You are eager to land your first role in product marketing, so excitedly, you send in your resume, hoping to secure your first product marketing job.
However, all you hear in response is silence – not a single reply.
Doubts start creeping in.
Are you not cut out for product marketing?
Is the job market so bleak that you should give up altogether?
Will you never be able to overcome the chicken-and-egg problem?
If you are facing this, you are not alone. Each week, I have candidates reach out to me with that exact challenge. My response to you is the same as it is to them:
You undoubtedly have great potential to break into product marketing, but you may need a different approach - one based on gaining real-world experience to overcome the chicken-and-egg problem, and that aligns with today's hyper-competitive market conditions.
Allow me to walk you through exactly what that approach looks like.
*Read till the end for a special announcement.
Step 1: Assess your current product marketing skills
The first step to becoming a product marketer is to understand what it is (and is not). At the core, the purpose of product marketing is to tell the story of the product by deeply understanding the customer, market, and competition, and then using that story to drive product adoption and business goals through GTM activities. My LinkedIn post summarizes product marketing in a nutshell.
So, in order to do product marketing successfully, you need skills in two categories:
Core competencies. These include:
Research/data analysis: the ability to conduct market, competitive, and customer research and be able to synthesize insights using data analysis.
Positioning/Messaging: the ability to use the insights through research to create product positioning and messaging to articulate the value and story of the product
Product launch: the ability to launch a product or feature to market, or implement a full GTM strategy.
Enablement: the ability to create collaterals, assets, and training for field teams including sales, customer success, and other marketers so they know who to market to, and the product can deliver
General skills. These include:
Influencing without authority
A bias for action
writing/verbal communication skills
While candidates generally understand that soft skills are transferable, many think they do not possess any of the hard skills. But the reality is even the hard skills can be transferable - after all, the principles of research are the same whether you are a product marketer or not.
The key is to correctly rate yourself on how strong you are across each of the skills, this will help you understand where your key skill gaps are. For instance, most career switchers lack experience with positioning and messaging - one of the most critical skills to develop as a product marketer.
You can use the template below as a starting point to assess your skills.
Step 2: Fill in your skill gaps by getting real hand product marketing experience
What if, after assessing your skills, you discover certain gaps in your knowledge?
This is the biggest catch-22 for career switchers - how do you break into a field to gain experience when you are not even given the chance to do so?
In that case, you should focus on filling those gaps by gaining real-world experience ALONGSIDE theoretical learning. Because, the reality is, no matter how much theoretical learning you do, what hiring managers care about is real, practical experience.
To gain real experience, consider the following:
Volunteering for startups or non-profit organizations to assist them with their marketing needs (e.g. messaging).
Freelancing for startups on Upwork, Growth Collective, or others and trying to get paid as you gain real-world experience (you may have to leverage some existing skill first and gradually move on to PMM-focused work)
Creating targeted projects (e.g. messaging teardowns) for your target companies using the theory you learned
Whatever experience you can build from working for real companies/startups, turn that into a portfolio of relevant projects that you can use.
Pro tip: you will get the highest response rate if you create a project for a specific company, as it’s most relevant. But do this only sparingly for a few select roles you care the most about.
Step 3 - Create a focused targeting strategy to land a product marketing job
Once you have covered your key skill gaps - you are ready to start job searching.
Before you start sending in resumes, determine what companies you should be targeting as not all opportunities are created equal. Prioritize opportunities that you are passionate about AND have a competitive advantage.
To uncover your competitive advantages, start by listing out all types of customers, industries, transferable skills, and products that you have had experience with within your previous roles. Then find companies where your competitive advantage will be a key requirement for the role.
One of the most common mistakes job seekers make is using the “spray and pray” method, where they apply to as many jobs as they can. When that does not work, they apply for more jobs only to have the same thing happen again. This creates a vicious cycle of not getting results and wasting your time.
The number of companies you target will vary by your experience level and industry, but on average, you should aim to apply to about 20-40 companies to land offers.
4. Develop a strong personal story and apply the right way
Your personal story is NOT just your resume - it’s your entire brand from your resume/cover letter to how you introduce yourself in LinkedIn messages to hiring managers. To craft a great personal story - read this example and framework.
To craft a great resume, make sure you are starting with the roles you are targeting, and work backward to match your resume to the requirements of each role.
Once you have all your materials in place, it is time to apply. The last thing you want to do is to submit your resume online, where it will sit with hundreds of other resumes.
What you need to do is to get referrals as much as possible. This is because getting a referral is 15x more effective than submitting online (Jobvite). For most companies, when you get a referral you bypass the online application pool, so the resume goes straight to the recruiter or hiring manager to be reviewed.
So what if you don’t have any warm leads? Then you need to get a cold referral. This means reaching out directly to the hiring manager on LinkedIn in your target companies, with a thoughtful message that directly ties your background to why you are a great fit for the role (and with links to your portfolio projects!)
Step 5 - Ace product marketing interviews and assignments
Finally, you succeeded in landing interviews. When it comes to preparing for each interview, be sure to prepare thorough examples following the PSAR method I created.
This framework is better suited to PMM interviews than the STAR framework because it showcases your thought process more while reducing unnecessary information about the background. Processes allow you to structure your thinking and present a cohesive plan that can be more easily understood and communicated internally.
The assignment stage is where a lot of candidates trip up. In general, there are presentation assignments and writing assignments - both of which require strategic thinking and communication skills.
The key to doing them well is by avoiding the temptation of jumping in to solve them right away but instead smartly outlining the thought process first. Then, choose at least 1 area to focus on to dive deeper and showcase more than what they asked. This will help you stand out and seal the deal. Read more about how to ace assignments here.
Ultimately, pursuing a product marketing career without prior experience is possible with persistence and the right strategy. By following the steps above, I hope you have gained more clarity and confidence in tackling this the right way, and I am confident you should be landing interviews and job offers successfully and confidently.
However, this can also be a lonely and challenging journey to navigate on your own. This is why I have dedicated the past 6 months to building a brand new, one-of-a-kind program with Olivine Marketing to help you tackle this exact challenge.
The PMM Launch Accelerator will be the first-of-its-kind apprentice-style program to help you land your first product marketing role. You will be taught theory, and then paired with a real startup to work on real projects during this program - turning theory into practical experience immediately that you can apply to your next role.
The first cohort is launching in September with 20 slots only, so sign up for the waitlist to get first dibs when doors open.
I hope to see you there!