Article originally published (then updated at) Product Manager HQ.
An outstanding resume is absolutely critical for any product manager. After all, product managers are products ? for us to successfully sell ourselves as products, we must signal our value, and resumes are one of the most effective ways to signal value.
Many product manager resume guides focus on prescriptive ?outcome-oriented advice.?
In other words, many guides will tell you which buzzwords to use in your resume, or what spacing and font you should use, or what side projects you should tackle, or which classes you should take.
I disagree with that approach, because product management is fundamentally about processes and frameworks, not about outcomes.
This guide is different because it?s ?framework-oriented.?
I?ll walk you through the process of creating an effective resume that authentically displays your true value proposition as a product, so that you can demonstrate your unique value in a crowded marketplace of product talent.
Because this guide is framework-oriented and not outcome-oriented, it will look very different from other resume guides.
For example, I won?t provide a resume template that you can fill out. That?s because product managers are products, and every product has a unique go-to-market strategy.
In other words, you should never copy someone else?s go-to-market strategy, because it won?t fit you well.
As a product manager who has hired other product managers, and as a product manager who understands that PMs are products, I want to ensure that you set yourself up for success.
I?ll caution you upfront: it?s not easy to craft a truly good resume.
But it?s also not easy to craft truly good products.
Consider the creation of your resume as the creation of yet another product ? it?s an opportunity for you to hone your skills and to showcase your strengths as a product manager.
Here?s the framework that we?ll walk through together:
- Market research
- Prototyping and first drafts
- Narratives and quantifiable impacts
- Go-to-market strategy
So, let?s dive in!
Because every product manager is a product, you need to first understand the value that you bring. In other words, what is your value proposition?
Too often, when I speak with candidates, I hear them rattle off a list of skills and experiences.
That?s not particularly interesting to a hiring manager, because that doesn?t actually show your particular niche, perspective, or strength.
In other words, skills and experiences are not value propositions on their own.
You are not a commodity. Product managers cannot be traded for one another. Each product manager is expected to have their own perspective on the world, and are hired for that particular perspective.
Remember the following about commodities ? they?re usually sold by using spec sheets, because they can be easily traded for each other.
Laptops compete on spec sheets ? they compete on attributes such as CPU, RAM, storage, screen resolution, screen width, and battery life. Therefore, laptops are commodities.
When you sell yourself, you should never sell yourself with a spec sheet. After all, you?re not a commodity. You are a highly differentiated product. You can?t be traded for someone else as a product manager.
Think of other highly differentiated products. For example, think about a house ? just because a house has 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms doesn?t mean that it looks the same as all other 3 bedroom and 2 bathroom houses.
Why are houses different from each other? Because they each have their own unique narrative, their own unique charm, their own unique target audience. You can?t easily trade one house for another.
What?s unique about you?
Spend the time to consider who you are. What excites you? What do you do better than anyone else that you know?
Consider what pain points you solve that others can?t solve. Remember, products solve pain.
Don?t worry about what you want out of a career, or what salary you want, or what teams you want to work with. All of that is irrelevant at the moment. What pain can you solve that no one else can solve?
By reflecting thoughtfully on who you are, what your strengths are, and what your product philosophies are, you will establish your core value proposition that you bring to any organization that hires you.
Now, you need to consider product / market fit. After all, all great products must fit their markets. It?s time to conduct market research.
Too often, I see people shotgun their resumes to all sorts of companies, without actually doing any research.
That?s very much like telemarketing, as an example. How annoyed are you when you pick up the phone to listen to a stranger give you a scripted, generic pitch?
Don?t be that person. You?re a product manager because you solve pain.
Pain is different at each organization. That means that you need to understand the pain at the organization, so that you can customize your resume to fit that organization.
Conduct research to understand what each organization is looking for. What problem are they trying to solve within their organization?
Remember, product managers are financially compensated to solve problems. If there was no pain to solve, no one would pay for a product manager.
Then, based on the research you?ve conducted, prepare yourself to craft a customized resume for the organization you want to apply for. In other words, if you?re applying to 5 different organizations, you need to have 5 different resumes.
You?d never sell your product to a prospect without modifying your sales pitch. Therefore, you need to do the same when you apply for product manager job opportunities. You must target each organization with a unique approach.
Is it hard? Yes.
Is it time consuming? Yes.
But consider this ? by spending a couple of hours now to conduct your research, you?re saving yourself months of fruitless job searching. Great product managers do the hard work upfront.
Plus, if you aren?t excited enough about a particular product manager role to spend hours customizing a resume, you?re probably not passionate enough to join that company and succeed in the long run with them.
Consider this customization task as an initial test of your interest and your motivation to apply.
Still don?t believe the power of customizing your resume based on market research? Let me share my experience with you.
