What does a great resume look like? How do you stand out? I’ve reviewed thousands of product manager resumes. Here’s the sad truth: most of them go straight to the shredder.
To write a resume that converts, it helps to understand the psychology of your audience. Their #1 concern: can you do the job well?
Every step in the hiring process is engineered to de-risk you. There are two proven ways to do this starting with your resume:
- Show that you solved similar (enough) problems → relevant experience
- Show that you quickly learn to solve new problems → strong track record
Ironically, the roles you want are rarely the ones you’re perfectly qualified for. The good news is that “qualify” is subjective and can be boosted with proven tactics.
Highlight reel > list of accomplishments
Mediocre resume is a laundry list of accomplishments, while a great resume only picks the all-time hits. It’s a highlight reel best contained to one page.
If your audience can’t figure out if you qualify within 3 seconds, the answer defaults to no. Easy-to-skim resume respects their time, but also shows that you can identify what’s most important — a promising sign that you’ll be effective on the job.
There are two types of experiences worth highlighting:
- Positive customer outcome (higher satisfaction, retention, adoption)
- Positive business outcome (higher revenue, profit, # active customers)
Once you’ve selected the right raw materials, it’s time to refine.
Speak their language
Take the verbs in the job description, and work it into your experience. Examples for product-related roles: define requirements, develop roadmap, analyze metrics, etc.
Many verbs are cross-disciplinary, which means you have relevant experience even if you don’t have the title yet. Before I was a PM, I analyzed numbers and developed narratives which helped me get adjacent roles in user research and analytics.
Even better, tie verbs to outcomes.
Specific outcome > general output
What happened to the requirements you defined? What value did your analysis deliver? Quantify wherever possible. Examples of how to do this:
Not everything has a quantifiable outcome, but the ones that do (or can be estimated) are more powerful on a resume because they prove that you didn’t just work, you created value.
Here’s the underlying theme: showing beats telling. Most resumes lean too heavily on telling (“experienced professional”, “strategic thinker”, “resourceful self-starter”), but talk is cheap. Actions and outcomes are rare, so they help you stand out.
The best way to show that you are “strategic” and “experienced” is to...
Avoid resume minefields
How does a resume spiral into a multi-page essay? Culprit #1 is redundant buzzwords:
Culprit #2 is long explanations about some unknown company. Instead, share brief context as it relates to your contribution. Example: Led retention for XYZ-backed consumer subscription startup. Focus on what you did, not what the company does (even if you’re the founder)!
Culprit #3 is wasted real estate on irrelevant experience. Instead, either delete entirely (especially if it was <1 year) or stick to the bare essentials (your role + time you spent). One line should suffice, enough to pre-empt questions about where the time went.
Fast upwards momentum
A strong track record gives people a reason to bet on you even if you lack relevant experience. Promising signs:
- (Early) promotions
- Growth in your scope
- Increase in impressive contributions
This is why it’s best to not linger too long at a place you know is a dead-end. Besides draining your energy, it also starts dragging down your perceived momentum which unfairly affects your future trajectory.
Your work and colleagues today become the lego blocks for your future. It’s no coincidence that employee referrals is a preferred hiring channel, or that most startups begin with people who worked with each other before (Google + Stanford PhD, Netflix + Pure Software, Twitter + Odeo).
De-risked relationships make everything easier.
Make your resume obsolete
Polishing your resume is useful, but needing a resume is a rookie problem.
With time, your resume should wane in importance compared to your growing body of work and reputation. The latter eventually creates a richer opportunity network than a polished resume ever will.
Years ago, nobody would’ve talked to me without a resume. I had no track record! These days, my resume is a formality, if it’s used at all.
Advice when you’re risky and unproven:
- Your energy precedes anything you do - try a lot of things and take note of what you like and what comes naturally to you
- Your resume is only as strong as your outcomes, which is directly correlated with doing things repeatedly and learning from mistakes
- Cut the fluff, and focus on how you’ve solved similar problems, or have a strong track record of learning fast, ideally both!
- Work on interesting problems with smart people, and make your resume obsolete