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Looking for a PM Job During the Covid-19 Pandemics

Managing Expectations
Product
Hiring

12 October, 2020

Prabha Matta

Prabha Matta

Senior Product Manager at Square Trade

Prabha Matta, Senior Product Manager at SquareTrade, talks about her personal experience of looking for a PM job during the Covid-19 pandemics and how the changed circumstances affected her job search and interviewing process.

Problem

Many people find it difficult to even think about changing jobs during these turbulent times. The Covid-19 pandemics caused massive layoffs and hiring freezes that resulted in high supply and low demand. In such a situation, anyone with a stable job will most likely come to the conclusion that this is not the right time for changing their job. However, though I was with a stable company I felt stagnant for a while and have been thinking of changing my job since January this year. However, with new projects and new deadlines always popping up I kept postponing it for months. Then, Covid-19 hit.

Actions taken

The first thing I did was to see if some other teams within my company would need the help of a product manager. While many companies were on a hiring freeze, internal transfers to other teams could happen more easily. However, my previous company was a small, real estate startup, immediately affected by the economic crises caused by Covid-19 and most projects were on hold. In these circumstances, looking for a new role/team within the same company apparently was not an option and it made more sense to search outside.

I realized that searching externally would place me in a very competitive market with news of layoffs and pay cuts happening across industries. But I decided to come up with my own game plan.

I updated my resume and my LinkedIn profile, to start with. I stayed with my previous company for three years doing multiple projects with multiple teams. I divided my resume into two parts to make it more comprehensible to those skimming through it. Considering that reaching the interview stage itself is fairly difficult in these circumstances, I wanted to make my resume neat and conspicuous as possible but also detailed enough in describing what I was doing at my previous jobs. Not only that the industry experience is relevant but the specific projects and tasks someone was working on are crucial. For example, someone could have some data experience in the insurance industry or could have worked on some accounting projects in the real estate industry and those specific projects could draw the attention of a prospective employer. This is what actually happened to me. I worked at Twitter, then at Slack and finally at HouseCanary -- all different industries, not related to each other and while the knowledge set was cross-applicable, the business logic was not. But, I was not constraining myself to real estate and have listed specific projects and tasks in my resume. I didn’t include all those details in my LinkedIn profile, because whoever wanted to reach out to me for more details, could do so.

I would apply to jobs directly through companies’ websites or through third-party recruiters who would reach out to me. Most of the recruiters would reach out on behalf of small startups or less often mid-size companies while big brand companies would advertise their open positions on their websites. Having a work-life balance highly ranked on my priority list I decided purposely to look for a mid-size company.

Then, I looked at the role itself. A product manager could be a product owner, business owner or business analyst, even a project manager. If you want more interviews and more opportunities being flexible in how you see your role is helpful. I was more flexible and was getting interviews both directly from the companies and through recruiters. However, due to Covid-19, some interviews were canceled last-minute or I would be notified weeks later that the hiring is frozen. Interviews were conducted via phone or Zoom and had multiple stages equivalent to those in-person. Some, more cautious, companies would break down an onsite to multiple stages with only two people present at the location at the same time, which would make the interviewing process a bit longer.

During the ‘normal’ times the application-interview ratio was around 7-10 applications per interview, but during Covid-19, that ratio has dramatically changed. Eventually, I ended up with two choices -- a mid-size company I directly applied to and a startup I was reached out through recruiters. I have chosen the mid-size one because I will have more work-life balance, won’t have to worry about the processes and will be able to help them as the company is new to products.

Lessons learned

  • Don’t be afraid to look for a new job. There are jobs out there! Apply for more than what you would apply normally because the supply is high these days. In addition, go to the first three or four interviews just to practice interviewing and answering questions. In the beginning, don’t apply for your dream companies, but apply merely to practice. Then, apply for the real match.
  • Be well prepared for interviews:

In product management, and especially in situation-based interviews, there are two types of common questions: what would you do if something like xyz would happen and did it ever happen to you and what did you do. To connect with an interviewer, answer those questions both ways: This is what I would have done, but in the situation in which I have been it didn’t work… but these are the lessons I learned.
With product-based questions as what would you do to implement some product/feature or what metrics would you be looking at, you will have to answer all the pieces of the question, even if those were not explicitly mentioned (for example, how would you deal with external or internal stakeholders in the situation above).

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