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Four Steps to Acing Product Marketing Assignments

Before we dive into the content today, I want to note that this newsletter is part of a four-part series on the entire job search process. Check back in January for the next issue, focusing on launching your first 90 days with confidence:

Now, let's dive in!

You've secured and aced interviews, but anxiety sets in when faced with the dreaded assignment. Although I can't entirely agree with using assignments to test candidates, more and more companies are using them to differentiate among applicants.

These assignments aim to understand your critical thinking, storytelling skills, performance under pressure, and enthusiasm for the job. With a proven approach, you can turn this challenge into an opportunity to differentiate yourself and land the offer. After reviewing hundreds of assignments and assisting over a hundred individuals in acing theirs, here are four proven steps to help you achieve your goal.

Step 1: Understand the goal of the assignment

Assignments typically fall into two categories: writing assignments and presentation assignments.

Writing assignments assess your ability to quickly understand the customer and product and tell a cohesive story. The emphasis is on cohesion, persuasiveness, accuracy, and customer focus.

Presentation assignments usually involve creating a GTM/product launch strategy or sharing a previous work experience. Both test core product launch and storytelling skills, with product launch strategy assignments being the most common lately.

In either case, the focus is less on technical details and more on storytelling, the voice of the customer, and whether you have done the appropriate research.

Pro Tip: If you are unclear on the assignment goal or what assumptions you should be making, ask the hiring manager. Most companies allow you to get clarification through email or a dedicated prep call. ALWAYS take the opportunity to do that. This shows you have thought about the assignment carefully and also mimics real-life situations - as PMMs rarely do projects alone.

Step 2: Create an Outline for the product marketing assignment

A general rule of thumb for creating any great deliverable is to outline first. Most candidates make the mistake of jumping straight to slides or spending days doing extensive research, only to realize the story does not flow/ they are missing information and have to start over or make huge changes.

If you are writing a blog, start with the key message you want to convey, write the beginning and the end, and then add the middle. Instead of writing whole sentences, write all your key ideas as a bulleted list and read through them. The bullets alone should tell a cohesive story.

If you are making a presentation, start an outline on a Google doc and follow the same format as above. Each bullet should be the header on each slide to tell a cohesive story. Any supporting information should be sub-bullets.

Pro Tip: Avoid doing extensive research before writing an outline. Once you outline it, it will become clearer what research is necessary. Remember, more research does not equal better.

Step 3: Research and build up the content

Once you have a strong outline with the key elements of your story already built out, it’s time to add the “meat to the bones” by researching and adding content.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to define how many hours you want to spend on research. Typically, I recommend spending around 5-10 hours, which is the time needed to create an outstanding assignment that will stand out. Generally, you should research the customers, the positioning/messaging, key products and features, the competition, past product launches, industry trends, news, and more. The specific areas you must research will depend on what you laid out in the outline.

Once you have researched and consolidated the information, start building your deliverable from the outline. I recommend using Google Slides or Canva for presentations to quickly create simple yet beautiful slides. Start by titling each slide (the key message) and adding the most important bullet points before adding graphics.

Pro Tip: Present one key idea/insight per slide, using visuals to organize information cleanly. Avoid text-heavy teleprompter slides.

Step 4: Edit, review, and practice your assignment

Once your assignment is done, let it sit for a day, then go back and review it. Giving the assignment time to “breathe” allows new thoughts and ideas to form and makes addressing any final changes/gaps easier.

Finally, do not forget to practice delivering your presentation. Not only is this essential for you to deliver a smooth presentation with confidence, but it is also essential to help you work out any kinks in your story. Having helped over 100 clients with their presentations, I can say this is one of the most important yet neglected steps.

Pro tip: When delivering the presentation, engage with the interviewer instead of just delivering a monologue. Make strategic pauses and invite questions to make the presentation lively and engaging. Remember, it’s supposed to mimic real work situations.

How Hiring Managers Evaluate Assignments

Following the above steps and rubric sets you on the path to success, but standing out requires going above and beyond. Here's the exact rubric I used as a former hiring manager to judge the quality of product launch assignments:

A table showing the scoring rubric for product marketing assignments from OK to Good to Outstanding
My Scoring Rubric for Product Launch Assignments

A few final thoughts…

By following the above steps and rubric, you should be well on your way to acing your assignments. However, I do want to point out a few things you should keep in mind:

  1. Know when you should NOT do an assignment. While most companies have a fairly standard and acceptable process, some take advantage of candidates. When encountering the red flag situations below, you should exercise caution and consider turning it down:

    1. They require you to do an assignment very early in the process before even speaking to the hiring manager.

    2. When the assignment is excessive in length or tasks, usually consisting of multiple parts.

    3. When an assignment specifically asks you to solve an actual problem they are facing, and there are clear indications they are looking for free work.

  2. Determine how much effort you want to spend on an assignment. Juggling a full-time job and being a working parent may mean you have little time to do the assignment. So make sure you ask for enough time to complete the assignment and be realistic about how much you can handle. Generally, successful candidates have taken anywhere from 10 to 40 hours to complete an assignment.

In Summary…

To ace your assignments, follow the steps below:

  • Understand the goal of the assignment (and how you are being evaluated)

  • Create an outline

  • Research and build up content

  • Edit, review, and practice

  • Know when to say no

What’s next?

All in all, product marketing assignments can be extremely challenging and taxing. So, when you get an assignment, take a deep breath and follow the framework above. If you need additional help, consider working with me in a dedicated assignment review session.  During the 60-minute assignment review session, you will:

  • Receive personalized feedback and detailed insights into what you did well and specific areas of improvement. The feedback will include specific areas to stand out, from actual content to delivery.

  • Get your burning questions answered. I will answer any questions regarding assignments, interviews, or the general job search process to help uncover what is blocking you and what you can improve.

  • Feel more confident moving forward. I will share strategies beyond the above tips, which you can apply to any assignment/interview.

With that, I hope you have a wonderful holiday season, and see you in 2024!! 🎊

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