In this essay I will try to sum up my personal experience of searching for a product management job in Austria and Germany in 2021.
I started searching for a job in June 2021 and signed the contract 5 months later in November. During this time I have sent applications to 23 different positions, have been in the active interview processes with 8 companies and got 3 job offers. I am starting as Senior Product Manager in AutoScout24, in Munich, Germany, on January 3, 2022. a Here’s a funnel to visualize the results of the job search:
Start with the “why”
Your reasons for exit might be totally different: toxic manager, constantly changing requirements, low salary, etc. However once you know the reason why you want to search for a job, it is way easier to start acting. You do know why you need to put in hours of your precious time into research, practice and actual interviewing. Searching for a new job for me is a rather unrewarding and frustrating experience. That’s why you better know why you are doing it.
Define what you want in your next job
Ok, you’re now sure you want to get a new job. Though, you’ve been in the same position for the last several years. The market has changed during this time. You are not sure how much you are supposed to be making with your experience, what are the good companies in the neighborhood, and where to search.
That’s why I started with the market research for product management jobs in Austria and Germany.
- I checked for the salaries online at Glassdoor, PayScale and asdcode.de.
- I found and talked with an HR consultant from Austria. That was 100 eur for 1 hour to find out that my salary should be higher. Then, I talked with one more HR consultant that raised the bar of the expected salary even a bit higher.
With this information, I was able to create a Google Sheets document, which I called “Good Places”. In the spreadsheet I was saving the information about the companies that I found to be exciting and potentially great places to work at.
“In my next job I want to have an impact on X millions of users, have a minimum of XXX k yearly salary, educational budget and newest hardware."
Also, I would write down my requirements for the next job in the doc.
Something in the following lines would be a good starter, “in my next job I want to have an impact on X millions of users, have a minimum of XX k yearly salary, educational budget and newest hardware.” You can later expand your requirements for the future place of work.
This same document was also a place to keep track of all of your applications.
Here’s a template for a similar document that you can use yourself during your search: Google Sheets Template.
Start your preparation
Once I had an idea of what my salary should look like, what I expect from the job and what kind of companies I’d like to work for, I started with the preparations for the PM interviews.
For me, the most useful resources in order of importance were:
- Exponent’s Slack community. Invaluable place to find mock PM interview partners.
- Exponent’s Complete PM Interview Course. This course gave a great overview of the possible PM interview questions and the working strategies to answer those.
- Hadar Dor’s website. Hadar is an ex-Lyft PM currently working for Shopify and his advice on types of PM interview questions was very valuable for me.
I would like to underline that mock-interviews with other people who were in search of the PM jobs were invaluable.
Overall, I have attended 12 mock interviews with Product Managers, Senior PMs and even one Principal Product Manager coming from India, Canada and the USA. All of them gave some valuable feedback and great tips from their experience.
I looked for the potential mock-interview partners on Exponent’s Slack and did not pay any money for that. Basically, I just defined that I would be available for the mock interviews 5 days a week in the morning or after work, created the Calendly schedule and shared the message on Slack. Something like this:
Hi Everybody, I have experience of 10+mockups. I would like to practice Execution and Product Sense type of questions. If you are interested, please grab a time slot on Calendly: https://calendly.com/dacet93/pm-interview-mock-ups
Usually a mock interview was around 1-1.5 hours. Your partner asks you an interview question and lets you answer it within 30 minutes. After time is up she will give you feedback. Then tables turn and you ask the question and give feedback.
Please note that Exponent is a paid learning platform. I paid 200 USD for a yearly subscription and found it to be a good bang for a buck. Though, you can find free alternatives online. If you are looking for the proper preparation materials about different types of PM questions, you can jump to one of the following sites:
- Hadar Dor’s website. As mentioned above there’s a lot of great information for the PM interview prep up for grabs here.
As for the practice part and finding mock interviews, you can do that without an Exponent subscription by finding yourself a free mentor at: https://www.mentoring-club.com/the-mentors/category/product-management
Interviewing itself included from 2 to 6 interviewing rounds and generally had following structure:
- Screening with HR.
- Proving you know a thing or two about product management.
- Call with top management.
Screening with HR
If your resume got through and you’ve got an interview invite from an HR, during the call you will be asked about your salary expectations.
