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Will an MBA Help You Pivot into Product Management?

Tools + thought processes I used to help make my decision to pursue an MBA

Building Skills to Break Into PM

Critical Product Management Skills

  • Implementation experience with launching products or working with engineers to build products (Skills check: I was lacking this!)
  • Unique point of view on tech trends and awareness of the tech landscape (Skills check: I had read up on tech blogs & chatted frequently with friends working in tech, but was lacking structured and in-depth opportunities to analyze tech trends)
  • Influencing without formal authority (Skills check: As a consultant, I often had to persuade my clients to make certain decisions even though they were not reporting to me)
  • Strong communication skills (Skills check: I had experience presenting creative strategies and data-driven insights both internally and externally)
  • Customer empathy (Skills check: I had conducted hundreds of customer interviews for market research in my consulting role, so had experience translating these insights into actionable recommendations)

How an MBA Builds PM Skills

  • Implementation experience with launching products or working with engineers to build products: Many MBA programs offer technical courses to build these skills, which you can complement with experiential courses to practice your skills in a live setting. At Kellogg, I took technical courses such as Intro to Software Development where we built a website using CSS, and Customer Analytics where we built AI models using R. Additionally, cross-school classes such as NUvention offer the opportunity to work with engineers to build and launch prototypes for a startup idea of choice.
  • Unique point of view on tech trends and awareness of the tech landscape: Many schools have Technology clubs that offer programming such as bringing high profile speakers to campus, recruiting bootcamps, and product management case competitions. These are great for learning from leaders in the space, picking their brains on what is currently most important in tech, and learning how MBA grads can contribute. I’ve also found that through meeting communities of students at Kellogg who are interested in tech, I have been able to engage in organic, constant dialogue, learn from others’ points of view, and strengthen my own critical analysis abilities.
  • Influencing without formal authority: Try taking experiential courses where you consult with local companies pro-bono. This will help you develop your persuasion skills while contributing to your community. Also, as a leader of a student organization, you’ll have many chances to practice leading and inspiring your peers.
  • Strong communication skills: Many students get an MBA so that they can practice growing their confidence and communication skills! Because MBA programs tend to have diverse students who come from all over the world, naturally in class and social settings you face people with different backgrounds and mindsets. By interacting with other students in your MBA program, you will learn about how to communicate effectively with people from different cultures and with different motivations.
  • Customer empathy: You’ll have to be a bit more intentional about this one. Some students will take on part-time internships during the school year in a role such as product management, product marketing, or market research, where they have the opportunity to develop research methods and speak to customers. This is a great way to gain real experience working directly with customers. Additionally, case competitions or side startup projects where you seek feedback can also help you consider how to iterate on an idea or product based on feedback.

MBA Opportunities to Break Into PM

  • High proportion of graduates going into tech: Check to see what fields students from your desired MBA program typically go into; these stats can usually be found on the school’s website. You can also connect with student reps for the Tech club to check what the spread for each function within tech is, and ask any other specific career questions. At Kellogg, ~30% of students enter tech, so I knew that I would find a community of people with similar career interests.
  • Location of your program: The location of your MBA can matter because it will provide better access to companies in the area, and your future alumni may be centered in that region. Having contacts who will vouch for you and are connected to the companies you are interested in can help tremendously! While the Bay Area is a clear winner for tech opportunities, other cities such as Chicago and NYC also have a vibrant, and sometimes overlooked, tech scene.
  • MBA “brand”: While this shouldn’t be a huge part of your decision, it can influence what roles you are more likely to be considered for. I have seen tech companies recruit for product management specifically at Kellogg and not other schools because students are known for their collaborative focus. Joining an MBA with a brand that you want to identify with may give you an edge up, especially as recruiters are reading through hundreds of resumes and use your MBA program as a proxy for what strengths you may have.
  • Desired company’s MBA outlook: Do your research and check whether there are MBA leaders at the companies you are interested in. If their Director / VP of Product Management or other C-level executives have MBA degrees, it’s a good signal that they value this education and will understand what you bring to the table with this degree. It can also be insightful to chat with people at the company to understand how technical their PM roles are. Some companies such as Google only hire people with technical backgrounds, so pursuing an MBA if you don’t have this skillset might not help. However, other companies such as Amazon and Cisco do not require PMs to have a technical background, so pursuing an MBA can give you an edge in the right direction.



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Angela Huang

Kellogg MBA + Product Person + Penn Grad. Recovering coffee addict.