One of the most frequent questions I get is, “how can I find a product manager job?”
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.
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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 a 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.
- 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.
10 Ways to Get a Product Manager Job
If you want to find a product manager job that meets your expectations, these simple steps will help you get there.
Here are the things that worked for me and many others:
1. Find and Develop Allies
It's hard to get people to speak up on your behalf. You need to find the right person(s) who will fight for you and help you make it through the maze of internal politics.
2. Build Relationships With Your Mentors
Product managers are always teaching, coaching, and mentoring others in their organizations. Find the person that you want to work for and build a relationship with them.
3. Understand the Hiring Criteria Before You Apply
Many companies post their product manager job requirements on their career sites, but these requirements are hard to find or very difficult to decipher. Once you've identified the company that interests you, spend some time digging deep into their needs. Read their press releases, white papers, and other documents that you can find on the company's website.
4. Learn the Lingo
Product manager job listings have evolved to list a series of buzzwords. If you know what they are talking about, then it helps make your application more compelling to the hiring manager who will read it. Knowing these terms doesn't guarantee you'll get the job, but it makes you more qualified.
5. Build Relationships With Recruiters and Hiring Managers
If you don't know anyone inside of a company that interests you – no problem. Find someone who is close to them whom you do know, like their PR person or investor. The more people you know, the better. And that means you stand a much higher chance of getting an interview for their job when they are hiring.
6. Don’t Forget to Sell Yourself.
We all know how important it is to learn to sell yourself and your skills in order to get hired, but very few people actually do it. It's not something you want to do if you can help it. You are, after all, trying to get a job at another company. Sell yourself by developing awesome products and tell prospective employers about them.
8. Look for Jobs Title-First
If you're looking for work broadly, consider searching for the job titles first, then go find companies that have that job title posted.
10. Join Product-Related Organizations—and Actually Participate
Join the local Product Management Association and other professional groups you can find online. Most of them offer regular events where you can network with other product managers, as well as sponsorship opportunities for speaking to potential employers.
How to Look for Product Manager Jobs
The explosion of product management as a field has meant that many well-known job searching now displays 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 in 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 a 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!
Clement Kao is Co-Founder of Product Manager HQ. He was previously a Principal Product Manager at Blend, an enterprise technology company that is inventing a simpler and more transparent consumer lending experience while ensuring broader access for all types of borrowers.