A story about my job seeking experience and what I learnt from it

I moved to the US from India in January 2020 to live my dream of working in the silicon valley. I started school at Carnegie Mellon University to pursue MS in Product Management. This was the only program I applied for and I was fortunate to get in. I was the first in class to land a product internship. I was one of the 2 students who were shortlisted to work with Microsoft for their capstone project in a cohort of 40 students. Everything so far was hunky dory until I started looking for full-time product management job in the valley.

I was hoping to carry forward my successful run but I just did not realize that I was entering the most difficult and competitive job market in the history of US in the fall of 2020, thanks to the pandemic. I thought I was well prepared but it hit me really hard!

Interviews were hard to land. I failed the recruiter screenings. I failed the hiring manager rounds. I failed multiple on-sites. I failed EVERY round that was possible. It was nerve wrecking! I graduated from my program with no job and no further interviews scheduled. This was one of the toughest times I was living through. The situation gets even more complicated for an international student on an F-1 visa as I had to land a job within 90 days after graduation. I would often go through bouts of anxiety thinking if I am doing the right thing and if I am even capable of landing a product management job.

As America started enjoying its Christmas and New Year holidays, I took a 10 day break from everything and started focussing on my mental and physical health. Journaling, meditation, and 3 mile runs every day helped me a lot and I was able to bring back my focus and energy to begin my job search yet again.

I entered 2021 with a lot of hope and faith in myself and decided to take control of the situation. I now had 90 days to land a job. It was a do or die situation! I completely changed my strategy and started applying aggressively. I applied to over 400 roles in a span of 3 weeks. I landed interviews with 16 companies over the next 2 weeks, some with the top FinTech companies in the world. This was followed by 3 weeks of intense interviewing where I gave 10+ interviews each week. By this time, I had reached a stage where I had confidence that I could crack any PM interview, no matter how hard. I eventually landed 3 job offers and had to say no to a lot of other companies where I was still interviewing. The tides had completely turned! All of this happened within the first 45 days of 2021.

None of this was easy and it was one heck of a roller-coaster ride. It wouldn’t have been possible without the support of my partner and my family. As of today I am a product manager with WePay, a Chase company.

  1. Network on LinkedIn as if your life depends on it. This helps you get referrals.
  2. As a student looking for their first product role, apply to everything that comes your way. Don’t pick and choose. Applying does not mean you have to work for the company.
  3. Do not underestimate the power of making cold applications. Balance your bets with both referrals and cold applications.
  4. Focus on making your resume scannable and not adding more and more information.
  5. No level of preparation can prepare you for interviews. Only interviews can prepare you for interviews. You’ll learn the most and improve when you actually interview.
  6. Do not stop applying until you have landed a role and singed the offer letter. Shit happens, you never know what will happen.
  7. Interview a lot and interview often. Make interviews your muscle memory. You’ll breeze through interviews, trust me!
  8. Do not wing your recruiter screenings. Prepare for them like you’d prepare for any interview. I failed 6 recruiter screenings.
  9. It is okay to take pauses during the interview. Ask the interviewer for time to think before answering the question. You’ll see the difference in your ability to think and structure the answer.
  10. Spend extra time thinking about what questions you are going to ask the interviewer towards the end of the interview. This makes a huge difference!

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