Show proof of your capabilities with a portfolio. It’s not too common for current product managers to have a portfolio, but as someone trying to break in, it’s valuable. By showing you can actually solve product problems, you’re proving that you have the product capabilities that you say you do. The harder it is to tell from your resume, the more important the portfolio is.
Create an online portfolio. It should be focused on projects that you've completed that showcase your capabilities. Don't just put your resume online. A portfolio is a demonstration of what you can do, not what you said you did. There's no particular design that we recommend, but we do encourage you to keep it clean, simple, and professional. You're not being graded on how well you designed your portfolio. As long as it's clean, easy to read, and responsive, you're good to go.
Your portfolio should contain product projects that showcase the product capabilities in a narrative fashion. You want to clearly state the situation, the objective, what actions you took, and the results. You’ll also want to add visual pieces so the reader can understand what your product is doing, even if they are basic wireframes. A reader should be able to understand what the problem is and how you solved it.
Use your portfolio as an opportunity to showcase your capabilities. The only way to do this wrong is to just link to a product you built without any context. Product management is heavy on process. Take the time to articulate the decisions you made and the reasoning behind them. Use the real estate to demonstrate product thinking and excellent communication. Include context on team dynamics and always make sure to include results, even if small or preliminary.
Generally, it’s a good idea to mostly have projects that you did not build for yourself. That’s because as a product manager, you do not build for yourself - you build for users. It’s fine to have a passion project for yourself, but you’ll want to keep it to one. Your projects should showcase that you sought to understand a user and his/her problem.
It can be hard to find projects. The easiest and most accessible place will be in your current job by being a little creative as we detailed earlier. If you aren't working or your job isn't conducive to such experimentation, you can network with those that need product help and offer assistance in exchange for some experience. It can be a bit of heavy lifting; no one will arrange the perfect project for you. The vast majority of the time you will need to define the project yourself and pitch it to them.
Reach out to non-profits in your area and offer to help with something user-focused. Anything from doing user research, analyzing some data, or helping to define some features can be of value to your portfolio. Tech is becoming increasingly pervasive and nonprofits constantly need assistance.
Small businesses need tech and marketing help too. This can be as simple as figuring out how to set up a website and promote services or building a social presence and getting some SEO figured out. If you focus on the user and use the opportunity to showcase product capabilities, even a small project can be meaningful.
Entrepreneurs tend to have a lot of ideas and little bandwidth. Helping one implement some small steps toward an idea can be a great way to get some exposure.
Once you’ve completed a project, get feedback from users. User feedback can be anything from surveys, metrics, interviews, etc. This is a crucial step to showing you can get results for your work. It also helps to inform you on how effective your solution may be. The more robust the results the better. Don't over-optimize on this portion when you're starting out with small projects. As long as you close the loop between building a solution and assessing user impact, you can move on.
At the end of the day, your projects are proof points for the job you want. You can design something you were perfectly happy with and a few users were quite delighted with, but falls flat with product managers. In fact, this happens a lot. That's because product managers critique process in addition to results in order to assess if you can do the right things for the company. Get this feedback early to make sure you're on the right track.
Getting product manager feedback is crucial to understanding if your proof passes muster.
Getting feedback on a project is also significantly more tangible that just a conversational coffee chat. While coffee chats are great to get more information, it rarely helps you become a better candidate. With a project in hand and seeking specific feedback, you can improve quickly on what will net you the most return. If you don’t know any product managers, try searching for a few on LinkedIn and ask for some short feedback on your project.
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