"So how can I break into Product Management?" This is a question many have asked themselves before taking the leap and diving into the field. Only recently have there been degrees in Product and a clear path into the profession, leaving most to have either accidentally wandered down this career path or forged their way in.
We recently caught up with Martyn Bassett Associates’ Product Practice Lead, Heidi Ram, to ask her this very question. As a Product-focused Recruiter, she gets asked this question often. In fact, she addressed this question during her opening remarks at an Ask Me Anything webinar.
For those looking to become a first-time Product Manager, here are Heidi’s recommendations:
Understanding the Path into Product
Product management is a nuanced role given the breadth of how the craft of product is delivered across multiple industries and product categories. While product management as a function looks a little different across industries, products and stages of a business, so too is the career path into product.
Ask ten PMs from ten different companies how they got into product and you'll likely hear ten different journeys. Some Product Managers come up from a track of engineering or UX, while others move into product from customer success or product marketing. It is rare to find someone who started as a Product Manager straight out of school.
So be encouraged that you are not the first person to navigate through this. You stand on the shoulders of giants who themselves solved for this very problem: How do I become a Product Manager?
Focus on the Employer not the Function
Step one to becoming a Product Manager at a tech company, might just be to get hired by a tech company. This includes getting hired for any role that you can add value to. This way you’ll learn how tech companies operate and add value, which can eventually lead to career progression into product.
Add Value No Matter What
If a tech company hires you in a role other than product management (or this is where you currently find yourself), it's time to focus on being the best employee you can be so you can be the employee who gets the opportunity to join the product team.
While you’re in this position, learn the business of tech, know the company and the product inside and out, volunteer for projects, say yes to hard tasks, and earn the respect and referral of your manager. This way you can confidently make your product ambitions known.
Make Your Ambition Known
The best way to get into an entry-level product role is through the company you already work for. What you lack in job experience, you make up for in knowledge of the business, team, product, and possibly the customer.
After you’ve built a reputation of being a star employee, communicate your goals to your manager and ask for feedback on achieving them. Seek their support and be open to their thoughts, even if it's tough to hear.
Questions to ask your boss:
While asking for feedback is always challenging, this is your opportunity to close any gaps and set yourself up for the future. It’s important to remember, even if the feedback is not what you wanted to hear, any manager who is transparent enough to help you get better is giving you a gift.
It also sets up the foundation for receiving and actioning on feedback to move ahead. This will come in handy as it’s the same approach you should consider when trying to jump from a PM to a Product Leader.
For professionals who are already successful in an industry outside of tech, getting into product management can be a challenge. My advice is to seek out tech companies that sell to your industry and look for opportunities to work at those companies in any capacity where you can add value.
For example, the accountant who wants to leverage their transferable skills to get into product. If you're this accountant, what are the software applications you use? Look to apply to those software vendors since you’d be a subject matter expert and could immediately add value.
Becoming a Product Manager requires patience, persistence, and a willingness to continuously learn. By focusing on the employer, making your goals known, and strategically reinventing yourself, you can achieve your dream of becoming a Product Manager.
Looking for more advice and insights on the specific skill sets prospective product candidates should develop in order to land their first product role? Hear tips and tricks from Gerard Doyle, VP of Product at The Weather Network.