Savoring Each Step: How I Fell Into My Dream Product Manager Job

Clement sharing his story how how he got Product Manager Job at BlendI’m currently working at my dream product manager job, and I love every minute of it! I’m a Product Manager at Blend, where my team and I are creating an entirely new consumer lending experience that’s simpler and more transparent, while ensuring broader access for all types of borrowers.

The first question I usually get asked is: “Clement, how did you get your dream job? And how did you get it so early in your career? You’re only 26 years old!”

Usually, when people tell you about how they got their dream job, they’ll tell you a story about how they planned each step and how they measured progress towards the goal.

My story is a little different, because I’m currently working in the job of my dreams – but I never planned for this product manager job. In fact, back when I was in high school and in college, I didn’t even know that my job existed!

There’s nothing wrong with planning ahead. That being said, I know a lot of people who thought they wanted a particular job, sacrificed many years doing things they didn’t like doing, got the job that they wanted, and then found out that they hated the job that they thought was their dream.

To me, studying and working are both expressions of myself. Studying and working don’t feel hard to me at all, because they’re how I change the world the way I want it to change. I’ve savored every single step, and I’m convinced that by savoring each step, I wound up in the job of my dreams.

I’d like to share 8 steps from my own journey of how I had fun every step of the way, and how that enabled me to work at the job of my dreams.

Step 1: Pick something and run with it

When I graduated from high school, I was paralyzed by the choice that I had.

I was interested in becoming a lawyer, because I wanted to give ordinary citizens more power versus the wealthy.

I was interested in becoming a software development engineer, because I wanted to create really awesome programs that made people’s lives easier and that made them happy.

I was interested in becoming a biologist, because I wanted to create new medicines that would grant people longer, more productive, happier lives.

I was interested in becoming a businessperson, because I wanted to create a lasting legacy that would provide good products to consumers and good jobs to employees.

And obviously, I couldn’t do all 4 of these at once – so I was paralyzed.

I spent months trying to figure out which ones to sacrifice, and which ones to keep. I spent sleepless nights trying to project what my future might look like if I walked down one of these paths.

My parents noticed that I was stressing out, and they gave me advice that still resonates with me to this day.

“Clement, just pick something and run with it. If you really love the others, you’ll pick them up along the way anyways. And if you don’t pick them up in the future, it just means that you wouldn’t have liked it in the first place.”

At first, I didn’t believe them. My major was going to define the rest of my career, I thought. I thought I needed to pick the perfect one.

But then they told me stories of their friends who chose some major and wound up taking a different path to a dream job, full of impact and satisfaction. And they reminded me that they believed in me and supported me, and that I would find my own dream – but only if I picked something first.

So I did. I focused and decided to double major in Business and Biology, knowing that I’d be able to pick up law and engineering later if I wanted to.

My parents gave me the confidence to choose something, because they reminded me that committing to something does not close doors – rather, commitment opens doors through focus.

Here’s an example. If I told you to come up with a story right now, you’d be stuck, because I didn’t give you any constraints to focus on.

But if I told you to come up with a horror story set in the 18th century with at least 1 vampire, suddenly you have many more ideas. That’s how constraints work – and I’m happy that I constrained my choices, picked something, and ran with it.

Step 2: Dare to do more

In my first year in college, I took on a unpaid marketing internship for an education startup to start learning about the world of business.

My internship was actually quite easy. All I had to do was to write one Facebook post and one tweet each week to promote our book. My fellow interns loved it, because it was such an easy job, and they’d have something to put on their resume in the future.

But for me, I didn’t feel like that was a good use of my time. After all, my social media network is small because I’m introverted. I wanted to make an impact.

I didn’t feel very challenged at all. I didn’t feel like I was learning a lot by just posting. So on one of the Fridays where we were in the office, I started brainstorming how I might be able to provide a bigger impact.

Suddenly, I had an idea. What if I did research on how others promoted similar books? Would we be able to increase our reach?

So I started looking at related books through Google search and through Amazon. For each product, I looked at how they were being promoted through Facebook and Twitter, and I noticed something.

The books that were really popular didn’t just have a social media presence. They had a presence through bloggers who had promoted their product.

