How to Write & Format Your Resume For a Product Manager Position

Listing your achievements in a resume can feel like a thankless task. And yet, it is an inescapable part of your working life. Your resume or CV is your professional passport and it aims to portray the highlights of your career. It is precisely this latter point which creates more trouble for everybody. Selecting those really important achievements is as hard as picking your favorite song. Just like one kind of music is particularly apt for driving to work in the morning; only certain experiences are good at clarifying where your expertise lies.

Thus, the secret to building a great resume is knowing what to leave out. (Un)fortunately, Product Management is not really an entry-level job. Sure, there are some junior positions out there that can be reached with a few months’ experience and a prestigious certification. However, most of the time professionals who undertake the transition aim to build the following story with their resume: their gradual acquisition of product skills across different positions and functions.

Every resume must include: key personal facts, past relevant work experience, education, skills, and referees’ contact information. But before we start completing these sections to build the perfect Product Management resume, let’s focus on some (real) mistakes that aspiring product people often include in their CVs.

Resume Fails: Where Not to Begin

Product Management is a popular career. This provides an opportunity for those who seek a quick entry, because there is a certain lack of formality. There is no right background, school or location where you just have to begin to make it in product. However, this also means that there are a lot of very eager people attempting the transition who actually have very little knowledge of recruitment processes. Through the years, we have encountered many aspiring PMs who tend to make the same rookie mistakes with their resumes.

Here is a quick summary of these mistakes and why they could be red flags for product team recruiters across the world.

Writing your memoirs

In theory, a resume or CV is supposed to tell your professional story. Whether you are hoping to get an Associate Product Management positionor moving forward to a Head of Product Management vacancy, you will have a wealth of experiences to reflect on it. Even really young candidates have stuff to talk about. At college, you probably took part in one or more student clubs on entrepreneurship, IT and similar fields. And it is likely that you had a couple of summer jobs, plus volunteering for a local charity and collaborating on a student-led final year project.

Imagine trying to reflect all of these activities on a piece of paper. Now, picture the struggle of a PM with years (or decades!) worth of experience. The word count is starting to mount up, right? If something feels wrong about including all of these life stories, it’s because it’s wrong. You need to discern what matters and what does not.

Here in our Slack group, you will be able to see great and not so great resume examples. Taking up too much space is the most common mistake. Some prospective applicants have shared even 7-page CVs with us! As proud as you might be about your background, you have to specify to triumph.

And how do you justify what to keep and what to drop? Tailoring. This is exactly what you do to avoid the following mistake.

What is this for again?

Now, as always, mistakes can be turned to your advantage. This is something we will cover below. But first, let’s review what tailoring your resume implies. Many PM applicants think that it is enough to change your summary, list of skills and maybe hobbies in line with whatever position and industry you are attempting to enter. While particularly strong candidates or needy recruiters might overlook this limited effort, you are much more likely to get an interview if you put in some work.

This means tailoring your documents to reflect the industry, company and position that you are applying for. It is obvious to say that a small daring startup will not be expecting your application to resemble that of an IBM. However, it is not so common to seriously consider the language and content that you put in there.

There are three key mistakes here:

  • Mistake #1: Misalignment of achievements: Almost every job today is multi-faceted and includes many different functions. A marketer, for example, might be a great copywriter but also very good with numbers. Imagine how many fields can Product Managers claim to be operating in! However, if you go back to the original job offer, there are likely to be certain keywords which reveal where you will be spending most of your time. Highlight your successes there, forget about other contributions (as great as they might be!) and focus exclusively on those required by the position.
  • Mistake #2: Inappropriate language: Everybody knows that tech is different. From the clothes Silicon Valley leaders wear to the casual expressions which many companies use in their marketing, this is clearly not your parents’ economy. And, for certain positions, you might be at an advantage if your application materials are in some way original. But, most of the time, professional resumes must remain that, professional. Don’t abuse jokes, aphorisms or exaggerations. They will not necessarily make you stand out. Product Managers are trusted with vital parts of costly operations: you should show responsibility.
  • Mistake #3: Boasting: Another misconception, this time usually played for laughs, is tech leaders’ tendency to aggrandize their own achievements. You should not be afraid of putting your USPs forward. However, there is a difference between this and claiming that everything good happened thanks to you. Many PM resumes (which also tend to be extremely long) abuse of achievements and numbers that end up sounding meaningless. Be measured with how you pick your wins, choosing those where you really made a difference and have a positive story to tell about your impact in and with your product.

