The first interview as a Product Manager
How to apply for a Product Manager position, have a great idea, build a business case and never get an answer.
Someone had once told me that the best way to get your first Product Manager position is through your current company. Try to be really good at your job, show interest in other areas, learn how all the other departments work, and then fight to get one of the Product Manager positions.
It was the beginning of 2015. I was working as a developer for dubizzle, a classifieds website. Think of it as the Craigslist of the Middle East (but cooler).
I checked the job openings within the company and noticed a Product Manager position. I was a well-respected developer there who had been recently moved to the development team of the most profitable section of the company. They even let me implement my own version of Scrum for my team. They trusted me.
I decided to go to HR and apply. After a few days, everything was set up. I would have an interview with the Head of Product. Even though I knew the guy, I was nervous. I would say it was probably one of the weirdest job interviews I have ever had.
I entered his office and saw him seated behind his desk. After I took my seat across from his, he stood up and sat on the chair beside me.
Hi, how are you?
This question started the interview:
So, Álvaro, tell me, why are we here?
I was confused. What kind of a question was that? We are here to do a damn job interview. Obviously, those were only thoughts. I hesitated for a moment and replied:
Well, I saw the opening for a Product Manager position. Given my experience in the company together with my previous experience as an entrepreneur, I would like to be considered for the position.
I don’t remember anything else about the conversation. But we agreed that I would build a business case of my choice — aligned with the current goals of the company — and that one of the Product Managers in the company would be my mentor in the process.
Around the same dates, a stranger reached out to me on Facebook. He was desperate and found me in the social network when he was looking for one of the employees of my company. He was having problems with his account and Customer Support was not helping. I spoke to several people in Customer Support. The listings this guy was posting did not comply with the company’s policies. As soon as they found out, his listings were removed. After a few more listings of the same type, his account was blocked.
The company’s focus was on finding new revenue streams. All the ingredients I needed for my business case: some users had a problem, we had the solution, they are willing to pay for it. It might even be a great strategic move for the company. We would be approaching a new market that we had never touched before. It would not only bring huge benefit at a very small cost, if the results were good, it would open a new range of possibilities for the less exploited part of the web. I had an idea that could re-shape the company within a few years.*
I presented my idea to the Head of Product. He found it interesting and encouraged me to continue working on it — there were a few details that needed to be polished and it was missing some estimations on how much money we could make. I worked on it further with my mentor. I also asked for advice and feedback from other Product Managers (and good friends) in the company.
A few days later, my presentation was ready. I would not even ask for a team; I would be happy if they gave me time to work on it and let me borrow some time from the Design Team. If the final result was good and worked as expected, it would prove that I was perfectly able to do a good job as a Product Manager.
And, suddenly, one morning, there was a company-wide meeting! Everyone was confused and no one knew what was happening. To summarise: A lot of people, including the upper management, were let go.
After that, the previous open positions were not open anymore. Every time I tried to keep my project moving, I received vague answers. I was never asked again about the business case.
My first approach as a Product Manger ended up with a good idea in the trash and with no answer. For sure, I never got a “yes”. The good part is I did not get a “no” either. I continued working as a developer in that company for a few more months. An unclear path for professional growth pushed me to leave.
Getting a Product Manager position in the company you are currently working at might be a good option. It didn’t work for me. It was time to try a different strategy.
- Talk to Product Managers: If you are really interested in Product Management, you will learn something from every one of them.
- Be a Product Manager for one day: Do you really want to be a Product Manager? Try it. Pick the product you like the most or the one you know the most. How would you improve it? Think about it. It is not as easy as it sounds.
- Cost-Benefit balance: Benefit is easy to find but how much would it cost? Can you create benefit at a minimum cost? That is the tough question.
*I know it sounds arrogant. I still believe it was a great idea. Besides, you gotta go big or go home!
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I will continue writing about Product Management, about how I switched from engineering to Product Management, about how I landed this position and about how to face challenges when you don’t have much experience. If you are interested please follow me on Twitter, @alvarolab, or Medium, Álvaro Hurtado.
Thanks to my great editor and better friend Na(a)g Channa.