September 17, 2018 ・ Written by BrightCrowd

Ask Me Anything: Nick Zakrasek

BrightCrowd Advice session with the co-founder and product lead of Google for Jobs

Ask Me Anything: Nick Zakrasek

Nick Zakrasek is the co-founder and product lead of Google for Jobs. He has spent the past 4 years as a product manager at Google and currently oversees multiple Search vertical domains, including Health, Job Search, Education, Civics, and Crisis Response.

Q&A with Nick Zakrasek

Varun Bhartia: Thanks for doing this! As much as you can talk about, why did Google decide to get into jobs? Figured it’s such a crowded space - from Linkedin, to the tons of jobs sites out there (indeed, greenhouse, etc.). How did you think about Google’s angle?

Nick Zakrasek: So many people start their job search on Google, it’s important that we leverage our core capabilities around search & AI to help with this critical user journey. We want to be additive to the ecosystem, and that’s why we built a totally open product in partnership with the rest of the industry.

Sophie Guo: Can you talk a bit more about your experience transitioning from the manufacturing and supply chain world to PM? What are some of the challenges? And what is your advice for people trying to break into PM?

Nick Zakrasek: PM is definitely becoming way more popular than it was 5 years ago. The advice I generally give is to start thinking like a product manager in your day-to-day life. For example, for the products you use, ask yourself what you would do if you were the PM for it. Probably you don’t know enough about that industry or product to have a firm opinion - so do some research, read about it, talk to a few folks. Write up a proposal of what you’d do. See if you can find the PM for the product via your network, or online, and send it to them! If it’s a good proposal, I’ll bet you hear back from them.

Nick Zakrasek: As far as transitioning from supply chain into PM, I used business school as a way to make a clean break, and I had a strong narrative about why I was making that transition. The hardest part is the chicken-and-egg issue of PM jobs requiring PM experience. So my advice is to find any way you can to actually do the job of a PM: volunteer, do an internship, or start your own business (even something small, like a consultancy or a small-scale retail business, will give you a ton of real-world experience and can be done as a second job).

Lulu Lin: Are there attributes of successful PMs that you see as being particularly key across products in today’s market? To differentiate from Sophie’s question on skillsets, I’m wondering about attributes you see in strong PMs across that translate across different PM products.

Nick Zakrasek: Creativity, thoughtfulness, and a hunger for data-driven analysis.

Vineeta Arora: What advice would you give a new PM? Are there certain people they should reach out to and build relationships with? Are there certain professional organizations they should become more involved in or industry events they should make sure to attend?

Nick Zakrasek: it really depends on the industry and company. Your job as a PM is really to innovate - and there’s no recipe for that. But I believe you need a combination of breadth and depth to give yourself the best chance of coming up with novel product solutions. You need to be deep enough in your industry to really understand how it works and what the key unsolved problems are; you also need to have enough breadth in your network and knowledge to be aware of and able to draw parallels with other industries and product innovations happening outside your immediate space.

Darrell Stone: thanks for doing this! How do you think companies heavily leveraging the IC model (Uber, Lyft, etc.) are impacting the future of work?

Nick Zakrasek: I’ve seen evidence that the so-called gig economy is having a lot smaller impact so far than anticipated. However I do think there’s a very important debate happening right now around job quality. IC jobs don’t tend to have the same level of predictability in income, benefits, etc.

Sophie Niu: Thank you for doing this! could you share some insights on going from Mathematics background to PM? Do you see UX background people in PM? Also, have you noticed any new skillsets that strong PMs should have that used not to be the necessities?

Nick Zakrasek: I think a pure math background really helps in developing the ability to take problems and see how they can be abstracted up to a higher level. And for applied math, obviously the data science and coding skills you learn are directly applicable to the PM role.

Nick Zakrasek: There’s a strong overlap between UX and PM, the best UX designers often act & think like a PM and vice versa. UX designers are in such high demand these days I think most folks with that background just go into straight UX roles. There’s more competition for PM roles I think.

Sophie Niu: Nick Zakrasek Thank you for your feedback. Since I am pursuing a degree in UX and trying to get internship experience in the coming summer, and I saw Google also have UX researcher internships, from your experience working in Google, what is something special in Google for UX people? What are differences between a UX role daily and a PM role daily?

Nick Zakrasek: As far as new skill sets, I think that there is much less appetite for a ‘move fast and break things’ attitude these days. We’ve all seen how a lack of thoughtfulness can be so detrimental. So I think there’s a need for PMs to have a strong hand in thinking through how your product could be abused, or fail, or otherwise cause harm. And then be able to design systems and processes to mitigate those risks. My supply chain and manufacturing background really prepared me well for this, but for some other PMs it’s difficult to think this way.

Nick Zakrasek: Sophie Niu The PM role, UX role, and UX researcher role are all quite different in their day-to-day. Definitely figure out which one matches with what you want to spend your time doing.

Jessie Wang: I’ve seen a lot of articles about international expansion, what is the plan behind where Jobs is rolled out to?

Nick Zakrasek: In line with Google’s mission, our ideal is to be able to help connect anyone, anywhere with the information and tools they need - and a job search is one of the most important searches we do in our lives. So we’re working hard to bring better job search functionality to as many countries and languages as possible.

Rachel Zhang: A lot of people say “Google only hires people have technical background as PMs. ““Google is very engineering driven.” What do you think? How is PM at Google different from PM at other companies (e.g, previous company you worked at or other companies your friends work for)?

Nick Zakrasek: Google is definitely more engineering-driven than many companies, and so an engineering mindset is a big asset. But that doesn’t mean you have to have a CS background. I don’t. The important thing is that you’re able to understand tradeoff decisions that need to be made in the design and development of your product, and to engage productively with your engineering team.

Jim Thomas: What are some pitfalls that you see new PM or interview candidates often fall into?

Nick Zakrasek: The most common one is simply not preparing adequately. Make sure you know the fundamentals of the business of the company you’re interviewing with. It’s amazing how many candidates I’ve interviewed that didn’t really understand the state of Google’s business and its principle products. To me, that signals that you’re probably not going to prepare adequately for your own product presentations if we were to hire you, either!

BrightCrowd: Thank you Nick for taking time to share your experience.

Nick Zakrasek: Thanks all for the interesting questions! If you’re interested in a job at Google, my teams are hiring in particular for PM, UX, UX Researchers, engineers and analysts, please reach out!