One of the most common questions we get is “Can you tell me how to become a Product Manager?”
We hear this at Product Management events, in our LinkedIn Product Management Group (which has over 35,000 members) and almost everywhere else we interact with people interested in the profession.
Often engineers, salespeople, support staff and others are the ones who ask how to become a product manager and land their first job (for the purposes of this article assume that Product Management also means Product Marketing). Sometimes it is also recent college graduates or MBAs.
To help you achieve this goal we’ve put together this article. It lists the six strategies that you can use to build up enough experience to land a great job as a Product Manager. The goal of these strategies is to give you experience, skills and knowledge that differentiate you from the rest of the pack!
By the way, if you are already a Product Manager and are looking to move up, these strategies for how to become a Product Manager will help you advance your career faster.
So here are the six strategies for How to become a Product Manager:
1. Learn the basic skills of the profession
The most valuable thing you can do to help land a Product Management job is to learn the core skills of the profession. This includes skills like:
- Voice of the customer
- Capturing, prioritizing and communicating requirements
- Writing business cases
- How to work with engineering and sales teams
- Developing launch plans
- Creating end of life plans
The fastest and easiest way to do this is to go through a comprehensive training course that covers the entire Product Lifecycle. You should learn both the inbound Product Management skills as well as the outbound Product Marketing skills so that no matter how your future employer defines the roles you have a working knowledge and the skills to succeed. Study the Optimal Product Process™ and then attend the Optimal Product Management and Product Marketing™ and How to be a Phenomenal Product Manager™ courses offered by the 280 Group. When you do so you’ll receive a certificate of completion and will be able to confidently tell prospective employers that you are fully trained on the entire product lifecycle and have the knowledge to manage any product no matter what phase of the product lifecycle it is in.
2. Read books and follow newsletters and LinkedIn group
There are lots of books on Product Management that are available. Start by reading the Optimal Product Process™, by Brian Lawley, CEO and Founder of the 280 Group. It’s a free download on our website. It will teach you the seven phases of the product lifecycle and what needs to happen during each phase.
Read the 280 Group Press book series, including Expert Product Management, The Phenomenal Product Manager, 42 Rules of Product Management and 42 Rules of Product Marketing. These will give you additional insights into the world of great Product Management and lots of practical tips and ideas.
Make sure you join the 280 Group LinkedIn group – there are over 35,000 Product Managers in the group and the discussions are very useful. The people in the group can also become part of your network and help point you towards job openings they hear of.
3. Do some Product Management work pro-bono and get some experience
Volunteer to do some free work for Product Managers that you know if you are able to. There is always extra work on a Product Manager’s plate – if you can help them to do some competitive analysis, requirements gathering or write a business case you’ll get great experience and have a good reference to call upon. Or seek out an internship with a company that is in the market space you are interested in. That way you’ll increase your experience and build your network at the same time.
4. Network at Product Management Associations
If there is a Product Management Association near you, such as the Silicon Valley Product Management Association (SVPMA) or the Boston Product Management Group, start going to the meetings to network. Or better yet, volunteer to help run the events or get on the board of directors for the organization.
If there aren’t Product Management Associations then look for ProductCamps to go to (which are held throughout the world). They offer great networking opportunities and it’s easy to get involved and volunteer.
Join the Association of International Product Management and Marketing and get to know the other members there. And watch their outstanding ongoing free webinar series to increase your skills.
5. Beef up and differentiate on your resume
So what makes you stand out in terms of your resume? Volunteer work, training and knowledge of the foundations skills of Product Management and an active interest in the profession in terms of reading books and participating in groups will help. But what else can you do?
- Why not become a Certified Product Manager™ (CPM) or an Agile Certified Product Manager™ (ACPM) through AIPMM? This will give you a leg up on the competition when you submit your resume.
- Write articles and actively comment on online forums and groups.
- Increase your knowledge of the specific markets you are interested in working in as a Product Manager. Technical and market knowledge combined with Product Management differentiation will go a long way towards helping you land a job.
6. Get to know the Product Managers in your company
Nothing will get you a Product Management job faster than getting to know the Product Managers in your company. Take them out to lunch. Volunteer to do work for them. Ask them for advice about your career and how to get your first Product Management job. They had the same challenge at one point, and they’ll likely be flattered that you are asking their opinion. Everyone had to start somewhere.
Applying these six strategies and a little ingenuity and hard work you’ll land your first Product Management job before you know it. But there’s just one more thing to remember. Once you are a Product Manager remember where you came from and be willing to give back to others who want to do the same thing. Your reputation and your karma will benefit greatly from doing this.