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How To Become a Product Manager: 7 Steps To Get Closer to a Product Management Job

Malte
Malte
October 22 2019
6 mins read
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With the product management landscape constantly shifting, many would-be product managers are often puzzled as to how to actually break into the role. 

You might be asking yourself, what is the first step to getting started, or whether you need a background in tech?

But, the fact is there is no one-size-fits-all approach to becoming a product manager.

And that works in your favor! 

Whether you’re tackling a mid-career transition or heading straight into the industry from education, there are focused steps you can take to help you get moving in the right direction. 

But what are these steps, exactly? Here are 7 actionable steps that will take you closer to a product management job.

1. Create a job search roadmap

If you’re serious about a future in product management, you need to get clear about the roles and companies that will set you up to thrive and succeed. 

One way to navigate this is to create a roadmap for your job search, just as you would do for a product development.

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Some of the things you’d want to factor in include the types of product you’d like to manage.

You should consider which is your ideal company size, and the skill gaps you need to fill before applying to any openings.  

Opportunities may arise once you know what you want to do – so, building a focused plan will lead to real progress. 

Note that the product manager’s role is very much kaleidoscopic in nature – both within and across different organizations — so the job title itself is only one piece of the puzzle.

This means the specific job title you apply for is not something you should prioritize at the start of your search… which brings us to our next point.  

2. Forget the title, just get your foot in the door

When you’re trying to break into a new professional area, it’s easy to get hung up on titles, hierarchy, and job-specific roles. 

But in the meantime, you should make conscious, strategic efforts to work within product teams, and in roles that have a real product focus. 

Don’t worry about the “management” title yet, at this stage you need to achieve the relevant experience and learn valuable knowledge in the best way you can. 

One way to get started is to take on some fundamental aspects of the role. This might involve just dipping your toes in, like collecting and organizing user feedback. 

Another route worth exploring is account management, where you’ll gain a relevant customer and product insight.

From here, you’ll be better placed to apply for a product manager position later down the line.

3. Be proactively engaged in the world of product

Things often seem more complicated from the outside looking in.

Product management is about taking practical steps that eventually generate powerful solutions. 

And that’s an approach you can take on your way to your dream role, too.

If you don’t know enough about the product you desperately want to work on, be relentless in learning everything you can about it.

Attend the right conferences, participate in online discussions, and be genuinely engaged. Subscribe to the blogs and podcasts relevant for product managers.

If product management truly inspires you, you’ll be glad to give of your time and energy to learn – even if the job title eludes you for the moment. 

But as long as you don’t let that discourage you, immersing yourself in the world of product, being humble and studious, and putting yourself out there will eventually get those gears in motion. 

4. Maximize your people management and relationship skills

Product managers are sometimes called “product CEOs,” which sounds like it involves a lot of top-down control, but that’s not always how it works. 

Product development is a multilateral, multi-team affair with many moving parts, and one of your primary concerns will be centering people with competing interests, priorities, and personalities behind a unified vision and roadmap.

You’ll also need to be tuned into your customers’ pain points, whilst remaining objective about data and evidence to make critical decisions.

Add to that balancing the viewpoints of internal and external stakeholders, and you’re left with a heck of a lot of people to get along with, influence, and deliver results. 

Even if you don’t intend to move into product management at your current company, you should evaluate your relationship management strengths and weaknesses, and start working on maximizing and improving them early on. 

Volunteer for projects or tasks that will put you in a leadership position, and take a course or two where you’ll gain nuts-and-bolts knowledge and practice that will really help you in the future.

5. Smart networking

Make the most of your in-company and social media contacts to get in touch with product managers, and ask all the questions you’ve been aching to get answered. 

You’d be surprised by how many people — even LinkedIn contacts you don’t know personally — are happy to share what they know, if you just ask!

In your current company, invite a colleague who’s into product out to lunch and “pick their brains”.

Enquire about their career journey to date and see if they have any pointers on how you might parlay your current role and skill-set accordingly.

As a “thank-you for their time”, offer to help on something they’re working on. Almost all PMs can afford to delegate something. If your boss isn’t keen on you taking outside projects for now, suggest doing it in your own time. 

The experience will really be worth it.

And, away from your current company, it’s also a good idea to meet external product managers, too.

Meetup, for example, is a great platform to connect with PMs who will be happy to share their insight, knowledge and experience in management.

Make the most of our digital world, and use it to your networking advantage!

6. Tailor your CV and prepare rigorously for interviews

The best thing you can do for your CV – in all situations, but especially when you’re transitioning to a new sphere, professionally – is to tailor it scrupulously according to vacancy and organisation. 

This is particularly true for PM vacancies, the characteristics and requirements of which are never quite exactly the same. 

Once you’ve got through some of the other steps in this guide, update your CV and LinkedIn profile so that as many lines as possible relate to the product in some fashion. Use keywords like “customers,” “design,” “metrics,” and so on. 

And always touch up your CV according to each job spec before applying. For a breakdown of how to write the perfect product management CV, check out this guide for some seriously helpful pointers.  

This resume format from Enhancv is a perfect example of how to keep your resume visual and practical.

Once you’ve got your CV covered, it’s important to build as much real-world exposure and knowledge to support, back-up and evidence its content for when interview time rolls around.

As a candidate who is new to product management, the interview is your time to assuage any experience-related concerns. The best way to do this is by demonstrating a genuine self-awareness regarding what you bring to the table.  

For example, since you’ll be a new PM, the interview is likely to include a question about blind spots.

And to provide reassurance, your answer should demonstrate that you’ve researched the company, are familiar with how their teams work and know where to turn for support if you ever need it.

This way, the interviewer will feel confident that you’ll work well within their existing structure. 

In short, successfully achieving a role in product management is dependent on having a relevant and professional CV – and the experience and knowledge to really back it up. 

So, make this a priority as you look towards entering the product industry. 

7. Take it one step at a time

How does an effective PM navigate a complex and ever-evolving product life cycle? 

They focus on figuring out the next right step. Then the one after that, and so on. 

There’s no such thing as a crystal-clear, A-to-Z roadmap for any roadmap just as there is not a clear roadmap to becoming a product manager.

And the same principle applies to shifting to product management from a point of inexperience. You can’t work backwards from a solution; you can only start where you are and work towards it.

But if you take a targeted approach, work diligently, and put yourself out there, it’s only a matter of time before your turn comes to give a novice would-be PM valuable advice on how to set up their own roadmap to victory.

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