So you want to pursue a career in product management—great! However, the product manager job posts you’ve come across list having product management experience—not great! Don’t worry! Here’s some guidance on how you can start your product management journey.
Teddy Kuo, PM at JP Morgan
Understand what a product manager really does
Understanding what a product manager really does is critical. It will help you discover if you are actually interested or just caught up in all the hot buzz around product management. Additionally, you cannot start your product journey or interview successfully if you aren’t familiar with how product managers function. Build your product foundation through:
Education. With the surge in demand and interest in product management, there is a wealth of information available. A few I have found helpful:
- INSPIRED: How to Create Tech Products Customers Love by Marty Cagan—great overview of product management, tactics to succeed, and guidance on understanding your key partners.
- PM Learning Series hosted by Shyvee Shi—hear from some of the top product management thought leaders.
↓ Read more:
Networking. Connect with product managers on LinkedIn. Networking will help you learn the nuances of product management roles at different companies. This helps you understand what flavors of product management you’d enjoy, skills you can develop, and therefore what companies you want to apply to.
→ Test your product management and data skills with this free Growth Skills Assessment Test.
→ Learn data-driven product management in Simulator by GoPractice.
→ Learn growth and realize the maximum potential of your product in Product Growth Simulator.
→ Join our discussion on LinkedIn. New topics to talk about every week.
Reflect upon why you want to become a product manager
Now that you’ve built up a foundational understanding of product management, let’s figure out what about it—as Marie Kondo would say—sparks joy for you! Reflect upon:
- What aspects of your current and past roles did you enjoy and dislike?
- What skills and attributes are you strong in and do you want to develop?
- How would becoming a product manager help you achieve these goals?
This will not only help you determine if product management is for you but also help you demonstrate how you already have skills that are transferable to product management.
Find your existing product management skills and areas for improvement
Product management requires a broad range of skills. It is highly likely that some of your skills and experience are transferable to product management. For example, if you have experience with a:
- Customer-facing role. You understand different users, their problems, journeys, and jobs they are hiring your product or service to accomplish, which is the foundation of products
- Technical role. You have experience guiding teams through technical limitations and opportunities, which helps in product management by informing tradeoffs to manage expectations
- Analytical role. You uncover unique insights, understand competitors, trends, and can track success, which can help the product team with synthesizing information, better decision making, continuous improvement, and making sure your work creates impact
- Legal role. You know how to communicate complex topics, pay attention to detail, and know how to manage stakeholders, which can help the product team by creating shared understanding, identifying unexpected issues, and building alignment and managing teams
By figuring out what product management skills you have, you can now identify the gaps and weaknesses that you need to work on your journey to become a product manager.
Creating opportunities to develop your product manager experience
Now that you know what product management skills you need to work on, seek out opportunities that will help you build those skills so you can share your experience on your resume and in interviews.
What are projects can you work on at your current role that can help you build transferable product skills?
- Found a bug or ways to improve your company’s product? Don’t just report it or drop it in the “suggestion box.” See if the product team is okay with you presenting your idea or working with you to develop it!
- Need to build your understanding of users? See if you can join a customer call to build user empathy and identify pain points!
- Need to brush up on your analytical skills? See if you can introduce data into decision making!
Are there side projects you can work on?
- Do you have an idea for an app or new business?
- Can you volunteer at an organization? Identify a problem, put together a plan, and rally people to solve it!
Finding your first product manager role
Product management is a competitive role so getting in won’t be easy. However, there are paths you can take to increase your chances. Explore roles at:
Your current company
I recommend trying this path first. You are already familiar with your company, they know your strengths, and you have established relationships that can help. If your company has a culture of internal movement, work together with your manager.
A new company
- Find companies that are within your domain of expertise. Since you are familiar with the industry, it will be easier to transfer and adapt that knowledge to product work.
- You can also seek out companies that have programs for people new to product management. However, most of these are oriented toward recent graduates.
- Additionally, early stage companies tend to be more open to hiring people that do not come from a product background than more established later stage companies. However, the type of product management guidance you experience will be different at these companies too.
You’ve built a foundational knowledge of product management, identified why you are interested in it, assessed what skills you already have and which you need to work on, created opportunities to develop your product management experience, and started finding your first product manager role. You have product management experience, and you just need to know how to tell your story! Good Luck!
Illustration by Anna Golde for GoPractice