The first time I applied for jobs, I used the shotgun approach. I tracked my outcomes. Here are the statistics:
- 193 resumes sent
- 48 responses were rejections
- 0 responses were for an interview
I wound up not getting a job in the timeframe that I wanted.
I felt entirely crushed ? more than 100 employers didn?t even feel like I was worth responding to with an automated rejection.
I forced myself to look back at my results, and concluded that I wasn?t applying effectively.
I them decided to do the hard work of research and customization. The second time I applied for jobs, here were my results:
- 24 resumes sent
- 17 rejections
- 6 first round interviews
- 2 second round interviews
- 2 final round interviews
- 2 job offers
That was at the start of my career. Since then, I?ve further increased my conversion rates, all centered around the principle of using thoughtful market research to hone my pitch to prospective employers.
Clearly, doing research and customizing your resume dramatically improves results.
So, we?ve done our research, and we?re ready to start the process of customizing our resumes.
But, before we dive into creating each of these customized resumes, we should treat our resume like a product. We should first prototype our resume before we dive all the way into a full-blown finalized resume.
Prototyping and First Drafts
Select one of the employers that you?d love to hire you. It doesn?t matter which one you select ? just pick one first.
In that first draft, dump in every experience you?ve had.
Describe your previous positions, your volunteer work, your side projects, your education, your hobbies, your passions.
It?s a first draft ? it doesn?t have to be beautiful. Just dump it all down on paper.
What are the accomplishments that you?re proud of? How do those accomplishments align with the company that you?ve targeted? Put down everything and anything that might be relevant for the company that you?re applying to.
Prototypes begin with ideation. Similarly, your first draft is meant for ideation.
As a low-fidelity prototype, your first draft should not be perfect ? if it?s perfect, you have already failed.
As you add in all of your experiences, don?t worry about formatting or mistakes or resume length yet. We?ll get to those soon, don?t worry.
And, here?s the thing ? if you?re finding that you have nothing to say that would impress that company, consider applying to a different one.
Product / market fit is a two-way street ? you have to like the company and be truly inspired and motivated to work there!
Effective product managers use prototypes to get something off the ground ? even if it?s not in its final form, the prototype makes significant progress towards the real outcome. Give yourself permission to create a prototype!
Now, let?s talk about converting your prototype into a real product ? a resume that will show off your amazing abilities!
Narratives and Quantifiable Impacts
Your prototype gave you raw materials to work with.
But, raw materials aren?t enough to provide real value. You have to invest effort to convert those raw materials into a truly usable product. So, how should we structure and process these raw materials?
Remember that product managers are always working with qualitative narratives and quantitative impacts ? so we?re going to first start with the narrative, and then move into the quantifiable impact.
First, determine what narrative you want to tell. What?s the story you want to tell this company?
Every product manager is a story. Here?s an example of a story I told about myself:
I care deeply about changing people?s lives for the better.
I began my career working with unintuitive products, which caused my customers to be immensely frustrated ? that?s when I learned that product design matters, and that effective product design relies on robust user research.
From there, I moved into user research, through which I discovered that researchers hold an immense ethical responsibility to drive business impact. Through my research, I found that a unique segment of customers faced deep pain ? pain that my company was uniquely positioned to solve.
I pitched my executive team to create a new business to solve that pain. Once I convinced them to launch that business, they asked me to lead that new business. Through the products that I crafted, we grew the new business to become larger than the original business itself, all within the span of 6 months.
My particular specialty is in creating new B2B2C products, taking a concept from 0 to 1.
I thrive in highly complex, multi-sided industries with entrenched incumbents.
My core philosophy is centered on solving unmet, overlooked, deeply impactful pain that others may never discover.
Don?t worry about pigeonholing yourself when you create this narrative. After all, the resume you?re currently working on will only be sent to one employer!
You?re running experiments on what narrative fits you the best ? when you apply to a different employer, based on the pain points you?ve found, you?ll want to craft an entirely different narrative.
Now that you have your narrative, run back through your resume draft and delete every bullet point that doesn?t align with your narrative.
Then, edit the remaining bullets to ensure that they align with your overarching narrative.
You now have a consistent, powerful narrative backed up by tangible experiences. Next, you need to quantify your impact and prove your worth.
Show, don?t tell. Show me the impact that you brought to your previous organization and to your previous users.
Here?s an insight. When I review candidate resumes, I discard every sentence that looks like the following: ?Worked cross-functionally with engineers, designers, and the business.?
It doesn?t tell me anything about you specifically, because it?s the core function of the job.
Imagine if a car mechanic gave you a resume that said ?Fixed cars.? Of course they do ? every other car mechanic does too. It?s too obvious and doesn?t help you stand out.
Focus instead on the impact. What exactly did you deliver?
