Want a job in Product Management? Here’s how.

Adrienne Tan

Updated October 2020

I’ve been championing product management for 15 hears now. In the early days it was a real struggle. Hardly anyone had heard of product. I was often called project manager. If they had heard about product management, they CERTAINLY didn’t want a job in product.

Now, Product Management is all the rage.

Everyone wants a job as a Product Manager.

Why? It’s simple economics. Companies, in our hyper-competitive economy, need to move faster and make better products. For this, they need Product Managers — the zookeepers that feed and tame the ravenous product cycle. This means demand is high and remuneration and rewards are attractive. It’s no wonder everybody wants to be a Product Manager.

So, the key question is — how do you get a job as a Product Manager?

Well …. it can be both easy and hard. Let me explain.

Firstly, there’s a whole bunch of things you can do to increase your chances of getting a Product role when the time is right to apply. Start with these first.

Read, watch, learn

There’s no better way to start thinking like a Product Manager, talking like a Product Manager and ultimately becoming a Product Manager than by learning about it. Try:

  1. Creating a product booklist and start working through the list. Here’s a very comprehensive list we keep adding to – there’s so many good books!
  2. Videos on Product management are a great way to pick up tips and tricks – there’s a bunch from our Leading The Product Conference which are a great way to start.
  3. While it’s good to read and watch, there’s nothing better than using some of the tools. Create a mock idea and fill out a or try the Brainmates Product Management Framework. The best way to learn is to practice.
  4. There are also a multitude of Product Management software tools out there. Try your hand at them. Aha, ProductPlan, Roadmunk are some Roadmapping software tools you can explore. You might want to stretch yourself and use other products like smaply, balsamiq, optimal workshop and askable.

Get noticed

Have you ever noticed how busy everyone is? Yup, very. When you do apply for a Product role your chances will be much better if the hiring manager knows you and knows you’re interested in Product. Here’s some ways to stand out from the crowd:

  1. Attend and speak at meetups and conferences – There are loads of meetups and events related to product (we run the Product Talks and Product Women Meetups) and of course the largest product conference in Australia – Leading The Product. Speaking is the best way to lift your profile. If you do get an opportunity to speak, take it! Make sure you take the time to prepare and practice. If you’re new at speaking, start with a small meetup. If this is your chosen path into product, I’d also recommend getting a speaker coach. Best damn money I’ve personally spent.
  2. Give back – people often take and ask but imagine how you much more you standout if you give back to the Product community? You can volunteer at Product Camp, help run a meetup, or offer to mentor someone in your area of expertise.
  3. Write a blog – standout from the crowd by writing an opinion piece about product. Publish on Medium or LinkedIn. Change your LinkedIn profile to show you’re interested in Product. Find out who the Product leaders and influencers are and follow them on LinkedIn. Take the time to write thoughtful comments when they post things. Do it more than once and build an audience.

Go where the jobs are

When the American bank robber William Sutton was asked why he robbed banks he famously answered: ‘That’s where the money is’. If you want a job in Product you’ve gotta know where it’s going to come from.

  1. Check out product-related Slack channels – ProdAnon and Product Women have Slack channels. Many people often look for Product talent there.
  2. Join the Women in Product Facebook Group. Every Monday US time, companies post their jobs there.
  3. There are a few job boards around. Try MindTheProduct or Brainmates’ job board.
  4. There are specialist Product recruiters in many cities around the world. Some great ones in Sydney and Melbourne are Sustain Digital, Middleton Executive, Parity Consulting and TheOnSet Group. Get in touch and see if they’ll help steer you in the right direction or attend their events and meet them in person.
  5. Jobs are also spruiked at Meetups and conferences. Companies find it an effective way to hire new recruits. Often, companies that want to hire, sponsor the Meetup or conference. Go to those events, find the host or sponsor and enquire if they have vacant Product positions.
  6. Keep an eye out for startups who come into Series B & C funding by reading mastheads like smartcompany. They will start looking for good talent so be sure to reach out to the founder.

Practice interviewing

When you do finally land a Product interview you don’t want to blow it. Nothing beats interview practice.

  1. Either find a friendly Product Manager to help you or invest some time in a Product coach. There are a ton of interview questions on the web – I particularly like Ken Norton’s.
  2. These days, companies are asking folks to demonstrate their PM skills by either completing a mock activity or delivering a presentation. Be prepared for this
  3. Read Cracking The PM interview and the Google Resume – great books about landing great jobs.

