What are your top tips for a Product Leader resume/CV?
Short answer: Position yourself clearly & make sure your cover letter, resume & LinkedIn profile tell a consistent story about who you are & what you seek, along with the benefits you provide.
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In 1991, during my final year of business school, I spent dozens of hours in the computer lab at Dartmouth building an interactive resume using HyperCard, an object-oriented scripting language from Apple. After a month, I sent five of these interactive resumes to San Francisco Bay Area companies on 3.5-inch floppy disks. Each disk had a large sticker on it that said, “Who’s Gib?” When you ran the disk, it answered the question with animations and sound, explaining that I was an “Engineer, Marketeer, and Imagineer.”
My wife thought I was crazy and asked, “Why don’t you just send a paper resume?”
A week later, I got a message on my answering machine. “Hi Gib, this is Trip Hawkins. I’m the CEO of Electronic Arts. I want to let you know that your resume was the second weirdest resume I’ve ever seen.”
It turned out that the most bizarre resume came from Bing Gordon, who Trip hired to run marketing. After a few months, I got interviews from all five companies and accepted an offer to join Electronic Arts in July.
You don’t need to do crazy stuff like this to get a job, but here are some tips for your resume, cover letter, and LinkedIn profile:
Clearly position yourself to recruiters and hiring managers, describing who you are and what you seek.
Be clear about the benefits you provide to an employer—that’s why they hire you.
Don’t over-rely on your resume— think of it as a business card whose purpose is to be noticed and get the first meeting or phone call.
I’ll walk you through my process for telling a consistent story in my resume, LinkedIn profile, and cover letter.
Who You Are and What You Seek
Fast forward to 2005. When I approached Netflix, I explained:
“I’m a product leader executive focused on entertainment and education. I seek a consumer-focused startup with a proof-of-concept that’s ready to scale and I have the consumer science, leadership, and management skills required to make that happen.”
This time I brought these ideas to life through a simple cover letter, resume, and LinkedIn profile that reinforced the same message.
To develop that message, I used a simple positioning model, helping recruiters to understand who I was among dozens of other candidates. That’s what positioning is all about — you position yourself within a recruiter’s mind relative to other candidates so that you stand out.
I typically use the following positioning model for products, but it’s helpful to think of yourself as the product when you're job-hunting. This model asks two questions:
What is it? (Describe yourself in less than a dozen words.)
What are your product’s benefits? (Describe your “superpowers” and how these skills will benefit an employer.)
Here’s how I answered the questions:
Who I am
I’m a consumer tech product executive focused on education and entertainment.
How I benefit employers
I help startups with a proof of concept to scale through strong consumer science, leadership, and management skills.
Be clear about the roles you seek and honest about your skills. Each job is unique — you work to make it easy for the recruiter or hiring manager to evaluate your job fit. Don’t try to broaden your possible job roles by describing a set of skills you don’t have.
Below, for product leaders, I ask questions about your:
career stage, and
company stage preference.
As you read each of the questions, jot down your answers. You’ll use these notes later to complete your positioning statement.
Here’s the first question:
Next, identify 1-3 of your top skills among this list of leadership skills:
To be clear about where you are in your career, note which of the following career stages you are focused on today. It’s best to read this list from bottom to top— that’s how careers progress in this model.
Some product leaders love engaging with just-born startups, while others enjoy large organizations. Identify your best-fit company stage(s) from the list below:
There’s one more thing to consider before you write your positioning statement. What product categories are you most interested or experienced in? As an example, I specialize in consumer tech companies focused on entertainment or education. Other product leaders might focus on enterprise software for the financial industry or machine learning and AI for recommendation systems.
Now, using your notes, answer these two questions using the format I describe in each:
What are you?
Describe your category focus (consumer, enterprise, etc.) as well as your level (Assistant, Associate, Manager, Director, etc.) and job type (Product Manager, Project Manager, Designer, Data Scientist, VP Product, etc.)
How do you benefit companies?
I help (stage of company) through strong (list your “superpowers”) skills.
The last step is to bring these ideas together in a brief sentence or two.
Last example: my positioning statement today
Here’s how I package and position myself today:
As former VP/CPO at Netflix/Chegg I’m a speaker, teacher, advisor and coach who helps worldwide product leaders to grow through talks, workshops, exec events, writing and an annual event — The Product Leader Summit.
I have provided my current positioning to show you how flexible the model is and the extent to which product leaders can re-position themselves as their skills grow and they take on new challenges. That’s what I have done in the last five years as I moved from a full-time “direct deposit” product executive to the more flexible life I enjoy today.
Put Your Positioning into Practice
Your positioning statement is the foundation for your job search, which makes applying your positioning to a cover letter, resume, and LinkedIn profile straightforward. Each format provides more real estate for evidence of the benefits you describe, but there are different conventions for each format.
You can almost repeat your positioning statement word for word with a little customization depending on the specific job opportunity you seek. When I wrote a cover letter to Netflix, for instance, I left out my interest in educational technology, and I highlighted that I had helped to scale three startups over the previous decade.
Depending on your specific resume format, you can include a subset of your positioning statement in your resume's objective. There’s often a field for your skills, too.
As you write your resume:
Be clear about the size and product category for each company on your resume.
Make your resume easy to scan, with lots of bullet points.
Include evidence for your top skills through quantifiable results that demonstrate your impact.
Include more detail for your most recent jobs. (3-4 bullets for jobs in the last 5-10 years; 1-2 bullets for jobs more than ten years ago.)
Limit yourself to one page for every ten years of your career. Remember, "Brevity is the soul of wit.” (Shakespeare).
(Many thanks to John McMahon for help with this list.)
Rajesh Nerlikar, a product coach and advisor at Prodify, summarizes what’s critical in a resume:
“It’s a form of communication, so I’m reading it to see how you communicate: be clear, concise, relevant, specific. Don’t *tell* me what your responsibilities were, *show* me what your impact was.”
On the one hand, you need to sell yourself, which many are uncomfortable with, so be aggressive. On the other hand, you don’t want to over-state your skills and experience because this weakens the focus of your positioning and rarely leads to an offer.
Don’t let your profile be an after-thought — it’s a surprisingly effective way to position yourself, and it’s smart to tune it every 3-6 months. Your profile demands brevity, and many hiring managers scan it carefully, especially to find “back door” references from whom they can learn more about you before they contact you. Your links and posts also demonstrate your current focus and passion.
Once you’ve got your story straight across your cover letter, resume, and LinkedIn profile, ask peers and mentors for feedback. None of us are self-aware, and there are often insider views we communicate that no one else understands. It helps to have fresh eyes to evaluate your work carefully.
In job-hunting, you are the product. As product leaders, we’re accustomed to packaging and positioning our products to make them relevant to our customers. Do the same with your cover letter, resume, and LinkedIn profile. And like building products, be open to tuning your positioning as you learn what works — and doesn’t — as you hunt for a job.
A last note: From time to time, I became consumed by my resume, editing, and re-editing to make it perfect. At one point, a friend of mine said to me,
“Change your life, not your resume.”
His point: a resume is just one small tool in your job hunting toolbox. Think of your resume as a business card intended to remind a recruiter or hiring manager of who you are, what you seek, along with the benefits you’ll provide. Instead of fixating on your resume, spend time building your skills, demonstrating results, and expanding your network to make each job hunt more successful.
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