Downtime to Upskill: Product Management

COVID-19 has had a disastrous impact on many businesses, leading to broad layoffs of professionals. Recognizing that we have the ability to make an impact in this area, Robert Walters has developed a new webinar series called Downtime to Upskill, where we offer free fireside chats with top leaders. Our intent is to offer advice on how to develop new skills to become more marketable in today's competitive and rapidly changing job market.

Many tech and services have been impacted by COVID, leading businesses to reexamine their priorities. Some product managers have had to pivot their product strategy in order to better serve a community in pandemic, while others have been impacted by business restructuring. 

We recently caught up with Yue Zhao, Product Lead at Facebook, who offered her best advice to PMs that have been negatively impacted by COVID-related layoffs.

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Where to begin

The market has changed in terms of trajectories and growth potential for many companies. With COVID, there are companies that have taken off, like Zoom, and others that were caught off-guard by the drastic change in market (Airbnb for example). Competition for new roles has certainly increased, but due to the rise of remote work, there is now a broader selection of roles to choose from.

“Start with your story and your brand. Figure out what your narrative is: who you are, what your strengths are, and what kind of difference you want to make in the world,” says Yue.

“Starting with your network, reach out to people you may know in a personalized way to get a better understanding for who may be hiring. Get to know recruiting firms and VCs within the industry by attending virtual events,” she adds.

Starting over with your resume

In addition to really honing in on your personal brand, Yue recommends a complete rewrite of your resume and LinkedIn profile to highlight your strongest skills and frame you in the most flattering light for hiring managers.

“Start a resume with just a blank sheet of paper. Don’t get caught up in the formatting of the resume. What matters is that when a hiring manager looks at your resume, they’re able to get a good idea of who you are, what you stand for, what you've done, and what you're good at,” says Yue. 

“Write those things in complete sentences or bullet points, then for each of those points, slot in experiences you've had in the past that are relevant. In your third pass, you can format those points into a resume format. Visually take up more space with the experiences you want to highlight, and use bullet points to detail the things that are more tangential to the narrative that you have created,” she adds.

Remember that your LinkedIn should be an overview of your resume, and should include the right keywords, so that when recruiters are searching for potential candidates your profile shows up. The benefit of a resume is that you can create multiple versions that cater to different roles you are applying to. Your resume for a startup could look more entrepreneurial and focus on the fact that you're a self-starter, always take initiative, and are comfortable with ambiguity. Alternatively, a resume for larger companies could highlight your ability to work within organizational constraints or gain buy-in for projects with ease.

 We also really like this guide to creating the ultimate product manager resume.

Demonstrating measurable impact

When applying for roles, always keep in mind what is valued by the company you're looking to apply to. Think: How you can best highlight where your experience aligns with their values and core mission?

“Hiring teams are most interested in candidates that have demonstrated measurable impact. Whether or not they choose to include metrics and results on their resume and in their interview is a big indicator of seniority and experience,” shares April Littlejohn, Manager, Product Management Recruitment, Robert Walters San Francisco.

“Candidates should highlight the impact that they’ve had within an organization instead of listing things they’ve executed on in each role. That gives hiring managers a sense that you have a longer term vision in mind for the business,” she adds.

Evaluating mutual fit

Speaking to a variety of companies who are hiring for different seniorities or different types of product roles is the key to better understanding what might be a good fit for you. You’ll quickly see during an interview how much energy you bring to the table, and how easily the conversation flows. 

“Always trust your intuition. An interview is two parts: you evaluate the company and the company evaluates you in that process. When interviewing at a smaller company, three things I always look for are company growth potential, company culture, and growth within the role,” says Yue.

Questions determine growth potential:

  • What is their market potential?

  • Who are their main competitors?

  • What is their 2-year outlook? Their 5-year outlook?

Questions to determine culture-fit:

  • Do you believe in the vision & strategy of the company?

  • Do you agree with the approach they’re taking to build their product and the types of features they’re implementing?

  • Do I like the people that I’m interviewing with, and would I enjoy working with this team regardless of the product?

Questions to determine role growth:

  • What is the 2 year vision for this role?

  • What would this role grow into?

Working with a recruiter

Should a recruiter approach you with a potential role, there are a few important things to keep in mind to help you find the perfect PM role.

“The key to working with a recruiter is to treat it like a partnership. Being open about your goals and concerns from the start helps us as recruiters to better advocate for you and find that coveted mutual fit,” says April.

“Be sure to share your timeline, and what stage you’re currently at in other interviews so that we can match the cadence of your career search. Tell us what your career goals are and help us understand what motivates you, what you value, and what kind of compensation would make you happy,” she adds.

Final thoughts

It’s a particularly difficult time to navigate a job transition. Nobody is in their default element, including the companies themselves.

“Everyone is adjusting to their new normal. If you have the luxury of doing so, slow down and be ok with the process taking a little longer. Give it more time and go easy on yourself. You don't have to make the perfect transition; As long as you know where your north star is, it’s ok if your path to your “perfect role” isn't completely linear,” says Yue.

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