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Dipayan Ghatak: Expert product manager shares job-hunting tips for international graduates

interstride logo by Interstride
November 16, 2023

Dipayan Ghatak is a Senior Product Manager at Walmart. He leads the enterprise productivity product suite within Walmart, which means leading productivity applications for all Walmart associates globally. Previously, he worked for Expedia and Microsoft. Dipayan earned his Master’s of Science and Management Information Systems at the University at Buffalo in 2021 after earning his undergraduate degree in computer science and working in India.  

How did you become a product manager?

I started my career as a software developer right after my computer science degree, but then slowly realized that coding is not actually my cup of tea. I wanted to stay close to technology products, so that’s when I made the decision to transition to product management (PM). Since then I have remained in this space because I love two things: interacting with people and building technology products that solve people’s real-life problems.

What made you decide to get a master’s degree in the US?

I switched to product management even before my master’s. After a year as a software developer, I transitioned to PM. I was working as a project manager for enterprise customers leading B2B products, but I realized that to grow as a PM and as a product leader, you need to know more about how you can refer to data to drive your business decisions. So, I really wanted to enhance my data analytics skills.

I also wanted to enhance my overall enterprise technology management skills, which means you should know how technology management and change management are done at large enterprises. And, I wanted to gather business and financial acumen knowledge. For those reasons, I decided that I would go with a master’s degree to enhance my skill set and prepare me for the next steps of my career.

Another driving and motivating factor was that I lived in India, but I wanted to get international work experience. During that time, product management was a very hot field both in India and in the US. Most of the important product leaders or product decisions of the well-known tech companies were being driven from the US. Hence, I decided to move to the US for my master’s and hopefully continue my career as a product manager after my master’s and be at the epicenter of great product decisions.

How did you choose a master’s degree program?

  • I didn’t want to stay away from my professional field for a long time. Therefore I decided to go with a one-year master’s versus a two-year master’s or one-and-a-half-year master’s.
  • I wanted to choose those programs that had internship elements embedded within them, either in between the semesters or at the end of the two semesters.

Based on the research that I had done before choosing a master’s program, I realized that, especially here in the US, if you have an internship in the same field that you want to get into, it’s really easy.

  • I wanted to choose a program that gave me the flexibility to choose the courses that I wanted. For example, I went to University at Buffalo and, as part of that curriculum, out of the 36 credits that I was supposed to take, 18 credits or 50% of my courses were electives that I got to choose. So I could structure my curriculum in a way that would enhance my skill set and help me grow as a product manager. I didn’t want to study subjects that may not be relevant to my career growth.

Can you share your experience getting an internship in the US?

I was supposed to start school in the fall, but COVID hit and I had to defer my admission by six months. Ultimately, I began in spring and did a summer internship. Since I was preparing myself to come in the fall, I understood what the internship recruitment cycle was, and I started to apply for internships before landing in the US so that I could hit that fall recruitment season. Many companies in the US will recruit from July to October, or even early November. It’s the time when most companies will be opening up their early careers or university recruitment positions.

I wanted to jump the ship early so I could give myself the most opportunity. I didn’t think about what would happen if I applied for this job. I am used to applying for all the relevant internship positions that I come across. With that determination and perseverance mindset, I was able to hit quite a large number of applications that ultimately allowed me to get one.

Be creative and try to think about how you can stay away from the crowd so that you get the attention you need.

Do you have any tips for job hunting as an international student in the US?

A lot of my classmates during my master’s program came directly to study here right after their undergrad. I did come from India with work experience in my field, but I have realized that even having a brand name on my resume or having some work experience in my resume wasn’t the only factor to get a job. For example, I used to work at Microsoft in India, but I wasn’t able to get a Microsoft internship or a full-time job here.

The US recruitment process is completely different. Everything begins from scratch. Even if you have worked in that same company, you need to go through the same cycle.

What really stood out was being able to sell your experience in a transferrable way. That’s the beauty of product management. Let’s say you have been doing data analysis and you want to grow as a product manager. You can actually sell your data analysis experience around how you love it, why you do it, and how your data analysis helps end users of your products. That shows your intent to grow as a product manager and is the key to how you articulate your experience during the interviews.

During an interview conversation, I love to be succinct, specific, and give examples that allow the interviewer to understand my profile and experience. I always refer to the STAR framework for answering questions. In fact, I actually do it as a START framework:

  • Situation
  • Task
  • Action
  • Results
  • Takeaways

Another thing that I did during my job hunt was to google the Fortune 500 list. I went to each and every company’s career webpage and looked for a product manager position. That allowed me to apply for companies in that Fortune 500 list which wouldn’t have usually shown up in my LinkedIn because of how I have chosen the industry and how my profile is set up.

Just by going through that list, I was able to get a list of a handful of companies that I could have only ever imagined. As part of the Fortune 500, they are very reputable. There is a whole variety of resources available. I’m not saying these are the only methods that will work for you, but these are some things that I did.

What are the key points recruiters are looking for on a resume for a product management role?

In a resume, the key thing that is primarily looked at by the recruiters is the impact that you have created. It could be an internal or external impact. Doesn’t matter if it impacts one hundred customers or one million customers. Highlighting that impact is really necessary. So whenever you are writing your resume bullet points, showcase your impact, and when you are giving your interviews, be sure to showcase two major traits. One is your curiosity or empathetic nature. Your empathetic mindset shows how you are listening to your customers or users for your product to make your product better. The second trait is around your execution skills because as a product manager, you need to drive.

Do you have any advice on how to best network with large companies that sponsor international talent?

We all know about LinkedIn and Indeed, as those two are the most common portals to apply for jobs. But, there are a couple of unconventional ways, which I had realized over the years that actually helped me get interview calls when I was in school. Clubhouse was a hot app during those days. Everyone was crazy about Clubhouse. I used to jump in those recruiter conversations in the clubhouse apps, and I ended up speaking directly with recruiters from Meta, Google, and Adobe. They were hosting live public conversations.

You just need to do a little bit of research and find those channels or groups and jump in there. I remember there was a portal which I stumbled upon through some newsletter. I don’t remember exactly the portal name, but it was primarily for project managers. When I went into that portal, I was able to find amazing opportunities after joining different communities. Some communities have either their own Slack channels or their own Discord communities. Just jump in. If you Google the top 10 product communities to join, Google will itself give you the most popular communities.

Figure out unconventional ways to reach people because with the most common ways, your targets are getting a lot of requests and they may not be able to respond to each and every request. If you reach out in an unconventional way, you can actually get their attention by staying away from the crowd.

I personally used to attend networking events in my region even with companies that didn’t used to sponsor. When you are networking, you are not looking for a first-degree connection. You’re really looking for that second-degree and third-degree connection. That person in that company may not be hiring, but may connect you with someone in their network who is hiring an international student.