Google Product Manager Reveals Her Leadership and Career Tips

Jocelyn Miller, a product leader who has previously worked for big names like Amazon and Google, joined us for a special AskMeAnything session this week.

She chatted with the community and answered questions about being a woman leader, career pivots, and how to craft the perfect product resume.

Meet Jocelyn Miller

Jocelyn Miller is a businesswoman and entrepreneur with a deep love of product. She has acted as a product management leader and managed remote teams during her time at Amazon, Google and as Director of Product Management at Zazzle.

Over the course of 15 years she has innovated in the areas of search, personalization, commerce, ads, and customized goods. She currently acts as a personal accelerator, helping teams and individuals catapult to their next level. She also teaches a number of topics to Fortune 500 companies working at the team level as well as on large-scale organizational change.

Jocelyn Miller Product Manager Google

As a woman leader, what advice would you give to other women in this field in order to be effective leaders and product managers?

There is so much to say on the topic of being a woman leader. First and foremost, know that the feelings of imposter syndrome are held by men and women alike–though women more typically feel it due to the ways in which they are often treated.In order to be able to make your mark and have your impact, here are some high level recommendations:

1. Know your value. You want to understand that you bring value to your team, your product, and your company. Understand what that is. Be able to both articulate it and use it!2. Work on your own mindset and self-worth.

Based on the above, you do have a certain value in the workplace–and you want to understand it. But you want to be careful not to tie your value *as a person* to that. Understand that you are enough; and your career is about finding where you can have high impact while feeling really great about yourself (this is a very common topic for coaching, as is #1).

You might also be interested in: Top Women in Product 2020

2. Speak your mind. You want to make sure that you are expressing your thoughts. Your style may vary. You might be loud or more quiet. Style here is up to you. You just want to ensure that you are part of the conversation and action, not a bystander.

3. Support others. One of the best ways to ‘show up’ as a woman leader is to help other people who are less typically promoted or listened to. Whether other women, people from other cultures, other teams, other roles. Help to ‘hand the mic’ so to speak to others in meetings and different environments as a way of supporting. 

For more leadership tips, you can enrol in my free Effective Leadership Micro-course.

Female leadership in product

What advice do you have for making the transition to Technical Product Manager and how do I get a hiring managers attention for a TPM role when all my experience is in SWE?

For career pivots, there are a number of effective strategies and tactics that can be followed. Some specific pointers are:

1. Making an internal transition first. Given your context (and for many people), it can be easier to transition from one role to another in a company where you have already developed a positive reputation. A common transition is from engineer to product manager at tech companies. In order to do that more easily, you can do things like A. Find a PM mentor, B. Do PM tasks on your team, C. Find a sponsor to support you going from one position to the other.

2. Be able to tell your story. Whether you make your transition internally first or between companies, you want to tell a compelling story as to why this new position suits you. And why you will be of extreme value to the person who will hire you. As an example, many PMs who came from other roles (read: most PMs), have experiences in their background where they were already serving PM-type functions. Whether it is project managing for your team, having run your children’s PTA, or anything in between–the onus is on you to find the story that makes you the obvious choice.

3. Continue to own your prior expertise. Many PMs have expertise in something–that is the idea of being T-shaped in your approach; where you have a niche of expertise as well as a breadth of abilities. I encourage this when coaching and managing people. The tendency (and I did this myself!) is to nearly disown what you did before. However, in my case (and some of yours) that previous technical experience as an engineer gives you a huge edge as a PM. Use it. Own it. It’s yours!

For a mid level product role (2-4 years of experience), what do you look for in a CV before you decide to have a chat with the applicant?

When you are looking to up-level from more junior positions to mid-level positions, there are a number of approaches that can work well. In particular, I recommend:

1. Showcasing your accomplishments clearly. Whether verbally, in a resume, or on LinkedIn, you want to be able to clearly showcase what you have accomplished–and what the outcomes were of those accomplishments. Saying things like ‘Responsible for’ or ‘Managed’ is not going to cut it–you want to highlight the things that you have launched ALONG WITH the (ideally) measurable outcomes. Things like ‘Increased conversions by 30% by XXX’ or ‘ Launched a scalable self-serve platform for businesses to join Zazzle which now represents XX% of company revenue’.

