Write A Product Manager Cover Letter That Doesn’t Suck

product manager cover letter
product manager cover letter

Wanna take a guess at what is worse than needing to write a product manager cover letter?

Having to read a crappy product manager cover letter hundreds of crappy product manager cover letters.

I’m not going to lie.

Getting a gig can be hard and there are lots of hacks you can uses to get yourself in front of the powers that be, but don’t ruin all your hard work (and waste my time or the time of someone like me) by putting a lame ass, boring as hell cover letter in front of them.

Remember, your job as a product manager is solving problems, but how good can you really be at it if you can’t solve the problem of getting yourself a job?

If you stop reading here, I hope you take one thing away from this article and that is a job interview isn’t an interview, it is a sales pitch for what you should consider the greatest product in the world…yourself.

Product Manager Cover Letter
A hiring manager dreading about reading your boring product manager cover letter.

What Is A Product Manager Cover Letter

Make no mistake about it, it is a test. While the product manager resume is all about quantitative value, proving your worth through formal certifications and concrete numbers, the product manager cover letter, is all about quality.

You want to demonstrate that you’re the right person for that specific job opening  Sure, some resume expert will tell you that cover letters are:

  • Brief but important documents that tell an employer why you are the best candidate for a job.
  • Meant to detail who you are and what experience you have in product management.
  • Tools for putting your exceptional qualifications on display to help employers see why you’re a great fit for the role, and
  • An important step in your job search journey

 

What Happens When A Hiring Manager Reads Your Cover Letter

If you have to make an assumption about people you do not know, assume they are lazy tired.

Why?

Because it will force you to do the work required to communicate with them, rather than expecting them to meet you half way. And put yourself in the position of the hiring manager; how would you feel after going through a hundred cover letters, the majority of which are 90% identical.

So when a product manager reads you cover letter, there is a high likelihood their eyes are going to roll into the back of their head, so you need to do as much as possible to prevent that from happen.

product manager cover letter eye roll
Prevent the hiring manager eye roll with a proper product manager cover letter.

Busy hiring managers do not thoughtfully review every letter, tease out the relevant details and figure out if the candidates meets the hiring criteria. You need to be explicit in showing how your skills apply to the situation.

By being explicit in demonstrating the application of your skills, you accomplish two things:

  • If you are dealing with a lazy overworked hiring manager, you reduce the amount of cognitive work they must do abstracting whether or not you are capable of handling the responsibilities for the position.  Your cover letter makes their life easier.
  • If you are dealing with an attentive hiring manager, impress them with the level of thought and detail you’ve put into the letter.   Even if it is incorrect and varies from the internal direction of the company, you are demonstrating the implicit skill expected of a product manager.

The real purpose of a product manager cover letter is showing the prospective employer how you can help solve their problem, namely hiring a competent product manager, not a cover letter writer. Its role is to craft a narrative and what you put in that narrative is what is going to move you along in the hiring process.

Do not rehash your resume; your cover letter is an opportunity to demonstrate your product management skills by putting them on display. Despite what others may recommend, your cover letter should not be a customer testimonial white paper, it should give a taste of how you apply your skills so the reader invests time evaluating you, rather than other potential candidates.

Guide To Writing A Nacrolepsy Inducing Cover Letter

If you want to write a lame cover letter, follow an outline like this:

  • Why are you the best candidate?
  • Why are you interested in product management?
  • Why do you want to work for this company?

 

The same lame advice will tell you that your cover letter should convince the hiring manager to move you along in the hiring process for a product manager position by:

Telling a great story and showcase how you can help the company. 

Put your communication skills in action and craft a compelling narrative about your experience and skills.

Show employers that you’re the right fit by focusing on one or two of your most relevant product management successes. 

Why Was That Lame Advice?

I feel like this “should” be a blinding flash of the obvious, but I’ll ask (and answer) the obvious question, “Why did that cover letter advice suck?”

Simply because all the focus was about “You” as the job candidate.  The entire point of being a product manager is understanding the customer and realize that “You” are not the customer here.  The hiring company is the customer here and “You” are the product. 

As a candidate for a product manager position, use the cover letter to show that “You” are the best solution “Their” problem.  Use the cover letter to “showcase” the product management skills and experience you have, not to write about them, that is what the resume is for.

Let’s reframe this in product management language shall well? 

As you should know by now, products have features that offer a range of functionality that provide users with benefits.  You should also know that customers do not buy features and functions, they make their purchase decision based on the benefits provided by the features and benefits.

In the world of the job seeker, your education and job history are the features and functions. Use the cover letter to showcase the benefit of these features and functions for your prospective employer.

My intent with this article is to show how to do just this, but not because I care whether or not you get a job, but rather I am sick and tired of reading shitty, lazy cover letters.

Product manager cover letters
How I feel after reading 100 crappy cover letters for a product manager job.

Guidelines For Writing A Non Crappy Product Manager Cover Letter

Cover Letter Basics

  1. Write a new cover letter for each company.  If you follow our guidance, you’ll avoid sending out generic cover letters by default
  2. Stick to a page. Remember, the hiring process is a test.  Work on passing this test by understanding how to concisely organize your thoughts and communicate them on a single page .
  3. Assume that the reader either lazy or tired so you need to do all the work here by making your implicit knowledge explicit by framing it in a context the reader grasps with minimal effort.
  4. Use a simple format with a clean, easy-to-read cover letter design. Do not distract from the content with the layout
  5. Edit, proofread and get feedback. Before you submit your cover letter, check—then double-check—for any spelling or grammar errors.

