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Landing a Product Management role in a Difficult Job Market

Written by
Liz Clow Liz Clow
Chief Product Officer
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It’s really tough out there for anyone looking for a new role in Product Management. The layoffs over the last year and the lack of new roles being opened up due to the economic climate has left incredibly talented people struggling to find their next job.  When will things change?  Who knows, but for those looking for a new role it’s likely to feel challenging, frustrating, emotionally draining and confidence-sapping at times.

As an eternal optimist, I feel positive that the market in the UK will start to improve soon and in fact some recruiters are telling me they are starting to see green shoots already in Q4, so there’s never been a more appropriate time to re-set, re-focus and prepare for what should be a really exciting period as you aim to land your next role.

I’ve been gathering lots of tips and advice through my own hunt for a new position (the tech layoffs impacted me recently as well) and am keen to share these, along with my perspective as a Product Leader who has interviewed and hired many product managers (at all levels)  into my teams over the last 10 years. 

As an eternal optimist, I feel positive that the market in the UK will start to improve

Liz Clow, Chief Product Officer

Phase 1 - Discovering roles

There are two sides to discovering new roles - firstly is the more obvious way of seeking them out yourself and the other is you being approached about a role. I encourage you to tackle your job search with both of these approaches in mind to maximise the number of suitable opportunities.

To seek roles out yourself, these are the activities you might want to focus on:
  • Job Boards - LinkedIn and Otta Jobs are great starting points and places you want to set up alerts to hear about jobs as soon as they’re posted. If you’re looking for roles in start-ups, then you will probably also want to check out the likes of workinstartups.com startup.jobs and seedcamp.com amongst others,
  • Targeting specific companies - if you have certain companies in mind, ensure you’re following them on LinkedIn, connect with people already working there and check if they have their own job boards as well (this can be a bit hit and miss, but a good idea in case they haven’t been set-up properly for the algorithms of LinkedIn and the like). It can also be seen as a real plus if you already show an interest in a business and apply directly,
  • Networking - connect with your peers, reach out to people in your network and explain that you’re looking for a new role. I’m hearing that in this market, some roles just aren’t being advertised because hiring managers know they have great product people in their own networks who are available and searching for a new role.

Searching for roles yourself is going to take a lot of effort and is an activity you will want to carve out time for on a regular basis. There are a lot of ‘hidden’ roles you’ll want to discover and this is where partnering up with recruiters is going to be crucial.

In a market where there is an abundance of roles, I would encourage you to focus on building really strong relationships with just a handful of recruiters who you can work closely with to find your new role. However, when there are fewer roles available, as there are right now, I’d encourage you to change tact and connect with many more recruiters than normal as roles are definitely in short supply and each recruiter will only hold the keys to a small number of them (if any). By the way, befriending a broad group of recruiters is a tip recruiters themselves have shared with me because they recognise the extraordinary environment we’re in at the moment, as much as we do.

This is your opportunity to build positive relationships with a wide network of recruitment specialists; these are people who know our profession extremely well and will become long-term contacts which you will want to nurture throughout your career.

Remember recruiters have also been hit hard over the last year, so they totally understand what you might be going through and they have a little more time to get to know you as well. You may even find you get offers of help for feedback on your CV, or some tips ahead of an interview (even if the role wasn’t via them) or maybe to invite you to an event they’re planning.

Some tips to consider when reaching out to recruiters:
  • Ensure you can tell your ‘story’ - your experience, achievements, what you’re looking for and a bit about the human side of you as well. You want to use these connections as a way for them to get to know you and of course remember you as well,
  • A relationship is two sided of course and it’s a great opportunity for you to find out more about them, how long they’ve been recruiting in product for, what roles they’ve hired for and why they love working in this space - you’ll hear some fab stories and see how well connected they are,
  • Find out about any roles they might have upcoming, however don’t assume this connection is only helpful in this cycle of job hunting - even if they aren’t able to match you with a role right now, you may want to work with them again when you’re looking in the future or when you’re hiring product people yourself, so there is so much value in building these relationships.

Phase 2 - Prioritising roles

With so many high-calibre candidates on the market currently, there are going to be more people who can tick everything off from a job spec, so now is a time to be focused and clear about which roles you put yourself forward for. This is where identifying and prioritising the roles where you can be a top candidate will likely land you with success sooner.

