How to break into product management (Part 3/5)

Five handpicked strategies for people with non-technical backgrounds or no prior product experience to get into this exciting space!

Priyansha Saxena
6 min readNov 29, 2020

#3 Create a Target List of Companies

A lot of experts call job hunting a volumes game, where candidates are encouraged to maximize the number of applications they submit, instead of being too picky. I believe that’s a perfectly valid way to maximize chances of receiving an interview call. However, I also believe there are merits to having a prioritized list of firms you want to target first, given that most tech firms fill up their positions on a rolling basis, making the process quite time-sensitive. Having this list also helps you in situations where you receive traction from multiple firms (!!) and have to decide which process or offer to prioritize.

The objective of this article is to guide readers to compile their starting target list of firms for product management positions. To do so, I have laid out broad themes that differentiate the nature of product management roles across firms. Once you have figured out which themes matter more to you, it will become easier to shortlist firms aligned with them in a more structured way. Having this clarity of reasoning also positions you better in networking calls or interviews when asked to explain your preference of one firm over the others.


The size or stage of the firm heavily influences the responsibilities product managers own, along with the career progression chart and culture they experience.

  • Emerging startups (< 100 employees): Product Managers at nascent/ emerging startups are very close to being the mini-CEOs of the firm. They play a crucial role in establishing the product vision for the business, targeting the first set of customers and setting up new teams and processes. These PMs thrive on uncertainty, and are great at drawing maximum benefit from minimum resources. Therefore, while structured mentorship opportunities would be lower at startups as compared to more established firms, PMs learn a lot from the sheer amount of ownership and responsibility they hold. Further, startups can be a great launch pad for newer PMs kickstarting their career, since these firms look out for the right attitude in candidates over a rigid set of qualifications. Some examples of cool tech startups include AirGarage, Bloomscape, Notion and Caper.
  • High growth mid-sized firms (> 100 and <10,000 employees): This is an interesting stage in the firm’s life cycle, where PMs enjoy the speed of delivery, visibility and ownership they would in a startup, but also leverage the benefits of resources such as research budget, strong support teams as well as semi-structured mentorship opportunities. Since these firms are growing so rapidly, they experiment a lot with their brand vision, products and processes. Therefore, PMs in these firms are expected to be comfortable and agile in adapting at the pace of these changes, while still delivering strong and consistent results. Visibility with leadership is usually high, and the career progression ladder is faster than big tech firms, and hence, this is always an exciting space for PMs to target. Examples include Spotify, Zillow, Rent the Runway and Stripe.
  • Global giants (>10,000 employees): Let’s consider an equation where the impact a PM can drive = The % ownership s/he has in a product * Size of the impact of the product in the world. In Big Tech Firms or FAANG, with millions of customers across the world, the impact of any product launch is enormous. Therefore, even though, traditionally, PMs might own a smaller percentage of pie in the product at bigger firms (for example- Google search might have over a hundred PMs who all split the pie), as compared to what they would own in the smaller firms, the net impact they create is still considerably high. While career progression ladder might be longer here than smaller firms, PMs would enjoy the benefits of the brand value for these firms globally. Finally, big tech firms usually already have established processes and rich mentorship programs, thus fostering a structured way to learn from good examples.

Type of Product

As a product manager, it’s important that you have conviction for the product area you will own. Therefore, if Zillow is your most heavily used app because you love window-shopping houses, it should absolutely be top of your list.

However, remember that the range of product areas PMs can own in a company varies greatly and is not limited to the final product users often see or use, or products the firm has already launched. Therefore, instead of judging a company by its mainstream products, it is a more holistic approach to ensure that you are aligned with the vision statement of a company. For example- Amazon’s vision statement is “to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online”. Even though its most popular product is its web portal, there are a ton of internal operator tools, backend services or related products that go into this vision. Therefore, regardless of how excited you are about the products you have already seen or used on Amazon, what really matters is if you believe in building products that support its overall vision (For all you know, Amazon might start selling houses someday)


If you require visa sponsorship for the office location you want to work for, it comes a required criteria to consider while applying to firms. While some firms (especially startups) do not share this information publicly, most other firms have very well-defined sponsorship guidelines written in the job description. The good and bad news is, sponsorship requirements change very frequently with the political climate, and therefore it’s always a good idea to confirm the same with the recruiter, especially as you go deeper into a firm’s process.


A lot of people end up forming initial impressions of a firm’s culture based on internet wisdom or hearsay. However, I believe your chances of finding the right firm-fit are much higher if you are open to evolving your understanding of a firm’s culture as you go through its recruiting journey and listen to first-hand experiences of people from the firm. Therefore, unless you already have a very well-defined understanding of a firm’s culture based on your own experiences or those of your first-degree connections, I would recommend against using culture as a rigid screening criteria for the first target list you define.

You have a target list of firms. What’s next?

As mentioned at the beginning, recruiting in the tech world is time-sensitive since companies look at filling job postings on a rolling basis. The following sources can help you stay on top of new job postings at your target firms:

  • Company Website: This should be your first channel to periodically check for new job updates
  • LinkedIn Alerts: Setting notifications on locations/ industries. job titles of your preference on LinkedIn is a great way to get real time alerts for a targeted pool of firms
  • Networking Calls: A lot of times, fellow PMs or business unit heads would know about upcoming opportunities in their team even before they are posted. Sometimes, in smaller firms where there aren’t too many structured postings, the right candidate might also prompt managers to create the right opportunity in their team. As such, it’s always a good idea to engage in such conversations and discuss shared interests with people working in your target firms. More tips on the do’s and don’ts for networking calls will be covered in Part 4 of the series.

Hope this article was useful in helping you get to that dream list of firms! Always shoot high and do not self-select yourself out of the running for any of these firms, and you’re already on the right track.

Up next: #4 Build your network



Priyansha Saxena

A small town girl with some big dreams. I want to enable other dreamers by sharing ideas around product management, the MBA drill and mental health