The Secret To A Non Crappy Product Manager Cover Letter

Most cover letter advice tells you to: 

Make sure to highlight your most relevant experiences and skill. Your cover letter should expand upon the skills you list on your resume. Choose a few of your most relevant product management experiences. Then, describe your role/responsibilities and the outcomes. Explain how your background and experience would be an asset to the company.

This is wrong.

Don’t simply use the cover letter to expand on the skills you list in your resume by using superfluous words and grandiose phrases about how you saved your prior projects from the jaws of corporate death.

Rather, use the cover letter to put your skills and experience to work for the company by showing the readers the benefits of hiring you.  This means you approach the cover letter as if it you were the product manager tasked with improving some aspect of the performance of the company’s product offerings and generate a quasi product roadmap/requirements document.

That’s right, you are going to do a bit of a deep dive on the company in order to highlight your skills and benefits by putting them on display, not describing them.  If you know what you are doing, it will show in the letter.

I can hear you asking…..Wait, what you want me to do some work?

Yes.  

Calling the job application process an “interview” does everyone a dis-service.  It’s a sales pitch.  The sooner you realize and accept it, the sooner you realize the type of work you need to put in.

The Non Crappy Approach To Cover Letter Research

Put your vaunted product manager research skills work to use when writing your cover letter to highlight your most relevant skills and explain why you’re interested in the particular company demonstrate how you would apply yourself.  I’ve done you the honor of laying out a few steps to complete the process. Adapt them as needed:

  • Assuming you have identified a company you want to work for, find out:
    • What is their mission, and what is their culture like?

    • What are their current products?

    • What pain are they trying to solve with role that you’re applying to

    • What industry are they in, and what are the key trends in that industry? What keywords should you highlight in the cover letter, based on the job description?

    • If there are any investment banking reports on the company, read them.
  • Identify a product you would like to work on.
    • Source both positive and negative reviews about the product
    • Track down any media coverage of the company related to this product.
    • What you want to find out are:
      • The names of a few senior executives and anything they mentioned about the product.  Be sure to hunt them down on Linkedin as well to see what they have said about their company and products there
      • Competitors
      • Relevant trade magazines.  Here is where you will probably find the most information.

Why do all this research? 

Well the truth is, the reader of your cover letter probably does not know/care about your current company, your current industry, or your current role. Therefore you need to wrap this information into your cover letter in such away that it appeals to the self interest of the reader.

When you go through the process we described, you’re forced to figure out how to present on overview of your skills in such a way that it appeals to the self interests of the reader in order to get yourself a high paying gig show how you are the best solution for the customer’s pain.

The cover letter serves as pre-interview research, not dissimilar to what you go through during the hypothesis generationvalidation and requirements gathering process so you can demonstrate what you know about the company, their objectives and how to position yourself throughout the interview as a solution to their problems.

This work also serves as a way to structure your responses within an interview.

In the next section, we will show you how to use this information to structure your product manager cover letter in such a way that it will not induce narcolepsy.

Product Manager Cover Letter Structure

Your product manager cover letter should be structure in such away that it facilitates scanning by the hiring manager, who you are to assume is either lazy or tired.  Suggested structure is:

  • Heading, including your name and contact information.
  • Date.
  • The hiring manager’s name and title as well as the company’s name.
    • Do not  use “to whom it may concern” , “dear hiring manager” or anything else to that effect as you are not investing the time in this resume to blindly submit this on a website.  Part of your job search is identifying someone relevant to send your resume to or do not bother sending it.
    • How can you honestly demonstrate that you’re the best candidate out of everyone who’s applying for that job posting when you can’t figure out a simple contact point within a company?
  • The title of the position you are applying for.
  • Introduction: Your introduction should be brief but engaging—it needs to capture the reader’s attention right away by identifying how you solve the hiring manager’s problem.
  • Company research summary:  This is where you synthesize the information you gathered during your research into a narrative that explicitly demonstrates your skills by doing something along the following lines.
    • Start of this section with a simple SWOT analysis of a product the company makes.
    • Use this SWOT analysis to tie your research findings into a quick and dirty plan of action for the product.  Be sure to reference finding from your research, with the goal of generating a high level product roadmap.
    • Tie some of your suggestions back to situations in your prior work history/experience and discuss those outcomes, including handling the inevitable setbacks.
  • Closing: Keep the ending short and to the point. Reiterate your skills and enthusiasm, and encourage the employer to contact you for an interview.

Before You Send Your Non Crappy Cover Letter

Have a friend to take an unbiased look at your cover letter and ask them to do two things:
  • Find stupid mistakes
  • Make sure its effective

Find Stupid Mistakes

Specify either the job title or the name of the company: Not doing so is sure sign that you’re sending the same cover letter to many companies,  demonstrating that you don’t care about details. 

Make sure it has the right company name:  I’ve gotten many cover letters for positions that don’t exist at my company or were for entirely different companies all together

Remove template language:  Do not forget to clean op any template/boiler plate language

 

Evaluation Criteria

Evaluate your cover letter against the following criteria

  • Do they understand your narrative, your strengths, and why you’d be a valuable asset to the company?
  • Can they connect your experiences and the pain that you will solve?

If the answer to either of the above is “no”, go back and edit your cover letter until answer is yes.

Conclusion

Yes, every time you apply for a new job,  you must write a whole new cover letter from scratch for every time as your goal is to put your product management skills on display for each situation.

That’s why you should never ever blindly apply to jobs over the Internet without touching based with someone relevant at the company you are applying to.  So now it’s time to put those skills to work and apply for a product manager internship.

Alternatively, you can be lazy and get a job at Taco Bell.   We all have choices in life, so feel free to exercise your right to write a crappy product manager cover letter.

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