What it takes to be a product manager in the San Francisco Bay Area

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In the ultra-competitive San Francisco Bay Area tech world, product management professionals look for any little advantage to land coveted roles.

I vet and coach product managers regularly, and I’ve noticed some characteristics and interview tactics that help secure the best roles. Here's what it takes to make it as a product manager in the Bay Area.


Have opinions

A product manager needs to be opinionated. His opinions don’t necessarily need to be right or wrong; it’s the having an opinion that matters. What should Microsoft do with Nokia? What should Jeff Bezos do with The Washington Post? Product managers are responsible for having a vision. An employer wants to know that a potential PM can think for herself. Of course, convincing opinions must be supported by research and analysis, which are my next two points.

Apply analytical skills

Product managers are sharp analytical thinkers. They focus on the future and the trajectory of a product’s evolution. It’s no surprise that leaders like Kevin Systrom, co-founder of Instagram; Marissa Meyer, CEO of Yahoo; and Blake Irving, Go Daddy’s new CEO all got their start in product management. Product managers have entrepreneurial minds and are capable of envisioning products, ideas and even entire markets before they exist.

Conduct thorough research

Just as your interviewer is going to Google you, you should Google your interviewer and know his background. A lot of PM leaders come from an engineering background, in which case, be prepared to know your stuff when it comes to talking code. On the other hand, if your interviewer is from a design or UX (user interface) background, your interview will likely be more conceptual.

Know the product

If you're interviewing for a role with a big tech company (like eBay or Google) expect to meet with other product managers whose entire jobs revolve around one product, or perhaps one feature of one product. PMs at bigger companies can be very specialized, with responsibilities focused on areas like analytics, payment technology, merchandising or search functionality. Start-ups, on the other hand, tend to hire PM generalists who have a broader range of experience and an ability to consider a product’s placement within a vast marketplace.

Know the market

Beyond the specific company you’re interviewing with, know the greater industry that company resides in. Product managers don’t just control the release of a product; they must also plan strategically, notice holes in the market, and be able to envision where a new or better product could fill a need - perhaps a need that consumers don’t even know they have. Knowing the market means knowing the competition, right down to the smallest detail. Thorough preparation for an interview might require owning the competition’s device or downloading their apps so you are familiar with the nuances of those products.

Go mobile

Consumer mobile products are hot commodities, so experience and enthusiasm for apps and devices is key to landing a great PM role with a top start-up. There’s also high demand for heavy duty analytical PMs with a deep understanding of big data and business intelligence in the enterprise software market. Product managers who are confident with SQL, Hadoop and other big data software have a considerable advantage.

Product management is an upwardly mobile role for the sharpest minds in the tech industry. Robert Walters recognized the need for a Bay Area recruitment firm to specialize in placing the brightest tech minds in the PM roles that suit them. With the placement of more than 30 candidates in product in a little over a year, it’s clear that there is strong need for our services. Building on our breadth of local and international experience in highly specialized recruitment, we have more job ideas for candidates than anyone else in the product management space.

Read our other career advice articles.

For more information on how Robert Walters San Francisco can assist you with your job search, please get in touch with a consultant.

E:  sanfrancisco@robertwalters.co  |  T: 415 549 2000

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