July 9, 2014
In many companies, including those that produce technology and consumer products, a product manager is responsible for identifying new product opportunities and creating a roadmap for product creation and delivery.
In advance of launching the next generation smartphone or gaming device, product managers spend months assessing the features of competitors’ products, understanding the most up-to-date technologies and identifying the features they want to include in the new product. The goal is to design and launch a product that is different and better than current offerings so that it can compete in the market.
As a job seeker you are a “product” competing in the job market, and you must prove that you are different and better than other candidates. Here are some core product management practices to help you enhance your job search and position yourself as the best candidate.
When product managers make improvements to a product, they typically come up with a series of educated guesses about what is causing a problem or what changes could improve the product. In order to determine whether a single element is the root cause of a problem or a point of opportunity, they often run an A/B test. They create two groups that are identical in every way except for a lone attribute. They run the test and then compare the results. If the outcomes are significantly different, they can conclude that the cause of the difference is that single attribute. They can then base decisions on this newfound knowledge.
It’s a good idea to test as you tweak your resume or any other element of your job search process, from the types of roles you are applying for to the different channels for submitting your resume and even the outfits you wear on interviews. Note the differences in your efforts and keep records of the respective differences in outcomes to determine the best methods for job search success. For example, create several versions of your resume and note which version results in more interest from recruiters. Use this version or continue to make controlled adjustments until you have the best representation of your talents as a candidate.
Related to A/B testing is the need to collect and analyze data. An important first step is to consider the metrics that matter to you. At Simply Hired, our product team looks deeply at feature and product upgrades that help job seekers find the right jobs quickly and easily. They track progress towards this aim via metrics such as return visits and increasing click-through rates.
Ultimately your goal is to find a great new job. As you go through the process, ask yourself, “What are the metrics that confirm that I am headed in the right direction?” They are likely emails or phone calls from recruiters in response to resumes that you have submitted as well as phone screens and interviews with your desired employer. Track the outcomes of each of your efforts noting variations as if you are running A/B tests to identify and repeat the things that are working best for you.
Sample of a spreadsheet to use for tracking information:
Where quantitative research entails collecting a large volume of information for analysis, qualitative research entails getting deep insights, typically from customers through interviews. Without hearing directly from customers, you run the risk of misunderstanding data or inaccurately assigning causation. Conducting interviews and allowing customers to speak for themselves offers useful information to complement and enhance insights from data.
In addition to noting the success rates of your job search activities, seek out feedback from friends or professional contacts to better understand ways that you can improve your “product.” Ask others to critique your resume. Participate in mock interviews and ask for explicit feedback on your verbal responses and physical presence. While it may feel embarrassing or humbling to ask for this assistance, ultimately it will yield helpful suggestions that you may not have considered and that can help you improve your performance when it counts.
When designing new products, product managers consider the competitive landscape into which a product will enter. They think about competitors and their products, the positioning of the products to customers and the pricing. Having this context allows the product manager to determine what product they should create and how it may perform when launched. Having this information also helps the product manager eliminate ideas for products that would not do well if launched, thus sparing the company the time and resources involved in product development.
As a job seeker, you do not exist in a vacuum. For any job that you are pursuing, there are other candidates who are also interested in and possibly qualified for the position. You should perform competitive analysis such as checking out LinkedIn profiles or talking to peers at industry events to understand how others are positioning themselves. Doing so can help you figure out how to best communicate your suitability as a candidate. It can also help you identify areas of improvement and give insight into the roles or industries where you may struggle to be successful. For example, data scientists often have technical or quantitative backgrounds and advanced degrees. This is not to say that you should not pursue this type of role if your background does not fit exactly, but knowing this gives you some insight into how you may compete against other candidates and may be a reason to consider other types of opportunities as well.
Once sufficient data has been gathered, it is the product manager’s job to decide which projects should be prioritized ahead of others. With limited time and resources, a company must make tradeoffs and pursue projects with high potential impact and reasonable cost of implementation.
As a job seeker, you also have limited resources—mainly time. After you have brainstormed and gathered some insights on activities that might improve your success as a candidate, try to assess the relative impact of each activity as well as the level of difficulty in accomplishing each task.
For example, sending emails to college alumni working in your desired field to set up informational interviews is a low-cost, high-impact activity. Getting a graduate degree that is common in a field you want to enter is also something that can have a positive impact; however, this is something that will take time to accomplish and has higher cost and therefore risk. It may be something you put in your longer term plans for “product development,” but it is not likely something you can finish quickly.
Daniel Brakin, a Simply Hired product director, points out that there is always an opportunity cost to the projects you take on. “By doing one thing, you won’t be able to do another. Make sure the thing you’re doing is most likely to help you succeed.”
Simply Hired Product Manager Priscilla Wong points out that in addition to finding new product areas in which to compete, it is important for companies to look inward and be cognizant of the performance of their current products.
Shifts in the industry and the introduction of new competitors can make your products or your competitive edge obsolete. As a candidate, be mindful of changes in your line of work, and be critical of your strengths so that you don’t find yourself falling behind the pack. Taking classes or seminars or reading about developments within your industry can help you maintain the competitiveness of your current “product.”