Changing Jobs in Product Management: Self Evaluation and Farming (Part I of III)

FarmingFirst, I’d like to thank those of you who keep up with Product Beautiful. Many of you I’ve had a chance to meet through networking, ProductCamp, at tradeshows, or we just ran into one another. Something I try to do with Product Beautiful is give Product Managers some helpful strategic thoughts and tactical tips for situations that you face in your job. This series of posts is about the process of changing jobs in Product Management and Product Marketing.

I am currently in the job change process, leaving NetStreams and moving to much larger company in a different industry. Going through the process has made me reflect and think about what people mean when they say “He left the right way.” To be successful in business and in life you need to build more bridges than you burn, so it is important to know the unspoken rules about entering and leaving jobs, because while people may say “it’s just business;” it is personal, relationships matter, and telling your boss that you’re leaving can be a sensitive conversation.

Part One – Self Evaluation and Farming

Before you make any major career move, evaluate your current situation dispassionately. Here is a list of questions I recommend asking yourself:

  • Are you personally happy/unhappy? Why/why not?
  • Do you see a path for career advancement? Why/why not?
  • Is the company’s future outlook positive? Why/why not?
  • Have you had or do you plan to have a major life-changing event (e.g. new baby, marriage, divorce, relocation, etc)?
  • Where do you want your career to be in three, five, ten, and twenty years? Does your current position align with those goals?
  • Is your relationship with your peers and manager positive? Why/why not?
  • Is your work/life balance appropriate? Why/why not?
  • Is your compensation in line with the Market for your role?

A realistic assessment of your current situation will tell you, outside of any offer from a 3rd party, if your head is already in a spot to move to your next gig. There is nothing wrong with standing pat; if you move before you are ready you will likely take a job that isn’t ideal for you, and remember that your goal is to improve your situation. Sometimes, if you identify through these and other questions that you are unhappy, you can change your current situation to your liking by having the right conversations with your boss (about work/life balance, compensation, etc), with your spouse (about life changing events or personal happiness) or with your peers (relationships, career advancement).

Second, to make a good evaluation of your current spot, call on your mentors. These are old bosses, senior people you trust and who you’ve either impressed or made an impression on you in the past. Be a “people collector,” and always ask people who are senior to you to serve in a mentorship capacity to you in the future. Often, people are flattered to be asked – it doesn’t mean that you’ll phone them up tomorrow, or ever, but when you do need to email or call that one person for a specific reason or request, they will remember you and be eager to help. On the flipside, don’t ask everyone you know to be your mentor – be choosy, and don’t ask peers, only people senior to you. And it should go without saying, but don’t ask people at your current company to be your mentor (until you’ve given notice and are saying goodbyes).

Last, you should always be “farming.” Farming is related to networking in that you made a lot of connections, but to be a good farmer you have to take that network to the next level. A farmer makes a good connection (networking) and plants a seed, waters it, and gives it time to grow and flower. You need to always be doing the same farming activities with your network. I set a quarterly event on my Outlook calendar to review my LinkedIn contacts and see who I haven’t talked to in awhile. Take those people out to lunch (you pay), listen to what they’re up to and find connections. Water these seeds regularly and your network will grow organically. Over time, your farming will pay off when your network blooms and spreads its seeds on your behalf. This will result in new second order connections.

Second order connections are connections that your connections have made on your behalf. When someone from your network introduces you to someone they know that they’d like you to meet, that’s a second order connection. These “trusted introductions” are the single most powerful job hunting tool available, period. LinkedIn is a great tool for this purpose. Every job I’ve had since LinkedIn has existed has been found through an introduction that someone made to me via LinkedIn, or my using LinkedIn to leverage a second order connection to someone else through one of my connections. The implied trust basis of an introduction coming from someone you trust gets you in the door and bypasses the resume stack that is sitting on the hiring manager’s desk. In some cases, people will even create a new position for you that didn’t exist, just because they like (and now trust) you.

When I decided I was ready to leave Cisco and go to a startup, I made a “hit list” of small companies in the Austin area. Austin Ventures is the 800 lb. gorilla in town for startups, so I went down the 100 strong list of startup companies they were funding and picked the top 10 companies I wanted to target based on opinions I had already formed of each, technology and product fit with my experiences, and size. Next, I went on LinkedIn and (suprise!) I was indirectly connected to the VPs of Marketing or the CEO in every one of the 10 companies. I emailed an introduction of myself (a second order connection via my connection) to all of them via LinkedIn and offered to take them out to lunch or coffee to hear what they were up to. The email is important – you don’t want to sound desperate for a job, but you want to form a new connection and let them know you’re out there if they ever are looking for talent with your skills.

Four of the ten replied, and ended up meeting with three of them. NetStreams was my top pick and I met their VP of Marketing for drinks and we chatted about what they were doing. As it turns out, they didn’t have a Product Management team yet, and were beginning to recognize that their current mode of operations wasn’t sustainable. That was October. She said that they weren’t ready to hire anyone but would keep in touch. I pinged her about once per month and didn’t hear anything until the next February when she called me out the blue and asked me to come in the next day to interview for a Director of Product Management role – a role they created for me, based on my resume. They extended an offer the next week.

It was a similar situation on this most recent career change I am undergoing now – someone found me via LinkedIn.

In the next part of this series, I’ll talk about Interviewing and Offer Evaluation. In the third part of the series, I’ll talk about Leaving, Starting, and Building Bridges.

Key takeaways:

  • Do a self-evaluation
  • Be dispassionate and don’t make rash decisions
  • It is OK to stay
  • Go beyond networking and be a Farmer

What other evaluation advice do you have? Post it in the comments below.

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    I was reading some of your articles on this site and I think this website is real informative! Keep posting.

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