So you want to be a Product Manager?

How do I become a Product Manager?

When I teach Product Management at General Assembly or through my free Product Email Course, students always ask me “How do I make the switch from [insert job title here] to Product Management?”

If you think you will be good at doing something, like product management, ask yourself what skills you already have to do the job well, and what skills you will need to develop.

Don’t forget to also ask — will I actually enjoy doing this day in and day out?

Tip #1: Play to your strength, improve your weaknesses

I always draw five circles when people ask me what skills they need to develop. Take a look below and ask yourself, “What am I really good at?” and “What do I have no clue about?”

Now, do the following:

  1. Improve your weaknesses. Read books. Take courses. Zero in. Find any and every way to learn more about the discipline you are lacking.
  2. Emphasis your strengths. Write down examples of how you used your strengths in the pasts. Practice your pitch. Talk about your strengths during interviews.

Resources that helped me along the way:

Tech

Where do Product Managers come from?

I’ve seen people switch into Product Management from all sorts of backgrounds:

Jobs that people have before switching to Product Management
  • Product Designers create easy to use and beautiful interfaces across devices that meet the needs of the user and the business.
  • Business Analysts understand the needs of the business, measure opportunities, analyze information, evaluate solutions and communicate to business stakeholders.
  • Product Marketing Managers communicate product benefits to the right customer at the right time and rally a team of marketing professionals (social media, email, content, PR) to launch products successfully.
  • Data Analysts visualize and interpret data to help the business make decisions, track product metrics and find new opportunities or areas of improvement.
  • Management Consultants become domain experts quickly, make decisions without full information, and find solutions to improve businesses.
  • Product Support Managers are the product front-lines, translate customer complaints into tangible suggestions for product improvement and build out training material and support documentation.
  • Engineers solve complex technical problems, push technical boundaries with new advancements and turn ideas/designs into tangible outcomes.
  • MBA students learn to think and problem solve on a strategic, well-rounded level and usually have additional years of specialized experience. They are great candidates for Associate PM roles and rotational programs.

Tip #2: Work on product teams

The best way to learn is by doing. Courses and books are great but they aren’t nearly as effective as helping build and ship a real product.

Two years in another product role is 100% worth it. Product Management isn’t a sprint. It’s a life-long career with continuous learning. A few years in a different role will help you learn a tangible skill and how product teams work. It will set you up for success long term.

Where you start all depends on what you’re interested in and what skills you want to develop. If you like to dig into data start as a Data or Product Analyst. If you love to critique and improve products start as a Product Designer. If you’re more people focused, flex your empathy muscles as a Product Support Manager.

The people a Product Manager works with

Tip #3 Switch into Product Management from the inside

While you’re working on a product team in a different role, try working as closely as you can with a Product Manager. Offer to take on project management type of work without the title. Gain trust and prove that you are capable of product thinking.

Tip #4: Build things end-to-end

If you can’t be part of a product team, build your own. This is the path that I chose to take.

You should do this! Why?

  1. You’ll learn how to bring an idea to reality → 0 to 1
  2. You’ll learn tangible skills — coding, marketing, sales and much more
  3. You’ll go through the entire product development process → idea, plan, build, test, launch, grow…(hopefully)
  4. You’ll learn resourcefulness and decision making under uncertainty

Try some of these “0 to 1” side-hustle ideas:

  1. Develop a web or mobile app
  2. Develop an app or plug-in for existing products with marketplaces like Shopify, SquareSpace, Wordpress, Facebook, etc.
  3. Start a Shopify/Etsy/Wordpress store and develop or dropship a product
  4. Create a course on Udemy
  5. Organizing a meet-up for professionals in your city
  6. Create an email newsletter or a Facebook community around a topic you care about
  7. Raise money for a cause or create a non-profit

Tip #5: Study products, not process

Recently I got asked…

  1. Study the product, not the process — before the interview in addition to memorizing frameworks on how to answer product questions, also make sure to study as much as you can about the product itself.
  2. Do your company research — know everything about the company inside and out. Learn about the users, industry, opportunities, publicly available data. Chances are the interviewer will ask you to think strategically about the business and products.

Tip #6: Put interview prep on your calendar

This is by far one of the biggest mistakes I made. I underestimated the amount of time and effort it will take to practice for product interviews. I also surprisingly found interview prep to be really useful to my overall understanding of the Product Management craft.

Check-out this step-by-step PM Interview Prep Guide I made to help you practice for product management interviews at companies like Google and Facebook.

The interview prep guide is adapted from Lewis C. Lin who creates a lot of amazing interview prep materials focused on product management.

  1. Cracking the PM interview: how to land a product manager job in technology book
  1. Check out the Product Management Exercises community for more practice questions and answers
  1. Practice product management interview questions listed on Glassdoor for Facebook, Google or any other company you’re applying to.

Summary

So what should you do if you really really badly want to be a Product Manager?

  1. Work on product teams.
  2. Switch into product management from inside of your company.
  3. If you can’t do any of the above, build your own product and team. Start-ups and side-hustles count!
  4. Learn about the company and the products it offers before interviews.
  5. Put product management interview prep on your calendar and take it seriously.

Like what you’ve read?

I’m Angelina Fomina, and I’m a Product Manager at Facebook, Oculus VR, and ex-Shopify. I also built a 7 figure start-up, and thriving non-profit. I didn’t learn to speak english till I was 12, and I didn’t study a technical degree in University. I also didn’t even know Product Management was a career path until way into my 20s. Now, I’m here to help you build a career you love and tell you that you can thrive in Product Management too!

More where this came from

This story is published in Noteworthy, where thousands come every day to learn about the people & ideas shaping the products we love.

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Angelina Fomina

Angelina Fomina

I’ll help you do the work you love! Product Manager — Facebook, Oculus VR, Shopify.👇Free product management course www.productemailcourse.com