How to Transition Into a Product Management Career
It’s 5 PM on a Friday, you just came home from work and are waiting to hear back from the hiring manager at the company you interviewed with last week. You are looking to make a switch, trying to break into the trendy career you’ve heard of called Product Management.
The phone rings—great news, you got it! You are going to be the next Product Manager at ACME CO—fantastic! Getting hired has been your focus, and now that it is done, you are off to the races! Right?
Well, have you thought it through? Flash forward to a year from now to your first performance review. What have you done well? And what could you have done better?
If you’re reading this blog, chances are you too are looking to make a switch, and this is the scenario you have been dreaming about. In our Product Management Career Acceleration Webinar series, we have repeatedly encouraged our viewers to be strategic about their career and to start by designing a plan to achieve success. Getting hired as a Product Manager is just the first step in a long process. Download our Product Management Career Plan Template to get you started.
Below, we have our top skills you should focus on that will help you stand out in your early Product Management career.
Be Customer Focused
No matter which industry you end up working in, your job as a Product Manager is first, foremost, and forever more, to understand customer problems. You should be maniacally focused on understanding the customer problem your company or product is solving for. This requires you to get out of the building and speak with customers, especially when you are first starting out. Do this frequently and make it a point to include customer interviews (your own, or shadowing another Product Manager) in your first 90-day plan if your manager has not already done so.
Already working with customers?
If you are transitioning into Product Management from a customer-facing role, such as sales or marketing, this may be easier for you than someone transitioning from a non-customer facing role such as operations or engineering. If you are already comfortable in front of customers, you should still spend time shadowing other Product Managers on their customer interviews. You may need to learn new listening skills to hone in on problems. For those who are less comfortable in front of customers, do not give up before you start. Start early and practice interviewing your friends and family at home so that you can then build up confidence in speaking with strangers.
Keep an Eye on the Competition
In our 2019 Product Management Skills – Benchmark Report, we found that competitive analysis was one of the weakest Product Management skills across the board. However, it is a key skill for any Product Manager to practice early. Keeping up to date with competitive moves can inform your product roadmap, pricing, and your marketing strategy as you learn the differentiating features of how your product solves your customer’s problems. Do not shy away from learning new tools to help you gain a solid understanding of your competition—both where they are today and where you think they are going. Read this blog post on competitive analysis to get you started on this skill today.
Learn the Numbers that Matter
Great Product Managers learn to identify the key performance indicators (KPIs) that really measure the success of the product. As a Product Manager, you will be measured by your ability to identify and understand these numbers, then track and improve them. In many cases, you will have some revenue/profitability business goals to achieve. But if you are looking to switch to a Product Management role that does not need to make pricing decisions, say because your customers are internal, you are still not off the hook! Although revenue is a common measure of success, there are many more that can apply to your products—such as user adoption, engagement metrics, and customer support calls. These are also performance indicators of a great product that is successfully creating value for customers/users.
Just like any other critical decision in your life, your career deserves to have a great deal of care and thought put into it, separate from nailing an interview. Find examples of great Product Managers— either in your network or online. See what skills they have that make them great, and learn what you can.
If, after reading this blog post, you still don’t know where to start, then my final advice is to consider training.
Consider Training OR How Training Can Help You—Before and After the Interview
If you are still unsure where to begin, 280 Group provides a lot of resources—both free and paid—that can get you going in the right direction. The best way to set yourself up for success is to consider investing in your education.
Trainings and workshops can sound expensive, but if you approach them the right way, they can unlock decades of value by providing a proven roadmap of learning.
Here are a few other benefits to consider if opting for comprehensive Product Management training:
- It’s an inexpensive way to find out whether you’d like Product Management in the first place
- It’s much cheaper and faster than getting an MBA
- You get access to a new network of more experienced Product Managers (both your instructor as well as fellow students)
- It provides a framework for your continuous learning in years to come
- Achieving AIPMM certification shows you have a thorough knowledge of the entire discipline (and a bonus to put on your resume!)
- It demonstrates you take proactive steps in self-improvement and are a continuous learner
There is no way to learn Product Management in a month, a week, let alone in three days. However, it is possible to learn what you don’t know about Product Management and continue to learn at your own pace with our online course or signing up for our free resources and webinars.
What’s Next for You?
There is a lot of information out there about launching into Product Management, but most of it focuses on the interview process, rather than what it takes to have a successful career. Take a moment and step back—what do you want your first annual review to look like? What about five years out—how would you measure whether switching to Product Management was a great idea for you, or not? Before you get that wonderful call of “You’re In”, have a plan to figure out if you even want to be “in” and what “in” really means. That is the best advice I can give, for you to have a truly rewarding career as a fantastic Product Manager, delivering products that matter!
Get Training to Transition into PM
Optimal Product Management and Product Marketing training covers the entire Product Lifecycle and all the core skills required to manage products effectively. The training teaches the flexible and comprehensive Optimal Product Process™.
About the Author
CEO of 280 Group
Rina is the CEO of 280 Group. She began her career at McKinsey & Company as an analyst on the credit portfolio team, offering trading recommendations to hedge against credit and interest rate exposure. She then joined MetLife’s Global Leadership Development Program, focusing on employee recognition programs and removing roadblocks to support intrapreneurship in the Latin America Office of Innovation. Rina joined 280 Group with a focus on bringing transformative change to organizations by arming product people with the right tools and skills to do great product management. Her job running the company at 280 Group is made easy with an amazing team aligned on continuous learning and development and determined to go above and beyond to always delight their clients.
280 Group is the world’s leading Product Management training and consulting firm. We help companies and individuals do GREAT Product Management and Product Marketing using our Optimal Product Process™.