Product management is one of the most challenging and rewarding careers in tech and business today. As a product manager, you are responsible for driving the development, launch, and growth of a specific product or feature, using a mix of strategic thinking, data analysis, user empathy, and teamwork. You work with cross-functional teams, such as engineering, design, marketing, and sales, to align product vision with customer needs and business goals. You also communicate with stakeholders, such as executives, investors, and users, to gather feedback and insights.
Given the high demand and impact of product management roles, it’s no surprise that many people are eager to break into this field. However, it’s also no surprise that many people feel overwhelmed, uncertain, or stuck when trying to do so. Some of the common questions and challenges that people face include:
- What skills and traits do I need to have to be a successful product manager?
- How can I get practical experience in product management when I don’t have a job in this field yet?
- What resources and educational programs can help me gain knowledge and credibility in product management?
- How do I network effectively with other product managers and companies?
- How can I prepare for product management job interviews and stand out from other candidates?
This article aims to provide a step-by-step guide to help you answer these questions and overcome these challenges. Whether you are a recent graduate, a career changer, or an aspiring entrepreneur, you can benefit from the advice and examples shared in this article. So, let’s get started!
Breaking into product management requires a mix of research, self-assessment, skill-building, networking, and perseverance. While there is no one-size-fits-all formula or timeline, you can follow some general steps to increase your chances of success. Here are some suggestions:
Research the field
The first step to becoming a product manager is to understand what the role entails and what the market demands. You can start by reading books, blogs, and industry reports that cover the basics and trends of product management. Some recommended resources are:
- The Lean Product Playbook by Dan Olsen
- Inspired by Marty Cagan
- The PM Library by Mind the Product
- Product School Blog
- First Round Review
You can also join online communities and forums, such as Product School Slack, Mind the Product Slack, and LinkedIn Groups for Product Managers. These platforms allow you to connect with other product managers, ask questions, share insights, and access job opportunities.
Assess your skills and gaps
The second step is to evaluate your current skills, strengths, weaknesses, and gaps related to product management. You can use a variety of methods to do this, such as:
- Self-reflection: Ask yourself what motivates you to pursue product management, what qualities you possess that align with the field, and what challenges you anticipate facing.
- Peer feedback: Ask your coworkers, friends, or mentors to provide feedback on your communication, problem-solving, leadership, or other relevant skills.
- Skills assessment tools: Take online assessments, such as the Product Management Skills and Assessment by Mind the Product or the Product Manager Aptitude Test by Aha!, to get insights into your strengths and weaknesses and compare them to industry benchmarks.
Based on your self-assessment and feedback, you can create a plan to address your gaps and develop your strengths further. This plan may involve taking courses, volunteering for product-related projects, attending conferences, or working with a mentor.
Gain practical experience
The third step is to gain practical experience in product management, even if you don’t have a formal role in this field yet. You can do this by:
- Taking on side projects: Find opportunities within your current job, hobbies, or community to work on product-related projects, such as creating a prototype, conducting user interviews, or analyzing market data.
- Volunteering for startups: Look for early-stage startups or non-profit organizations that need help with product development and offer your skills and time for free or at a low cost. This can give you exposure to different product challenges and allow you to network with other professionals.
- Creating your product: If you have an idea for a product, work on it as if it were a real product and document your process, insights, and challenges. This can demonstrate your entrepreneurial skills and work ethic to future employers or investors.
By gaining practical experience, you can demonstrate to potential employers or partners that you have what it takes to be a product manager, even if you lack the formal title or experience.
Build your personal brand
The fourth step is to build your personal brand as a product manager and showcase your skills and experience to the world. You can do this by:
- Writing blog posts: Share your insights, opinions, or experiences related to product management in a blog or Medium publication. This can help you establish your thought leadership and attract a following.
- Creating case studies: Showcase your product-related projects or initiatives in a case study format that highlights your process, impact, and learnings. This can demonstrate your problem-solving, data analysis, and storytelling skills to potential employers.
- Contributing to open-source projects: Contribute to open-source products or tools that relate to your interests or skills, and leverage this experience to connect with other contributors or contributors to potential employers.
- Speaking at events: Apply to speak at product management or technology events that align with your career plans or expertise, and share your insights or experiences with the audience. This can help you build your confidence and credibility as a public speaker.
Building your personal brand can help you differentiate yourself from other job candidates and attract more opportunities that align with your interests and values.
Apply for jobs
The fifth step is to start applying for product management roles that match your skills, experience, and goals. You can do this by:
- Creating a targeted resume: Craft a resume that showcases your most relevant and compelling achievements, skills, and experience. Use action verbs, quantifiable metrics, and keywords that match the job descriptions you are applying for.
- Drafting a tailored cover letter: Write a cover letter that explains why you are interested in the company or role, what you can bring to the table, and how your skills and experience match the job requirements. Personalize it for each application and avoid generic or vague statements.
- Applying via online job boards: Use job boards such as LinkedIn, Indeed, Glassdoor, and AngelList to find product management job opportunities that match your criteria. Filter by location, salary range, company size, or industry, and apply to the ones that resonate with you.
- Networking with product managers: Reach out to other product managers via LinkedIn, email, or referrals, and ask for informational interviews or coffee chats. Introduce yourself briefly, explain your interest in product management, and ask if they have time to share their experience or insights. Be respectful of their time and follow up with a thank you note or LinkedIn connection request.
When applying for product management jobs, it’s essential to present yourself as a problem-solver, collaborative leader, and strategic thinker who understands the market, customer needs, and business priorities. Use examples, stories, or data to demonstrate your skills and impact, and be honest and humble about your areas for improvement.
Continue to learn and grow
The final step is to recognize that product management is a lifelong learning and growing journey that requires curiosity, resilience, and adaptability. Even if you land your dream job as a product manager, there will always be new challenges, tools, and trends to explore and master.