There has been a steady increase in the number of product management aspirants. The interest levels in building a product is at an all-time high and this journey of a product manager starts with a resume. I am also observing a trend where good candidates are not getting a chance for their first interview because their resume was not shortlisted. This is a loss for the candidate as well as the organization trying to hire. Interestingly, when I was reviewing some of these resumes, I found a common pattern of mistakes that I thought of sharing widely so others can learn as well.
What is a resume?
Imagine if “you” are a product, then the resume is the elevator pitch of the product. It needs to impress the reader in the first 20 seconds. Investors do not invest in your product based on your elevator pitch, but they may give you a 30 minute slot on their calendar for a detailed discussion if your pitch is interesting. Similarly resumes do not hire you. Resumes give you the opportunity for the next meeting i.e. your first interview.
The ugly truth about resumes
I always felt that I was an ideal candidate for the product management position and that my experience is the best that mankind had ever seen, however the naked truth about my experience is that it is as good as I portray in my resume. I made some mistakes while preparing my resume, but I feel sorry when I see other folks make the same mistakes.
So, I want to share 10 common mistakes I observe in few resumes:
1. Keep it short
I used to feel proud of my rich experience and thought that five to six pages would not do justice to my illustrious career. Clearly, I was not thinking from the perspective of the person shortlisting my resume who may be getting 50–60 resumes at once. At most someone would spend 45-60 seconds skimming through a resume.
When writing your resume, think about your audience first. Keep your resume short, preferably a one or max two pager, so that the HR can skim it easily. Writing a one pager resume is way more difficult than writing a six-pager resume. Just like building the right MVP (Minimum Viable Product) is more difficult than making your product a feature factory. So, it may require several iterations, reviews, and hardwork but you might as well sweat it out now than regret later.
2. Write about value delivered not tasks completed
What would you prefer reading?
“Built 2 features for Azure and worked with engineering team, designers, and testers following Agile methodology”
“Shipped wiki in Azure DevOps resulting in a 20% growth in customer engagement.”
While both sound like work done, the first statement talks about responsibilities while the second statement focuses on measurable outcomes.
Managing scrums, conducting retros, managing stakeholders, talking to customers, UX team, researchers, developers, and partners are all important for the success of a product but these do not show the value you brought to the organization. When you write your resume, ask yourself this question:
“What value did this task bring to me, my team, my organization, or my society”
If this question is not answered, then consider something amiss and try re-wording.
What do you infer when you read?
“Implemented ADP 2.0 while heading a team of 30 CAT members resulting in an annual AGR of 23%”
Yeah.. I know how it feels. Unless the jargons are very well understood in the industry and are common talk over coffee, avoid using them. Remember, you may think MAU, DAU, and MEU are terms that are often used in your business but the person reviewing your resume may not be from the same background. So, as much as you love them, you will have to part ways with your jargons.
4. Summary of a summary?
If you are writing a one pager resume, then a 6-line summary is on overkill. Rather I would suggest not having a summary section for a one pager resume. Your one pager resume itself is a summary of your professional career so try to take it easy on verbosity.
There are a bunch of faux pas when it comes to styling.
- Bullets: Use bullets. Bullets are more readable that paragraphs. Though I think most resumes have bullets, it is still worth a mention.
- Bold: You may want to bold the impact you have made rather than random words, since a reader may prefer to skim what you bold. E.g. When I skim through this sentence: “Shipped wiki in Azure DevOps leading to a 20% growth in customer engagement”, I understand that you did something that led to a 20% growth in customer acquisition. Now you caught my attention and I want to read more. Rather than when I skim through this: “Shipped wiki in Azure DevOps leading to a 20% growth in customer engagement”, it tells me about a product feature that I don’t know therefore I may choose to ignore it.
- Linespacing: Have default line spacing that Microsoft Word recommends and try not to alter it. I have seen resumes with a lot of white spaces that gives an illusion of wastage of space or ones with too little white spaces that makes the resume struggling to find breathing space.
- Colors: Limit the use of color. If you are a PM with exceptional design skills and you believe that you can showcase your UX skills subtly through your resume design, then you can go a little liberal on design and colors but remember this could be a slippery slope. Again, think on behalf of the person reviewing your resume. Do not use colors to highlight anything in the resume. Your reviewer may be color blind.
- Graphs and Charts: Unless the graphs and charts convey a message that cannot be conveyed otherwise, avoid using graphs and charts to show simple paradigms like skill set, years of experience. I remember once seeing a timeline graph showing the key dates when the candidate joined various companies. It was innovative, but it did not add much value to the resume and ate up a lot of real estate on the resume.
6. Related work outside of “work”
There is a possibility that you may have done relevant projects, open source contributions, hackathons, moonlighting projects, blogs etc. outside of your regular professional life. Such contributions deserve a mention in your resume if you believe these are relevant to the job offering. E.g. If you have been contributing or maintaining a GitHub repository that adds to your skillset then mention that in a separate section. However, if you run the gardener’s meet up group and you believe this will not help to add value to your profile then use discretion while using it.
The key here is to show relevant content that can help balance your resume or showcases skills that are not captured in your professional career.
If you have a section called Skills on your resume, then ensure you choose your skills wisely. Being a computer literate, or knowing Word, Excel, and PowerPoint are table stakes. Almost every PM should know these skills. These skills are not differentiators as a product manager. If you don’t have an interesting skill that can act as a differentiator for your profile, then feel empowered to remove this section.
Extra curriculars could be a great way to connect with the reader. Extra curriculars make your profile look interesting and can also be a conversation starter during the interview. Any mentions of extra curriculars need to pass the impact and time test e.g. “I run marathons” is good but not interesting. “I ran Mumbai Marathon in 2008” is a conversation starter but the question it shouts is not about the fact that you ran a Marathon but why have you not been running for the last 10 years.
Instead, if a resume says “Ran 4 half marathons in the last 2 years and aim to run full marathon in Apr 2020” is more intriguing. It shows that you are an active runner and are willing to push your limits.
9. Social whereabouts
If you have a great profile on Linkedin that you wish to portray in your resume, then consider adding it. Similarly, if you are an active GitHub user, then share a link to your profile page. Make sure your social media account is active, updated, and relevant. Avoid, adding personal social media accounts that talk about personal life and are not relevant to the job role.
10. Proof read
Make sure you proof read your resume. Though a resume would not be rejected only because it has a spelling mistake or incoherent grammar, it can potentially become an inconvenient conversation starter between you and your interviewer.
To conclude, your resume is your elevator pitch that should clearly articulate the value that you can bring to the organization upon hiring. Too long and it gets boring, too short and it fails to deliver the potential value. I hope these tips help you make a cracking resume and you get the job you always desired.
If you are an interviewer, share tips on what do you look in a resume. If you are a candidate, then feel free to ask me questions on making a better resume.
If you have any other questions that you would like me to answer then please leave a comment below.
If any insight or information was handy then leave a clap so that I know whether I was able to add value.