[Episode 1] How to land a PM job without PM experience

Lead without authority
Source: https://chiefexecutive.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Best-Companies-for-Leaders-compressor.jpg
  1. How to prepare for a product manager interview in a few weeks?
  2. What was the secret sauce behind my successful career switch from finance to PM?

How to prepare for a product manager interview in a few weeks?

Most PM interviews are composed of 5 types of questions, product design, strategy, analytical, technical and behavioral. I found a majority of candidates without PM background need most work on product design questions. On top of that, if you only have a business background like me, technical questions will probably scare you the most; if you are an engineer, strategy questions will look like a monster. The good news is that regardless of your background, most PM interviews can be prepared. It takes a lot of efforts but these skills can surely be learned.

  • Get a copy of the PM interview bible Cracking the PM Interview ASAP and focus on Chapter 13 Estimation Questions, Chapter 14 Product Questions and Chapter 15 Case Questions. I have also read Decode and Conquer and 164 Actual Questions and Answer. They helped me prepare for a diverse set of questions but I didn’t find them as relevant as the first one. If you don’t have much time, I would recommend just go for the bible.
Source: https://medium.com/@diemkay/how-i-prepared-for-a-product-manager-interview-26122f2c80ba
  • Study 3–5 products that you like and be ready to answer the two most famous PM interview questions “What is your favorite product?” and “How can you improve it”? If you have time, I would strongly recommend going through the exercise of writing down product goal, users, main use cases, product strategy, personal story, competitors or substitutes, key metrics, moonshot ideas for each product. This exercise will significantly improve your product sense in a very short amount of time. You will be surprised by how your business or engineering brain can just operate like a PM.
  • For firms that assess creativity, you can read my other post [Episode 2] How to activate your creative brain in a PM interview to instill more creative flavor into your product design interviews.
  • Get yourself on StellarPeers founded by Malena Mesarina, an amazing PM interview prep forum that gives you sample answers to all types of PM interview questions. It is also free. Read through sample answers and summarizing your own answer frameworks for different question types.
Source: https://stellarpeers.com/learn/
  • For technical questions, I would recommend doing lots of wikipedia searches, watching Youtube videos about software engineer interviews, reading this open-sourced system design primer and reading through the two free lessons on Grokking the System Design Interview. It is more and more rare to get coding questions in PM interviews but system design questions are increasingly popular. If you have more time, taking CS classes online is the best way to catch up on technical.
  • Find a mock interview partner and do as many mock interviews as you can. Stellarpeers is also a good place to find mock interview partners but it’s hard to tell whether your partner’s level is gonna be close to yours. A genuine warning for folks who plan to read through all the materials and only start mock interviews when you feel ready. Trust me. You will never be fully ready. It is like learning to swim. Learn from mock interviews and get a sense of how to tackle super ambiguous interviews on the fly. You will save way more time by jumping into mock interviews ASAP.
Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/20/Man_Doing_Sit_Ups_Cartoon.svg

What was the secret sauce behind my successful career switch from finance to PM?

In 2017, I left my banking job in Hong Kong to pursue my MBA at GSB. At the beginning of my MBA2 year, I received a full-time product manager offer in the Bay Area. Many friends have asked me how I did it, especially without a technical background. Let me share my secret sauces here. You should tell me if they are secretive at all.

Source: https://www.diocesecpa.org/blog/2019/07/04/focus/
Source: https://towardsdatascience.com/cracking-an-awesome-product-manager-interview-2baa902791a1
  • If you have a product idea, fantastic. Get yourself out there to start interviewing users, identifying pain points, coming up with product requirement and mock-ups. If you can convince an engineer to build a prototype together, that’s perfect. Even if not, it is still a valuable experience that you can talk about in your interviews.
  • If you are still at school, do you know that you can get part-time PM jobs from early stage startups more easily? Most pre-seed/seed startups can’t afford a full-time PM. If you don’t mind volunteering as a PM for a few months, many startups would say yes.
  • If you have a full-time job, your best shot is to ask for a project on which you can function as a PM or work closely with a PM.
Source: https://jooinn.com/man-on-the-mountain.html



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Elena Chen

Elena Chen

A rational idealist into product and learning