How to Become a Product Manager

It’s a start of a new year, 2017 to be exact, and you might have decided that 2017 is the year you jump into Product Management. Excellent choice (I’m biased, of course)!

Getting into Product Management is not easy. I often joke that it’s simpler to become a doctor or a lawyer than to become a Product Manager. Unlike law and medicine, there’s no formal education program (yet) that will guarantee you’ll become a Product Manager. In other words, to get into Product Management, you have to be in Product Management. No company out there will just hand the reins of their product’s future, and most likely company’s future, to just some random person who applied to their PM job posting and somehow got through the HR interview.

Product Management is one of the most difficult positions out there: not only do you need to find out what the market needs and deliver it, but you also have to consistently manage/handle everybody who has an opinion on what you’re doing and what you should be doing…in the most delicate, diplomatic way possible! And that’s not even the crux of being a PM, so what is? Your ass is on the line every single day!

Although it can be stressful, I think it’s the most fulfilling position I’ve had, and it’s something I can see myself doing for the next 5 to 10 years easily!

So how does on get into PM? There are two ways I’ve seen it done:


Option 1: Become a Jr. Product Manager

When I first started in Product Management, there were hardly any Jr. Product Manager or Associate Product Manager roles available, but luckily I was able to find one at Everyday Health. Thankfully for you, we’re starting to see more and more Jr. PM positions become available for a number of reasons:

  1. Product Management is reaching maturity as a field, and now we’re starting to see a critical mass of experienced PMs who feel they have enough knowledge about the field to start mentoring others.
  2. Many organizations have realized that it’s getting harder to recruit PMs as they are in hot demand, making it harder to land the right PM with the right experience and culture fit. Their best move to is to follow companies like Google and recruit those with potential and mold them into what they need.
  3. Current PMs know how hard it was for them to get into Product Management when they first started out and now are in a position to lower that entry barrier for others.

All of this is great news if you’re looking to get into Product Management.

It’s entirely possible that you’re somebody with 5-15 years of experience in a particular role and you could never let yourself go “down” to a Jr. position. Well buddy, if you want to be a Product Manager, you need to be able to swallow your pride, which is a critical attribute of great Product Manager. Remember, you’re not going to be a Jr. PM for a long time, just long enough for you to learn the critical skills and gain the necessary experience before you level up.


Option 2: Join an organization that has PMs and work your way into it

If you’re not able to find a position as a Jr. PM, you can join a company that has a PMs with the goal of moving into PM eventually. This option is the riskiest of the two as there’s no guarantee you’ll end up as a PM. But, there a couple of things you can do to help mitigate the risk:

  1. Before joining the company, talk to the existing PMs about your goal of being a PM. Do they think it’s doable and what are their recommendations on how to do so if it is doable.
  2. Look for roles that are customer-focused and have some interaction with existing PMs. Such a role will allow you to not only build empathy with your users/customers and build domain knowledge, but by interacting with PMs, you’ll start to build relationships with them and start learning the Art of PM from them through interactions

Eventually, with this option, you want to start making yourself available for small PM projects to start building your PM skillset and when there’s a new position opening, the company would gladly hire somebody internally who has the domain/customer knowledge, is already a culture fit and has been showing ambition to be in the role!

Whether you choose Option 1 or Option 2, follow Ken Norton’s advice if you can: join a high-growth company to accelerate your learnings and your career.


What if you’re not a technical person?

Being technical is one of the greatest assets you can have as a Product Manager, but it’s not a must. There are many PMs out there who are not technical and are constantly crushing it as PM, and you can check out some of their advice here and here and here . Don’t let this block you from being a PM.

As a technical Product Manager, I will always advise non-technical Product Managers to learn how to code. You don’t have to become a kick ass coder, but you should learn how technology is built and works. Not only will your team’s engineers appreciate it, but you’ll start to build empathy for them as you’ll get a real glimpse of their world.



If you have any questions on getting into PM that I haven’t addressed, please let me know in the comments!

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