Being a product manager is a challenging, but rewarding. If you are considering pursuing a career in product management, read this first.
1. Understand the role
Before you start looking at job descriptions, it is good to spend some time to understand what the role is about and ask yourself these questions.
- Is it really a job you would like to have? You are not the CEO of the product – you are more like a janitor. You will be responsible for delivering, without any authority of the people who you need to deliver for you. Even though the title might sound glamorous, it demands a lot of hard work on many levels.
- What kind of product manager do I want to be? What are your strengths and passion? Do you want to be a technical or more design-oriented product manager? What problem do you want to solve for users? In the end, being passionate about the problem you are working on and drawing upon your strengths is what will make you love your job.
You can read more about the role here.
2. Assess and improve your skills
What roles you can apply for and your eventual success rate for actually getting offers will depend on your previous experience. While some companies prefer MBA’s from the top business schools with undergraduate degrees in a relevant domains – like a computer science degree for digital product management – neither an MBA or a technical background is required to get into product management. A product person should love solving a problem for customers, have strong work ethics, integrity, good communication skills, leadership qualities and more. These personal traits are more critical for succeeding as a product manager than your educational background. Also remember that the best experience you can have on your resume is to have shipped a product from concept to launch.
With that said, you might want to start working on perfecting the skills that make you a good candidate for a product management role.
- Work on your technical skills
So, even if we just said that you don’t need to be technical to land a product management role, developing technical skill sets is helpful. When hoping to land the job, what you need is a resume that doesn’t make you look like a generic business person. It is also very helpful when actually working as a product manager – both for earning the respect of your engineers and for making communication with them easier. With all resources available online, make sure you get a basic understanding of technical concepts. A good place to start could be learning SQL, which comes in handy when analyzing data.
- Run product critiques
Start something similar to a book club with other aspiring product managers or just friends and run a product critique, where you gather to review products instead of books. It will help you explore why some products and experiences are successful, why others aren’t. It’s also a good way to prepare for the interview, as you most likely will be asked to describe and evaluate a product you have used recently. Julie Zhao lines out step-by-step how to run a product critique in this article.
- Start working like a product manager in your current role
Use your current role as an opportunity to take steps towards thinking and acting like a product manager. Try to take initiatives or the lead role for a project with different workstreams where your team needs to deliver on a deadline. If possible, try to get to work with engineers to gain experience from working in a cross-functional team. The next best thing to having actual experience of working with product and/or previously having shipped one, is to have displayed transferable skills that are relevant for the product manager role.
- Work with designers and developers
If you don’t have any designers or developers in your current company, you can try looking for them in other places. As a product manager, your success depends on how well you can collaborate with designers and developers, why it’s helpful to practice doing it. There are several ways to do this. You can either reach out to a startup and get involved by offering your skills for free – they are usually short on both money and man power, why you could be of help while working close to the making of a product – or attend local hackathons where you get to roll up your sleeves and work with collaboratively with people having relevant skills. By doing any of these, you will not only gain experience, but also get connections that can help you land a job within product management.
- Do a side project
If you want to ship a product – just do it. You don’t need to be a full-fledged coder or a talented designer to identify a problem and target user, validate an idea and create something valuable. Even if you won’t build the next big thing, it sets you apart from the competition while you gain important experience of shipping a product. For this too, it could be relevant to attend a local hackathon to get a side project running if you don’t want to do it by yourself. The important thing is to be able to show skills relevant for the role as a product manager with your project (and if you are into product management, it will probably be something you are passionate about).
4. Find product management openings
Here are three ways to find product management jobs that could be yours.
- Search for product management roles
Head to Indeed or Linkedin and search for “product manager” to find roles to apply to. ProductHired is another interesting site, posting only product roles. Depending on your experience, you might want to look for not only product manager roles, but also product owner roles or project manager roles in product companies. If you are too inexperienced for landing a product manager role, getting in on one of these roles could be good for later making an internal move – see below for more on that.
- Find an Associate Product Manager Program
Some companies run Associate Product Manager programs for people who are new to product management but has potential to become great product managers. The competition for getting one of these positions is usually fierce, but that never stopped you – right?
- Make an internal move
Lots of companies look for candidates internally before posting a role for external applicants. Good product managers can be found anywhere in a company – in engineering, customer support, sales, QA, business or UX design. The first thing you need to do if you want to make an internal move, is to let your manager know that you want to move towards product management. Together you can work out what skills you need to work on and what projects you should start doing to get more involved in product and closer to your goal.
Personally, I don’t know anyone who hasn’t started out in another role before transitioning into their first product role. Starting out as something else – designer, engineer or business analyst – in a company with a product you are passionate about can be a great strategy for getting into product management.
4. Prepare your resume
Time to get your resume together! Here are three things to think of when writing your resume.
- Stay relevant
Make sure the resume is tailored to the job you’re applying for. Stick to a one page resume where you leave out experience that is irrelevant to the job you’re applying for, but include experiences that are relevant, no matter how small. You don’t need to list everything position you have held – include that side project you are working on instead! Also, avoid buzzwords – be as specific as possible to come off as credible.
- Demonstrate your value
Don’t make your resume a list of responsibilities when it should be a list of accomplishments. A way to do this is by using action verbs. By doing this, you focus on what you did, rather than what you were responsible for. You can find a list of action verbs here. Also, make sure to describe your accomplishments by using data to quantify them. As an example, “Responsible for company website” is not as powerful and effective as “Designed and shipped new company website, increasing monthly traffic by 12% and estimated monthly revenue by $1.5M”.
- Communicate your value
Keep the resume short and clean. Make sure you don’t have any spelling mistakes or bad grammar – have other people proofread your resume before submitting it to any potential employer.
5. Practice for the interview
The interview could be where you make it or break it. Spend as much time as you can practicing interview questions so that you can feel comfortable and perform well during the interview. These are a few of the questions you can expect from a product management interview.
- Why you want to work in product management
Don’t get into product because it’s trendy – do it because you truly care about building something and are passionate about great products. And show the interviewer that this is the case.
- Why you want to join this company
Read up on the company to have a relevant answer, but stay genuine – if this question is hard to answer, you probably shouldn’t work there.
- Past experiences
You will definitely get questions about your past experiences and jobs. They might ask for specific examples (e.g. “Tell me about a situation when you worked well in a cross-functional team?” instead of the more generic “How do you work in cross-functional teams?”). Answer questions about your past with the STAR model – Situation, Task, Action and Result – using real situations. They could be good to sneak in, even if the recruiter is not asking for them. In this case, the answer could be “In my first job, I worked together with one designer and two developers (Situation). We were handed the project of releasing a completely new website in just two weeks (Task). To be able to make the deadline, we had a planning meeting, to prioritize the things we needed to do. I ran the daily check-ins and made sure that everything stayed on track (Action). We ended up making the deadline, the website improved metrics more than anyone had estimated and we became so close friends from that intense experience that we still hang out (Result).” Great examples speak stronger than generic responses.
- Business case questions
Expect to answer questions that test your analytical skills. Practice making guesstimates (“How many baseballs can fit into an airplane?), and don’t forget to read up on the strategy and business model of the company you are applying for as they might ask you questions about it.
You can find more tips and questions asked in product management interviews here.
6. Land the job
You did it! 🙌
And this is when the real work starts.
Thank you for reading!
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