5 Tips for Becoming a Product Manager
Start with what you know
Review your experience, whatever it is, and find the common thread that leads to product management. Product management isn’t a discipline with specific tactical experience that always translates to great product managers. Unlike design or engineering, there isn’t a specific set of skills or work portfolio that can be set on display to quickly illustrate how “good” of a product manager someone is. Instead, product managers are more like team leaders who show the team’s success as their representation of doing a good job at their role.
Since product management is less specific of the kinds of skills that make a great product manager, look for how your experience illustrates team leadership, working with data to make decisions, influencing others in the organization, or market research (if you are looking at a technical product manager role, design or engineering skills will be a major plus, even if it’s minimal). All these areas can tie into what will be required of you as a product manager. So make sure that you reformat your resume with these skill necessities in mind.
Get into the system
Read, learn, participate. Get involved in some clubs or meetups. Read a lot about product management best practices. Participate in conversations online about what great product managers should do in certain situations. All of this will allow you to start getting into the mindset of being a product manager. Also, by doing this you may meet some contacts who can help you on your way of making the transition to becoming a product manager as well. So find some groups or forums that draw your attention and spend time meeting the people there and listen to their experience and their challenges. Not only will you learn a lot about how to “walk the walk”, but you’ll also make sure that the role sounds like something still of interest.
Meet some product managers
This goes hand in hand with the last tip. If you want to become a product manager, you will want some connections in the area. Don’t be shy, product managers love to talk and are passionate about discussing products, so reach out and tap them on the shoulder for an introduction. 99/100 I have been impressed with the willingness of people to share their time to help me along the way. Be courteous of time constraints and don’t overstay your welcome, but also be forceful that this is your career and you’d like to get advice. No one has as much invested in your career as you do, and people will respect that.
Take a course
While it’s not required, taking a course on either development, design, or product management itself it will help you get into the mindset of being a product manager and allow you to check whether or not you enjoy the type of work that is presented. It can be a great way to also meet others making a similar transition that you are. The one word of caution I’d put forward is to not lean your expectations too heavily on this course, whatever it is, on getting you the role of your dreams. As mentioned earlier in this article product management is different from a discipline like design or engineering because it’s not like in an interview you can give a product manager something similar to a coding test to see how they perform. Take the course to learn and validate whether you want to be a product manager. Spend time meeting people and fostering relationships with others in the same position. Talk about how much you loved the course in your interviews. But be wary of how much emphasis you put on the impact it will have.
The last tip is probably the simplest tip, apply! It might sound silly, but this is the “action” tip. It’s your career, when you know you want to make a change it’s up to you to start moving and take action. As someone who has made a career move to product management from outside of it, it can feel more daunting than it is. Take the tips above seriously, find the common thread that ties your experience to product management, then look for the right positions and start applying. The rest will work itself out.
Get lots more great tips on product management from some of the best in the business over at The Product Manager Club
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Originally published at www.productmanagerclub.com on March 7, 2015.