In analyzing these blogs, I noticed that each blogger wasn’t just selling a single book, and that their posts were more than just product marketing. They were dedicated to a cause – parenthood, or the organic movement, or vegetarianism, or childhood education. They only promoted products because those products fit their narrative well.

So, without the permission of my manager, I put together a database of blogs that we could reach out to, where our book aligned with their mission. Then, we could give them free copies of our book and ask them to write honest reviews in their blog.

When I completed my internship, I had done far more than the bare minimum. As a first year in college, I had come up with an outreach strategy that wound up enabling the company to reach many more people in a much more genuine and productive way.

When I presented this strategy to my manager, they were blown away by how thoughtful I had been. They were willing and eager to recommend me to anyone, whenever I needed it.

Dare to do more than what other people tell you to do. You’ll find new passions that way, and you’ll gain skills that no one else will expect you to have.

Step 3: Make your own luck

In my second year in college, I found a second unpaid internship that I was really excited about. I would be promoting sustainable cooking and childhood education.

But, due to reasons outside of my control, I lost the internship offer.

I was devastated. The summer had already begun, and I had no internship. My friends were all working somewhere, and I was the only person who didn’t have an opportunity to grow.

I cursed my bad luck. For a week, I was paralyzed yet again.

One of the things I noticed during that week was that no matter how much I hated my situation, nothing was changing for the better. Complaining didn’t do me any good.

No one was going to just give me a job out of nowhere. I’d have to figure out how to have a productive summer.

At the time, I had been a tutor for Aspire Education during the school year, so that I could earn some income to support my parents.

I gathered up my courage and asked the executive director at Aspire whether he would be comfortable with me working alongside him as an unpaid intern for the summer.

He agreed to let me work for him. And that summer was one of the best summers I’ve had, period.

I got to see how he made executive decisions. I worked with him to strengthen our internal accounting processes. I pitched a new project that would help to bring in more revenue while serving more disadvantaged students, which he approved. I even got to evaluate employee compensation at Aspire, and I had the opportunity to manage other summer interns as well.

I had lost my initial internship, yes. But because I had taken steps to change the situation, I wound up with an even better internship – one that no one else could ever get.

When something bad and unexpected happens, remember that you make your own luck. You can either complain, or you can find something else to do.

Step 4: Stay open-minded

In college, many of my friends were focused on prestigious jobs. As a Business major, I knew that one of the most prestigious jobs available was consulting.

So, for my 3rd year internship, I tried to get a consulting internship. After all, that would give me a really prestigious job on my resume, which would mean that I could get into even better companies in the future, right?

I wound up getting multiple offers for a paid internship, one of which was a consulting internship. I talked with my parents, with my friends, and with my mentors about which offer to accept.

What I found interesting was how advice correlated to experience.

My friends, who did not have a lot of experience yet, all told me to take the consulting job. But my parents and my mentors, who are all much more experienced, all told me to optimize for learning.

The point of an internship is to learn and to explore. They told me to go do something that I wouldn’t have the chance to do again.

So I accepted a totally different internship – one that wasn’t prestigious, at a company that my friends had never heard of. I decided to go into manufacturing.

All of my friends thought that I was being really stupid, to have given up a prestigious consulting internship. Even worse, manufacturing sounded so boring to my friends!

But at my corporate strategy internship in Flextronics, I had the opportunity to do some pretty amazing things that I would never have been able to do as an intern consultant.

I evaluated 3D printing technology in the context of medical devices and prosthetics, visited multiple factories and production facilities, and assessed multiple 3D printer vendors.

I organized our first ever Innovation Conference, and I had the honor of speaking with multiple Vice Presidents and Directors of Engineering about the future of global manufacturing and global innovation.

I had a lot of leeway to make an impact, and I ran with it.

I learned so much. And you know what? I confirmed through firsthand experience that I didn’t want to be in the manufacturing industry. But I also learned that I loved doing strategy work.

By being open-minded, I found out an entirely new area of interest in corporate strategy, one that I would never have found if I just decided to listen to my friends.

