Landing a non-tech role at a tech startup

The job market is difficult to crack, and this is especially true for the technology industry. A challenging economic climate has led to reduced funding and investment for startups and major tech companies. Consequently, layoffs, restructuring, and company closures have become common, leaving many skilled individuals at various levels seeking reemployment.

Contrary to popular belief, not all roles within technology companies require a technology background. Although a basic understanding of technical jargon and industry advancements is beneficial, there are opportunities for individuals without a deep technical background to contribute significantly to the tech sector.

Understanding the Product Manager market

Technology products, ranging from smartphones and apps to digital banking services, require effective management. This is where Product Managers (PMs) come in. PMs play a crucial role in understanding customer needs, aligning business objectives, and ensuring the product offerings meet these requirements or identifying new opportunities to address gaps.

Product management does not follow a one-size-fits-all approach, roles can vary significantly across industries and companies. For instance, a PM at a fintech will have different tasks compared to one at a healthtech. However, commonalities exist, such as the need for passion and interest in the chosen sector.

With this in mind, a potential applicant should look to find an industry that aligns with their interests and background (whether this has been in tech or not). Demonstrating genuine enthusiasm and the ability to communicate effectively, even on a non-technical level, can make a strong impression on interviewers and colleagues alike.

The interview process

Interviews for PM positions can be daunting. We want to make a positive impression and ensure that we come across as knowledgeable and personable - so that the interviewer can clearly see what we bring to the table and that we’ll be a good culture fit for the team.

The typical interview process includes a recruiter phone screen, discussions with the hiring manager or team, a practical task or project walkthrough, a technical interview, and a behavioural/cultural interview with senior leadership. This may seem like a lot of steps but a PM is a key part of a successful tech business, so it’s important for the hiring team to know that they’ve made the right decision. The thorough process ensures the selected candidate will enable the startup's growth and scalability.

What interviewers look for

Interviewers evaluate several key traits and competencies when assessing potential PM candidates. PM candidates are assessed based on their strategic thinking, problem-solving abilities, adaptability to challenges, and proactive nature. While a PM might not always have all the answers, they know how to find them. Enthusiasm, curiosity, and effective leadership skills are also highly valued. A PM's desire to understand product intricacies and strive for improvement are key indicators of their potential success.

Don’t underestimate yourself

The distinction between an average and an exceptional PM lies in their ability to communicate ideas, solutions, and improvements clearly. Not only should they be a clear and effective communicator when speaking, but also when writing. Writing is a transferable skill and it often leads to clear thinking and the ability to help others understand complex ideas.  Demonstrating awareness of current trends and the ability to discuss new products or innovations shows a deep engagement with the tech ecosystem. Highlighting past successes and the impact of previous projects can also predict future performance.

Getting the job

While the tips provided can help you land a non-technical job at a tech startup, it's important to maintain enthusiasm, curiosity, and proactiveness even after accepting the position. These qualities will not only help you excel in your role but also distinguish you as an exceptional PM.