This is the fourth of a five part series about breaking into product management:
- Four routes into product management
- Soft skills to accelerate your PM career
- Hard skills to accelerate your PM career
- How to write an awesome PM resume <- this article
- Building a network to break into product management
Whichever route you are planning on taking into product management, it’s likely you’ll need a solid resume to showcase the experience and skills you have to get you a job. Even with an internal transfer, you’ll be switching departments and likely the hiring manager will want to see a resume to build confidence that you’ve got what it takes.
Getting good at writing a resume is also a skill that will continually pay off throughout your career. The CV screen is the first step in any hiring process, and always has the highest drop off rate. >90% of applications will never even get a call back. Of course, polish can’t make up for substance, but you want to get the maximum impact you can for the content you’ve got.
Great resumes get you a phone screen, and that is all. Optimize them for just that step, knowing that most hiring managers will spend seconds, not minutes reviewing each resume they get. This is only natural when they will likely receive hundreds of applications for any product management role.
Check out this fairly typical hiring funnel for PMs:
Note that even when spending a few seconds on each resume, the hiring manager is going to spend hours in total reviewing them. Furthermore, every resume that they advance to the next stage is going to take several hours more of their time scheduling interviews, doing the interview and then collating feedback. That’s all to say, hiring managers have heavy incentives to spend very little time reviewing your resume, and to default to rejecting you.
To be in the small minority that even make it to the phone screen you’ll want to optimize for readability and convey your suitability for the job in as concise a manner as possible:
- Short – Ideally stick to 1 page, and at absolute maximum 2. Don’t dilute the key elements that signal your suitability for the role. Remove things even if it feels painful to the point that everything on the page is a killer reason to take you to the next round.
- Plain language – Use language that anyone could understand, and avoid technical jargon that might not translate across industries or company cultures. Use the active (e.g. The dog chases the ball.) rather than passive (e.g. The ball is being chased by the dog.) voice.
- Specific – Remove adjectives and be specific about the scale you worked at and impact you had, using metrics wherever possible.
- Simple template – Don’t overthink the template – you don’t need anything fancy. Google docs has six templates that are perfectly fine. Vibrant color schemes and innovative layouts will not make you stand out, they will just get in the way of the hiring manager seeing you’re a fit for the role.
- Feedback – Check out Linkedin to get inspiration for how people phrase their experience (e.g. here, here or here), and get some feedback from a mentor or peer if possible.
Your resume should have up to six sections:
- Personal (optional)
- Skills + tools (optional)
The top section of your resume should include your name and contact information at a minimum. Do double check that your contact details are up to date. It’s easy to overlook and nothing destroys credibility like typos in the basics.
You may want to include links to sites like Linkedin, Medium, or a personal website. If it is professionally related and enhances your profile then go for it. People aren’t likely to look at this when screening CVs, but if you make it to later stages then they might go through these to get a better sense of who you are. If you’re writing consistently on a blog then this is a great way to demonstrate reasoned thinking and clear communication. Alternatively, if the content isn’t up to date, leave these links off.
Finally, you can in some circumstances include a 1-2 line summary or personal statement. There’s no point doing this if you’re just restating your experience elsewhere, but if your career looks like it’s taken weird turns without context then you can explain yourself here.
Skilled and experienced Product Manager with experience in product development, product introduction, and the overall management of a product’s life from conception to fruition. Bringing forth the ability to determine product specifications, production timelines, and in-depth plans for product development. An analytical thinker who works collaboratively to get the job done.
-> this takes up a lot of space, is vague, and redundant with information in experience section
As Marketing Director, I’ve been working closely with product teams on an integrated growth strategy. I’m now looking to specialize in product-led growth by moving into product full time.
-> short, punchy, and takes what looks like an unrelated skillset (marketing) and makes it a superpower (expert on PLG)
This is the meat of any resume, and should form the bulk of the content. It’s also the place where most mistakes are made, as it’s easy to print walls of text that people won’t read, and won’t convince anyone you’re worth taking further in the process. For each position you’ve had you’ll want to include:
- The company you worked at
- What your title was
- The dates you held that position
- Where you were based
Underneath the basics of the position, you’ll want to include up to 1-4 bullets on what you did there. It’s far better to have a few well crafted points that really stand out than to have an exhaustive list of everything you’ve done, drowning out the good stuff. The longer ago your role was, the less you need to put as details – you’ve probably done much more impressive and relevant stuff since then, and can save the space.
Make the most of each point by following this format where possible:
This helps frame what you’ve done in a way where the impact is highlighted, and positions you as a leader that delivers outcomes, rather than a cog in the machine that delivers outputs.
Avoid action words that imply you added little value like: “gathered” / “managed” / “translated” / “facilitated” / “transitioned” / “moved” / “enabled”. Instead use power words like “led” / “built” / “shipped” / “optimized” / “drove” / “executed”. If you speak like someone who executes like a badass, then that is how you will be perceived.
Liaised with an engineering team of 5 to deliver features
-> weak action word, omits impact delivered, very vague
Delivered new signup flow increasing completion by +10pp
Participated in the launch of a new company project aimed at growing our revenues and improving the customer experience we could offer. Created the project plans we needed, Coordinated requirements and designs within the engineering team and made sure that the marketing team were aware of our plans as we went live.
