When the pandemic hit hard, I started to do weekly 1:1s with people all over the world as my small attempt to help people. I talked with a bunch of aspiring Product Managers (PMs), and I decided to write a blog post with my thoughts about the things to keep in mind if you’re planning to transition your career to product or program management.
I also realized a lot of people don’t know how close they already are to their dream PM job or don’t even have a clear picture of the skills and experience they already have. This changed the way they saw their trajectory or even helped to increase their confidence during this transition period. Hopefully, this article will add more color and give you insights into what you should be looking at.
We all start somewhere. Our different experiences and perspectives are really unique, and we should definitely use that in our favor. Don’t get caught with the unicorn PM background and education. You can be qualified even if you have not studied Computer Science.
Skills to Build or Improve
Keep in mind that the skills needed in a PM job can be totally different depending on the product, company size, location, and industry. It’s also important to build broader skills and essentially be a generalist.
There are a lot of skills you can build in your current job that can be translated to your PM dream-job. You can build those as you go. It’s important to be open-minded, volunteer in your current company for PM-related work, and of course, don’t forget about personal projects.
Now I’m going to list those product-related skills you should keep in mind to improve or build.
Communication (verbal and written):
This is one of the MOST important skills you should ace. As a PM, you’ll interact with cross-functional teams, presenting your ideas, convincing people, selling ideas, and helping them to move in the right direction. Communication, verbal and written, is definitely something you need to craft and improve constantly.
You’ll be working with diverse teams so you need to be a leader and an amazing team player. People should enjoy working with you and respect your opinions. It’s interesting because a lot of time you lead without the formal authority because you’re not their manager. You should lead the team and help them to build powerful products.
You don’t need to know all the programming languages, but you need to know how to work with engineering teams. Spend time understanding the technology behind what your team is building and what skills you need to spend more time learning. Is it a specific language or technology? Spend time understanding those basic principles.
Have you worked with Marketing teams before? If you worked crafting a narrative about a user, you will use this skill as a PM. It’s such an important skill to know how to develop a product email or communicate the value of your product to different stakeholders, which requires that you strategize and tailor your narrative depending on their goals or expertise.
You need to know how to conduct user research, speak with users to troubleshoot issues and help to define the problem the research will try to uncover. Understanding your competitors, market size, and opportunities really well is key, and you should spend time working on that and working closely with your UX Research team.
You don’t need to know how to create beautiful designs, but you need to be able to identify your users’ needs, brainstorm with your design team on how to solve the problems your users are having, and of course, it’s always handy to have basic design skills, for example, being able to sketch possible solutions, and create compelling decks.
Problems and conflicts are always coming and going, and this is actually a good thing. During conflict, you’re able to understand different points of view and be more empathetic. You’ll have unexpected challenges, and your attitude towards them will make the difference. Don’t be afraid to be scrappy, ask questions, and bring everyone together towards the right solution.
Another important skill that I don’t see many people talking about, the PM role is totally different from the Project Manager’s, although having Project Manager skills is always handy. Did you outline goals and help the team focus on the right activities to bring a project to life, hitting the milestones?
You need to be able to understand numbers and organize the data in a way that gives you the insights needed about your users. You’ll be checking the available data or brainstorming ways to gather insights from your users, and you’ll use this information to make recommendations to your team, engineers, marketing, design, and product teams.
Often you’re working with a deadline in mind, so it’s so important to be a planner. It’ll give you a better sense of what should be prioritized, what will have the most impact, or what’s needed to move the product in the right direction. You’ll collaborate with your cross-functional team. Having planning and strategy skills is crucial.
It’s expected that you have skills that will help you and the team build stronger products. You might need to develop a model to predict how much revenue this new product or feature will bring. It doesn’t need to be fancy, and you can work with other teams to make it more powerful and improve the model as new information is available.
Product-Related Aspects of Your Current Job
It’s always easiest to transition to Product Management internally within your current company, although most of the time it’s not as easy as it seems. I’d recommend that you plan really well for this transition, be extremely strategic and focus first on building the skills needed for a product role in your current job, which means volunteering for product-related projects, networking with the product team, asking questions, and getting the proper training outside or inside your company.