A good rule of thumb is to ensure that every bullet point has at least one metric, and that every bullet point tells one cohesive story.
If you can?t find a metric for that accomplishment, then consider removing it from your resume.
After all, if you can?t prove the value of your accomplishment, then a recruiter is unlikely to believe that your accomplishment was valuable.
Another mistake I regularly see is that candidates like to focus on how they did something, rather than what impact they drove.
If you focus on the method, you take away focus from the impact. Product management is about delivering impact, so stay focused!
Remember that when you present to your executives or to your customers as a product manager, they don?t care about the hundreds of hours of research you did ? they just want to know your roadmap.
Recruiters and hiring managers think in the same way.
They aren?t interested in the thousands of hours you spent on an initiative, or about the hundreds of tickets that you groomed.
They want to know what lasting impact your initiative had ? both the impact you had on your users, as well as the impact you had on your organization.
As I mentioned before, you are not a commodity. The quantitative impact numbers that you display are all about telling the narrative.
Remember our example above: houses aren?t unique for having 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms ? they?re unique due to their narratives.
Be careful with what you quantify. Ensure that as you quantify your impact, your quantified impact ties directly to your narrative.
Almost there! You?ve got a powerful narrative backed with tangible impact. But the problem is that your resume is a mess.
That?s okay. It?s time to thoughtfully design your resume.
After all, your resume is a product too! You need to start making hard design decisions.
Remember that design is about principles, not about outcomes. Keep the following design principles in mind: information architecture, information density, and aesthetics.
I define information architecture as ?the way in which you present information.? It?s so important to ensure that you present relevant, high-priority information to your recruiter in a way that makes sense to them.
As a hiring manager, I don?t need to see your experience in unrelated jobs. I also don?t need to see unrelated courses. Therefore, you should ensure that you remove that low-signal information.
Furthermore, I don?t need to see your ?objective.? Your objective is that you?d like me to hire you, so that?s already obvious.
If you spend space on your resume to cover obvious facts, I?ll deprioritize the rest of the information in your resume, because you?ve already lost my trust ? I already believe that you will give me low-signal information.
I also don?t need to see your ?summary.? Resumes are already summaries of your professional experience. What?s the point of having a summary of a summary?
Again, don?t prime your user to expect that you?ll give them low-value information.
As a hiring manager, I want to understand how long you worked at a company, and whether you had any job gaps. Furthermore, I want to prioritize your most recent experience, and I want to discount your least recent experience.
Therefore, you need to expose that information to me through the design of your resume, in a way that I can easily digest.
Consider the informational needs of your user. As a hiring manager, I guarantee that I don?t know the names of every startup that ever existed in the world.
You shouldn?t just give me the name of your employer ? you should also help me understand the size of the company, its location, its operating model, and its industry.
Product managers are all about context, so provide relevant context for your achievements!
Too often, I see resumes with poor information density design.
Consider my needs as a reader ? I have hundreds of resumes to review in a short period of time, and if you give me a resume that I can?t easily digest, I?ll have to discard it immediately.
First, ensure that you constrain your resume to one page. If you use more than one page, I will automatically disqualify you.
Could you imagine if you asked someone to give you a 15-minute presentation, and they took 3 hours of your time? You would feel that they had disrespected you.
Similarly, hiring managers expect to take only a couple of minutes to digest your resume. If you can?t present information to them within that timeframe, they?ll discard your resume.
Second, be thoughtful about the limited space you have on the page. I see candidates try to cram in as much as they possibly can. That?s not how you design a thoughtful product.
Thoughtful products understand the priorities of the user, and surface only relevant, high-priority, useful information. Make thoughtful design tradeoffs on my behalf as a user ? that?s your duty as a product manager.
If you decrease page margins, decrease font size, or decrease paragraph spacing, you are actively hurting my eyes. Ensure that your resume is easy to scan for key information.
Don?t excessively bold or highlight your resume. Remember that when you design, you must consider what information is highest priority. If everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority.
Don?t impair my ability to focus. Instead, help guide my attention.
Because you only have one page to communicate your value proposition, you have to prioritize your experiences.
Even though you may have many relevant accomplishments that you?re proud of, you?re going to need to remove some of your accomplishments from your resume.
It?s not the sum of your accomplishments. It?s the average of your accomplishments that hiring managers will assess.
That means that more isn?t better, because more will dilute your average. Be ruthless in cutting down your resume.
Finally, don?t listen to conventional wisdom about using keywords or buzzwords. Buzzwords have low information density.
As a hiring manager, I have limited time ? therefore, the more concisely you can communicate your value, the more I will appreciate you as a candidate.
A solid resume is not just the content itself ? it?s also the visual presentation of the content.
