Last week I had the opportunity to return to my alma mater to help out with campus recruiting. It was both humbling and eye-opening to realize that I was now on the other side of things - I'd originally gotten my product management internship (which led to my full-time PM offer) at that same job fair!
While entry-level product management roles tend to be harder to find, in recent years more and more companies are offering these positions. Better yet, these PM opportunities are not just at college job fairs, they're becoming more prevalent at other career fairs and recruiting events as well.
In this post I'll go over some tips for aspiring product managers, based on my personal experience interacting with people at the job fair who were interested in my company's PM role. My goal is to identify key factors that set the best candidates apart from the less memorable candidates. A lot of these tips are also best practice for job fairs and recruiting in general, so read on to make sure you have these in your job-hunting arsenal.
1. Do research on the company and role beforehand
If I had to decide which tip would be the single most important one for job fairs and recruiting events in general, this would be it! The truly memorable candidates stand out because they already know about the company and role they're interested in. They've done research beforehand and come up with specific company or role-related questions.
You won't believe how many people passed through our table at the fair. It was always obvious who was just passing by and dropping resumes all over compared to the person who had a story on why she was passionate about e-commerce and had heard about interesting initiatives that our company had been working on and recently publicized.
Researching the company can be a simple 10 minute task that will go a long way in setting you apart from other candidates. It allows you to cut through the typical conversation clutter (e.g. "What do you guys do?" or "What roles are you looking to fill?") so you can start discussing the important topics, such as role-specific skillsets or future projects the company is looking to tackle.
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2. Talk about relevant previous experience and side projects
It's also important to relate your own experiences or side projects to the PM role a particular company is offering. Recruiters understand the difficulty of finding an entry-level PM job without prior experience, so they won't hold it against you if you talked to them about past jobs where you demonstrated similar or overlapping skillsets.
For example, one candidate told me about how his own t-shirt business allowed him to learn about offering the best product to the end customer. He also detailed the process by which he conceptualized the design, worked with designers to make the final design, and partnered with printers to deliver the final t-shirts. While that isn't product management per se, it shares a lot of similar skills (envisioning a product, working with different groups of people, and stressing the user experience) that overlap with the product management role at our company.
3. Ask about technical skillsets required and relate them to your own
Product management is such a broad role, so it helps to clarify the technical skillsets a particular company is looking for. An easy and fool-proof way to highlighting your own technical skillsets is to include them in your resume. Even if these skills don't completely match what a company is looking for, the recruiters will still see what you're capable of.
I spoke to a couple of candidates who were part of a design graduate program. They listed out the programming languages they learned from classes, but what drew me in was that they'd also developed a business analyst skillset from past internships - gathering and documenting requirements and working with engineers. These skillsets were a good match for the product management role at our company and made these candidates much more memorable.
4. Follow up with calls to action
I'm always surprised by the number of people that ask for my contact information, but never bother to follow up. In fact, I've consistently noticed that only a handful of candidates follow up via email after each career fair, and these are the candidates that I can continue a conversation with and even point to my co-workers for further discussion.
Again, this is a very quick task that goes a long way in setting you apart. The email doesn't have to be a long one, just enough info to help the recruiter remember you. You could mention something from your conversation, thank the recruiter for answering your questions at the fair, and attach your resume. Even better, if you have a portfolio or blog that showcases your past work and side projects, this would be the best place to provide that link as a call to action.
I also recommend sending some thought along on features that the company is currently working on. For example, if you interview with Airbnb, you can give them some ideas on how to make the Airbnb first time coupon incentive lead to more referrals.
Another tip for email follow ups is to send your thank you email out several days after the event. Recruiters usually travel to different schools or fairs over several days so sending out your email too soon means it could get lost in all the emails the recruiter will receive in that time frame.
Keeping these tips in mind will help with your PM recruiting efforts, not just at job fairs but also at networking events, interviews, and even meetups. While far from exhaustive, I'm confident that having these tips in your mix of recruiting tasks will be very beneficial for your job hunt. Good luck!
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