I'm a Product Manager with 4+ years of experience and I'm looking for my next gig. If you think I'd be a good fit at your startup, check out my résumé and get in touch!
Transitioning careers is jarring, like coming up for air after being underwater. It's a big context change, especially if you're like me and tend to focus very intensely on your work up until your last day. As part of re-orienting myself I decided to make a list of my strengths and weaknesses as a Product Manager to better visualize where I am in my career. I then took that information and built out some short- and long-term career goals for myself. It was, to be honest, a really boring exercise.
For strengths, perhaps boring is correct: I know what I'm good at because it's what I've been doing recently. It's in the past. Some of those skills are routine. For others, I've gone past the 10,000 hour mark on a few and I barely think about the activity itself. Other skills are well on their way and I am simply waiting for the next major challenge in my career to spark more growth.
For weaknesses the story is different: I may have attempted to build a skill and failed, I may not have spent enough time doing the activity, I may be naturally limited in that regard, or I may not know about the skill at all yet. In any case, weaknesses are skills you haven't mastered yet.
In order to land your dream job you'll probably have to consider both sides of the equation. Good employers want to see that you can get started right away but also that you have the room and motivation to grow. In this framework your strengths describe your current value and give employers a good sense of what you can excel at right now, while weaknesses describe your future potential. If treated well and fostered, weaknesses become strengths become mastered skills.
So why do we focus so much on our strengths when searching for jobs, shying away from those aspects of ourselves we know we have to put time into? It's a fallacy to think that potential employers believe we're perfect. It's equally wrong to think at any stage of a career that we have nothing left to learn. Furthermore, if our potential employer cares about our development as much as we do, why would they want to hire someone who feels they have no more room to grow?
Let's explore this. In the following section I will lay out my weaknesses as a Product Manager with as much humility as I can muster. I'll include a clear plan for developing that skill. Hopefully we can paint a picture of a success-in-the-making, rather than a snapshot of past failure.
My Weaknesses, My Plan
- I do not define KPIs far enough ahead of time - Simply put, I should "know my number" before any feature hits production. My number can change with further validation, but it's important to take a stand. I am historically unwilling to set anything less than a quantitative, validated hypothesis, whereas KPIs frequently require a bit of intuitive guessing. I plan on defining KPIs in the same way I insist on engineering estimates. I will not be correct at first, but I will improve with time.
- I defer to Engineers in feasibility explorations - As in, I don't challenge engineers to innovate as frequently as I should. Instead, I internalize the burden of innovation into the Product department, making it "our" problem. This empowers engineers (intended) while insidiously altering the validated feature set (unintended). Instead of doing this, I plan on insisting that we support the validated features or else not start development.
- I assume I know the competition - Sometimes this is true. Actually, in my last few jobs, it was always true due to the nature of the business. But that doesn't mean I shouldn't be double- and triple-checking on a regular basis. Especially where domain expertise and early onboarding are concerned, knowing and cataloging your assumptions about the competition is paramount to building a good Product vision, strategy, and roadmap. I plan on making competitive research a part of my morning and my afternoon: the former to uncover new findings, the latter to draw actionable conclusions.
- I converse better with Individual Contributors and groups than with Execs - My preference has always been towards managing and building trust amongst those people who do the actual work. I try to shelter individuals from the drive-bys and ephemeral asks of executives. I can improve on this drastically by learning to speak with execs in a way that helps them feel heard and understood. That's the best way to prevent drive-bys in the long term. I plan to continue to be as honest as possible while also providing real-time and periodic (read: predictable) feedback to executives in order to inform them of product progress or lack thereof.
- I choose social capital over product superiority - As someone who spent quite a bit of time project managing various teams I know the value of social capital when it comes to getting projects done on time, on budget, and to spec. As a good Product Manager I also know that up-front product decisions need to be made with the company's best interests as first priority. Social capital is important, but making product decisions based on team makeup or mood can drastically pollute the vision of a given feature. I plan on building strategies for listening to ideas without making promises so that individuals know their input is valuable but I make the final decision.
- I try to do too much at once - My facetious mantra has always been "Laser Focus...on everything at the same time." The responsibilities of the Product Manager are myriad and overwhelming, but it is always on me and no one else to manage those and still find a way to focus on the most important product we have to define, validate, or build. I plan on rejecting more product ideas verbally while keeping them in the icebox to look at later, building weekly schedules around specific initiatives, and improving my ROI calculations on given features in order to always be working on the most important product at the given time.
That was a little strange. It's odd to think about people as four dimensional beings when considering them for a need or role that exists in the past and present. However, at least as a personal exercise, I've now given myself a 3-6 month roadmap of skills I need to learn. While I know it will be exciting and rewarding to pursue the above skills, I also know that doing so will uncover many more items to add to the list.
My advice to you is to approach new weaknesses as impartially as possible until you can understand them as nascent opportunities. Allowing areas of weakness to affect you adversely will end up seeding discouragement at the prospect of turning that weakness into a skill. After all, the whole point of this exercise is to better know yourself. The fact that you're doing it at all means you have the wherewithal to turn any weakness you may find into a solid skill.