The Secret to Getting a Job in Product Management: Side Projects

If you want to work in the fast-paced, highly competitive tech world, you need to have a competitive edge. This is especially true if you’re looking to get a job in Product Management.

Getting a great Product Management job means bringing more to the interview room than just a college degree. While education is critical, experience is what can set you apart from other candidates. Sometimes the reality is that you have the skills and the knowledge, but nothing to demonstrate them.

That’s where a side project comes in…

Why start a side project?

Side projects show recruiters and interviewers that you have your own ideas and an entrepreneurial spirit. It takes guts and grit to forge your own path, and this is what will make your resume shine.

Depending on which route you go down, they can also be a great way to show off your knowledge, technical abilities, and design skills.

They’re also a useful tool for someone looking to transition from one discipline to another. If you have extensive experience as a software engineer, but have no managerial experience, building an app and stepping into a management role will give you that experience.

Not only will having a side project make you stand out in comparison – but it will give you a lot of references and conversation points during the interview.

For example, if you get the popular question, “how would you prioritize multiple features?” you will be able to use your own experience as a reference and answer it more clearly and confidently.

You might also be interested in: The Ultimate List of Product Management Interview Questions

How to kickstart a Product Manager side project

You don’t need to build a startup, it can be a small side project that’s as simple as starting a blog all the way to the complexity of building an app. There’s no rule which says one is more valid than the other.

The main goal of having a side project is to show that you can:

  • Take action
  • Put together a plan
  • Finish what you start

By making a plan, you’ll be flexing your Product Manager skills before you even start the actual work. Make sure to take stock of what resources and time are available to you. Start out small with plans to scale, just as real products do. If you’re building something big, do all the work a Product Manager would do, like customer research, roadmap building,

You should also make sure you have a solid vision and a strong ‘Why’. When someone asks you ‘hey, why did you do that really cool thing?’, you’ll want a more interesting answer than just ‘for the experience.’

This is something you may be doing alongside studies, or a full time job. By making it something you’re passionate about, you’ll be more motivated to make time for it.

Speaking of time, time management is another highly-valued Product Management skill. Make sure you prioritize your time like a champ and block off a few hours a week to work on your project.

You might also be interested in: Why Human Skills are Increasing in Value

Some side-project ideas:

Publish your own blog

A blog is one of the easiest (even though it’s definitely not easy!) ways to show off your skills.

Grey Laptop Keypad

The topics you write about can be a great window into your interests for prospective employers. You don’t have to exclusively write about Product Management, so get creative with your subjects. It’s smart to target the industry you want to work in. So if you want to work in the gaming industry for example, you could write video game reviews or deep dive into what you think the implications of VR are on the future of gaming.

You can either run your blog on something easy and user-friendly like Medium, or you can go the extra mile and build your own WordPress site. This will show off your tech skills and your eye for design.

You might also be interested in: How Innovation in Other Industries Drives Innovation in Product Management

Build something!

If you want to prove you can build products, you have to start by building products

Create a product. Come up with a problem you want to solve, decide on the Minimum Viable Product (MVP), then interview potential users, write user stories and build mock-ups. All this will go into a product roadmap. Give a developer some experience with you and work with them to build the product – then you’re already being a product manager.

A tangible product will increase your interview game, but even simply having gone through the process with documents to prove it, put you ahead of the rest.

Join a hackathon

Code Projected Over Woman

Hackathons, also called hackfests or sometimes codefests, are events for software developers to come up with a demonstrable MVP in a short time based on a particular theme or addressing a certain problem.

Hackathons can actually be great ways to add to your PM portfolio and get some experience with building Products. They’re great ways for tech people to flex their management skills, and for Product Managers to build their tech skills. It could also be the jumping off point for your very own, fully launched product!

Check out our guide on Everything Product Managers Need to Know about Hackathons.

Resources to get you started

If you’re going it alone, you can find plenty of support in the form of online communities. Indie Hackers is a great online repository of resources, as well as a networking platform to help you find your future business partner.

You’ll also find invaluable help, advice, and support in our Slack community, along with 50,000 other Product Managers.

Like diving into a good, useful book? Ship It V2 is full of advice and stories from real Silicon Valley Product leaders, from Google, Amazon, Netflix, and many more.

We love a TED talk here, and entrepreneur Dave Jarman gave a great presentation on Why You Should Start a Side Project:

If you happen to like YouTube videos, we put all of our talks from expert speakers up on our channel!

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