I want to share the resume I used when applying for the Yahoo APM program, where I spent the first two years of my career before joining ChartHop. This is by no means intended as a guide or a plan; everyone has a different path to becoming a product manager, which is what makes the role so diverse and interesting. Instead, I want to explain my background and how I positioned myself to “break in” to product management.
I’ve highlighted four components of my resume that I’ll discuss as if I were reviewing my resume as a candidate for an APM program, something I’ve done for hundreds of applicants while at Yahoo.
1 — Software Engineer
- It’s clear that David’s original intention was software engineering, and the overall content of his resume (courses, skills, industry internships) appears to validate his engineering credentials.
- His internships at large tech companies likely give him experience with agile methodologies, generality familiarity around product managers, and an ability to understand and emphasize with engineers.
This is true, my school trajectory had been geared towards software engineering until senior year, and my resume reflects that. A computer science background is obviously quite compatible with becoming a tech product manager, but it’s not necessary. In many cases, expertise in any STEM-style field shows the aptitude needed to eventually understand software engineering enough to work well with engineers and more broadly speaking. Even without such a background, the technical nature of the job is only one portion, and I’ve seen many successful applicants with backgrounds far unrelated to any type of engineering.
2 — Zero to One
- He built an actual product by himself, and got actual users onto it
- The TAM (total addressable market) context is useful to gauge his success
- However, the product is technically simple, and not particularly original.
Building Servery Texts (“servery” is what Rice called cafeterias) was by far the biggest “product” credential on my resume, because it involved taking a product from zero (nothing) to one (launched, with users). Almost everyone can generate an idea, but few can actually build it out, and even fewer can market it enough to get others to use it. This is not to say it takes someone special — it’s more a function of putting in the time, and adjusting a couple inputs of the project:
- Activation energy
“Side project” tends to connote Zuck in his dorm room creating thefacebook.com, The Social Network style. But in my case, the ambition for my product (scrape cafeteria menus online, send them over SMS) was very very low — it wasn’t even an app! However, the usefulness came from the fact that the university’s website was annoying to use, and the activation energy — sending a text to a phone number I plastered around the cafeterias — was correspondingly low. As a result, I was able to acquire users.
This was not the world’s most clever idea, or even meaningfully improved the quality of life for your average undergrad. But it showed the ability to optimize and make tradeoffs to grow the userbase, and to do what needed to be done to get a product off the ground. And in the end, that’s the job description of a product manager.
3 — Hackathons (zero-to-.5)
- Attended a reasonable number of hackathons, showing extracurricular interest
- No listed continuations of projects, nor awards or recognitions
Hackathons (and other similar data-thons, product-thons, design-thons, etc.) are the lite version of taking something zero-to-one. They tend to take a project all the way up until you have to get users. Ideas dominate in the hackathon scene (Servery Texts wouldn’t have made it past first round of judging), and they’re a great place to practice building something from the ground up. However without follow-through, hackathon projects will just remain projects and never grow into full products.
4 — Extracurriculars
- Minor leadership roles show ability to organize and communicate, but lacks substantial leadership credentials
- Teaching assistant re-emphasizes communication skills and technical ability
- Tech-related extracurriculars (webmaster, IT help desk) are not particularly ambitious, but support his natural interest in tech
Well-rounded candidates tend to have some activities outside of schoolwork and internships. The domain of these doesn’t matter so much as the depth of them. In my case, they were all superficial roles: not too hard to attain, and not stretching myself beyond skills I already had.
What Would I Have Changed?
- Obviously a product management internship would’ve been the best proof that I would be a fit for the role. But I hope my resume serves as proof that you don’t need a formal product management internship to either 1) gain product experience or 2) land an APM role.
- Spent less time on hackathons and school organized activities, and more time trying to start my own initiatives. The strongest credential for product management abilities is have built an actual product yourself. It’s the best way to expose yourself to every part of the product cycle, and your failures there will teach you more than successes in other place which have already been established and only require you to maintain a status quo.
- On my resume, I would have liked to trade the hackathons I attended and my webmaster duties and used the time to take another shot at something like Servery Texts.
- Interested in learning about how to maximize your time as an undergraduate for becoming a product manager? Read my article on “majoring” in product management.
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