Product management is a blend of art and science and ultimately requires you to master 4 subjects: your industry, your user, your product, and your team. It also requires you to apply skills at storytelling, engineering, design, analysis, project management, and leadership. Your intro will send key signals about whether or not you have these core skills. So make it tight and succinct! Here are some notes about how to make your cover letter pop (and by cover letter, I mean the body of an email):
Start with an executive summary
The first thing every hiring manager wants to know is “who is this person?” They want a few quick bullets that explain where you went to school, where you have worked, what job you’re applying to, and why you will be awesome at it. You need to make sure that they know each of these things within 10 seconds.
Specify exactly what you’re looking for
It’s amazing how many cover letters describe the applicant but not the target job. You can either tell the hiring manager exactly what jobs you are interested in, or you can expect the hiring manager to figure out where you might be a good fit. Guess what? If you expect them to do the homework, there is a 95% chance that they won’t.
Describe what you love doing
Every great product manager has general skills in many areas and really deep skills in one or two functions. For example, Steve Jobs excelled at design and storytelling, Bill Gates excels at engineering and business strategy, and Marc Benioff excels at talking to customers. Having a specific strong suit helps you build your reputation. So come right out and say it. This increases your chances of getting hired and guides you to projects that will make you happy. The product manager who thrives building a mobile site for AllRecipes is different from the product manager who wants to launch the next Amazon Web Services API for developers. Be honest about which camp you think you fall into, commit to it, and find something that excites you. Optimize for long-term success.
Tell a compelling story about something you have built
Taking something ambiguous, bringing definition to it, creating a plan of attack, and pulling together a team to build something is the essence of product management. So you want to tell a story about a project where you have built something meaningful. That could mean you built something on the job as a product manager at another company, that you built something as a side project on nights and weekends, or you did something amazing as a school project. The key is that the story needs to be compelling. For example, let’s say a candidate wants to play baseball and says “Well, I’ve never played baseball before but I am fast and strong and I am pretty sure I could play short stop.” That’s not very compelling. An alternate intro would be “I’ve never played baseball exactly, but I grew up playing cricket which requires very similar skills. I have been training 5 days a week, I have been watching and studying the game of baseball, and I have put in 200 hours at the batting cages. Here is a video of my swing.” That could be the same exact person with a different intro. Storytelling matters.
Make yourself stand out
Having the right pre-requisites does not get you the job. It simply gets you into the pool of competition. Now you need to stand out from the competitors. You can do that either by showing proof points (graduated very high in your class, won a serious competition, competed in D1 sports, shipped an important product, etc.), or by making yourself interesting. Reading resumes and cover letters is BORING work after you’ve read through 50 of them, so make the person curious to learn more. I have gotten more questions on my resume about the bullets that say “Drove across the country 6 times in a pickup truck” and “Love gourmet barbecue” than anything else.
Keep it short
Brevity matters. The hiring manager only needs one takeaway – this person is interesting and I should talk to them. That is all you want. They do NOT need to know every place you have ever worked and and every class you took in school. This is a movie trailer, not the feature film.