PRODUCTHEAD: When everyone’s using genAI to apply for jobs

PRODUCTHEAD: When everyone’s using genAI to apply for jobs

PRODUCTHEAD is a regular newsletter of product management goodness,
curated by Jock Busuttil.

product a #

every PRODUCTHEAD edition is online for you to refer back to


tl;dr

Larger companies are far more likely to hire for intern, junior or associate level PM positions, but competition will be greater

Product success comes from the way its product manager makes decisions, thinks, communicates and relates


hello

The job market for product managers is in a weird place at the moment. On one side, the tech sector has been hit by layoffs, right, left and centre. On the other, product managers seem to be more in demand than ever.

More demand, more supply, more blaggers

I used to work with a client who ran a recruitment startup in Nigeria. Things being as they were, any job advertisement — for doctors, architects, teachers, whatever — would attract hundreds of candidates. Typically the vast majority of applicants had no relevant qualifications, skills or experience, but they applied nonetheless. It was just the way of things, and it placed an enormous additional burden on the organisations doing the hiring.

After years of fighting for recognition, most tech companies at least recognise the existence of the product manager role, and a good proportion of them seem to understand how it adds value to their organisation.

Understandably, the increased demand and the relatively attractive pay package means that more people than ever are trying to make the leap into the profession.

The problem for the companies doing the hiring is that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to tell which candidates have legitimate and relevant experience, and which are blaggers using generative AI to write their CV for them. And for legitimate candidates, the blaggers are crowding out the job opportunities.

Spotting the tells #

One giveaway for me is a generic-sounding personal statement on a CV or résumé. Whether the candidate wrote it themselves or used genAI to write it for them, it can indicate that they don’t have good enough communication skills to articulate why they would be a valuable hire. They end up with something better described as an impersonal statement.

For me at least, the ability to communicate well in different media is a cornerstone skill for a product manager.

For reference, here are a few sample responses from Google’s Gemini, OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Perplexity’s AI chatbot. I shudder to think how many CVs I’ve reviewed that look like these examples:

[prompt] I’m a product manager with 4 years’ experience working in a user-focused way at technology companies, alongside my multi-disciplinary team. Can you write me a short personal statement for my CV?

[Gemini] “Passionate product manager with 4 years of experience building user-centric solutions. Adept at collaborating with cross-functional teams to translate user insights into market-leading products. Proven track record of driving product development through all stages, from ideation to launch and beyond. Possesses strong analytical and communication skills, ensuring alignment between user needs, business goals, and technical feasibility. Eager to leverage expertise to contribute to innovative and impactful products at [Company Name].”

[ChatGPT] “With four years’ experience in technology-driven environments, I excel in user-focused product management, collaborating seamlessly with multi-disciplinary teams to deliver impactful solutions. My approach revolves around understanding user needs, market dynamics, and emerging technologies to drive innovation. I thrive in fast-paced settings, leveraging data-driven insights to inform decisions and iterating rapidly based on user feedback. Passionate about delivering value and fostering innovation, I’m eager to contribute to forward-thinking organizations with my proven track record of successful product launches and continuous learning mindset.”

[Perplexity] “An experienced and user-focused product manager with a proven track record of collaborating with multi-disciplinary teams to deliver innovative technology solutions. Skilled in market research, revenue forecasting, risk assessment, and team leadership. Passionate about creating impactful products and dedicated to driving success through effective communication and strategic vision.”

Somewhat understandably, there’s nothing in these examples that tells me what the candidate is passionate about, no insight into their personality or approach, or anything that would set them aside from the hundreds of other applicants. Admittedly, you could fine-tune the prompt to return less wooden suggestions, but genAI can’t describe what a candidate is like as a person, so it will end up describing the role instead.

I’m sure that some hiring managers would go for this generic boilerplate. They’ll simply end up hiring (at best) a middle-of-the-road candidate.

If you’re applying for a product manager job and want to distinguish yourself from the competition, tell your story. Make it personal and engaging. Say why you do what you do, what motivates you, what you’ve learned and what you’ve achieved. In my view at least, you don’t need to list out the generic stuff (everyone has a product roadmap) or parrot back whatever laundry list of skills the job description mentioned.

Calling bullsh*t #

Generative AI means that hiring managers are less able to sift out as many obviously ill-suited candidates based solely on their CV. (At least, not until AI catches up on the other side of the fence.) As a consequence it would seem that, for the time being, they’re going to have to resort to conducting more initial screening interviews.

