ProductFTW #22: PM Job Hunting: A Firsthand Account

AI generated image of a man worn down and tired from job interviewing
Your face after explaining your 'greatest weakness' for the 17th time

In today's competitive job market, finding a new role can be incredibly challenging, with many facing the added pressure of widespread layoffs and an influx of candidates vying for the same positions. Recently, I had the opportunity to interview a product manager who wished to remain anonymous. They shared their journey over the past year, offering a glimpse into the harsh realities and complex, multi-step job-hunting processes in today's market. Here’s their detailed account:


Application Process

The first step in any job hunt is the application process, and our product manager was no stranger to this.

I applied for roughly 160 roles, mostly found via LinkedIn. However, I almost always completed the application directly on the company's website. I rarely used the 'easy apply' feature on LinkedIn.

It’s a staggering number, revealing the competitive nature of the market. But what about the responses?

Out of those applications, 17 resulted in at least an HR or recruiter screener.

That's just over a 10% response rate, highlighting how tough it can be to get a foot in the door.


The Interview

Once they secured an initial response, the interview process began. However, no two processes were the same.

The only thing that was typical was the initial few interviews. After submitting the application and being contacted by a recruiter, I would have an initial or screener call with the recruiter or HR rep. We would briefly discuss the role, my experience, and compensation. Provided compensation expectations were aligned, I moved to the next round, which was always meeting with the hiring manager. After those two interviews, there was no typical process across the companies I interviewed with.

The variety didn’t stop there.

Yes, there were massive differences. Some companies had as few as three meetings before completing the process, while others had between five and eight rounds of interviews, sometimes including presentations with a group. I also interviewed with two companies where I met with 10+ people before they made a decision. In hindsight, despite the effort, these processes helped me realize which companies were not a good fit.

Strategies

With such a daunting process, what strategies worked?

The most effective strategy was getting a personal introduction to someone in the company. Former colleagues' recommendations and introductions to high-level people typically resulted in a complete interview process. Other strategies included sending a short LinkedIn intro message to the job poster, keeping in touch with HR/recruiting contacts from prior interviews (which helped me secure my newest position), and seeking referrals from friends or former colleagues.

Despite the challenges, there were enjoyable aspects, too.

I enjoyed digging deeper into the company after an initial interview request. Reading about people's success posts on LinkedIn and seeing how companies celebrated their people was most enjoyable. While most websites were unremarkable, the level of detail in developer or API documentation was always interesting. I usually found a few interview questions after reviewing the public documentation, which varied between companies.

Staying Motivated

Job hunting can be exhausting. How did they stay motivated?

Having a job during my search allowed me to focus on something else while waiting for various processes to continue or conclude. I feel for those part of layoffs who needed to focus 100% of their energy on the job search. I also had friends and former colleagues to talk to throughout my search, which often turned into vent sessions and provided feedback on presentations and interview techniques. Additionally, I maintained a bi-weekly therapy session, which helped with coping techniques and personal perspectives.

Challenges and Learning Moments

The road wasn’t smooth. There were definite challenges.

The most challenging part was not getting any usable feedback after an unsuccessful interview process. I always asked for feedback but rarely received anything useful. After spending significant time and effort on an interview process, constructive feedback would have been helpful for future interviews.

So, what tools did they use to stay organized?

Since a resume is crucial for getting noticed by recruiters, I rewrote mine about a dozen times and used AI tools like Rezi (https://app.rezi.ai/) for formatting and content review. I also used AI chatbots to generate cover letters, though I can't say if it directly resulted in interviews. Keeping detailed notes for each interview, including information about the interviewer and relevant job specifics, was also helpful.

Advice

The atmosphere of job hunting can be a rollercoaster.

In a word: grim. The competition was fierce, and finding an acceptable job was extremely difficult. LinkedIn, while useful for finding jobs, often added to the stress with its high application numbers and influencer advice. Occasionally, I would browse Reddit's /r/recruitinghell to see others' experiences, which was both comforting and disheartening to see how wide spread and common the struggle was across industries.

Do they have any tips for others?

Experiment to see what works for you. Tools like Rezi and Chat-GPT can help improve your resume and cover letters. Networking and seeking referrals are also critical. Reading industry blogs can keep your knowledge up-to-date and provide useful tips. Lastly, taking breaks and incorporating some exercise into your routine can help maintain your mental well-being.

Final Thoughts

As we wrapped up, they had a few more words of wisdom.

Consider using professional services like resume writing, career coaching, and placement services if needed. By the time I landed my new job, I was burnt out and ready to take a break. Sometimes, taking a break is worthwhile, even if it means focusing on an existing job for a while before diving back into the search.

Searching for a job in today's market can often feel like an endless, uphill battle. The fierce competition and varied processes can make the journey daunting and disheartening at times. However, it's important to remember that each step brings you closer to your goal, no matter how small. Stay resilient, keep experimenting with different strategies, and lean on your support network for guidance and encouragement.

Don't lose hope. The right opportunity is out there, and with persistence and adaptability, you'll find your fit. Keep pushing forward, take care of your mental well-being, and believe in your potential to succeed.

About ProductFTW

ProductFTW is a weekly newsletter about product management, with a focus on real-life experiences in startups. We want to help product leaders be successful by giving realistic approaches that aren’t for giant tech companies. We know you don’t have a full-time product designer on each team. We know your software probably hasn’t been used by millions of people worldwide–yet. We’re here to bridge the content gap from building your product and team to scaling it.

 

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