Although it can be tempting to apply for every PM role (Senior PM, Director of PM, etc) you see, at the moment, this will almost certainly increase the number of rejections (or non-responses) you get as other candidates have the domain experience or skill set that the recruiter or hiring manager are looking for.

Does this mean you have to align 100% with what the job description outlines, certainly not, but this doesn’t seem to be a moment in time where hiring managers are quite as open to taking on people with great PM skills but no domain experience, when they can hire someone equally good who also has that background. In this market, they are often looking for someone who has done this before and walks straight in and starts adding value very quickly.

So, be honest with yourself about where your strengths lie and which companies you could be a top 5 candidate for and put your energy and attention into these roles. The other advantage of this quality over-quantity approach is that you will increase your chances of landing one of these roles if you aren’t distracted by prepping for roles you’re unlikely to see success. Use this time to fully immerse yourself in the company and the role and find out as much about it as possible and how you can match your experience, and your achievements with this role in an application and interview process.

So, tips for prioritising roles:
  • Identify the roles where you can be a top 5 candidate - put all your energy and prep into these roles and discount those where you aren’t a strong match,
  • Focus on your strengths and where your experience makes you a top candidate - update your CV for each role to optimise it for what they are looking for,
  • Ensure you have your product ‘stories’ ready to discuss in an interview; research the company and the market well and try to make connections with employees already working there.

Phase 3 - Executing your application

Once you’ve found a role and decided it’s one you want to prioritise, you need to execute your application as effectively as possible, so take your time to do this. This is not the time to just click ‘apply’, attach your CV and then submit! Some candidates might get lucky of course, however, I’d encourage taking a little longer to optimise at this stage.

  • CV - Ensure your CV is tailored for the role you’re applying for by reordering certain achievements or highlights; ensuring you’re using the right keywords that will be captured by the ATS (here’s a helpful guide to getting through the Applicant Tracking System scan, which is often the first hurdle); and following best practice on building your CV. There are lots of tips out there on CV creation, you might want to check out this really helpful video from JooBee Yeow, for example,
  • Connect with the hiring manager - if you can find out who the hiring manager for the role is, try to message them, follow them or connect with them on LinkedIn to make sure you’re visible. I love hearing from candidates directly when they apply for roles (or hearing that they’ve connected with the Talent/HR partner for the role), it really demonstrates enthusiasm and curiosity as well, which I love to see,
  • Prep for interviews & tasks - I personally find prepping for interviews the most challenging thing to do, but it also gives you the opportunity to dig deep on the role and company! You have to be prepared for so much variation in interview style and questioning and also be ready to think quickly, remain articulate, align your experience with their questions and do all of this whilst handling any nerves that you might have as well. The team at Hustle Badger have great advice about preparing for and nailing the product interview, so I encourage you to check out their guide which includes templates and examples to help

It’s a tough market, but you will get hired

So there’s a lot to consider when applying for a role in this current climate and you need to be mentally strong and look after yourself during this period of uncertainty. You won’t land every role you apply for - rejection, although tough, is a very normal part of applying for jobs - but every application, each interview, and the prep you do, should be a step towards your new role.

Try to see any rejections as learning experiences, look for the ways you are growing and perhaps use the time to do some self-reflection as well as ask for feedback when you’ve not been successful.

Reach out to your network for support, attend product events and join product communities to discuss everything ‘product’ with your peers. Even if these things don’t lead directly to a new role, I’m certain they really help boost confidence and help you feel inspired whilst also reassuring you that you’re not alone in your search - there are many of us in it together, keen to help each other succeed.

Finally, when you do get an offer or offers for a new role, remember this is your moment to ensure you’re happy with the role, the company culture and the package you’re being offered as well. The application and interview process should have given you a great insight into these things, but take time to ask any outstanding questions ahead of saying ‘yes’.

Good luck and I look forward to hearing about the amazing roles you land!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Liz Clow

Liz Clow
Chief Product Officer

Liz is a seasoned product leader who has worked in start-ups, scale-ups and enterprise businesses.

As the Chief Product Officer at Memmo, Liz pivoted the product strategy from growth towards profitability and led the product, design and marketing teams across the B2C and B2B marketplace business.

Liz is passionate about coaching & mentoring; helping develop PMs at all levels to become highly skilled, effective and influential in their roles and careers.

In addition to her most recent role, Liz has led product teams in the media, gaming and e-commerce sectors, transitioning businesses to become more product-led and customer-focused.

Liz is currently looking for a new role and excited to discuss any suitable opportunities.

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