Engineer to Product Manager: The Resume

This post is not meant to be a guide on how to craft the best product manager resume, rather, it’s a walk through my experience and to provide a couple of pointers. If you’re looking for a guide, I suggest checking out one of these resources:

Cracking the PM interview

Breaking into product

What a good PM resume looks like

The first step to becoming a product manager: Getting a recruiter or a hiring manager to even give you the time of day. Once you can achieve this, the process isn’t any easier, but you will get more insight into what these recruiters and companies are looking for. From there, you can refine your resume, craft your pitch, and practice answering more questions.

To be honest, my resume is not what got me interviews or my job. Out of all of my interviews to get my PM job, only a couple people actually looked at my resume. What got me in the door was going to events, talking to people, showing interest in their companies, etc. Just submitting your resume to a ton of jobs is not going to work. If I recall correctly, I probably got one, maybe two callbacks from submitting my resume on a job site.

It’s not just the resume

There were many difficult parts to becoming a product manager, but crafting the resume was at the top of the list. You need to prove that you have the technical chops and by being an engineer, you can pretty easily do this. But, most importantly, you have to convey that you know a thing or two about business, marketing, strategy, leadership, product development, product vision, etc. As if that list wasn’t long enough already, right? If you have never done anything related to any of what I just listed, you will have a very difficult time. For me, I came out of college and began in a product marketing role, where I was exposed to product development and I had a revenue target for my product line that I had to meet. In addition, I started a business in college and built two products after college. You can read more about my background in this post.

I’m not great at crafting resumes. I had to have my girlfriend (now fiancé) review all my resumes and I asked for external help from friends and colleagues. Your resume is very important when submitting applications online, but what is even more powerful is meeting hiring managers or people within your target companies at meetups, events, on LinkedIn, AngelList, etc. You’ll have the opportunity to talk to them and it’ll be more likely that they will at least look at your resume and look at it a bit harder, rather than glaze over and if there aren’t the right buzzwords or keywords, just pass.

Learn from others

I participate in a couple of PM Slack channels (Mind The Product, Product School) and scan the channels for questions/answers about resume crafting. I’m not great at this, so I heavily relied on asking PMs I knew, reading articles online and trusting my gut. Here is some great advice I read from a PM recruiter at Google in response to an engineer’s resume (trying to become a PM):

I took a quick look at your profile. It looks very engineering heavy. This will be a very difficult transition so traditional job search approach may not be effective. Network with PMs and understand what’s important, then update your resume/LinkedIn. If there are PM or PO opportunities in your current organization explore them, it will be easier to transition.

Here are few suggestions for now:

  1. Professional Summary section needs to be updated to be more descriptive. Expand what you did in product management or any customer focused activities that you have done.
  2. Include Product management relevant keywords. Most of the recruiters on LinkedIn reach your profile through keywords so that will be important.
  3. If I am a recruiter I would be concerned with your career transition. Graduated -> PM -> Eng and then looking for PM again?
  4. Your current position has mostly technical achievements so doesn’t demonstrate that you are aiming for PM job.
  5. Include work samples. (Optional)

For me, I had this consulting company in college, and two ‘startups’ on the side. These are the opportunities I had to learn more about starting a business, product development, marketing, messaging, accounting, financial modeling and more. Finding the right balance of my professional experience and side projects was difficult. I didn’t want to have three different ‘experiences’ for each one of the endeavors because it would dirty up my resume and cause confusion as they were done in the middle of my professional experiences. I summed them all into one and hit key points that were related to product management.

Focus on the numbers

Product is very numbers focused. How much revenue did your product bring in? What was your margin? How much did you grow your product? How many customers? What initiatives/features did you build to decrease churn? And the list goes on. Typically, engineering is very project or objective focused. What types of projects did you work on, the impact it had, the purpose, etc. My word of advice is to understand the business impact of the features/projects you worked on. Something like ‘Led the engineering design for a new feature that resulted in $10M in increased revenue and decreased customer churn by 1%’ would be a great bullet point. It shows leadership and the business outcome it created.

Don't forget the cover letter 

Once you have the first general resume down, your job isn’t over. When you find jobs that you are generally interested in, you’ll want to read the job post carefully and tweak your resume accordingly to match some of the skills/experiences they’re looking for. Also, have a really good cover letter. I wrote a dedicated cover letter for each company I applied for. Recruiters can sniff out generic cover letters and that will be an automatic pass. If you truly show interest in the company, suggest something they could be doing better (e.g. a new feature), that will capture their interest.

Ultimately, here was the resume that got me in the door and ended up getting me my first PM job. Wow, looking back at it, it needs some work!

I am writing a series of blog posts about my transition from engineering to product management. Click here to get the master list. 

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