A funny thing happened when I added “Product Management” to my LinkedIn profile. People start asking me “HOW?”.
I never planned on becoming a Product Manager. In University I studied business and after enjoying my project management class I thought “ok…I want to do something like this but for software not construction.”
At the time, I didn’t even know that Product Management existed. Disappointed with my options (accounting, finance, brand marketing) I decided this whole “suit and tie” and “cubicle life” wasn’t for me.
So, instead of going straight to “work” I went straight into entrepreneurship. After my first venture failed, I partnered up with two co-founders to launch ParseHub, a data mining company. We started out hustling in a basement, grew the start-up to 12 people, 200 paying clients like Walmart and close to 7-figures in annual reoccurring revenue. After 4 years of running start-ups I started looking around for other options.
How do I become a Product Manager?
Below I’ll share the things that worked for me, and that will hopefully work for you too! Keep in mind that you have your own unique journey, so be creative and try out a bunch of things until something works!
When I decided to transition from being a founder to “something else”…I asked myself:
Then I tried to find something that would marry what I’m good at and what I like doing. The ambiguous role of a Product Manager seemed to match. :)
This might be exactly where you’re at. You’re looking to change your career path and wondering if Product Management is the right fit.
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?
This brings me to…
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?”
As a PM you’ll never stop learning. So it helps to know what you’re a 5/5 on and what you’re a 1/5 or 2/5 on.
Now, do the following:
- Improve your weaknesses. Read books. Take courses. Zero in. Find any and every way to learn more about the discipline you are lacking.
- 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:
- Various programming and tech courses by Udacity
- One month rails course to quickly build and deploy a rails web app
- Rocket surgery made easy: the do-it yourself guide to finding and fixing usability problems book
- Interaction design foundation UX courses
- Check out my presentation on developing product design thinking. It will also help you prepare for your PM interviews.
Business & Product
- Traction: how any start-up can achieve explosive customer growth book
- How to build a start-up course by Udacity
- Lean product playbook: how to innovate with minimum viable products and rapid customer feedback book
- Crucial conversations: tools for talking when stakes are high book
- Workshop I made on “What is Product Management?”
Where do Product Managers come from?
I’ve seen people switch into Product Management from all sorts of backgrounds:
Each of the roles cultivates it’s own beneficial set of skills that are valuable to Product Management.
- Entrepreneurs are incredibly resourceful, know how to think big, make ideas a reality and rally a team around a product vision and business strategy.
- 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.
Are you in any of these roles? If not, don’t worry. Check out the next two tips and maybe consider starting out in one of the roles mentioned.
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.
If you come from a more traditional role and work environment then your first step is to work on a team that is responsible for creating, launching and growing a tech product. Sometimes you can jump right from an MBA or a management consulting position to product management. In other cases, you might want to try getting experience in a different role first.
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.
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.
Most importantly, learn everything that you can about the products and the users your company has. Transitioning into a product management role is easier if you’re a domain expert on one of the products, the go to resource for industry knowledge or understand the customer well.
This isn’t the only way to work on a product team. Read on!
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.
If you can, take some time off to pursue entrepreneurship full-time. If you can’t, build projects and products on the side.
If you recruit people to join you, or help out with an existing project try to work with people different from you. If you’re an engineer partner up with someone that has a strong business skill set. If you just graduated with a business degree, work with engineers and designers.
You should do this! Why?
- You’ll learn how to bring an idea to reality → 0 to 1
- You’ll learn tangible skills — coding, marketing, sales and much more
- You’ll go through the entire product development process → idea, plan, build, test, launch, grow…(hopefully)
- You’ll learn resourcefulness and decision making under uncertainty
Try some of these “0 to 1” side-hustle ideas:
- Develop a web or mobile app
- Develop an app or plug-in for existing products with marketplaces like Shopify, SquareSpace, Wordpress, Facebook, etc.
- Start a Shopify/Etsy/Wordpress store and develop or dropship a product
- Create a course on Udemy
- Organizing a meet-up for professionals in your city
- Create an email newsletter or a Facebook community around a topic you care about
- Raise money for a cause or create a non-profit
Basically, do anything that makes you stand out as a candidate. It’s ok if you fail. Trying to build something that doesn’t exist from scratch is an amazing lesson to learn.
Tip #5: Study products, not process
Recently I got asked…
“I’m trying to move into a tech Product Management role. I’m getting interviews but no offers. What am I doing wrong?”.
I was quite shocked to be honest. This person was awesome! So we went through his interview prep process to understand why.
Does this sound like you? Here’s a few things you can improve:
- Focus on quality over quantity — choose a few companies that you’re passionate about and know you can make a difference in. The worst you can do is submit a standard application everywhere and approach each company in exactly the same way.
- 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.
- 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.
I recommend you start studying now! Even if you don’t have interviews lined up. If you’re just thinking of transitioning from another role to Product Management all of the resources below will give you a great grasp on product management.
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.
To get started, read the following books:
- Decode and conquer: answers to product management interviews book
- Cracking the PM interview: how to land a product manager job in technology book
Next, practice more interview questions:
- The Product Manager Interview: 164 actual questions and answers book
- Check out the Product Management Exercises community for more practice questions and answers
Lastly, right before your interviews:
- Find people to do mock interviews with through the PM Interview Slack Group.
- Practice product management interview questions listed on Glassdoor for Facebook, Google or any other company you’re applying to.
So what should you do if you really really badly want to be a Product Manager?
- Emphasize your strengths, improve your weaknesses.
- Work on product teams.
- Switch into product management from inside of your company.
- If you can’t do any of the above, build your own product and team. Start-ups and side-hustles count!
- Learn about the company and the products it offers before interviews.
- Put product management interview prep on your calendar and take it seriously.
Ok that’s it for now!
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!
Want to become a product management? Check out this email course on Product Management and learn everything you need to know in 6 easy lessons.
If you have any questions — any at all I’d LOVE it if you joined Product Circles. It’s a private Facebook group for you to ask anything you’ve ever wondered about product management. You can also just reach out to me as well — firstname.lastname@example.org! I’m happy to help.