One of the most frequent questions I get is, “how can I find a product manager job?”
I have good news for you: as software continues to eat the world, the need for talented product managers continues to grow - and that means that there are many product manager job openings available.
Established tech companies are always looking to expand their rosters. New startups are always looking for talent. And on top of that, even more traditional organizations like grocery stores and car manufacturers are looking to establish or grow their own product management departments.
Before I dive into how to conduct a search for product manager jobs, however, I want to first remind you of an important principle.
The Key Principle of Hunting for Product Manager Jobs
You are not a candidate. You are a product. Rather than searching desperately for jobs, you need to consider how you’ll solve a hiring organization’s pain points.
Product management is fundamentally different from other kinds of jobs. Every product manager serves a different constellation of pain points. Unlike traditional job paths such as accounting, you can’t simply trade one product manager for another. In other words, product managers are not commodities, and they’re not fungible or interchangeable.
That means that it’s especially important for you to find product / market fit. You can’t rely on sheer numbers; it’s not a volume game.
When you think of yourself as a candidate, you come from a place of fear. You worry about whether you’ll be rejected or not, and you worry whether you’re saying or doing the right thing.
When you think of yourself as a product, you come from a place of strength. You understand your innate value, and you work with potential customers to identify how you can best serve their needs.
Instead of saying “I really want to be a product manager” and coming from a place of selfishness and fear, ask “how can I best provide value for my customer?” and “what kinds of customers are most likely to benefit from my unique skills and experiences?”
Begin with a testable hypothesis. Some examples of testable hypotheses:
- Distribution model: I would provide significant value as a B2B product manager.
- Product type: I would provide significant value as a mobile product manager.
- Company type: I would provide significant value as a nonprofit product manager.
- Industry: I would provide significant value as a fintech product manager.
- Size: I would provide significant value as a product manager at a 20-person startup.
Once you have a testable hypothesis, you can then use this to determine the best path forward for validating or disproving your hypothesis. Then, you can iterate until you successfully lock in a product manager job!
Now that we’ve aligned on the key principle of hunting for product manager jobs, we can dive into how to look for product manager jobs.
How to Look for Product Manager Jobs
The explosion of product management as a field has meant that many well-known job searching websites now display product manager jobs as well.
LinkedIn, Glassdoor, AngelList, Hired, Indeed, and Monster are all great job search sites that will enable you to get started with testing your hypothesis. Pick one and conduct a search that aligns with your hypothesis. For example, I might type in something like “fintech product manager” to confirm or disprove my hypothesis that I provide unique value in fintech.
As you look, start deciding which specific organizations you want to target. Try not to target any more than 10 organizations at once. It's important to find companies in growing industries when you have a strong learning trajectory such as the work order software or screenwriting software industry.
Why do I advocate for targeting? I advocate for targeting because if you try to shotgun across dozens or hundreds of organizations, you’ll lose rigor on testing your hypothesis.
You’ll fall into the trap of thinking like a candidate because you’ll be focused on playing a numbers game, rather than focusing on how to prove that you’re going to provide value for a specific organization that you're interested in.
Believe me - I used to shotgun for job openings, and the results were truly terrible. Rather than increasing my chances, it decreased my chances. Why is that?
That’s because when hiring managers look for candidates, they’re not looking for candidates who meet the minimum requirements. They’re looking for a product, and so they’re going to choose the absolute best one that they can find.
Let’s do a mental exercise together. Say that you could choose between these two options:
- Apply for 100 roles within a week at an 80% fit for each of the 100 roles
- Apply for 5 roles within a week at a 98% fit for each of the 5 roles
Traditional “expected outcome” theory tells us that sending lots of applications is a good thing. You would usually pick option 1 because you have more shots, right?
But, if you’re an 80% fit candidate, and a 98% fit candidate is competing with you, you will lose every time. You simply can’t win that way, because hiring managers choose the absolute best product that they can find.
Think about it from the hiring manager’s perspective. If they could pick a 98% candidate vs. an 80% candidate for the same price, why would they ever pick the 80% candidate?
In other ways, the only way to demonstrate your value to an organization is to focus on that one specific organization. If you send out a bunch of generic applications, you will lose every time to candidates who take the time to focus.
You don’t have an 80% chance of making it in by using generic applications, because you’re competing against candidates who are tailoring their application to be far more compelling than yours. The only way to win is to tailor your application so that your unique value shines through - and that means that you have to focus on specific organizations.
Be ruthless in selecting which organizations you’ll focus on targeting. You want your experiment to teach you whether your hypothesis is true or not. You’re focused on speed of iteration rather than on quantity of applications, and the fastest way to learn is to focus.
Here’s a link to a generic Google Sheet template that you can use. You can copy it by clicking on File in the menu bar, then clicking on “Make a copy…” (if the option is grayed out, make sure that you’re logged into your Google account).
