Job Hunting is Product Management

By Pierre-Marc Diennet
November 08, 2016

Mine is a common story, but you don’t hear it told very often. My startup failed.

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Mine is a common story, but you don’t hear it told very often. My startup failed.

I started a company based on a technology idea. I raised a bunch of money. I put together a team of passionate, talented people. We built a product. We went to market. Everything went well, until—pretty dramatically—it didn’t.

The company that I spent four years building simply evaporated. I found myself with no income, no savings, a young baby at home, and—you guessed it—no job. What did I do? Did I cry? Did I complain? Yes. I did both.

                                                      

But after I did those things, I set myself up to find a job. It took me a while, and it was brutal, but it is that journey—from failed startup founder to gainfully employed product manager—that I would like to recount for you. Job hunting can be hard, and I want to share my hard-won findings with others who can use them. Also, I want to show how the tools that I picked up as a product lead helped me navigate some rough personal waters.


Who Would Hire Me Now?

My story starts the first day after I threw in the towel on my company. You can imagine the stress. How would I find my feet? What job could I do? Who would hire me now? I had no idea where to start. Out of instinct, I resorted to the kind of product thinking I had spent four years practicing. The job hunt, I figured, was essentially an exercise in finding product/market fit. I was the product and I was looking to fit somewhere. Instead of thinking too much about the daunting task ahead of me, I simply put my head down, got out my spreadsheets and started tracking the metrics.

I set up my sales funnel and initiated the process of finding a winning strategy. I would focus on each step of the job-hunting process in order: application, first-round interview, second-round interview and final interview.

The only job I really wanted was a product manager role, but keep in mind, my confidence was shot. I had just taken a great idea and a great team and flown them into the side of a mountain. I was devastated and limping through the legal and tax wreckage. I didn’t feel lucky. I didn’t want to set my sights too high because I didn’t feel like I could afford to fail. So, in order to mitigate my chances of not getting my goal position, I decided to go after two other positions as well: producer and project manager. I started with a kind of “spray and pray” strategy, hoping that if I hit up enough people, something would stick.

Looking back, that lack of focus turned out to be a wasteful mistake. But I’ll come back to that.

Now that I knew what I was applying for, I needed to figure out the best strategy to use on my application. For example, what was the best way to put together a resume? Everyone will tell you that a resume is a thing you craft after you decide which job to apply for. They will say that the raw material of your experience needs to be shaped to match each position. But is that true?

Further, what’s the best strategy for a cover letter? Those same people will also say you must tailor your cover letter to match each individual company, position and hiring manager to which you apply. They will say that only a considered, well-researched cover letter will win you a first-round interview. But again, is that actually true?

Do people actually read cover letters these days? The cover letter is a digital document, as ephemeral and ignorable as any email. I knew from experience that, as a busy team member in a fast-paced company, reading more than a couple of sentences of any missive was rare. When it did happen, it was for a specific bottom-line reason, like a contract, competitive research or technology deep-dive. Someone who wanted something from me rarely got more than a brief look at the subject line.


Test Various Methods and Track Their Efficacy

I wanted answers to these questions. I didn’t want to waste my time following bad advice derived from someone else’s experience or pursuing strategies that didn’t fit my situation. The only way to discover the strategy that would work best for me was to test various methods and track their efficacy. I wrote custom letters and custom resumes. I sent general letters and general resumes. I tried various degrees of each, labeling each effort and waiting to hear if I got an interview.

After applying for more than 40 jobs over a month, I had enough data to make a solid strategy decision. It turned out that volume was more effective than precision. By using a template resume and letter, I won a first-round interview 15 percent of the time, and I could crank out five applications a day. If I wrote a customized cover letter and tailored my resume to the job, I would win a first-round interview slightly more often, 25 percent of the time, but it would take me one full day per application. So, in practice, a general application won an interview every one-and-a-half days, whereas a custom application took four.

It took 40 tries to figure out, but this measurement process gave me a sense of control. If I got discouraged, I would just look at the numbers and reassure myself that it was working. Most important, this data let me be confident in my strategy for the first step in the funnel. Now I could focus my attention on the second step: the screening interview.

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About the Authors

  • Pierre-Marc Diennet is a product manager at Lotame Solutions, Inc., a data management platform for the advertising industry. He is the founder of an interactive video startup, nTangle.tv and the author of the off-Broadway play Perdita. He lives in New York City with his wife and 2-year-old son. Email Pierre-Marc at pdiennet@gmail.com.


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