“How to get started?” is probably the single most popular question asked about any role. Whether you’re considering a career switch or are fresh out of school, you’re here to learn how people land their first product manager jobs.
We asked six product managers to give us their best advice for people looking to get started in the field. We also asked them how they got their first product manager jobs.
This is the final post in our four-part series on the role of product manager. In the first post, we covered product management responsibilities. In the second post, we discussed product management certification. The third post was all about product management skills. We’d like to thank the product managers who participated in this series.
Keep in mind that the opinions expressed beyond this point are solely those of the product managers and aren’t necessarily representative of the organizations they work for.
How can someone get hired for product manager jobs?
Research product manager jobs
The first step to getting product manager jobs is knowing more about the role. In one of our previous posts we covered a product manager’s responsibilities. One of the things that came out of that conversation was that many people don’t know what product managers do, even if they regularly work with one. For Catia Crespo, Product Manager at Ansys, that’s why the first step to getting a job in product management is doing a bit of research: “Talk with people at your company, but be aware that product manager responsibilities can change a lot depending on the company. Have an open discussion about expectations and role definition.” Product managers who are passionate about their work will love an opportunity to talk about their field.
But since their calendars can be very booked, consider taking them out to lunch if you want to pick their brain.
Minh Tran Van Ba, a Product Manager at Mastercard, agrees that this is one of the best ways to start on the path to this career: “If possible, try to look within your company rather than looking for outside opportunities. You already know the company’s product, its client base, and possibly have ideas as to problems that need fixing.” He adds that speaking to PMs at your company is a great way to learn.
Ludovic Maire, Group Product Manager at SSENSE, emphasized this as well: “Meet other PMs to make sure you understand the job. Ask them relevant questions and be curious about what it is they do.”
Prove you can handle product manager jobs
As we’ve covered in previous posts, product manager jobs are more about soft skills than it having the proper technical background. Great product managers have the skills to manage expectations, serve as the communication channel between teams, and turn a jumbled list of priorities into a single strategy. That’s where Ellen Chisa, Product Manager, Entrepreneur, and Founder of Dark suggests aspiring product managers start: “The most important thing is being able to demonstrate these skills. Show that you can come up with an idea from scratch and execute on it.” Much like being a project manager, this can be done no matter your role. Taking a product idea from strategy to launch is the only thing that can show how you’d handle the product management process.
For Albin Poignot, co-founder and product manager at Linky Product this is one half of a two-pronged approach: “There are two actions to take. First, learn the mindset and the skillset you’ll need; understand what the job is. Second, try to be a PM in your current role on side projects.” The best way to find opportunities for product management is to go to someone with a similar role and ask them what they can’t take care of. Usually, they’ll be more than happy to give you a shot.
Try a tangential role
What’s the best way to get into product management jobs? According to some of our PMs, it’s by not shooting for the role too soon. Better to learn some of the concepts that’ll carry you through your career first. Ahmed Majaat, Product Owner at GSoft, has a specific role in mind for this: “I think that user experience (UX) is a good starting point. It allows you to understand a user or customer’s needs before transitioning to product owner or manager role.” That’s because great UX design work depends on being able to understand what makes the user tick and representing that in your work. You also need to juggle the expectations of other designers, copywriters, and many other roles. Both these abilities make for great product managers.
Chisa agrees: “If you’re having a hard time getting straight into product, I’d also highly recommend adjacent roles.” A technical field can work, as long as it’s ultimately concerned with strategy or usability.
How did our PMs get their first product manager jobs?
Like many fields, there is no straight path to getting your first product manager job. How did our PMs do it?
“I went straight into product after college! I’d gone to a project-based engineering school with a heavy emphasis on design and business, so even though my degree says ‘Electrical and Computer Engineering,’ a lot of what I did fit within product management.”
“I had the chance to start my career at a time when mobile apps were considered a marketing channel. I started as a marketing strategist for apps my company created for external clients, allowing me to understand all the aspects of a product’s lifecycle. This experience allowed me to build my knowledge of all product challenges from technological aspects to UX design, and helped me build my business acumen.”
“During my PhD in Biology, I ended up having a few management roles within different organizational committees. This made me realize I wanted to move into industry and get a management position. I wasn’t actively looking for a PM position at the time, I just wanted to find something that sounded interesting and that I could see myself doing. I was lucky to find a startup that was looking to hire a Junior PM with experience in life sciences on LinkedIn. While reading the job description, I truly felt this was for me so I applied.“
Minh Tran Van Ba
“I became a technical product manager back in 2008, so that was a little while ago and things were quite different. I was working as a technical support consultant for a few years and accumulated knowledge and expertise in the product I was supporting. Then, the product management went to look after a different product and I was asked to take on the mantle. Obviously, I said yes and haven’t regretted my decision!”
“I did it by working with my product owner. I asked him ‘is there something that you don’t have time to do?’ and he said yes. He asked me if I could take an idea he didn’t have time to work on and turn it into an initiative. I took the time to understand the need, craft a solution, estimate it with my team, and came up with a plan with a very limited scope. I showed my company that I could do it, while doing my job as a developer. I just added this extra step.”
“I started my own company and organically took the PM role without really knowing that I was getting into product management.”
Get those product management jobs
There’s no single degree, training, or background that can guarantee a path to your first product manager job. In fact, it’s a discipline that benefits from having a variety of backgrounds. That’s why, if you want to get into product management, you need to learn the skills and mindset, and a great place to start is either speaking to PMs at your company or taking on your own project. That self-directed approach will prepare you for the job ahead.
This brings us to the end of our product manager interview series. If you’d like to read any of the previous pieces, you can find them here:
- 6 PMs on Product Management Responsibilities
- We Asked 6PMs About Product Manager Certification
- 6 PMs on Essential Product Management Skills
We’d like to thank our six product managers for taking part in this interview series. Their insight has been invaluable.