So you want to work in Product? (Here’s how to get started)
The workforce has seen a lot of change over the last couple of years. This includes high numbers of workers resigning and moving into new roles. We want to help you figure out if moving into tech or product is right for you and help you understand the different roles you may find yourself applying for.
This is the second position we have covered, the first being Software Engineer which you can read here. This week we’re covering what it takes to become a Product Manager.
While switching to a role in product management might seem daunting at first, a 2019 study found that 33% of product managers had 0-4 years of experience. In fact, very few people actually start out in Product. The majority move over from other roles, from sales and marketing to engineering!
There are loads of perks to being a Product Manager (PM). As a PM you’ll always be in high demand, so you’ll have the opportunity to work in a variety of sectors. It has become such an important position that in one year alone there has been a 29% growth in PM roles.
What does a Product Manager do?
A PM is one of the most important roles within a start-up. Their primary responsibility is to deliver business value through the product they own. They have the ability to accelerate the trajectory of a product or cause a business to fail. That’s why they are often referred to as mini-CEO's.
They achieve this through:
Creating a clear product vision and roadmap based on the needs of the market and their target customer base
Working with the business and engineering teams to prioritise the product backlog
Creating clearly defined user stories for engineering
Overseeing delivery and advocating Agile ways of working
Constantly iterating and looking for new ways to deliver value to their users
Leverage data and user research to make data-driven decisions
What makes a great Product Manager?
A great PM is someone that obsesses over delivering value to their users. You’re likely someone that loves using new web and mobile apps and you take note of great visual design or user experience. Most Product Managers have a natural interest in the domain they work in; they’ll be a user of the product they are building and really care about the problem they are solving.
In terms of actual attributes that make a great PM:
Analytical - using different tools and data points to drive decision making
A great communicator and problem solver - able to translate the needs of the user and business into a well-defined and prioritised backlog
A leader - able to work across business, product and technical teams, leading their squad to a common goal
You’ll also need to:
Have a mature Agile approach to product delivery
Be obsessed with improving the user experience
Be metrics driven, with a clear definition of what success looks like
Sound like you? Keep reading.
How to get into this role
We’ll say it a little louder for the people in the back: there is no set route into working in Product.
We often see Product Managers joining from a variety of backgrounds. A common trend is that people typically join after being in a different career path for two to five years, whether that’s engineering, sales, marketing, operations, UX etc.
There is no product management degree, or specific set of qualifications you need. Most people get the “itch” for product whilst doing another role and find a way to move over.
Of course, there are things that can help you move over to product, like:
Certifications & Courses - Agile, Scrum Master, Product Owners
Meetups and conferences – ProductTank
Books and podcasts - Marty Cagan books, 10 Best Product Management Podcasts to Follow in 2022
You can also gain experience through internships or voluntary positions, if you are able to do so.
There are also some PM courses or bootcamps that might be helpful:
What Product Managers have to say
We chatted with Product Managers Lydia and Ifi to get their opinions on what it takes to get into product.
Lydia found her way to product management after she studied Digital Media Design at uni and worked at a startup for a little bit. She didn’t know much about being a Junior Product Manager, but it sounded interesting and ended up being the best decision she ever made!
She didn’t go through a bootcamp or study for any specific qualifications, she learned on the job. She also found herself learning in her own time through reading books and staying up to date on product management blogs. Lydia would recommend Empowered by Marty Cagan to anyone that wants to get into product as well as practising techniques like Lean UX Canvas.
Here’s a quickfire Q&A with Lydia:
What are some of the biggest challenges you face in your role?
Prioritising with competing needs of the consumer or business. The strongest skill to build is managing what makes it through to the backlog, this comes with time and experience. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to colleagues. “No” and “why” is the most important vocabulary you can have. Use it to manage expectations, share the direction of your roadmap but most importantly to help you gain a clear understanding of their problem.
What are the best parts about your role?
You end up working with nearly every department in your company! Product management is good if you enjoy working with people.
Anything else people should know about the role/industry?
You don’t need to know how to code but it’s good to try and understand what your engineers are saying so if you need to translate or communicate with the business you can.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to someone trying to get into Product Management?
The importance is to be adaptable, resilient and comfortable with trying things out. If you take on a challenge and let people know it’s a new challenge to you then you can’t fail, you’re learning.
Learn more about what it takes through this video with MindLabs’ Product Manager, Ifi.
Find a job!
General job boards like LinkedIn, Reed, and Indeed have PM roles listed, but if you’re looking for more specialist job boards check out Mind the Product and Work in Startups.
We share Product roles at impactful startups on our LinkedIn and Twitter. To make sure recruiters are considering you, change your LinkedIn profile to open to work and make sure your new skills have been added to your profile.
The average salary for product managers is between £60k and £80k. As you progress in your career, you could earn upwards of £100k.
In conclusion, to become a Product Manager you need to:
Clearly understand why you want to move into product
Do as much research as possible and learn about the role/responsibilities
Make an informed decision to start pivoting your career
Utilise your network! Talk to people already in those roles for advice