Consider your resume as a design challenge. In other words, your resume is a preview of your product management skills.
You?ll have to make design decisions about font, size, spacing, and placement. You?ll have to consider how you?d like to visualize your achievements and your value proposition.
Don?t fall into the trap of frivolous aesthetics, however!
Too often, I see candidates provide a graph of their skills. While it looks aesthetically pleasing, it?s also incredibly noisy, because candidates give themselves high ratings for every skill.
The point of a graph is to show comparisons. If you use a graph to try to tell me that you?re good at many skills, that graph won?t show comparisons between magnitudes.
Therefore, if you use a graph to show me your proficiency across many skills, you?ve signaled to me that you don?t understand design.
I also see candidates create graphs on the breakdown of time spent between activities. Again, I don?t need to know that information. I want to know your impact, not the method through which you achieved your impact.
Don?t create visuals for the sake of creating visuals. Ensure that your aesthetic design decisions serve the powerful narrative that you?ve crafted. Don?t create noise ? every pixel matters.
Now you have a targeted, polished resume that highlights your value proposition as a product! But keep in mind, a resume is just one component of your full go-to-market strategy.
After all, when you apply for a product manager job, it takes much more than just your resume. Your go-to-market strategy may also involve coffee chats, cover letters, portfolios, and the interview itself.
Understand the purpose of a resume ? it?s a product demo, and nothing more. Take a step back from your resume, and consider your full go-to-market strategy. How does your resume fit in?
Ensure that what you present in your resume harmonizes perfectly with the rest of your go-to-market strategy.
If you?re an analytics-oriented PM, you should highlight the key trends that you discovered, and you should ensure that you?ve clearly quantified your impact across multiple relevant dimensions.
If you?re a design-oriented PM, you should have beautiful typography and pleasing design aesthetics, and you should consider linking to your portfolio or your personal website.
If you?re an engineering-oriented PM, you should consider having a GitHub profile with lots of contributions, and you should consider linking to any research white papers that you?ve written on your engineering thought leadership.
Remember that your resume is only one part of a broader whole. It doesn?t need to cover everything ? it?s only a product demo, and it?s demo-ing you as a product!
Your cover letter will drive stronger narratives.
Your interviews will enable you to share your hard-won experiences and learnings.
Your live interactions with others at the company will highlight your unique working style.
Don?t force your resume to do everything for you. Remember, your resume is a product challenge. Every product should solve pain and present value in a focused way.
One other factor to consider in your go-to-market strategy is your distribution strategy.
Some companies highly value internal referrals.
Some companies prefer reaching out to particularly interesting candidates over LinkedIn, and therefore a strong LinkedIn profile matters.
Some companies prefer to meet potential talent at product management events.
Some companies may not consider a candidate until that candidate has submitted their resume through their official job portal.
Consider how your target company makes hiring decisions, and use that information to fine-tune your strategy.
For example, maybe recruiters prefer to look for specific buzzwords, whereas the hiring manager is looking for specific kinds of experiences. Tailor your approach to your target audience.
Now you?ve finally completed one resume and considered your targeted approach for that particular prospective employer. Take some time to celebrate ? you?ve invested a lot of effort, but it will pay off!
You need to keep the momentum going, however.
The very first resume you write is the hardest, and each consecutive one gets easier.
Invest the time to crank out highly targeted resumes, one for each employer that you?re applying for. Iterate through each of the steps above ? you?ll find that they get easier as you execute them repeatedly.
Product managers are products, and resumes are product demos. To create a successful product manager resume, you need to have a clear understanding of yourself as a product.
After all, product demos are all different ? how boring would it be if they all looked and felt the same?
Start with self-reflection. Who are you, and what value do you uniquely provide?
Then, conduct market research. Who is the employer, and what pain are they facing? How would you uniquely solve that pain?
Afterwards, dump down everything you can into a first draft of your resume. Be creative without narrowing yourself down. Your first draft is a prototype, so be bold and experimental!
From there, craft a cohesive narrative, and quantify your impact to support the narrative.
Next, design your resume. Consider key design principles such as information architecture, information density, and aesthetics.
Once you?ve finalized one resume, craft the rest of your go-to-market strategy. Confirm that your resume is serving the right purpose.
As soon as you complete your first resume, keep up the momentum and tackle the rest. Each one will get easier to do, I promise!
Resumes aren?t easy to write ? they can take days or even weeks to put together.
Even harder, you can?t just use a generic resume, because hiring managers can easily tell if you?ve used a generic resume.
But for every resume that you do write, you get better at writing resumes. And since resumes are products, every resume you complete is a product that you ship.
Keep moving forward, rockstar!
Have thoughts that you?d like to contribute around product manager resumes? Chat with other product managers around the world in our PMHQ Community!