-> far too long, weak action words, not focused on impact, impact not quantified
Led strategy, delivery and launch of the travel platform buzzfly.com growing GMV from zero to 33% of company total in six months
Documented initiatives and performed analysis on the results to assist my supervisor
-> very vague, focused around supervisor rather than impact
Designed multiple initiatives to seller ads product, increasing conversion rate from 2.8% to 11.3%
If you can’t point to clear impact for any reason (e.g. confidentiality) then make your bullets as crisp and action-oriented:
- Add numbers wherever possible to appear more quantitative and data-driven
- Steer clear of bullets that suggest you were mainly concerned about delivery or process rather than impact.
Facilitated product pipeline/lifecycle, created new product features and managed team, ensuring proper implementation
-> no numbers, weak action words
Led x-functional team of 6, owning strategy and delivery, and shipped 30+ improvements to users in 4 months.
Gathered stakeholder requirements for new analytics setup, and created dashboards connecting various company data streams.
-> no numbers, weak action words
Defined and built 4x dashboards reporting KPIs across customer journey in real time.
Leading the educator group focused on ROI for partners. Currently engaged with a team of 40+ consultants to build the foundations for the new product, enabling our strategy of massively scaling our content in key subject verticals to grow our marketplace with learners
-> very wordy
Leading 40+ consultants to rebuild educator product and massively scale content creation capability
This section can be kept brief. You only need to cover undergraduate studies and beyond. Make sure you cover the basics:
- The subject you studied
- The university you studied at
- The grade you got
You should also mention anything that contributes to the sense you have a track record of achievement, such as:
- Winning an academic prize
- Coming top in your year / class
- Leading a university sport or club
KING’S COLLEGE LONDON, 2007 – 2011
1st Class with Honors: BSc Computer Science with Management and a Year in Industry.
When you’re breaking into product management, it’s likely that you’ll have difficulty demonstrating all the hard and soft skills that PMs need on a regular basis from your day job alone. This is where projects come in. You should do projects and put them on your resume to round out any gaps in your skillset that aren’t obvious from your section on professional experience.
Usually this means building something, putting it live, and responding to user feedback. Going through this process is the product management process. You can get no better practice for what product managers do. This will allow you to see whether you really enjoy the work, as well as build a portfolio of work that you can use to show people you’re ready for a PM role.
Build a product
The most rounded project you can do is to build your own digital product and put it live for users. Ideally you would:
- Define the problem – speak to some potential users to understand a need they have
- Build a solution – build a digital product to solve this need
- Go to market – put it live and drive some traffic to your product
- Iterate – get some feedback and iterate on the product accordingly
This doesn’t mean you need to learn how to code, or hire a developer. There are some fantastic resources to build digital products on with minimal technical knowledge:
- Bubble.io is probably the most mature no code platform, and will allow you to build just about any website you can imagine.
- WordPress is great for content heavy sites (we use it for Hustle Badger!)
“You could build something that your mom and two of her friends or your roommates get value out of. Your goal is to show that you know how to identify customer problems, meet those problems, and do it iteratively. “– Teresa Torres
If you’re looking to develop a particular skill, or don’t have the time to build a full website, a more targeted project might be better:
- Commercial acumen – become a seller on eBay or Shopify, or create a course on Udemy
- Product sense – publish teardowns of product you use (check out Growth.Design or UserOnboard for great examples)
- Quantitative analysis – find an interesting data set on Kaggle, run some analysis and share it with people in the industry
- Qualitative analysis – find an industry or problem you’d like to learn more about, do some deep user interviews, then synthesize and publish the results
Whilst it’s nice to give hirers a sense of who you are as a person, they aren’t going to make decisions about whether or not to give you an interview with the information here, so keep this to a minimum if you include it at all. In general, only include things that demonstrate you are:
- A high achiever
- Deeply knowledgeable about their sector
- Speak several languages
Personal interests: I enjoy cooking, digital photography, music and running.
-> this is vague, and could relate to anyone; does not demonstrate achievement, resilience, etc.
Personal interests: Run food-based Instagram account with 4k followers (@thedelectablegarden); Organize 5 person a cappella group; Ran Leadville 100 mile ultramarathon (2017)
Skills and tools (optional)
Adding a list of skills you can do or tools you can use isn’t that useful for product managers. Mentioning skills doesn’t tell the hirer how good you are at them, and there are few tools that are specialist enough to require specific training. In each case this doesn’t help the hirer decide whether or not to take you to the next round of interviews. It’s probably better to leave out.
Your resume is a critical tool in getting you a job as a product manager. As hiring managers will likely only spend seconds reviewing it, tailor it to get you into the phone screen. You can do this by highlighting the skills, experience and aptitude that product managers need to have to be successful.
Next in this series: Building a network to break into product management
- Product Manager Resume Guide by an ex- Facebook PM by Will Lawrence
- How Do You Get Your First Product Job Without Experience? by Teresa Torres
- Write like an Amazonian by Herbert Yang
- Resume and Cover Letter Advice by Harvard University
- Resume and Cover Letter Advice by Stanford University