There are two common opinions about that: name it right away or keep that a secret till the actual offer discussion. My take on it, you should not give away the number as long as possible.
Of course, in this case you might get a “nay” right after the screening. HRs don’t want to work with the “hard” people. But that also shows that the company is not willing to negotiate and, thus, won’t compromise later on when you will be working for them.
Basically, what I am saying is that you should be aiming for companies that are willing to play this “negotiation” game with you. If they are not, then this is not necessarily a good place for you.
In my experience from this job hunt, salary expectation discussion during HR screening includes two acts and goes something like this:
ACT 1: First attempt
- HR: What are your salary expectations?
- DIMA: I am not ready to give any numbers at this time. I would need to talk to the team and learn more about all the responsibilities before I could estimate that.
Some more experienced HRs would stop here and just say “Ok, sure, we can discuss that later on in the process”. Other HRs would, however, go for Act 2.
ACT 2: Second attempt
|- HR: Yeah, but maybe a range?||Yeah, but maybe you have some minimum in mind?||or even: Yeah, but you wouldn’t like to work for less than you make at your current job, right? What’s your current salary?|
- DIMA: I understand that naming the salary range would be very helpful for managing expectations; however, I am not ready to name any numbers at this time. Maybe you have a range budgeted for this position already? That would be very helpful for me.
Basically, with the question above you throw the ball back onto HR’s side. It’s now their time to reply. They usually stop asking your range after this.
- HR: No, the range always depends on a candidate’s experience and requirements. We don’t have a specific budget for this position. Well, okay, I’ll note that we’ll have to come back to this at the later stage of the process.
For me, HR have not gone any further as to the ACT2. I think if HRs are pushing for a number further, that’s a red flag and you probably better try your luck with another company.
By the way, here’s an outstanding post about the salary negotiation: https://www.kalzumeus.com/2012/01/23/salary-negotiation/
Some other questions during the HR screening included:
- Tell me about yourself
- Why do you want to leave your current company?
- Why do you want to work at our company?
In general, I was not worrying too much about the screening stage. I prepared the answers for the 3 questions above and learned them by heart using a free spaced-repetition flashcard program: https://apps.ankiweb.net/ Then, practiced a couple of times with my wife before the first screening and did not look them up any more. If any other questions would pop up during screening, I would be just answering them on the spot.
Case study or live challenge
This is probably the most important part of your interview process. This is the time to shine and show what you know about product management.
Generally, the preparation steps should give you an idea about the types of the questions and best ways to answer them. That’s why I was continuing to do mock-interviews during the whole time of this job hunt.
Case study would usually consist of two parts: the take-home assignment and presentation call. My suggestion here would be not to spend more than 3 hours on a given case study. I spent around 10 hours thinking about the pricing model of the upcoming product and polishing my first case study. It was well received. Yet, we could not agree on the salary during the negotiation stage and I was quite disappointed that I spent so much time on preparations. After that I was not spending more than 3 hours on take-home case study for another company and still got an offer.
Speaking of the live case studies. I found those more fun and appropriate ways to check the PM’s way of thinking. These were around 1 to 1.5 hours. I was always asked product execution of product design type of questions. As noted before, my preparation with other PMs in the mock-interviews was super helpful.
One thing that I was doing at the end of each interview at the live challenge or case study stage was to ask for the feedback.
This conversation looked something like this:
- DIMA: I am trying to think of myself as a product which can be improved as well. Would you be willing to give me a feedback for this interview by answering a 2-minute Google form?
- INTERVIEWER: Sure.
- DIMA: Okay. Awesome. I will send you a message on LinkedIn along with the connection request. You can disregard the connection itself. Please just follow the URL to the form and give your anonymous feedback.
Of course, not all of my interviewers were giving the feedback. Though, the ones that did gave me some great pointers of how I am doing in this particular interview process with this company.
Here’s a screenshot example of how such form looked like:
Call with the top management
This is usually the very last interview call. At this stage you will be asked some sort of business strategy questions. In my experience, this is rather a quick chat to check on you as a person and your take on product management in general. If you’ve got to this stage, you are most likely going to get the offer, or so happened for me 3 out 3 times.
Overall, the PM job hunt is rather long and tiresome. You really have to put in the hours of work to find a right job, prepare and interview with the companies. I think the job hunt is a practice and you definitely will get better at it with time. That’s why proper preparation and expectation management was important for me.