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.

For Anton, getting a referral was the best way to land his first tech job without any previous experience in the industry.

Start on LinkedIn

The best place to start your referral search is on LinkedIn. Proactively connect with people at the companies you want to work for.

Send friend requests on the platform with a short two or three sentence message asking for 15 minutes of their time. Tell them that you're trying to break into tech and want to know if they have any advice for working in the role they're currently in.

Short, personalized messages to people you don't know can help you build your network.

Anton sent hundreds of messages to product directors, product managers, and other tech-adjacent folks at the companies he wanted to work.

About 40% of the people accepted his friend request and about half of those people agreed to set up a meeting. That means 1 in 5 people Anton messaged accepted his offer for a phone call.

The reaction to this type of proactivity was amazing. People wanted to help Anton achieve his career goals and connect him with people they knew who may be able to help.

In some cases, the conversation went so well that he was able to snag a referral from them almost immediately.

Exponent Referrals

Exponent's referral platform pairs job seekers with referrers at the world's best tech companies. Submit your profile and get matched with referrers who can help you land the job.

How Your First PM Interview Will Go

Your first interview for a PM position will likely be with a recruiter. A recruiter's job is to do a basic screening of your skills and understand if you're a good fit for the company.

This culture-fit interview will likely feature some behavioral questions and some questions about your past work experience. Your recruiter wants to know how you'd work with the team and how your skills fit into the bigger picture.

For those with an N1 visa, your recruiter will ask about your immigration status and legal right to work.

After this first call, you'll connect with the hiring manager for the role.

The hiring manager will dive even deeper into why you want to work at the company and why they should hire you.

You can prepare for these questions by reviewing a list of the most common product manager interview questions.

If your hiring manager gives the thumbs up and thinks you're a good fit, you'll advance to the next round.

Your final rounds of interviews for a PM role are some of the most grueling. You'll participate in about four to six interviews with people from many different departments.

Expect to speak about things like system design, product sense, and your ability to easily work with others on the team.

What are Behavioral Interview Questions?

Behavioral interview questions usually begin with phrases like, "tell me about a time."

Ace Behavioral Interviews

Here's how to answer behavioral interview questions that ask about your experience and hypothetical scenarios.

Start Learning

These questions show your thought process and working styles. Your answers to these questions should be concise. Focus on a specific action you took and how those actions affected the outcome.

Next, you can expect estimation questions.

As an example, you may be asked how many police officers work in the United States.

The important thing to know about answering these questions is that your answer doesn't actually matter. The end result is irrelevant to the thought process you used to get there.

Here, you should demonstrate your ability to think critically and present creative solutions to complex problems.

The key to answering this question is to cover what you know. What assumptions do you have going into the problem?

You'll use these assumptions to come up with an equation that will arrive at your answer.

When answering these types of questions, be sure to mention edge-cases.

Show your interviewer you thought about everything and had to make decisions about what information to include in your end result and what to skip over.

Product Questions

The last part of your first product management interview will be about your product sense. Your interviewer may ask you questions like, "What is your favorite product is and how you would improve it?"

First, clarify the objective of the improvement. Are you trying to increase revenue? Are you trying to get more free users? Ask your interviewer.

Discuss the problems that may come up by only focusing on one of these goals at the sacrifice of something else.

Clearly identify the users and problems they face with both the current product and in your proposed solutions.

You may have dozens of ideas for how to build a better product. But it's important that you can defend the product decisions you make.

Finally, you'll show how you'd validate your solution. If the goal is increased revenue, what metrics would you look at to see if that goal is being achieved by this product improvement?

Landing the Job

Getting your first job in product management will likely take commitment. Expect to submit a lot of resumes and hear even more crickets.

But if you prepare for your product management interviews and get creative with finding a referral, you'll be in your first product job in no time.

Be sure to follow TechGuap's YouTube channel for more tips and videos on how to get your first job in product.

Product Management Today