When you’re applying for a product manager role, a standout resume will only get you so far.
“It’s the first part of the conversation,” said Adam Naor, the founder of Work From Home Adviser and a former hiring manager for Indeed. “It’s like a blind date. Once you get there, you either have chemistry or you don’t.”
Still, if you play your hand right, it can get you an interview. Adam Nathan, the cofounder of the document editor Almanac, who reviewed thousands of resumes in previous roles at Lyft, Apple and Varo, said the mark of a good product manager resume is its ability to demonstrate results.
“Ultimately, product managers have to take the company’s vision and strategy, and then build features that produce results around key metrics. So looking for people who can produce results is the most important thing to me,” Nathan said.
There are other competencies worth playing up, of course, including judgment, prioritization, cross-functional collaboration and experience with A/B testing and user research. Paying close attention to the language of the job description is also a must, said Mona Agarwal, a senior product manager at the online money exchange Remitly, who spent several years reviewing resumes as a people manager at Amazon.
“When I was a hiring manager, there was often a specific gap that I was trying to fill, ” she said. “And you can get a sense of what that gap is by reading the job description. So I recommend that anyone applying customize according to that.”
We spoke with product leaders and hiring managers for tips on crafting a product manager resume that will set you apart.
14 Tips for Writing a Product Manager Resume
- Mimic the job description.
- Lead with results.
- Use an executive summary.
- Get the title right.
- Use pattern matching.
- Embed URLs to relevant work.
- Don’t rush screener questions.
- Experience with SQL and Jira is a plus. But don’t get carried away with software skills.
- Emphasize cross-functional collaboration.
- Don’t discount your personal background and interests.
- Stick to one page.
- Write a thoughtful cover letter.
- Use standard formatting and fonts.
- Find an internal advocate.
Mimic the Job Description
The most important part of resume writing is to make sure your resume gets read.
Applicant tracking system screeners, such as Oracle’s Taleo, compare the overlap of keywords in a job description against those in a candidate’s resume. “That’s why it’s really important to tailor your resume to the verbiage in the job description,” said Marie Buharin, founder of the career development site Modernesse.
Screeners are used by companies of all sizes to filter candidates from large applicant pools, and in a competitive job market, they are a common first step in the selection process. Modernesse typically sees 300 resumes for a posting weekly. Of those, about seven to 10 candidates pass through to the hiring manager for interview consideration, and one or two are selected for a phone screener interview.
“Looking for people who can produce results is the most important thing to me.”
These screeners are not as arbitrary as they might seem. Job descriptions are often generated by hiring managers and passed along to HR departments or recruiters who use ATS screeners to identity candidates who possess desired skills.
Mimicking keywords is important, but customizing a resume goes beyond parroting, Agarwal said. It involves strategic editing.
“Say I’m looking to fill a gap for somebody who has the ability to write. I would love to see that a candidate wrote a proposal for their vision,” Agarwal said. “That helps me recognize, ‘Oh, this person would be a great addition to our team.”
Calling out the proposal might mean cutting a bullet point emphasizing data analysis. The same type of customization also works in reverse. In service of the job description, it’s best to kill your darlings.
Lead With Results
Several experts told me the first thing they look for when reviewing resumes is an orientation around results. Often, the last company where an applicant worked, even what they were responsible for there, is less important than the metrics.
“So what not to do is, say, ‘Supervised front-end experience for Uber, from 2013 to 2015,’” Nathan said. “That doesn’t really tell me much about what kind of results you produced. Much better, is: ‘Grew rides 37 percent, through three key features.’”
Having quantifiable data that supports your claims lends credibility to the resume and signals an understanding of the work’s impact on higher-level business objectives, wrote Nicholas Stanford, a product manager at Grammarly. Foregrounding these numbers at the top of each section can catch the eye of a reviewer poring over hundreds of resumes.
“And remember to use percentages in addition to numbers — percentages underscore impact better than absolute numbers, especially if applying to a job at a larger company,” Stanford wrote. “For example, ‘Grew active users by 50 percent’ instead of ‘grew active users by 100,000.’”
