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Find out how Muse got hired by her mentor, and her building blocks for breaking into product management.
A degree in Economics and Psychology meant that Muse was very familiar with the “how’s” and the “why’s” of issues she encountered in her previous job as a corporate strategist at a Canadian Telecoms Company. However, she quickly became disillusioned with theoretical work and was more interested in whether the strategies she was recommending to executives at her job were even feasible.
Tech had always been an enticing space, yet Muse was unsure how to participate. This was especially the case because she could neither code nor design - and weren’t these the key skills required for a tech career?
A friend who had recently switched to Product Management (PM) explained what it entailed to Muse and for the first time, she felt like she might have found her place. That chat was first in a long line of discussions she had with PMs. She reached out to some on LinkedIn and had coffee chats with others, just to understand if this career sounded like something that she would be good at.
A different kind of problem presented itself when one of the PMs she spoke with told her that the best way to break into the industry was to build something that solves a customer problem. The best way to become a product manager was obviously to build a product, but how? With zero product experience, she asked herself how that was going to happen.
This is a common catch-22 aspiring product managers get into. PM is a vague role with no clear path into the industry. You can read about frameworks and fundamentals, but that’s not a substitute for actually working in a product environment. All of which recruiters and hiring managers are looking for, even when it comes to junior hires. That’s when another friend came to the rescue when she recommended Co.Lab to Muse. Co.Lab greatly appealed to Muse because with Co.Lab, it actually went beyond the theory. It didn’t matter that she couldn’t code or design - she could tap into her existing skills and actually learn by doing. She could do what she did best with problem-solving and communication and research, and reply on her designer and developers to build as a team. And there was no other comparable alternative she had found.
“I was so close to doing another Bootcamp but at the end of the day, that Bootcamp was just going to offer me more course material. I’d have been learning how to be a PM without actually being one and I was sick of doing theoretical things, I wanted to build something tangible”
Today, she recounts her Co.Lab experience with fondness. Muse and her team built HelloStocks - a product that makes stock research easier for beginner investors by mapping news articles to price fluctuations on a stock chart. Working on HelloStocks taught her a valuable tip that she now carries at the back of her mind each day - the importance of reducing product scope.
In many companies, people have the urge to ship something huge. But sometimes, there is more value to be found in breaking features into smaller chunks and this is something Muse recalls was heavily emphasized throughout her time at Co.Lab. Simply, if a feature can bring value to the end-users, ship it right away.
“Co.Lab gave me the end-to-end product process experience of shipping an MVP. It allowed me to strengthen the building blocks that I needed in order to break into Product. These building blocks are first, framing and structuring complex or vague problems into specific, targeted solutions; then narrowing scope through ruthless prioritization; followed by communicating with various stakeholders and then problem-solving flexibility/agility.”
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That opportunity to work in a cross-functional team to try to ship a product was a major talking point in job interviews. Many aspiring product managers have learned about x, y, z framework, but to have actually worked in a cross-functional team with designers and developers? That’s just not a common occurrence!
She leveraged cold applications, as well as using referrals from mentors, friends and LinkedIn networking. Muse’s go-to move during the interviews was to stun them with her vast knowledge of the workings of the company. In her opinion, the key to landing interviews and offers is to demonstrate that you are willing to go above and beyond in executing your role.
Not only would she do an in-depth analysis of the company she was interviewing with, she’d also comb through any news or new development from the company, analyze their financial statements and scrutinize their company or product strategy. Then instead of a ‘normal’ cover letter, she would write about the product’s problem areas, how the company could improve or what direction she thought the company should go next. For her finishing move, she would show what she had built at Co.Lab as evidence that she could not only talk the talk but walk the walk.
The reality is that in a company setting, most of the time as a Product Manager, one will very likely only own a tiny piece of a feature, whereas in Co.Lab, you’re the sole Product Manager for an entire functioning product and Employers are curious as to how you were able to accomplish such a feat as well as how you managed to work across design and engineering effectively. These are learnings that Muse carries with her not just through her job search, but onto her actual day to day role now as an Associate Product Manager at theScore.
“Honestly, Co.Lab really prepared me. It prepares you in terms of how to think like a PM, how to prioritize, how to make decisions and just exposure to things. I think that it is the foundation everyone needs, which is why whenever people message me for advice as a PM, I have to recommend Co.Lab to them.”
Muse is quick to highlight the role of Co.Lab in the success of her career but the effort that she put in cannot go unmentioned. As a Product Manager at Co.Lab, her work style and approach to solving problems and asking intelligent questions caught the attention of her mentor, Belinda Alzner during their weekly encounters.
As part of the Co.Lab program, students get access to a mentor with whom they meet with weekly. What that means is that Muse and her mentor Belinda, Director of Product at theScore Bet, were able to build a strong rapport over the course of the program. That led to massive benefits post-program for both mentor and mentee alike, as Muse eventually joined the theScore team.
Belinda says about Muse:
“She immediately stood out to me as someone who looked to get the most out of our time together by coming with questions about Product Management practice, bringing specific scenarios on her team that she’d like help with and being clearly motivated to make the most out of the program.
When I was hiring an Associate Product Manager at theScore, Muse immediately came to mind as the ideal candidate. I knew that she could take complex ideas and communicate them to stakeholders and a team, and that she was someone who was hungry to learn more, do more and to remove obstacles so that those around her could do the same.”
Muse’s role as a Product Manager at theScore is a never-ending attempt to balance the different hats that PMs wear. Whether it’s helping the team prioritize certain projects on the roadmap or identifying when something does not make for a good user experience, the PM must ensure that everything finds its place in the broader business or strategic goal of the company.
Fortunately, thanks to Co.Lab, she was already familiar with these requirements of the job. The work is challenging, though it’s an opportunity for growth, especially building on top of the learnings she had already gained and feels confident with! Muse now recommends Co.Lab without any hesitation to anyone who asks her for advice on getting into Product Management, especially those that are switching careers and don’t know where to begin. On our end, we’re just grateful and excited to have been part of her career journey.