Master of none

Doing a bit of everything is a common vice for Product Managers. They are in fact responsible for developing, designing and marketing a product. This can actually spread themselves and their forces thin: one day taking care of engineers, the following conducting user interviews and the next speaking with executive teams. Overlong resumes also tend to reflect this multifaceted role; in a bad way. That is, they make it seem as if you have been “visiting” departments without really tying these interventions with an overall product strategy.

There is a larger issue here when it comes to “product people”. Yes, Product Management is a distinct discipline with its own tradition of theories, methodologies, and tools. In theory, many of these are translatable between positions. In practice, nevertheless, there are certain barriers to entry that you should take into account.

Some tech people show a lot of audacity and are able to back that with a diverse, cross-sector background. At the same time, most PMs tend to work on one type or a limited set of product types. For example, if a product person begins in the rent-a-car business, it would make sense to move horizontally towards platforms that allow you to rent office space. Some principles and approaches will be shared by both, making this transition simple and logical. This is not just good resume advice but overall career advice: if you specialize in one particular industry, you will find it much easier to get a good position. This is because you will have time to build a product community, establish a personal brand and train your targeted business acumen.

Remember to reflect coherence on both fronts on your resume. First, make sure that you are making a point with the experiences you choose to display. If you are going for a heavily technical position with little outside requirements, spend less time on showing what a proficient public speaker you are. Similarly, if you have mostly worked in education and are aiming to work in EdTech , say less about non-related experiences and make a tight package with those that are relevant.

Again, a resume is like a product: the features you choose to include must reinforce each other.

Lack of context

This could also be called the “shopping list” style of writing. We have already discussed how many PMs tend to include even that small role they had in their High School newspaper. This makes some CVs resemble random lists from far away, a litany of things done to impress whoever reads it. Big mistake.

Every element of your background has to contribute to your story. You need a context for “increased retention by 5%” or “activated 3 new monetization channels”. For instance, you could describe these numbers in relation to how soon you sought to make an impact. Or how much money you saved because you realized that some processes could be done more efficiently. Your methodologies, how you arrived at a particular conclusion, also merit consideration. Even if you do not include them in your resume due to space limitations, keep in mind that you will need to highlight these stories in your cover letter and interview.

Another reason why shopping list resumes are wrong is their emphasis on technical terms over functions and achievements. Product Management, like many other disciplines, has its own set of buzzwords to refer to practical approaches: Agile, JTBD… While it is likely that your final interviewer will know about these terms; at the resume stage, listing these as separate points will not add any value. Rather, try to find general terms that even product “outsiders” would be able to understand. Obviously, without losing accuracy or undervaluing your work.

Write a Good Resume for a PM Position

Now that we have reviewed big resume mistakes, the time has come to understand how to build a killer PM resume. If it was not already clear, brevity is preferred. Even an industry leader should be able to turn their whole experience into a concise one-pager. Think of it like developing a product or feature under strict limitations. Obviously, it is a complex exercise in itself, but you are going after one of the most sought-after positions in the world!

Some common concerns: summaries and competencies. A summary is nothing more than one or two sentences that aim to reflect where you have been and where you are going. The truth is, summaries are not really impactful on tech resumes. Your achievements should speak for themselves. Accomplishments, competencies, and skills must be selected for each application process. Sure, you can have a core list of strengths to display on every resume. However, if you list too many irrelevant or loosely related points, the recruiter will notice that you did not make an effort to tailor and target your application materials.