Buharin is preferential to applicants who showcase at least one big project, say, the concept design for a product launch, in three or four bullet points.
Agarwal is drawn to candidates who present results as part of a progression of ideas. Can the candidate envision a product concept? Can they execute on that vision in a successful launch? What is the quantitative result? “How many people were impacted? How much did revenue increase? How much cost savings was there?” she asked.
Don’t Waste Space on an Objective Statement. Use an Executive Summary.
Although they are commonly used, top-line objective statements are mostly distractions. “I think that’s a very outdated thing in terms of what you’re trying to convey,” Buharin said.
Instead, she recommends an an executive summary that serves as a snapshot of your relevant experience for the position. For example: “I’ve launched 10 products over the past six years, generated X amount of revenue, ran marketing campaigns that were valued at X number of dollars,” Buharin said.
Get the Title Right
Being explicit in the use of the term “product manager,” or whichever product role you’re applying for, is the best way to ensure fair consideration, Nathan said.
Titles like product manager, product strategist, product designer, product marketer, user researcher or product researcher are often used interchangeably, but they reflect distinct roles and skill sets.
More elevated roles like senior product manager or director of product management are virtually unattainable without prior experience as a product manager. And even product manager roles can be difficult to enter without the title or adjacent experience on your resume.
“If you want to be a product manager,” Nathan said, “the best thing to do is to join a company in an adjacent role, like biz ops, or research, or product marketing — something that kind of sits next to the product team and has direct contact — and then find your way, laterally, into that role in a company.”
Use Pattern Matching
When we spoke, Naor had spent the past week reviewing 78 resumes for an open product manager position at Work From Home Adviser. The candidates whose resumes caught his attention exhibited what he calls pattern matching — showing how past experiences directly apply to a business and its aspirations.
“Work From Home Adviser needs front-end; it needs conversion metrics,” he said. “So on their resumes, they called out skills aligned to the kind of business I’m hiring for.”
“WFHAdviser.com needs front-end; it needs conversion metrics. So on their resumes, candidates called out skills aligned to the kind of business I'm hiring for.”
Pattern matching also saves interviewees time by setting the stage for the conversation likely to transpire during the interview.
“Because I can say, OK, you’ve worked on scaling a new product at company X,” Naor said. “Now, I don’t have to look at the resume anymore. Tell me about that experience. What did you do? What did you learn? What results did you drive? How did you show bias toward action? How did you have backbone and disagree when the data was unclear as to what to do? That’s what I’m really curious about, not ‘Where did you go to school?’”
Embed URLs to Relevant Work
Providing links to relevant projects is another way candidates differentiated themselves, Naor said. Whether their backgrounds were in consumer finance or direct-to-consumer software made little difference to him.
“What I cared about was that they gave me very relevant examples with a URL to say, ‘This was the kind of business where I was a PM.’ Beautiful. ‘Here were the challenges we faced.’ ‘This is how I accelerated the product development lifecycle. I can do that for your company,’” Naor said.
Don’t Rush Screener Questions
As part of the application guidelines, Work From Home Adviser required candidates to answer a screener question providing feedback on a website. Those who didn’t respond, or did so flippantly, didn’t get interviews.
“On the flip side, there were people who wrote really insightful, interesting things,” Naor said. “And it showed an attention to detail. It showed a willingness to dive deep; it showed a bias toward action. Those were incredibly attractive attributes for me to see. And I started with those resumes.”
Experience With SQL and Jira Is a Plus. But Don’t Get Carried Away.
Agarwal said experience with commonly used software tools such as Jira, research methods like usability testing and A/B testing, and coding languages is a plus. Proficiency with the domain-specific programming language SQL is especially attractive, particularly among small startups.
“Strong product managers have to make a lot of tough decisions grounded in data, and a lot of times, that data is not readily available,” Agarwal said. “So you have to pull it yourself or get an analyst to pull it for you. A product manager who can do that, to me, has an advantage.”
