Career hacking for product managers
Products that Count meetup, Sept 28
Moving into product management was a deliberate move for me, and since then, I’ve gobbled up every bit of career planning advice that I could find. This month’s Products that Count (PTC) meetup was perfect — all about career hacking for product managers! Gibson Biddle was the speaker, and his career stops include: EA Sports, Learning Company, Netflix, [current] Nerdwallet.
He mentioned several times that they are hiring, so check them out!
Gib (awesome nickname!) had lots of great career tips, so I’ll rattle off the ones that were most relevant for me:
- As an engineering major trying to transition into business, one tactic he tried was to send his prototypes directly to the CEO of EA Sports. He got the job!
- In each job, he charted 3 factors: salary, job satisfaction, impact on the world. He noticed that when he had high salary, medium job satisfaction, and low impact on the world, he ended up less happy overall. At that point, he realized that he had to switch to high impact on the world and possibly trade salary in the process.
- Tip: Find mentors that are from other specialties than your own — that you trust and are impressed with their opinions. This was unique, tactical advice for me; lots of articles advocate getting mentors or champions, but I haven’t heard much about the specialty one should aim for in a mentor. As a marketing and client services specialist, and now product manager, it would be interesting to learn from a CFO or CTO.
- Treat your connections as a Board. Meet with them regularly, and rotate people into and out of your board based on what skills or expertise you need at the time.
- Work at each company for 4–5 years.
- If you can reduce what you are looking for in your next role or company to a single sentence, you are in a good place in your career search.
You should know this about yourself: Am I a starter or a builder?
- Do you like to start from scratch? [Starter] Or
- Do you build a prototype into a company? [Builder]
Another way he described the builder persona resonated & compelled me to tweet it: “Find a good company and make it great.” I like to dig into business models and pricing, and learn about and fulfill customer needs.
What is a PM’s job?
- It’s surprising that product management is still a confusing job and that the definition churns a fair amount between companies. About a week after this PTC, Marty Cagan echoed a similar thought: “We need to stop having this ‘ridiculous conversation about role, and about product versus project management’, he said, because it misses the point of the job.”
- Gib’s definition of a product manager’s job is: Build things that are… hard to copy, margin enhancing, and delight customers.
Skills of product leader
My friend Magdaline Derosena echoed a thought I also had- “Gibson talked about the different product skills such as management, technical, business, marketing, design, and consumer insight. You don’t need to have all but a combination of a few will help in the process.” It can be overwhelming to try to shore up on all of these specialties, when I know individuals who spend an entire career in primarily one area!
The skill to “develop systems & processes for building technology” is one of my favorite parts of the product management role. From working on clear and effective communication between many stakeholders, to rapid prototyping, driving decisions with data, and retrospectives, getting features and products out the door revs me up to get up in the morning. Gib also mentioned that one skill in product management is new in the last 10 years: gather and analyze consumer insights.
Stages a product leader follows as they grow their skills and influence
- Build something — this takes basic design & management
- Get a hit — this takes marketing & consumer insights
- Build an organization
- Build a company
- Build an industry
Gibson has had an impressive product career; most meetups focus on the products, the process, or the strategy a person or company followed — this career mapping was very valuable! I really appreciated him sharing so many tips and ideas about how to craft our own careers. I hope these tips help you, as well.