From Management Consulting to Product Management - Discussion with Anubhav Mangal, Senior Product Manager @Amazon
While Product Management in Tech is a highly sought after function today, transitioning to Product Management without prior experience can be daunting. In this discussion, we talk to Anubhav Mangal, a Product Manager with AWS, Amazon, on how he switched from a role in Corporate Strategy at Cisco to Product Management at Amazon.
LED: Can you give us a brief overview of your background?
Anubhav: I’m originally from India, I have an undergrad in Metallurgical engineering and Materials Science from IIT Bombay. After that, I was at McKinsey as a Business Analyst and I also worked in a public sector startup where I was playing the role of Chief of Staff to the head of the organization. After that, I moved to the US to do my MBA and Masters in Computer Science from the University of Chicago (Booth). Post graduation, I joined Cisco in their Corporate Strategy team as a Manager. After ~1 year in the role, I joined AWS as a Senior Product Manager.
LED: Can you describe your role in corporate strategy at Cisco?
Anubhav: A corporate strategy team works on defining corporate or business level strategy, typically around the business model, product or Go-To-Market - which includes sales, partnerships/channel or customer experience strategy, for either the CEO of the company or a specific Business Unit head. The problems generally involve evaluating new or existing product strategies, entering a new market, product area or geography, evaluating possible inorganic opportunities, as well as Go-to-Market strategy with a view on increasing customer relevance, expanding revenue or increasing competitiveness for the company.
LED: Why did you decide to transition to Product Management?
Anubhav: I had never really worked in the Technology space prior to my role at Cisco. For me, entering corporate strategy was a stepping stone to getting a better understanding of the technology ecosystem - major trends, interesting segments, key players and developing my point of view on what areas I would enjoy working in. While I enjoyed the role and it gave me the chance to build a point of view on what to build and advocate my views to business leaders, I felt that I had limited control over the actual decision of what to build. After one year, I felt like I had a good handle on the Tech space at a high level, and was keen to dive deeper into the process of actually building products and the increased ownership that comes with a role like that. I felt like I wanted to now work in an end to end role, where I was not only figuring out what to do, but also doing it. Product Management seemed to fit the bill.
LED: Was the transition easy? Hard? What were some of the challenges that you faced?
Anubhav: The transition was challenging. The main issue is that Product Management is one of the more sought after functions in tech today, and companies value candidates with prior product experience. It wasn’t easy trying to get my resume shortlisted by the recruiter, without having this prior product experience. Even when I made it to the interviews, I often felt that even though my interviews went well, the fact that I didn’t have prior PM experience didn’t work in my favor. In a sense, it’s sort of like a demand supply problem - companies have enough candidates with prior PM experience to pick from.
This definitely makes recruiting tough! I had a number of rejections - from recruiters not screening my resume, to interviewers disengaging during an interview upon finding out that I did not have prior PM experience, to interviews where I felt that the experience that I brought to the table was not valued enough. I’m mentioning this to highlight that this can happen, and that it can be demoralizing. The main advice that I will give is to stay at it, there are a lot of amazing opportunities out there and something is undoubtedly going to work out given enough effort.
For eg: In some interviews, I was asked questions that were specific to the PM function, but since I didn’t have that experience, it wasn’t always easy for me to answer them. However, by doing enough prep and going through some of these interviews, I got the hang of how to answer these questions. A good tip here for those who are transitioning is to expect such questions, and prepare well for them beforehand.
LED: What did you do to help you overcome this challenge?
Anubhav: One - I prepared for product case interviews. I wasn’t really asked a full fledged case in my interviews, but going through the process helped me answer product related questions that came up in interviews such as evaluating a feature, or thinking about product metrics etc.
Two - Any time I was asked a question that seemed too specific to product management, and I wasn’t sure if I’d answered their question satisfactorily, I would ask them if I’d missed anything. Some of them told me what they were looking for, and this helped me be better prepared for subsequent interviews.