If you’ve done everything above you’ve now learned a lot about Product Management, built your Product Management network, raised your profile and got some interview practice. You might already have found a job in Product Management. If not, don’t stop doing everything above, but take it to the next level and start actively looking for that Product Management Job.

Here are the most common ways that people make the move into Product Management.

Move internally into Product

The path to Product Management is in your grasp if your company already has an established Product Management team. Making the transition in your current organisation is one of the simplest and best ways into this role. Here’s how to make it happen: you need to establish trust by demonstrating your prowess and capabilities.

Firstly, identify who the Product leaders are. Product leaders don’t necessarily have the title. They’re the people with influence – people whose opinions carry weight and whose actions make a difference. Once you know who they are you can:

  • Bring a well thought out idea to the team
  • Share valuable insights about the market, customers or product
  • Ask if you can help out on a project they’re working on

The idea is to demonstrate your desire to transition into a Product role and show the value you will bring. Be seen and be helpful.

If you don’t work at company that has a Product Management team consider moving to one that does.

Trade on your subject matter expertise

If you have deep subject matter knowledge, but don’t have the title, you have a good case to move into a Product Manager role. For example, if you know payments – the technology, competitive products and the market really well – you can trade on that knowledge and apply for a payment Product Manager role. It’s not an easy transition, but Hiring Managers do look for people with specific knowledge to become Product Managers.

To make the transition, start thinking and believing you are a Product Manager. This means you will need to consider, frame and apply the language of Product Management in your CV. Demonstrate that you’ve performed Product Management activities, even though you don’t have the job title. Frame the opening statement in your CV by describing your Product Management experience. It can be as simple as: “I love creating products that customers love. My track record shows that I’ve got XX profitable financial products under my belt. Like any good Product Manager, I stand by a set of Design Thinking principles to help me achieve success.”

Create your own start-up

Good Product Managers have an entrepreneurial spirit and there is no better way to demonstrate your flair and passion for product growth than building your very own start-up. This is a round-about way (and the most time-consuming path) to Product Management. But, the learnings from it are significant. You are in the driver’s seat and can learn, and put into practice, all aspects of Product Management including:

  • Customer discovery
  • Validating ideas
  • Seek funding or self-fund
  • Design and build a product with limited resources and to launch and test.

Folks who choose this path show grit and true passion – it also opens up an enormous number of opportunities which may lead to roles other than Product.

When I choose who to hire as a Product Manager, I choose folks who put their heart and head on the line.

Gifted the role

Folks in the right place, at the right time, just get made Product Managers. You’d be surprised how often this occurs. The organisation looks around and sees successful companies using Product Management as a means to become sustainable, competitive businesses. They then re-organise and folks who know their products or services intimately are given a new job title – Product Manager. For these folks, getting a role in Product Management may have been easy, but they have the thankless task of understanding the role, establishing the discipline and developing the practice in the organisation. Unfortunately, this is not ideal for either the organisation or the new Product Manager.

Product Management needs to be established formally and nurtured along the way before it can deliver any form of business benefits. Otherwise, the newly minted Product Manager will be battling with all and sundry to get their job done.

If this is you we recommend some formal training in Product Management to set things on the right path.

Going in cold 

This is the most difficult path into Product Management. This means applying for Product roles without any experience or subject matter expertise and without honestly considering how you bring value to that company. This only leads to rejection and heartbreak. Avoid this path. Instead, weave your way into a Product role by firstly identifying the company you want to work for, get a job in that company in the field that you’re currently in and then build relationships with the product folk in that company. Sound hard? Yes, you betcha. But if you really want the Product role, you should be prepared to put it in the effort to get it.

Do you have any other tips on how to get a job in Product Management? I’d love to hear them.

What’s next?

  • If you’re considering a career in Product come to our half-day course ‘Moving into Product

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Adrienne Tan

Adrienne Tan | Author

Adrienne is Co-Founder and CEO of Brainmates and Co-Founder of Leading the Product. She has been championing Product Management since 2000, earning international recognition for raising the profile of the Product Management profession. In this capacity she regularly consults to the Asia-Pacific's top businesses and speaks at business and Product events around the world.

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