After or during this process you can let your manager and other team members know you’re interested in transitioning to product. Again, be strategic about when and who you’re going to tell this information, ensuring that it is not going to hurt you in the long run. The good thing about sharing this information is that other people can help you spread the word and make you aware of new opportunities.
It’s definitely not easy, especially because as you build these product-related skills, you also have your current job responsibilities. It’s important to maintain balance and not compromise your current role. Keep in mind the PM skills and expectations I mentioned above and any other skills needed for the type of product or company you’d like to work with.
Don’t be afraid to volunteer to have more product-related responsibilities or to show the rest of the product teams what you’re working on. Prepare presentations, share emails with your findings. I’m sure the product team will be excited to hear your insights and discoveries. Maybe you’re an expert in a feature they’re developing or really understand well the users’ pain points. Take advantage of that, and don’t be afraid to share that with them.
Perform Personal Projects or Volunteer to Product-Related Projects
Before I started to work on some personal projects, I had no idea how it would help me during my product journey. I started to develop a product by myself because I wanted to have experience owning my product; hiring engineers, designers, UX researchers; and also looking for funding. It was a lot, and I learned so much. Moreover, when I was interviewing, they were always asking me questions about the product I was developing. So, I had a lot to tell them.
Even if you already have a way to develop product-related skills in your current job, I recommend you also work on a personal project of your choice because it adds so much to your experience and confidence as a PM. Think about what you’d like to build. This can be based on the skills you want to develop and personal choices like problems you’d like to solve with your product. Bring designers, engineers, UX researchers to this process with you. You can hire them or work with friends. Keep in mind your product goals and your competitors, and always use data and research to back up your decisions.
I understand now how personal projects help the interviewers understand the candidate’s passion and capability to bring an idea to life. This is so impressive and can boost your confidence a ton, not to mention the skills you develop or improve.
Craft a Resume and Develop a Product Portfolio
I gave some tips regarding the PM resume and portfolio in a prior blog post. I cannot stress enough the importance of a well-crafted PM resume and portfolio. Not all PMs develop a portfolio, and I think this is a huge mistake on their part.
The resume is one of the most important and tricky steps to landing a new position because it usually creates a prospective employer’s first impression about you. So it’s important that you spend time crafting and improving your resume. The resume is how you communicate your professional experience and tell your product story.
- Keep it short and simple.
- Be specific.
- Quantify achievements.
- Focus on the right skills for the job.
- Highlight experience relevant to the specific job.
The Perfect Product Manager Resume
The resume is one of the most important and tricky steps to landing a new position. Preparing your resume is a…
The resume and portfolio are your first opportunity to create impressions of you and your awesomeness. I know it takes a lot of time to work on them, and sometimes it’s easier to forget about the portfolio, but that would be a big mistake.
Imagine the resume as a way to show your experience with words. Recruiters usually spend between 3–6 seconds scanning your resume, and you’re lucky if a human being reads your it because often employers use an applicant tracking system for initial screening of resumes.
If you had the chance to impress a prospective employer with visuals too, wouldn’t you do it? So think about developing a portfolio. Buy a domain, you can code it by yourself, which will also impress them during interviews. I did this some years ago, or you can use a platform to help you design and publish your portfolio like Squarespace, which is totally fine too.
Don’t let the job description’s experience requirements scare you. A lot of the experience from your other roles can be transferred to the PM position. Focus on telling your story, showcasing what you’re capable of doing, and the experience you already have in the field.
I’d recommend choosing a few products you worked on to highlight in your portfolio. Quantity doesn’t matter in this phase, what matters the most is what you delivered If you have only two good examples to show in your portfolio, it’s totally fine as long as you have a strong story to tell.
- Establishes your brand.
- Defines your sense of style.
- Highlights your strengths.
- Gives insight into your personality and work ethic.
- Speaks the product language.
How to Master Your Product Manager Portfolio
It’s a compilation of work that exemplifies your experience, training, certifications, skills, education…
I hope I have brought more color to your process. Don’t forget to be strategic about your transition, focus on what will bring the most impact, and don’t feel discouraged if you see a job posting asking for 10+ years of experience. Few people have this amount of experience as a PM, and a lot of what you already do can be transferred to a PM role. Spend time crafting your narrative about your experience and achievements, always speaking the product language. And good luck!
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