While software expertise can give you a leg up, it’s important not to get carried away.
“I don’t like skill sections,” Nathan told me bluntly. “I think those are silly, because I believe that you can train someone to do anything. So when people give four lines to say, ‘I’m proficient in Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, Microsoft PowerPoint, Gmail,’ that’s a turn off. I wouldn’t list general productivity tools.”
Emphasize Cross-Functional Collaboration
Though it can be hard to validate on a resume, showing that you’ve worked with different teams across the company to build momentum for new initiatives is also a good strategy, Nathan said: “‘Reduced user support tickets by 50 percent in collaboration with the customer service team.’ Things like that can be a nice way of showing that you worked cross-functionally to produce results, and that you weren’t an island.”
Don’t Discount Your Personal Background and Interests
With space at premium, your interest in international travel or pottery may seem a bit superfluous, but don’t dismiss the impact of your hobbies and personal interests.
“At the end of the day,” Nathan said, “we’re all human, and I think it’s good to list some interests that are not related to your job or product management. It humanizes the resume a bit and shows that you’re a real person.”
In a selfish way, he added, it also gives the interviewer something to chew on during the interview — an ice breaker that can establish the parameters for a more lighthearted exchange.
“For me, having a diverse perspective is a bonus, as well,” Agarwal said. “So if you’ve lived in another country, if you come from a minority background, just thinking about the world a little bit differently. To me, that’s a bonus.”
Keep It to 1 Page
While working at Indeed, Naor was privy to internal data showing resumes greater than a page received a lower reply rate than those that fit on a single sheet. Brevity is best — particularly for product managers.
“Much of product management is about allocating a company’s finite resources to help it achieve its strategic goals for a product,” Nathan said. “It’s a position that’s all about clarity, results and making tradeoffs. If your resume doesn’t show those qualities, it doesn’t pass the screen for me.”
Write a Thoughtful Cover Letter
Still, candidates need to find ways to acknowledge their understanding of an organization’s product vision by prioritizing parallel or complementary experiences. A cover letter or one-page experience summary can be a good place to discuss resume items that require additional elaboration, Stanford writes.
“Cover letters not only illuminate what the candidate brings to a company and address any intentional gaps in their resume, but also showcase their writing abilities” Stanford wrote. “Having strong writing skills is essential for product managers, and it sends a message to hiring teams that the candidate is detail-oriented and professional.”
Use Standard Formatting and Fonts
Nathan recommends using a standard resume template that includes education at the top, followed by professional experience and interests. Candidates should place greater weight on their most recent positions and the last three years of their careers. Important information — company names, dates of employment and job titles — can be emphasized with spatial cues and bold font.
Name recognition matters: “It’s unfortunate, but certainly, when you’re looking through hundreds of resumes, you look to see names that are familiar,” he said.
“It’s good to list some interests that are not related to your job or product management. It humanizes the resume a bit and shows that you’re a real person.”
In general, Nathan’s advice is to avoid getting too creative. No colors. No photographs. No columns. Times New Roman or Arial. Ten-to-12 point font. Standard spacing and margins.
“The point of the resume is to clearly and concisely communicate your credentials for the job. It’s not to show me that you’re good at formatting on Microsoft Word. Anything that distracts from your accomplishments is bad,” he said.
Find an Internal Advocate
Even if all goes right, a resume submitted cold, without an internal champion to push it forward, has little chance of getting read, Buharin said. She recommends using social sites like LinkedIn to connect with individuals within an organization who can advocate on your behalf.
“Say you submitted a resume to Microsoft in Seattle, the finance group. You want to look for people who are working there, and then you want to email them and just say: ‘Hey, I applied for this job, I’d love to talk to you about your experience with Microsoft and learn more about the company. Do you have 30 minutes to talk?’ — something really simple to connect with someone, because building those connections is going to be the easiest way to actually get your resume looked at.”