Step 5: Fall in love with the problem

As I mentioned above, I learned that I didn’t want to be working in manufacturing, even though I had a full-time offer from Flextronics.

So, I accepted a full-time offer from Applied Predictive Technologies (APT) as a business consultant, as my first job out of college.

Part of my role was to train my clients on how to use our analytics software. One of the biggest struggles they faced was how to set up an analysis.

The thing is, the APT product is incredibly powerful – but it was built by people with PhD degrees in statistics, which meant that my clients’ analysts couldn’t figure out how to understand the different settings because they were not trained as PhD students in statistics.

I spent hours on the phone every day talking to my clients about how to use the software. During my first year as a consultant, I hated answering the same questions over and over again. It felt like a waste of my time and a waste of their time. I wanted us to conduct more analyses with more relevant business impact, rather than trying to talk about where to click on the screen.

But then, I moved past my hatred, and started being curious. Why was it that every client had the same questions for me?

I realized that the software was incredibly powerful, but not very user-friendly. In the past, I directly answered my clients’ questions so that I could get off the phone as quickly as possible. But now, I asked my clients what they had expected and what problem they were trying to solve, and I stayed on the phone to talk through their expectations and their concerns.

I became intensely curious about my clients’ needs and about how our product solved or failed to solve their needs.

I had fallen in love with the problem.

I noticed that my fellow consultants were all on the phone as well, answering the same questions that I was answering. I noticed that even when we conducted training sessions or gave our clients step-by-step guides, we were still getting the same questions afterwards.

I brought all of these findings to my product team. And that’s when I started focusing on product usability.

I wanted to make our product not just powerful, but also easy to understand. I wanted my clients to trust us, to trust our product, and to trust themselves as they set up complex analyses.

I learned that I wanted to make better products, because better products make better lives. I worked alongside my product team to provide on-the-field feedback on usability, and we jointly started creating more intuitive interfaces that decreased the volume of inbound support calls.

Instead of hating the problem, I fell in love with it. And that’s what opened my eyes to product management as a career.

Step 6: Do the dirty work

Because I had found out that I love products, I changed careers to become a product analyst at Movoto, a real estate brokerage based in California.

As the title implies, the focus of my work was around analyzing our product and analyzing our users. I spent hours every day conducting user research, to better understand how we as a company could provide value to our users.

One of the things I noticed at Movoto was that we hadn’t been taking good meeting notes. Almost every meeting had questions about previous meetings – and since none of the meetings were documented, no one knew why we had made particular decisions in the past.

So, I decided to start taking notes at every single meeting I attended.

Was it my job? No.

Was it fun? No.

But was it valuable? Yes.

It was valuable dirty work. By taking down notes, I strengthened our company’s ability to make better decisions, and I cut down on wasted time for every single meeting I attended.

We no longer needed clarification meetings or clarification emails – through my dirty work, every decision we made was clearly documented, and every next step had a clear owner and a clear deadline.

Funnily enough, I started getting invited into more and more executive meetings. For each of those critical meetings, I took notes. Then, executives started asking me to organize the meetings, because they knew that I was organized, thoughtful, and productive.

Because I joined more and more of these executive meetings, I became a trusted advisor to many of the executives at Movoto. I started gaining higher-level context, which enabled me to make better decisions, which increased my impact and effectiveness as a product analyst.

I understood the business in a way that others could not, and I had the privilege of deeply understanding my executives’ motivations, concerns, and mindsets. That enabled me to pitch new projects to them.

One of these projects that I pitched required a new product manager to be hired. We didn’t have any product managers available, so my executive team would up promoting me as a product manager. I had only worked 7 months as a product analyst, and my promotion came 3 years earlier than I had expected.

I honestly believe that because I did the dirty work of taking good notes, I accelerated my career trajectory by gaining the trust of senior executives.

Step 7: Get comfortable with discomfort

Here’s the thing – I was never trained as a product manager. I had no clue about the work I was going to be doing.

I was extremely uncomfortable.

I didn’t know how to code, or how to design, or what shipping a product looked like. I didn’t know how to manage people who were older and more experienced than me. I didn’t how how to hire and fire vendors, or how to negotiate contracts.