Should I include volunteering and hobbies? This is really dependent on the offer. Imagine that you are applying to be a Product Manager at an important sports media company. Would it not be useful to state your appreciation of the sport itself? There are plenty of examples like this; languages or any other additional skills you might have can also support applications for jobs in international companies. In any case, make sure that this section does not take too much space: the important bits are your employment history and, especially if you did something recently, your education.

Certain sites like Venngage offer a selection of professional resume templates you can use to get inspired. Finally, remember Laszlo Bock’s formula for better resumes. As former Senior Vice President of People Operations at Google, he knew a thing or two about hiring people in tech. His basic equation to explain your accomplishments is the following:

Accomplished [X] as measured by [Y] by doing [Z]

For example, instead of saying that you “increased retention rates” in isolation; you can expand your answer and show professionalism. “Accomplished higher retention rates as measured by our subscription numbers by limiting the number of newsletters we sent every week”. Taking this as your basic formulation, you can start building a story around your achievements which tells your future employer about your data management and other skills.

Product Management Resume Checklist

We have now considered a lot of issues involved with writing a good resume. Let’s review the ten most important Product Management resume principles:

  1. Most Product Managers transition to the job as relatively experienced professionals. Be selective with what you include to keep your resume tight.
  2. As with products, PM resumes must be tailored for every experience. Change, add or delete sections according to job requirements.
  3. Product Managers are responsible for multiple functions across many industries. Build a coherent story with a strong sense of direction.
  4. Even though tech people are sometimes considered forward and irreverent, make sure that your resume remains serious and aligned with your current achievements.
  5. Product work is very data-driven and provides very clear metrics. However, make sure to link them to worthwhile examples of your contributions.
  6. While PM skills are highly transferable between industries and positions, ensure that you concur with what is being requested.
  7. Avoid “shopping-list” style resumes. You might believe that you are impressing recruiters, but it is better to pick a few tailored achievements.
  8. Providing context and avoiding excessively technical terms can help you a lot, especially if recruiters are not Product Management experts.
  9. Concise one-pagers can be extremely effective tools. Eschewing summaries and adapting skills to product vacancies can help you get there.
  10. Hobbies, volunteering, and skills like languages have a hidden potential when applying to certain product positions.

Formatting your Product Management Resume

Finally, we are going to focus on format. As we said above, resumes have to include: key personal facts, past relevant work experience, education, skills, and referees’ contact information. How should you present this information?

  • Standard one-pager: This is what everyone should at least aim for. There are thousands of templates online; even your word processor should have a few. Make sure that you pick a “serious” font, like Arial, Times New Roman or Helvetica. Then, spread your text with sensible spacing, titles, subtitles, and columns. Your background and education should occupy two-thirds or more of your total available space. One key word of advice: if you are unable to reach the one-pager, do not despair. Two pages might not be perfect but it still fine if you make the effort to present only relevant information.
  • Graphics-heavy resume: An alternative for adventurous PMs, designing your own template can show that you are a creative and original thinker. After all, you are pursuing positions which will put you in the driver’s seat for a feature or product. The most important consideration behind these resumes is company fit: more established corporations would rather see a traditional one-pager. On the other hand, certain startups and other forward-looking businesses will actually favor candidates who make an effort and think of original ways to display their resume.
  • Personal website: This is the ultimate combo. Why? For starters, you can combine the previous two types, displaying both your achievements in text and as a self-made piece of design. A website is by itself a very useful job-searching tool. Not just because recruiters can find you, but because it can help you build your profile as a mentor or speaker within the product community. What is more, the way you manage the website can exemplify your digital marketing skills and the type of growth methodologies you could apply in a product position.
  • Alternative approaches: Possibilities are endless. As a Product Manager, you are supposed to be at the pinnacle of the digital economy. Think of apps, songs, videos, games… All of these can provide a window into your professional profile. As with the graphics-based resumes, you need to carefully consider the company’s preferences. Putting a lot of effort into a creative project and later being rejected is not nice at all!

Check out our book, Hired, to learn about specific strategies to get a product job at companies like Google, Amazon, Slack and more.

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