In the past I’ve suggested screening candidates with a short telephone interview. Nowadays, I’ve revised my position and would recommend using a quick video call instead.

When I’m screening, I want to figure out whether the candidate’s words and deeds stack up. I want to see what they do when I put them on the spot about some specific detail on their CV. If they suddenly start squirming and struggling to make something plausible up, I can be reasonably confident that some degree of creative elaboration has occurred.

In contrast, a legitimate candidate will be able to go into as much detail as I need. They’ll be able to describe the situation, the backstory, and the politics without too much effort. For most people, remembering is far less effort than making stuff up on the fly.

I totally acknowledge the pressure on people to present themselves in the best possible light given the volume of competition for open positions at the moment. There’s also no guarantee that every organisation has an enlightened recruitment process, or is alive to the possibility that some candidates may be using genAI to try and gain an unfair advantage.

For me, every product manager, head of product, product director or chief product officer is in a position of trust. Using genAI to improve your CV is fine providing you’re not embellishing your experience and achievements to the point of falsehood. If my first contact with a prospective candidate is not truthful, then I can’t trust them. It’ll be a hard “no” from me every time.

For you this week #

I’ve gathered a couple of articles aimed at product manager candidates, and a couple for hiring managers. If you have time, I would suggest reading them all, as it is helpful to understand the perspective of the person on the other side of the interviewing table.

Speak to you soon,

Jock



what to think about this week

For candidates:

How do you get your first product management role?

Product management is still evolving as a discipline. But what is also exciting about this career path is that it doesn’t necessarily have one pre-defined path. After all, it doesn’t require a formal education or a specific certification. The landscape of product management is shifting towards valuing experience and skills over traditional qualifications. In this blog, we explore what exactly do you need to have and which strategies you should use to get your first job as a product manager.

It’s all about experience

[Few&Far]

Getting your first job as a product manager

Job adverts present a chicken-and-egg problem: they all need you to have product management experience to secure a job, but you don’t yet have a product management job to gain that experience.

Don’t let this discourage you!

Practical tips for breaking into a career in product management

[Jock Busuttil / I Manage Products]



For hiring managers:

The product leader’s guide to interviewing product managers

Because I tend to help organisations build up their product team from scratch, I’m often involved in the interviewing and hiring process, so I’d like to share with you my product leader’s guide to interviewing product managers.

A helpful, step-by-step guide

[Jock Busuttil / I Manage Products]

Recruiting the right stuff

This edition of PRODUCTHEAD emphasises the importance of hiring product managers for emotional intelligence as well as technical skills.

Hire people who will increase your rate of learning

[Jock Busuttil / I Manage Products]

recent posts

How do I make my product roadmap a better communication tool?

Hi Jock,

My product roadmap is not getting the right information across to other people in my company. In particular, my customer success and marketing teams are struggling to plan their work for upcoming product releases. I’m also not sure how I can show my roadmap’s relationship to the half-yearly OKRs we set. How can I improve it?

Your product roadmap is a communication tool

[I Manage Products]

How can I keep track of all these product metrics?

Hi Jock,

Do you have any advice on productivity tools for tracking product metrics? I’m seeking guidance on streamlining feedback and metrics management. Juggling continuous discovery insights, team feedback, and metric tracking has become increasingly overwhelming.

Sometimes it’s difficult to know where to start

[I Manage Products]

can we help you?

Product People is a product management services company. We can help you through consultancy, training and coaching. Just contact us if you need our help!

Product People Limited logo

Helping people build better products, more successfully, since 2012.

PRODUCTHEAD is a newsletter for product people of all varieties, and is lovingly crafted from banished limescale.


Read more from Jock

The Practitioner's Guide to Product Management book cover

The Practitioner's Guide To Product Management

by Jock Busuttil

“This is a great book for Product Managers or those considering a career in Product Management.”

— Lyndsay Denton

Jock Busuttil is a freelance head of product, product management coach and author. He has spent over two decades working with technology companies to improve their product management practices, from startups to multinationals. In 2012 Jock founded Product People Limited, which provides product management consultancy, coaching and training. Its clients include BBC, University of Cambridge, Ometria, Prolific and the UK’s Ministry of Justice and Government Digital Service (GDS). Jock holds a master’s degree in Classics from the University of Cambridge. He is the author of the popular book The Practitioner’s Guide To Product Management, which was published in January 2015 by Grand Central Publishing in the US and Piatkus in the UK. He writes the blog I Manage Products and weekly product management newsletter PRODUCTHEAD. You can find him on Mastodon, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*