I knew nothing, and I was scared to death. I didn’t want to make the wrong decision, especially when so much of the company was on the line.

To remove that fear, I spent hours after work and hours on the weekend trying to learn as much as I could about product management. I scheduled countless 1-on-1 meetings with peers to download everything in their brains into mine.

And it was precisely because I was uncomfortable that I grew so quickly.

Honestly, I could have been a lot less aggressive as a new product manager. I could have taken my time to ramp up, and I could have focused on much smaller features and much smaller deliverables. No one would have blamed me for it.

But I forced myself to get comfortable with discomfort. I didn’t want to be complacent.

Each time I mastered a new skill, I moved on immediately to the next one. I was constantly uncomfortable, and I felt like a failure every day because there was so much that I felt I didn’t know.

But it’s okay to be a failure, as long as you’re failing upward. Each failure contains the ingredients for the next success; you need to fail enough times to have the ingredients to win.

I took on more and more products, more and more ownership. Each time, I felt more uncomfortable. I didn’t give myself the luxury of comfort.

And you know what? I learned to enjoy being uncomfortable. There’s this thrilling sense of excitement and opportunity and wonder when you’re faced with a gigantic duty ahead.

It is that very sense of excitement that accelerated my growth, and continues to keep me moving forward each day.

Step 8: Focus on impact, not prestige

At Movoto, due to my contributions, I became the product manager for our entire real estate agent platform. I was responsible for 20 engineers and for multiple business lines.

I could have just stopped there. I had gained respect and prestige in the company. My friends, my family, and even strangers were shocked by how much ownership and decision-making power I had.

But I’m not about the prestige. My goal isn’t to become famous.

My goal is to make a positive impact in the world.

So, when I learned about an opportunity to change the consumer lending industry, I decided to go for it. For me, I know that consumer lending is a bigger problem to fix than real estate.

That is, real estate is a critically important sector, but it is fundamentally slowed down by the inefficiencies in the consumer lending industry.

If I can fix consumer lending, then I can also fix real estate.

So that’s why I decided to join Blend – because the vision is much bigger, and that means our impact will be much bigger.

Was it terrifying to start over? Yes. I was comfortable back at Movoto because every executive proactively asked for my input and respected my decisions.

But here at Blend, I’m living the dream. I work with incredibly intelligent and driven and friendly people, and I love our collective ambitions to make life better for everyone in consumer lending. While my current title is not quite as prestigious as “group product manager” back at Movoto, my impact is far greater.

If I had focused on prestige, I wouldn’t have made the transition. But here, I get to see how we’re positively impacting real estate agents and loan officers, borrowers and families, lender executives and their employees.

Focus on making positive impact in the world. The prestige will naturally come.

Summary

Savor each step.

You never know where your next step will take you. I had planned for consulting in college, but I wound up in product management.

If you don’t enjoy each step you take, you’ll wind up bitter and tired.

Because I savor each step, I pick something and run with it, which enables me to focus, and that paradoxically creates even more opportunity in the future.

Because I savor each step, I dare to do more, which increases my skill sets and my impact, and makes me stand out.

Because I savor each step, I make my own luck, and I turn my failures into unexpected success in other places.

Because I savor each step, I stay open-minded, and I take career paths that others may feel are not as exciting.

Because I savor each step, I fall in love with the problem, which enables me to be creative, humble, and impact-oriented.

Because I savor each step, I do the dirty work, which strengthens trust and empowers me to do more.

Because I savor each step, I get comfortable with discomfort, and I challenge myself to fail upward.

Because I savor each step, I focus on impact and not prestige, which means I get to change people’s lives for the better.

Because I savor each step, I fell into my dream Product Manager job, and I love every minute of it.

___

Clement is a Product Manager at Blend, a San Francisco-based startup that partners with banks, lenders, and independent originators to re-imagine the mortgage borrowing experience. Clement is also the Product Manager-in-Residence at Product Manager HQ (PMHQ), where he has published 40+ product management best practice articles, provides advice within the PMHQ Slack community (5,800+ members), and curates the weekly PMHQ newsletter (22,000+ subscribers). Drop Clement a note on LinkedIn!

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