How to get into Product Management?

Very few Product Managers started out as Product Managers. Most transitioned to the role from a tangentially related role – maybe software development or project management, maybe marketing and business development, maybe design and customer service. This advice is for people wanting to transition into Product Management, but could easily apply to any career transition.

Firstly, if your current employer doesn’t employ Product Managers, and doesn’t have a need to (or doesn’t think they need to), you’re going to need to change employers at some stage. It’s usually easier to change employer first, and then change roles than to change employers and roles at the same time – though if you can do the latter, it’s faster. This also has the advantage of putting you in close proximity to people who are already Product Managers, so you can learn more about the role, and find some mentoring from them.

Secondly, given that you’re changing roles, it’s a given that you won’t have exactly the experience that the hiring manager is looking for. Don’t let that stop you. Figure out what skills and capabilities they value (do some customer discovery on the hiring manager). Compare this to your own CV, identify where the critical gaps are, and start filling them.

For example, for a software developer wishing to transition to product management, they’re going to have a lot of technical credibilities already. However, to make the transition, they would need to demonstrate that they can talk to and understand customers, that they “get” the business (sales and marketing) side of the product, and that they can manage a project of a larger scale than their own work. They may need to demonstrate being able to collect, analyze and derive insights from data, building influence among a wide variety of stakeholders. In all cases, it’s quite possible to demonstrate much of that in a software role – you just have to be proactive and seek opportunities to do it, and then figure out how to sell it to the hiring manager. Doing training courses may help fill some gaps or raise credibility, but nothing compares to actual relevant experience doing these things in your current job.

In a very real sense, you are the product, and you need to manage yourself to enter a new market. You will need to do some customer discovery to know what the hiring manager wants, build the minimal viable product that they are looking for, and then convince them to take a (small) risk on you. If you do it well, you’re actually demonstrating good product management skills. As a corollary, if you wait until you think you’re 100% ready until you’ve filled all the gaps and are “ready” to be a Product Manager, you’re probably not pushing hard enough or taking enough risks, and maybe aren’t cut out for Product Management.

Finally, I’m no expert on gender issues, but if you’re female, have a read of this HBR article, which is particularly relevant to role changes for women (but also promotions and applying for jobs in general).

Originally published here.

Photo Credit: 순천만자연생태공원, Suncheon, South Korea on unsplash

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