What Hiring Managers Want

Tips and advice for Developers, Designers, and Product Managers

Sefunmi Osinaike
November 25, 2020

So you’d like to transition into tech, and you’ve identified a few entry-level positions that are perfect for you to get your foot in the door. How exactly do you stand out from other applicants? What can you do before applying to give yourself a competitive advantage?

Job descriptions can be intimidating. Despite having the “associate” or “junior” prefix to the title, the requirements could still feel far out of reach for someone trying to land their first tech role. The first thing to note is that a job description is a wishlist for an ideal candidate. Those who end up with the job offer may not necessarily have every single requirement on the list. You just have to convince all your interviewers that you will do whatever it takes to succeed if given the opportunity.

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I spoke to several recruiters and hiring managers on what they look for when hiring entry-level Product Managers, Software Developers and UX designers. I specifically focused my conversation on folks who have little or no experience working in tech such as candidates who are self-taught through online courses, completed a boot camp or have worked on a few projects. They all seem to experience the challenge of “I can’t get the job without the experience, but I need the experience to get the job!” (That’s why Helen and I are building Co.Lab. You can check it out at!)

The overarching theme across all disciplines is the ability to showcase how you’ve solved problems in a real-life capacity. You must understand the why behind every decision you made in such scenarios and articulate it properly in a verbal and written format. Acknowledging this gives you better chances of going past the initial screening where you’ll get to showcase other skills.

For Product Managers

Getting past the resume screening

Stepping into product management from outside the industry is extremely challenging. I even wrote an entire book on this topic where I shared stories of how 25 people transitioned into product management roles. One thing they all had in common was they all started with a small project that solved a specific problem.

They were able to showcase their skills in a similar way that regular PMs would and that made it easier for hiring managers to take a chance on them. Because in reality, you learn by simply creating ideas and validating them. If you are able to put a cross-discipline team together and work on something that impacts real users, I guarantee you’ll impress hiring managers.

No one can get mad at you for pretending to be a Product Manager so seek out important customer problems to solve and ship your solution to the world. It will give you not only the confidence you need but also the experience required to understand what it takes to go through a product development cycle.

A few tips:
  • Identify a problem that is a real pain point to customers.
  • Perform user research to validate potential solutions.
  • Come up with a spec that describes the customer problem in detail and begin to pitch different ways to solve it.
  • Convince people to collaborate with you to build out a minimum viable product to test your hypothesis.
  • Work with your team in an Agile way to iteratively develop and launch your solution to customers.

For UX Designers

Getting past the resume screening

If you are an aspiring UX designer, your application process will start from how you showcase yourself and your work. It could be on your resume, personal website/portfolio, or LinkedIn.

Your profile needs to be super clear about who you are, what you are looking for and how you work. The choice of the visual components you use and the information architecture will help determine if a recruiter will be interested in moving forward with your application. These are essentials things to consider before they get a chance to review some of your projects.

So take a step back and think about yourself as a product. What will be the best user experience of getting to know you and how you solve problems? Recruiters and hiring managers are the personas, so it is essential to know what they look for when determining potential candidates.

A few tips:
  • Understand and describe the personas you are designing for in any of your projects.
  • Follow a structured approach to introducing your project along with its impact on real users.
  • Have a user research hat and showcase the methods and processes you used to inform your design decisions. (You get extra points with this!)
  • Defend your designs appropriately in a way that highlights your focus on the benefit to the user.
  • Think about user accessibility.

For Developers

Getting past the resume screening

As an aspiring Software Engineer, just knowing how to code isn’t sufficient anymore. You could be good at building various apps but there’s a lot more hiring managers are looking for. While having tons of projects on your website might seem impressive, some recruiters find it distracting, especially if none of them feel complete or if they seem like hacks.

The goal of a project is to showcase something functional that solves a user problem. A project that you’ve worked on over a long period of time also has more advantages. If you are able to work on something from the start and see it through multiple iterations, it shows your commitment to delivering value and your ability to approach problems in sizeable portions. If you’ve also worked with others, be sure to highlight the particular capacity because it shows you are able to understand the requirements and develop the intended solution. Collaboration is key for developers

Do not optimize for having a laundry list of technologies you want to show off on your resume. There is a huge difference between using a programming language and being familiar with it after doing a few tutorials. Make sure to be very specific about your strengths and how you’ve leveraged it in a real-life capacity.

A few tips:
  • Have a solid foundation in a relevant technology stack of your choice and speak to how you’ve used them to solve real problems.
  • Try to be very good at something vs ok at a bunch of things.
  • Be able to talk about why you made certain technical decisions and articulate how you’ve gone through the product development life cycle.
  • Care about the end-user and know how the code you write impacts them.
  • Be able to care about the QA process and think of it as an integral part of development.

For All Hires

There is a lot you won’t know going into an entry-level role. Be comfortable and open about what you don’t know so that your team can create an environment for you to learn and grow. A career in tech means a commitment to continuous learning, so the ability to show that in any way possible will score you points when trying to convince a hiring manager to give you a chance. Another major factor that helps to determine how easy you’d transition is coachability. Hiring managers would want to mentor you because you have shown strong signals for learning and can accept feedback on your work.

I had conversations with many recruiters and hiring managers who were kind enough to share insights that make it easy to hire candidates. These tips highlight the important characteristics found among successful candidates in the most competitive recruitment process. I hope they are helpful to you as you journey into your desired role.

Remember, you belong in tech.✨

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