2. Talk about what you will do in this new position. Get clear on, if you were in this new position, what you WILL do. Claim it as your own. Start talking in ‘we’ language and get clear on what you specifically want to do in that position. On all of your materials, and in your verbal conversations, clearly state what you intend to do and relate that to what you are bringing to the table (whether via experience, accomplishment, passion, or all of the above).

You might also be interested in: The Ultimate List of Product Management Interview Questions

3. NETWORK your way in! I usually say that a resume (CV tends to be more academic) is what people think of as their primary material when job shifting. HOWEVER, the main way to get the job that you desire (whether a promotion at your current company or new position elsewhere) is to network your way in! Understand: who are the hiring managers and team members? What is the culture there? What do they need? And then speak to exactly how you are going to join this team and help them solve their problems now.

Can you share some insights into how Google chooses candidates for hiring for PM roles?

Google offices in LA
Google offices in Los Angeles (from Glassdoor)

When people ask about Google specifically, as a career coach I can’t help but ask: what is it you are looking for exactly? Many people think they want to go to Google simply because of the prestige that seems to be associated with that company. Having worked at top companies, and having done corporate training with dozens of Fortune 500 companies, I always caution people to REALLY get to know the culture of whatever place you want to enter. The grass if often greener, especially with big successful companies. With that caveat in mind, at Google, some things that are highly favored include:

1. Technical skills and abilities.
They highly favor people with at least some kind of technical degree (especially computer science) and often some kind of technical background as well (like a former engineer). I would say that Google in particular has held the degree part of that more closely than most others. That doesn’t mean you can’t get in without either–but it can be more difficult.

2. Analytical skills. While technology is the main bread and butter of Google, it is also simply a highly analytical place. Showcasing the ability to analyze problems, ask the right questions, and go through all the answers in a detailed fashion is part of their core culture.

3. Top brands. There is definitely a tendency to favor people coming from top schools or top brands — that can be from big companies or smaller companies that have been really successful. Again, this isn’t a hard and fast rule, it is a tendency.

I know that the above showcase a number of things that you may not have any influence over now–for instance, which thing you majored in years ago or which companies you have already worked at.

You might also be interested in: Prepare for a Product Management Interview at Google

It is not the case that every person at Google fills this mold. These are the *tendencies*. When I work with people coaching, we use whatever you have in your background, as well as really understanding the depths of what you are after and why, to connect you with the right opportunity.

You can hear more about Google–and why did I leave Google!? — in my fireside chat with my story here!

Why is it important to keep product and project management separated?

There are many important differences between project and product management. Generally, the biggest difference is project management tends to be more focused on the tactical execution of a project (managing schedules, resources, the proper sequencing of things, etc) and product managers tend to be responsible for the overall vision, strategy, roadmap and ensuring that whatever is built meets a market demand.

That all said, when in a startup (or any resource-constrained company), product managers tend to do a bit of double-duty until the team is large enough to merit having these separate resources. That kind of specialization doesn’t *usually* come into play until a startup is closer to 50+ people (again, dependent on industry, etc).

startup

The benefit of separating is, of course, that you get full ownership and focus over these two critical roles. That might mean fewer balls are dropped. Or that each person is operating in their zone of genius.

That said, I ALWAYS caution product managers by saying–your product is what is LIVE. It isn’t an idea. It’s not a photoshop file. It’s not a Keynote. It is the live product that they use everyday.

Whether you are lucky enough to have explicit project management support or not, keep the above in mind at all times!

Any last minute advice for aspiring product managers?

For aspiring product managers…the role is an amazing one! It is diverse, high impact, cross-functional. It requires both big picture thinking as well as specific execution tactics to lead to a successful outcome.

If you feel like your background isn’t the traditional ‘PM’ background, you are right! Because there isn’t one.

There are a number of windy roads people have taken to the path to PM, whether through tech, the music industry, the arts, healthcare, fashion design, or all of the above. (In fact, I have spent bits of time in ALL of those worlds and coached people from all of those worlds and more to get into PM positions.

You will be able to make the transition you need to make. You also may need (or want!) help along the way to make it higher impact and faster!

For more guidance on how to make this shift, see: How to Get a Product Management Job by Google Product Manager.

If you are in a place where you want to make this transition NOW and want to get coaching help so that next year (or even next quarter or next month!) looks very different from your last, feel free to reach out to me here as well.

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