Third - Like I said, getting my resume shortlisted without prior product management experience was definitely the biggest challenge. There is no easy shortcut for this one. I kept trying, and did not let this bother me. I also highlighted attributes that are typical to product management in my resume (For example: I talked about leading cross-functional teams, and having some prior experience working with engineering and design). Speaking to someone at a company who can put you directly in touch with the hiring manager helps immensely, especially if the referral comes from a PM. By doing this, you’re essentially skipping the recruiter screen which was the biggest hurdle in my case.
Fourth, as part of any standard interview process, you’ll be asked various behavioral questions. Explain your prior work experience, significant projects and accomplishments, why you would like to transition into Product Management and situation questions - ‘Tell me about a time you xxx’. It’s important to prepare answers to these questions beforehand, as you’re virtually guaranteed to be asked some of these questions.
Fifth, it’s important to do some research on the company you are interviewing with as well. Understand what the company’s product is, who their customers are and what needs those customers have. Having an understanding of their competitive position, their sales/marketing strategy, any recent news about them is also helpful. Whatever information you can gather about the company is helpful - both in the interview process as well as helping you decide whether the company is a good fit for you.
Lastly, prepare a few questions to ask the interviewer near the end of the interview. Almost all interviews leave 5-10 mins for questions at the end. You should use that time to answer any questions you genuinely have about the company, but it’s also a good opportunity to show that you’ve researched the company and are genuinely interested in the role - interviewers like that. Try to make these questions specific to the interviewer - so if you’re speaking to an engineering manager, don’t ask them questions around sales complexities. Also, always err on the side of more questions - some interviewers prefer to have candidates lead the interviews and will leave the door open for candidates to ask questions with maybe 20-30 minutes remaining in the interview.
LED: Yes, I’ve heard that getting referrals can be very helpful. How did you go about finding people at companies who could refer you?
Anubhav: First person contacts are obviously helpful. If you know people who are working at companies you’re interested in, definitely leverage them. I’ve done this myself for people who wanted to join Cisco as PMs. Other than that, make use of LinkedIn and tap into your professional network. In my case, I definitely leaned into my Booth and McKinsey network to help me make connections. And even if you cannot find someone who can refer you, do not hesitate from cold mailing people on LinkedIn. You never know who might reply! Additionally, try reaching out to Hiring Managers or HR Recruiters on LinkedIn directly as well - sometimes you might hear back from them too.
LED: Did you get responses when you cold mailed?
Anubhav: The hit rate was low, but a few kind souls did reply :)
LED: Do you have any recommendations for cold mail etiquette?
Anubhav: I think thinking about this from the other person’s point of view will help a lot. They are probably receiving many such requests and are clearly doing you a favor. Think about how you can make this easy for them, while acknowledging the fact that they are doing you a favor. So keep the message you send them short and crisp. Make it clear what you’re asking for and above all, ensure you thank them.
LED: Are there things that candidates can do on their job, or outside, to improve their profile for PM?
Anubhav: While I didn’t do this myself, finding ways that enable you to demonstrate core product management attributes can help. You don’t have to necessarily build a product. For eg: If your job gives you an opportunity to talk to customers, internal or external, to then build some sort of program, that also demonstrates PM skills. I also know of people who do their own side projects, such as a website or blog, that demonstrates similar skills (plus it’s fun!). Still others do courses on product management, although I’m not sure how effective or helpful they are.
LED: Do you have any parting advice for others looking to transition to PM?
Anubhav: First - spend some time thinking about whether you really want to do Product Management and whether you’ll enjoy it. Speak to friends, try to understand their day to day, listen to the LED podcast - make sure you’re not just following the herd.
Once you’re sure, prepare well. There are standard questions such as why product, why that company, etc. and these can be easily aced with adequate prep. More importantly, keep trying and don’t lose heart. You will face rejection, maybe even a lot of it, but if you keep at it, you will definitely land something good. There is a lot of demand for great people!