Side Projects: The Secret to Getting a Job in Product Management

If you want to work in the fast-paced, highly competitive tech world, you need to have a competitive edge. This is especially true if you’re looking to get a job in Product Management.

Getting a great Product Management job means bringing more to the interview room than just a college degree. While education is critical, experience is what can set you apart from other candidates. Sometimes the reality is that you have the skills and the knowledge, but nothing to demonstrate them.

That’s where a side project comes in…

Why start a side project?

Side projects show recruiters and interviewers that you have your own ideas and an entrepreneurial spirit. It takes guts and grit to forge your own path, and this is what will make your resume shine.

Depending on which route you go down, they can also be a great way to show off your knowledge, technical abilities, and design skills.

They’re also a useful tool for someone looking to transition from one discipline to another. If you have extensive experience as a software engineer, but have no managerial experience, building an app and stepping into a management role will give you that experience.

Not only will having a side project make you stand out in comparison – but it will give you a lot of references and conversation points during the interview.

For example, if you get the popular question, “how would you prioritize multiple features?” you will be able to use your own experience as a reference and answer it more clearly and confidently.

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

How to kickstart a Product Manager side project

You don’t need to build a startup, it can be a small side project that’s as simple as starting a blog all the way to the complexity of building an app. There’s no rule which says one is more valid than the other.

The main goal of having a side project is to show that you can:

  • Take action
  • Put together a plan
  • Finish what you start

By making a plan, you’ll be flexing your Product Manager skills before you even start the actual work. Make sure to take stock of what resources and time are available to you. Start out small with plans to scale, just as real products do. If you’re building something big, do all the work a Product Manager would do, like customer research, roadmap building,

You should also make sure you have a solid vision and a strong ‘Why’. When someone asks you ‘hey, why did you do that really cool thing?’, you’ll want a more interesting answer than just ‘for the experience.’

This is something you may be doing alongside studies, or a full time job. By making it something you’re passionate about, you’ll be more motivated to make time for it.

Speaking of time, time management is another highly-valued Product Management skill. Make sure you prioritize your time like a champ and block off a few hours a week to work on your project.

You might also be interested in: Why Human Skills are Increasing in Value

5 popular side-project ideas:

1. Publish your own blog

Blog Graphic

A blog is one of the easiest (even though it’s definitely not easy!) ways to show off your skills.

The topics you write about can be a great window into your interests for prospective employers. You don’t have to exclusively write about Product Management, so get creative with your subjects. It’s smart to target the industry you want to work in. So if you want to work in the gaming industry for example, you could write video game reviews or deep dive into what you think the implications of VR are on the future of gaming.

You can either run your blog on something easy and user-friendly like Medium, or you can go the extra mile and build your own WordPress site. This will show off your tech skills and your eye for design.

You might also be interested in: How Innovation in Other Industries Drives Innovation in Product Management

What you’ll need:

Hosting platform: If you’ve got tech skills you’ve been wanting to flex, then you could build your own website and have your blog exactly the way you want it. Or, you could use a more user-friendly website builder like Squarespace or Wix.

Content ideas: Use keyword research tools like SEMRush or UberSuggest for maximum visibility.

Visuals: Remember not to use any images that you don’t have permission to use. Use stock images from free stock websites, or check out illustration sources like Open Doodles (another cool side project!).

2. Start a podcast

Podcast

If you’ve ever been having a really cool, indepth, insightful conversation with someone and though ‘wow, I should have a podcast!’ you’re not the only one!

If you’re specialized in a certain area, or you’ve got a passion for interviewing industry professionals, the podcasters life could be the one for you. It’s a great tool for boosting your profile, as it lets people hear how you conduct yourself around others, and allows you to go in-depth on your opinions and knowledge.

The best part about podcasting, is that there are a whole host of tools and platforms out there to help you do it.

What you’ll need:

A plan: Podcasting only works if you know what you want to talk about. Come up with a brief or mission statement, and a breakdown of your first ten episodes.

PRO-TIP! Only launch your podcast when you have a chunk of episodes recorded and ready to be released. If you launch one episode and then lose momentum, you’ll have a half-finished project online forever, which is not a good look.

A microphone: Podcasts are so high quality these days that you need at least a little production value. Even a $50 microphone can make all the difference.

