I’ve worked on both sides of the job search table, as an 11-year-veteran recruiter for product marketers for tech companies, and now as a job search strategist for product marketers seeking their next jobs in tech.
I’ve helped hire people at such notable companies as Snapchat and Zapier as an internal recruiter and at Zillow and MoPub as an agency recruiter.
I’ve run interview debriefs with marketing leaders for hundreds of roles and analyzed the feedback from thousands of interviews to pinpoint where marketers struggle most and how they can perform better in the interview process.
In this article, I’ll explore how to best approach your PMM job search with a product marketing mindset, including:
- Positioning yourself as a product
- Defining your target market to focus on the right companies
- Establishing your product-market fit
- Refining your product positioning for a focused job search
- Meeting your personas’ needs
- Consider the customer journey of your interviewers
There’s a common pattern I’ve seen over the past decade - y’all don’t know how to market yourselves!
It’s a mind-boggling phenomenon, but it’s true.
The most talented, experienced folks from Google, Dropbox, high-growth startups, and every great brand in between, ironically struggle to show off their unique value in their own product marketing job searches.
To be fair, this pitfall is 100% not your fault. You only search for a job every few years, at most. So the process feels overwhelming and new every time. It’s tough to think strategically when you’re coming into the process feeling like a newbie.
It’s also impossible to have an objective view of your 'product' - yourself - because you can’t see it from the outside. It would be like my MacBook running its own product launch.
If you’re experiencing this in your own job search, I promise, it’s not just you. I see it over and over again.
Here's how you can use your own product marketing skillset to inject more of your own expertise into your job search strategy:
Position yourself as a product
To start simply, think of yourself as the product. Companies need you, the Product Marketing Manager (PMM), to meet their need: perform the job to launch, grow, or maintain the product’s marketing strategy.
There are lots of different companies building different products at different stages of the product lifecycle. The more closely you can align your experience with a subset of roles that exist in the market today, the higher your interview hit rate will be, and ultimately, the more successful your job search will be.
A simple way to define your product is to start with this statement: “I am a [TITLE] who helps [TYPE OF COMPANY] solve [PROBLEM TO SOLVE].”
For example, for me, this would look something like this:
"I’m a Job Search Strategist who helps job-hunters improve their resumes and interviewing techniques."
Define your target market to focus on the right companies
Begin with a rough picture of your target market. You’ll refine this as you develop your product positioning, but having a general target market is a good place to start.
Your target market is a group of companies who will easily recognize your value because you’ve seen their story before. Hiring teams love to lean on experience. You know how their problems play out, where the pitfalls are, and how to capture success. You’ll position that experience to give them confidence that you are the solution to their problem.
Pull out your favorite note-taking app. It’s time to make a list!
List out all the potential employers who will directly benefit from your product. Here are a few ideas of the types of companies that could most benefit from your unique value proposition:
- Similar or adjacent industry
- Similar size/stage growth
- Similar product goals
- Similar team structure
These are just a few suggestions. Do not let them limit your possibilities. There’s room for creativity.
Think of your target market like a dartboard. In the very center are the companies you’re an exact match for. Companies like your current employer’s competitors and companies working on very similar products to what you’ve recently done will be your bullseyes. Everything else will be closer or further away from the direct target.
A quick note on career pivots:
Just like software companies pivot to better align with long-term goals, your job search may be driven by your own pivot. If you’re looking for an entirely new experience in your next role, this framework still works.
However, your value proposition may not be as obvious as the list above. Transferable skills, parallel problem statements, common toolsets, and familiarity with company structure or culture are also great ways to define your target market.
Insider info > Find out how Jennifer Bunting got her job as Head of Product Marketing for EMEA & LATAM at LinkedIn. 👇
Establish your product-market fit
Next, think about your unique feature set and how you can be the must-have solution to your customer’s problem. Just like you do this for software buyers, you’ll apply the same approach to the companies you want to work for.
It’s time for another list! We’ll think about your features from a few different angles:
Think about the activities that feel easy to you, and the ones that you enjoy spending more of your team on. (For example, I am the rare recruiter who loves writing. I’m a great fit for a team with a heavy focus on employer branding because they can lean on me to do a lot of the writing necessary for employer branding projects).
Projects you owned
What projects have you tackled? Who were your collaborators? What role did you play? What were the results? (In the product marketing resources library of You, what are your “case studies”?)
Things people go to you for instead of anyone else
What questions are you always fielding from the team? What are the fires that only you get called in to put out? When are you most often pulled in for planning or directional input?
These are your unique product features. Map them to the target market you defined above. Are there features that are more relevant to some of your targets than others? Does one feature stand out above the rest to meet the needs of everyone on your target list?
Once you can define your 3-5 core features that meet the needs of your target market, you’ve found your product-market fit. You’ll have a handful of secondary features that fit your larger market, and you’ll define your product messaging for them as needed.
Refine your product positioning for a focused job search
Now let’s get super clear on what you have to offer your target market.
Only you have your unique set of features! That means you won’t be the ideal candidate for every PMM role you come across. But you’re somebody’s perfect candidate. Having clear product positioning will show your target company how you can help them accomplish their own goals.
In your job today, I bet you do research on your users’ pain points. Similarly, in job searching, your target market’s job descriptions, Glassdoor reviews, company press, and informational interviews are a treasure trove of data for you to sift through.
Research the companies on your target market list. For those who have job descriptions, analyze them for their prioritized needs. They’re usually represented in the summary of the role, “things you’ll do” section, and in the requirements. The more often a skill or experience requirement shows up, and the higher in the job description, the more important it is to them.
You should also leverage other current job descriptions from the company. 50 listings for account execs and none on the growth team? There’s probably a lot of sales enablement work to do. Hiring a whole new engineering department? They may have a whole new product line on the horizon. Look for clues that your unique feature set can help them solve additional problems they have.
Once you’ve gathered your information and honed in on the needs of your target companies, you’ll go back to your feature set. Think about the features that have the strongest crossover between your unique feature set and your target company’s needs.
Use their language — from the job description, their website, and other content — to point them to your matching experience on your resume and in your interviews.
When it comes to testing your positioning, there are a few routes. You can work with someone like me on resume review or interview practice. You can ask (relevant) friends and colleagues. Or you can schedule informational interviews with people who work at your target companies.
Side note on informational interviews:
Informational interviews are a way to find more information about a career path or work environment. Informational interviews are awesome because an insider can share valuable information, and the person you speak with will frequently help get you in touch with the right people. Just don’t be pushy during this process. Not everyone is open to this type of connection.
When you solicit feedback, don’t just hit up your neighbor or your best friend. Be selective and collect at least two viewpoints:
- Someone who operates in a similar, adjacent space who doesn’t know what you do.
- Someone who knows exactly what you do.
This will help you get feedback to address the needs of the multiple personas you’ll encounter in your interview process.
Hone in on how you can meet your personas’ needs
There are generally a handful of people involved in any hiring decision:
- The hiring manager
- The recruiter
- An interview team of 2-8 depending on the size of the company and scope of the role
The team will be aligned (to a greater or lesser extent) on the general profile and key attributes for the role. If it’s a fairly mature company, they should have a standardized scorecard for everyone to evaluate you against the same set of criteria. You’re also being evaluated against other candidates in the same way.
That said, every member of the interview team has different needs and a different view of how your position fits into their own workflow.
So how do you meet the needs of each individual interviewer on your interview team?
The short answer is — you don’t. Just like how the products you market aren’t for everyone, you as a candidate can’t meet everyone’s needs. But you can strengthen your position by catering your interview prep to each individual interviewer.
The first challenge in this task is the limited data you’re given. Most companies will share your interviewers’ names and positions, and maybe a LinkedIn profile if you’re lucky.
The second challenge is the sheer volume of interview prep you would need to do to make this happen. If you’re interviewing at more than two companies, the hours of prep for each one adds up very quickly.
So this is where your personas come into play.
I’m not talking about personas from a buyer’s perspective. We don’t care about what car they drive or what’s on their summer reading list. (Well, we do, because they’re humans. If it comes up in conversation, please act interested.) We’re going to focus on their needs.
What we want to define is:
How can you meet their needs as a good working partner?
Here are a few of the common interviewer profiles on a PMM interview team:
- Department exec
- Product counterpart
- Sales or account management counterpart
- Data representative
- PMM peer
As you interview, you may encounter other personas. Just add them to the list and differentiate as needed.
Exec interviewers want a clear understanding of your scope and influence. A director will be less interested in the minute details on how you executed a project and more interested in the cross-functional impact the project had. A manager, however, will definitely want to hear those details!
Your product counterpart will want to hear successful partnership stories. If your interviewer is a product manager who owns the new product you’ll help launch, what stories can you share about successful collaboration with past PMs in the launch phase? What strategies have you employed to help past PMs solve their own problems?
The key to persona development as a PMM job seeker is honing in on the different roles interviewers play in the interview process and the different relationships they have with the PMM function. Then, present your experience in a way that would be most useful to them.
Consider the customer journey of your interviewers
This is the part savvy job seekers are most familiar with when they think of running a job search — the outreach, the follow-up, the thank-you notes. But it bears reminding that every touchpoint in your candidate process is an opportunity to build rapport with your product’s customer: the hiring team.
Always keep your customer’s needs in mind at every touchpoint. How can you provide them value during the process?
I heard a story recently of a security engineer who’d found a significant vulnerability in a company’s infrastructure as he was preparing for his interview. He was nervous about sharing it but decided it was best for the business. He showed them at the end of the interview, and they were mortified. They offered him the job hours later.
Typos on the website or a broken link may be a little nitpicky, but do share feedback on messaging for a market segment you know intimately or share a case study you created that’s relevant to their current project. Provide simple solutions to their current problems and you will be an easy hire decision for them.
If you remember nothing else:
- Reframe your job search as a product launch and apply your PMM skillset to gain confidence in your job search.
- Define your unique feature set and how you can use it to solve your target market’s problems.
- Leverage buyer personas for easier interview prep.
- Always be thinking about how you can add value for your interviewers throughout the interview process.