Once you’ve identified a target organization, use this guide on pre-interview research to learn as much as you can about the targeted organization.
When you’re ready, reach out to a current product manager at that targeted organization to ask them about their experiences and about their pain points. After all, current product managers will have in-depth insight on where the pain is, and they can provide honest assessments of whether you might be a fit.
On top of that, most employees are typically incentivized with monetary rewards to send in referrals for stellar candidates - you never know whether someone will root for you until you ask!
As you reach out to organizations to learn about what their pains are and how you can solve them, be sure to invest time in conducting additional research and in networking with others that you know at the organization. You never know what might be a key piece of information, or who might be able to advocate on your behalf!
Another thing to keep in mind when you’re applying for product manager jobs: most organizations have “general openings” that don’t correspond to a burning need. This job posting exists so that candidates aren’t discouraged from applying to the company.
But, you’ll want to first go after “burning need” positions before applying for a general position. Why? Because “burning need” positions already demonstrate that there’s a market demand for product managers within that organization. If there’s no burning need, then your perceived value to the organization will be lower than if you’re addressing a particularly critical gap that the organization is trying to close.
How do you know if there’s a burning need? You know if the title and the job description are quite specific. For example, you might see a position that says something like “Product Manager, Fulfillment Integrations” rather than “Product Manager” - that specificity indicates that the organization is looking for something particular.
On top of that, if you apply for a “burning need” position and wind up not making it through the process, many times you’ll still be in the running for the general openings still. The reverse is rarely true - if you don’t make it through the general opening application process, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll even be considered for “burning need” positions.
One more thing to keep in mind - it’s possible that your initial set of targeted organizations won’t pan out. That’s okay. That just means that you didn’t find product / market fit yet.
Even if 10 organizations tell you that you’re not a fit, it doesn’t mean that you’re a bad product manager. It just means that you need to edit your hypothesis about the value that you provide to an organization.
Consider what the rejecting organizations have in common, and use that to update your hypothesis on where you can provide the most value.
Here’s a real example from my own experience.
Early in my career, I considered making a pivot from B2B product management into B2C product management. But, when I reached out to those organizations at that point in my career, they mentioned that I didn’t have the skills and experiences that they were looking for.
Even though I wasn’t a fit for those B2C organizations, I was a good fit for B2B organizations at the time. Back then, if I had insisted on applying only for B2C product roles, I’m sure I wouldn’t have made much progress. But, because I realized that my value hypothesis was wrong, I refocused on B2B organizations and made much more progress that way.
Leveraging Your Network
For experienced PMs, it’s easier and more fruitful to leverage your existing network than it is to conduct a cold search.
Using your network is more advantageous because they already know you and therefore you have more of a foot in the door. People are social creatures, so word of mouth and reputation are both incredibly important when it comes to product manager jobs.
Remember that hiring managers are always looking to reduce risk. When you use your network, you dramatically reduce the risk that the hiring manager perceives, because you are no longer an unknown quantity - someone is willing to advocate on your behalf, and that means that you’re more likely to be a good bet.
Be sure to stay active in meetups and conferences, and to stay active in communities such as your alumni network! Additionally, the PMHQ Slack community has a #pmjobs channel that’s kept up-to-date with the latest opportunities.
As you gain experience as a product manager, you’ll eventually find that recruiters will reach out to you. That’s because there’s a huge shortage of senior product management talent at the moment!
I know product managers who have received 100’s of inbound requests every year. These rockstars are no longer obligated to look for opportunities on their own, since they’re flooded with great options all of the time.
Inbound inquiries are even more powerful than your outbound inquiries, because recruiters have already determined that you’re a potential fit. On top of that, many recruiters will reach out to discuss roles that aren’t yet publicly available on job boards, meaning that rockstar product managers have early access to the most promising opportunities.
When given a choice between an inbound inquiry vs. a cold application, keep in mind that the inbound inquiry is much more likely to turn into an interview and into an offer.
While there are lots of product manager jobs out there, many prospective applicants struggle to make progress. That’s because they’re treating themselves as candidates rather than as products.
When prospective applicants think of themselves as products, and when they apply the scientific method to determine where they will yield the most value, they’re much more likely to successfully transition into product management!
There are lots of resources out there for product manager jobs, and it’s tempting to try to boil the ocean and to apply to all available positions. But rather than falling for that trap, be mindful of the organizations you want to target. Be deliberate, test your hypotheses, and leverage your network.
As you gain experience and as you strengthen your track record as a product manager, you’ll eventually find that you won’t need to go through the painful process of looking for jobs - recruiters will reach out to you instead!
So grit your teeth, do the work, and reach out to people - you’ve got this!
Have thoughts that you'd like to contribute around product manager jobs? Chat with other product managers around the world in our PMHQ Community!