Audio editing software: No one is lucky enough to have a podcast done in one take! You need an editor. Audacity is popular among amateur podcasters.

3. Start a YouTube channel

YouTube Channel

No, you don’t need to be a 21-year-old makeup guru to have a YouTube channel!

The most natural path to take here is a blog about Product Management. It could include ‘Day in the Life of a Product Manager’ style videos, or quick lessons about different aspects of Product Management.

But the sky really is the limit! If you’re passionate about books, or cooking, or show jumping, or want to share Go-Pro footage from your last epic skiing adventures, there’s someone out there who wants to see it.

What you’ll need:

A camera: No, your webcam won’t do. But you don’t need to rush out and buy the most expensive camera set up out there! Start small, maybe with a secondhand DSLR. You can always upgrade later.

A video editing suite: iMovie is the best for beginners, and can also be downloaded for Windows PCs as well. If you’re ready to upgrade, most creators swear by Adobe Premiere Pro.

4. Launch your own product

Launch a product

Create a product. Come up with a problem you want to solve, decide on the Minimum Viable Product (MVP), then interview potential users, write user stories and build mock-ups. All this will go into a product roadmap. Give a developer some experience with you and work with them to build the product – then you’re already being a product manager.

If you want to prove you can build products, you have to start by building products

A tangible product will increase your interview game, but even simply having gone through the process with documents to prove it, put you ahead of the rest.

What you’ll need:

Support: If you’re going it alone, you can find plenty of support in the form of online communities. Indie Hackers is a great online repository of resources, as well as a networking platform to help you find your future business partner.

You’ll also find invaluable help, advice, and support in our Slack community, along with 50,000 other Product Managers.

Tools: We’ve collected together a repository of the best Product Management tools, as well as links to all of their free trials. Check out: Productverse

5. Join a hackathon

Hackathon

Hackathons, also called hackfests or sometimes codefests, are events for software developers to come up with a demonstrable MVP in a short time based on a particular theme or addressing a certain problem.

Hackathons can actually be great ways to add to your PM portfolio and get some experience with building Products. They’re great ways for tech people to flex their management skills, and for Product Managers to build their tech skills. It could also be the jumping off point for your very own, fully launched product!

What you’ll need:

Check out our guide on Everything Product Managers Need to Know about Hackathons.

Get Inspired: Side Projects by Product People

PM Library by N26 Senior Product Manager

PM Library

When Alexander Hipp and his co-founder, Lena Haydt, were in the early stages of their PM careers, they found that they’d already read all the most recommended Product Management books out there. The search for recommendations and new reads was a bit clunky, so they set out to build a community for book lovers within the tech world.

PM Library is an online repository of great books for product people to read, and features reviews and author interviews. They also have an ‘On My Shelf‘ where top product people share their favorite reads.

PM Library is now run by a small team who work on the project alongside their hectic day jobs. We actually got to talk to Alexander Hipp about it all on our podcast.

Cafecito by Open Up Resources PM

Cafecito

Making friends as a remote worker is tough (as many of us in 2020 are just discovering!) Sometimes the best ideas come from human interaction. Irma Mesa, who we’ve previously interviewed on diversity and inclusivity in product, started Cafecito to solve this problem for herself and others.

Cafecito is the Spanish word for ‘a little coffee’ and is colloquially used to ask someone ‘shall we grab a quick coffee?’ On Makerpad, Irma describes it as being ‘for remote workers, entrepreneurs, consultants, freelancers, and creatives who are all working so hard it becomes easy to miss how far away you’re getting from human interaction.’

Product Coffee Podcast by Ibotta PMs

Product Coffee Podcast

Product Coffee is the brainchild of a group of Ibotta Product Managers, who used to routinely get together for coffee and talk over different things that were on their mind.

They realized that this was a great opportunity for growth within the group, as they could all learn from each other, and all benefitted from workshopping different ideas together. Thus, the Product Coffee podcast was born!

You can read more about the story behind it here.

Resources to get you started

Like diving into a good, useful book? Ship It V2 is full of advice and stories from real Silicon Valley Product leaders, from Google, Amazon, Netflix, and many more.

We love a TED talk here, and entrepreneur Dave Jarman gave a great presentation on Why You Should Start a Side Project:

If you happen to like YouTube videos, we put all of our talks from expert speakers up on our channel!

how to build digital products banner

Enjoyed the article? You may like this too: