How to create a Product Manager Portfolio
Step-by-step process to create your own + real examples
Hello BPL fam,
With the recent wave of layoffs in the tech industry (a situation which sadly might get worse with the recent collapse of Silicon Valley Bank), I wanted to write a post that helps PM candidates put themselves out there in the best light.
Thus, in this edition of Behind Product Lines, we’ll be looking at how to stand out from the crowd by developing a Product Management portfolio that catches the eyes of hiring managers.
Storytime: The Long Shot
Back in 2015, Yallamotor, an auto classifieds marketplace in the Middle East, was looking for a new General Manager.
We posted the job online on Bayt.com. Soon, we had a healthy stream of promising applications coming in. We were focusing on local candidates with requisite expertise who we could onboard quickly.
One day, my HR forwarded a resume with an attachment. She said that this person was pretty persistent and she got on a call with him for a quick chat. She wanted me to take a look and get my thoughts.
I opened the resume and was shocked to see where it was from.
“Uruguay?”, I thought to myself? Yallamotor was by no means a global a phenomenon back then and I simply couldn’t fathom why someone from Uruguay would be interested.
I skimmed through the resume and while it seemed impressive, I responded back to my HR saying we should politely decline. The logistics simply wouldn’t work out. The candidate had no experience of how things worked in the Middle East region and we wanted to respect everyone’s time. Moreover, we weren’t giving out any relocation bonuses.
My HR shot back asking if I had checked the attachment.
Rolling my eyes, I opened the second PDF.
It was a portfolio. I thought it was a cute attempt to woo me.
I cycled through the slides reluctantly. But as I kept moving forward, my interest started growing.
No, it wasn’t a flashy deck with an eye-soothing template. It was an ordinary looking doc but the content was super relevant and hit a chord instantly.
Each slide had a visual depiction of what the candidate had worked on, how he accomplished it and the results he had delivered.
Wouldn’t that be in a resume too, though?
What was intriguing was that 7 out of the 10+ items he had listed were in our roadmap for the next 2 quarters. The descriptions of each initiative he had in the portfolio were aligned with our thought process when we were framing the roadmap.
When I looked at the interface screenshots he had included, it resolved some of the cobwebs I was having and it gave me a bundle of ideas. I liked how the portfolio gave a little backstory of why a certain initiative made sense and the specific responsibilities of the candidate while solving the problem.
For example, we had internally dabbled with the idea of doing a Virtual Motor Show in the future. The logistics of pulling that off was murky but we had tabled the idea for way in the future. But when I read the following slide, I got really excited:
“This guy would be a perfect fit if he can get these things done for us.”, I thought.
I forwarded the profile to other stakeholders including my boss.
He was sold the minute he saw the deck.
We decided to get him on a call. And despite the fact his English was rusty, his portfolio showcase was compelling enough for us to make an offer. He ended up joining the team and became one of the most important members in the following years, starting a few innovative revenue streams.
(He’s a good friend now - he gave me permission to use his name: Jorge Bialade.)
Point is, his portfolio put him over the edge. It was unlikely we would have reached out to him had we not seen the depth of results achieved.
In other words, portfolios work. But you need to do them well.
What is a Product Management Portfolio?
A product management portfolio is a supplementary artefact provided in addition to a resume. It’s a showcase and collection of materials that narrate the experiences and accomplishments of the candidate with meaningful context. It provides examples of deliverables (e.g. roadmaps, market research, wireframes), outputs (e.g. links to implemented products) and outcomes (summary of performance).
The purpose is to give hiring manager’s a detailed account of how the candidate delivered impact in past roles & products.
How is it different from a resume?
A resume includes a summary of the PM’s work history and skills but the concise nature of a resume reduces the impact. Most hiring managers scan the resume at best, looking at it for a few seconds. Moreover, resumes lack visual aids to allow readers to gauge the PM’s potential impact.
Thus, a Product Management Portfolio can be powerful if it has the following attributes:
it succinctly articulates the breadth of products the candidate has worked on along with a little context, a summary of the results achieved and (ideally) a visual proof of what was built or developed.
it speaks directly to the needs of the recipient i.e. helps them understand how the candidate can add value to the pain points of their org at the stage they are in.
it enables the candidate to prove their dedication to learn and share knowledge.
it showcases the candidate’s ability to tell stories & compelling narratives.
So, how do you go about building one for yourself?
And what do you do if you don’t have any experience to show for?
Step 1A: Compile relevant experiences
The first step is to figure out the meat of the portfolio: your experiences.
Jot down significant initiatives you’ve taken in your PM career that you were able to contribute to. You could use a Miro board mind map to ideate on this.
Choose stories where the context is easy to establish. You don’t want to be spending too long explaining every product or feature.
Prefer stories where you can potentially add a visual from a public product to paint a picture. (alternatively, you could add a mockup or wireframe)
Also, note that, like a resume, your portfolio deck should ideally be customized to the job you are applying for. So, you will want to create an artefact with all your experiences listed out but you should create a copy and whittle it down based on the job in question.
“But, Aatir, what do I do if I don’t have many work experiences?”
Move to Step 1B.
Step 1B: Develop artefacts for hypothetical use cases
Fake it till you make it.
If you’re running low on experiences, take up a hypothetical challenge and develop an artefact describing how you would solve it.
This document could be a spec, a slide deck, a Notion memo or anything else that opens a window into your thought process. Make sure to include a few wireframes or mockups to create visual evidence. If you’re preparing your portfolio as a slide deck or memo, it’s best to link out to this artefact directly from there.
Where can you find these “hypothetical challenges”?
Check out PMSchool’s challenges feed: https://pmschool.io/product-challenges
Not only do they have a number of problem statements, they also share the winner’s entry for past competitions.
Another place you could find challenges to work on is Exponent.
In fact, here’s Prasad Akki’s portfolio document (he uses Notion) where he embedded his challenge response within it.
“How about I do a hypothetical challenge for the product I’m applying for?”
I would only advise attempting this if you’re very familiar with the domain and their problem space. If you miss out on some key parameters, that might go against you as well and that might tee up some hard questions in the first interview. Moreover, you don’t want to be giving free ideas away that they could potentially reuse.
Step 2: Select your portfolio format
The most common formats I’ve seen:
Canva presentation (lots of visuals to choose from, easy to customize and share)
Notion (more room for flexibility to embed documents, add memo-like structure, add in boards, tables and page links)
Web page (easy to link to. Honestly, I think one should eventually aim to have this anyway)
Slide Deck PDF (looks professional and is easily shared within organizations)
While portfolios aren’t supposed to be long, they need to carry enough information to clarify why, what and how you worked on an initiative. Although short bullet points won’t cut it, you still need to keep your writeup structure scannable.
Step 3: Include an intro slide
Start with a brief introduction about yourself at a high level. Don’t attempt to copy your entire work experience here though.
This introduction needs to answer:
your overall expertise
some highlights from your career
important: give them a taste of how you can potentially add value to the company based on some research (e.g. a gap in their product)
Step 3: Context, Contribution, Visual
Next, comes the main part of the presentation. The achievements.
This is where you pick up a significant product feature or initiative you’ve had impact on and tell a little story. This story shouldn’t last more than 2 slides in a deck and a few paragraphs on a memo though.
The structure of each achievement slide should be:
Context: backdrop of the product you were working on, the primary audience and the problems it solves.
Contribution: write about the specific problem you worked on in a STAR format.
Situation: Set the scene and describe the challenge you faced.
Task: Explain what your responsibilities were in that situation and what role you played.
Action: Describe the specific steps you took to overcome the challenge or address the situation.
Result: Share what you achieved through your actions.
A common mistake over here is to focus too much on what “the team” achieved. The hiring manager is more interested in what you contributed.
Visual: if possible, add a visual of the interface of the product or a wireframe if it wasn’t released. If that’s not possible, add some other artefact (e.g. a flowchart, Miro board, spec screenshot etc.) to depict how you think. Hiring managers want to see tangible evidence of work and this is an easy place to land a great impression.
Try to include at least 3-4 of these stories.
Moreover, you will have to adjust the stories you select based on the role you’re applying for.
Note: If you’re trying for a Group Product Manager position, you’ll obviously need more experience under your belt and in that scenario, you’ll need to talk a lot more about strategy, stakeholder management & experience managing other PMs in addition to sharing your product thinking & design chops.
Step 4: Content Compilation
Your professional work is only one aspect to your personal brand. You also want to establish your passion for the field by highlighting other contributions.
For example, have you ever written an interesting piece on Medium?
Or perhaps created an infographic on LinkedIn?
Or maybe you showed up on a podcast once?
Or you volunteered to do an AMA?
If yes, then include that in! It’s a great opportunity to solidify how committed you are to the discipline and your willingness to share with others (comes in especially handy in senior positions).
Step 5: Communities & Social Validation
You can also highlight communities you are part of to portray yourself as a learner. But be truthful. Don’t attempt to toss in random community logos for the heck of it. You don’t want to be answering specific questions you don’t know answers to.
In addition to this, seek out recommendations on LinkedIn and then extract some excerpts from those quotes. Mention the name, job title & employer of the person who recommended you. Again, don’t attempt to fake this.
Here’s an example from Mark Progano’s portfolio:
Step 6: Tech Stack Slide
It’s helpful to also include a mention of all the tools and gadgets you have awareness of along with an indication of your prowess in it. This is usually found on your resume as well but attempt to contextualize it by sharing what you used each tool for. This helps in assessing how hands-on you’ve been in recent times.
Step 7: Distribution
Great, you’ve developed your portfolio.
But that’s only half the problem solved.
You need an effective way to distribute it so that more people can review and access it. This is why having an online version always helps.
Some ideas that I’ve seen people testing out:
Linking out the portfolio from the LinkedIn cover section or description.
Adding the portfolio link in email signatures.
Sharing the portfolio as an attachment along with their resume & cover letters or linking it out from the cover letter itself.
Creating a web version of the portfolio and optimizing it for SEO.
Creating a short link to the portfolio and adding that posts, responses or social media profile pages on sites Reddit.
Creating a QR code for the portfolio and placing it on a business card or resume. Then, handing these cards out during career fairs or networking meetups.
Emailing your close network and asking them to share your portfolio whenever they spot a job that might be relevant.
Do you want to see real life examples of such portfolios? Coming right up. Some I’d recommend you taking inspiration from:
Prasad Akki (Notion)
Mark Progano (website)
Thaisa Fernandes (website)
Shravan Tickoo (PDF)
Sample Portfolio (Canva Link)
Hope this post was helpful.
Let me know if you have thoughts, comments or suggestions!
Thanks for reading Behind Product Lines! If you found value, consider subscribing.
This guide might actually be super helpful for designing portfolios too. You might need to tweak some parts and see things from a different angle, but it's worth it. As someone who looks at design portfolios, I would be stoked to come across some examples that follow these tips!
Love it. Thanks for sharing this with all.